Contrary to recent “defamations” to my name (although I forgive Virgilio as he is a hopeless hippie pinko), I do not subscribe entirely to the action side of the Action-Theory spectrum, but to moderation: a combination of action and theory—finding the golden mean.
As anyone who is unfortunate enough to begin a conversation with me even slightly tangentially related to Columbia, education, the problem with kids these days, bad Armageddon knock-offs, and most other subjects will find out, I completely drink the Kool-Aid of the Core.
In its defense I always employ the same argument Godinich uses in his column—unlike a technical or vocational education, those of us in the humanities are not being given a specific base of knowledge, but the skills to think, discuss, doubt, question, and evolve our own beliefs. Or, as Jake Goldwasser brilliantly phrased it in the Canon this week, we are building our inner dialectic.
However, reading Alex Merchant’s column about the pitfalls of the political science major only reinforced my newly evolving belief that Columbia’s education can isolate us from the real world by telling us to think TOO much and urging us to live entirely within our own heads. As a political science major myself, my main critique is that it teaches us to think too critically, and I think this is the case with many other majors as well.
Most political science majors come to Columbia bright-eyed and determined to save the world and become the next Josh Lyman. After their first class, they decide that maybe politicians are too ingrained into the corrupt system, so instead they’ll just work for a think tank or NGO.
By their first elective, they decide that institutions are inherently flawed, and instead they’ll just become a journalist to catalog the world’s woes. By their first seminar, they realize that print journalism is dead, HuffPo sucks, and so they’ll just go to McKinsey or Grad School (and then McKinsey).
My American Congress class last year, for example, mostly consisted of convincing us that Congress is institutionally and diametrically opposed to progress and that changing this fact is impossible.
The point is that we’re taught to have too much doubt, which is useful in an academic setting, but dangerous in the real world where we must back up our critiques with action. By being convinced too thoroughly to think critically, we begin to realize that any approach to saving the world is inherently flawed and not worth trying.
At some point, it’s necessary to stop theorizing and to just do. Plenty of people leave college and employ the perfect balance of critical theory and action, going on to do amazing things.
Still, once the majority apply these critical skills to the real world, holding too steadfastly to the metaphysically absolute world of theory they established in college, they will inevitably lose any drive to get their hands dirty, instead just settling for a job that pays the bills. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as to why the world never changes—too many smart, educated people are convinced that it can’t.
Thinking critically and deeply is an essential character trait, and by no means should we ignore our education and cease to believe in a more ideal society, or cease critiquing the one we live in. The key is that we can’t just critique and then do nothing, or become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the doubt we create.
When someone asks my political affiliation, I still always give a douchey answer about how “I don’t subscribe to the political binary because I think that’s the only way individuals can achieve full self-realization.”
Too many people give a similar answer, then explain their lack of political participation by citing the futility of voting and the system as a whole before posting a few Facebook statuses to fulfill their efficacy. At the end of the day, I’ll probably still opt for the lesser of two evils and continue to fight for the world that I theoretically believe in.
And yes, I see the irony of being critical of being critical.
Leo Schwartz is a junior at Columbia College. His American Congress professor was in a faux French indie pop band called Nous Non Plus.
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