Not too long ago being a college lefty was hip. Back then, standing in front of Willard Straight demanding peace, love and universal health care made you look like an informed leader. Today it makes you look like a prick with too much free time. About 10 years ago reporters began to ask why ours was such an apathetic generation. Some blamed our hypercompetitive, over-structured school environment. They claimed this setup bred fine-tuned young professionals with little capacity to think of those less fortunate than themselves. Others blamed the US’s consumption-driven economy, which had delivered a decade of peace and prosperity, followed by a decade with a war that had little or no impact on the lives of students.
But eventually, people decided we were simply a new, more optimistic, superior version of the American youth who had decided to rise above partisan bickering. We are, as I have decided to call it, the “enlightened apathetics.”
The enlightened apathetic gets promoted from the “uninformed apathetic” during the mass indoctrination into the cult of postmodernism taking place as we speak here at Cornell University. Postmodernism rejects theories and ideologies in favor of acknowledging life's extreme complexity. Then, with highbrow language and a litany of jargon, "po-mos" politely inform academia at large that "the solution does not exist!" (no proof necessary). In my unqualified opinion, postmodernism boils down to four basic postulates:
1. There are no answers, only more questions.
2. All data is biased by racism, heteronormitivity and chauvinism.
3. We are all just a figment of Proust’s imagination.
Postmodernism has seeped forth from the Ivory Tower into our everyday lives, including journalism and politics. In journalism it’s the notion that reporters must present every issue as multiple, equally plausible, opposing viewpoints, with no actual conclusions drawn. Every segment on CNN must involve two "experts" in disagreement, who dance around fundamental issues for 10 minutes, before the host throws his hands into the air and declares, “Well, I guess we’ll never know for certain if Saddam really had those WMDs! We’ll be back after the commercial break.” Leaked documents, circumstantial evidence and facts in general remain absent from this trendy approach to news. Facts, of course, are bogus because either:
A. Facts are an illusion put forth by the (mostly male) natural scientists, in an attempt to secure more funding for their biased research,
or, less likely
B. Investigative reporting is expensive and time consuming, details are boring and drawing conclusions will hurt the network's ratings.
In politics, postmodernism invites the enlightened apathetic, guided by the CNN aesthetic, to accept that “both sides of every issue are populated by idiotic partisans who like screaming at each other, and the only smart solution is dead-center compromise.”
Blind, dead-center compromise was exactly how America itself was formed. It was the great George Washington who stood on the steps of Independence Hall and announced the Great Trans-Atlantic Compromise:
“We have reached across the aisle, to the Tories, and have thus decided to establish an Independent Option — if you are happy with your taxation without representation, the quartering of troops and the massacre of patriots, you may elect to keep being governed by King George. But if you are one of the millions of Americans currently denied civil liberties, we are proposing a non-profit independent option to compete with His Majesty’s divine right to rule you.”
This analogy, of course, is quite abused. The founding fathers were fighting for really important things like self-determination and lower taxes — not mundane, modern complexities like whether or not sick people deserve medicine regardless of income level.
And so, we continue the grand American tradition of not giving a shit, avoiding anything truly “revolutionary” and being suspect of anyone promising new opportunities if we are only brave enough to follow their lead.
The enlightened apathetic is not lazy and disinterested. Oh no. He’s just too evolved for partisan squabbles. He laughs at the bra burning feminists and the naïve pacifists of yesteryear. At the same time, he is apologetic for the passionate liberals who hypocritically claim superior knowledge over the right wing talk-radio enthusiasts of the Bible Belt. He is a registered independent, if he’s registered at all, because having a say in the party primary of his choice, far from being constructive and responsible, would only serve to legitimize their granfalloon.
The enlightened apathetic will also hesitantly admit that he does not have time to read (biased) national publications. He is, after all, a busy college student with places to be, things to do and Keystones to chug. When he is older and less busy, he will catch up on national news. Somehow, when he is battling his way through med school, defending his dissertation, raising kids or climbing the corporate ladder, he will magically find time for (petty) politics where none previously existed.
He could easily quit apathy, if he really wanted to.
Just a few short years ago, the enlightened apathetic was chastised by the media types. They considered him a career-obsessed resume builder who should be upset about war and legislative inaction. They yelled at him for following the rules and brown-nosing his professors.
But then some genius of network broadcasting stumbled upon a much more comfortable alternative. Now we represent a “new kind of activist,” who organizes on Facebook, and tweets for social justice. We’re post-partisan, optimistic and focused on self improvement. We care so deeply about world issues, as we’ve clearly expressed in our blogs, under pseudonyms, so that future employers will never find out we actually have personalities. This inaction will change once we’ve been made partner at the firm, or won election to the U.S. Senate or achieved tenure. For now, it’s important to remain focused and play it safe.
Meanwhile over 30 percent of Americans report earning less than twice the federal poverty line (around $22,000 for a family of four), tuition to colleges across the country continues to skyrocket, the planet is slowly falling into a thermodynamic death trap and delusional conservative bigots are mobilizing for November's midterm elections. But that's just according to my skewed, chauvinist, dogmatic view of the world.
Munier Salem is a former Sun Assistant Design Editor and founded the Science section. He is a senior in the College of Engineering. He may be reached at email@example.com. Critical Mass appears alternate Mondays this semester.