‘Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es:’ but that’s not how things need to be
Recently Leo Schwartz and Andrew Godinich have, perhaps inadvertently, taken opposing standards of a binary that is as ancient as the first traces of the Neolithic revolution—namely, whether and to what degree praxis, or action, is and should be informed by theory, and from what should we draw upon if we take upon ourselves the task of preparing the conditions of a prosperous future.
Now, when stretched to the widest possible definition, this division has raised hell (as much as angrily-spilled academic ink can be considered “hell”) over the nature of human history.
However, I’ll leave that question for Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx to answer. I want to focus instead on what both Schwartz and Godinich share in their respective accounts: a deeply felt concern for whether their studies will have been ”worth it” once they leave College Walk for good. Few obstacles are as paralyzing as the fear of regret. We spend an inordinate amount of time while we are here wondering whether we truly are, from a perspective that we cannot possibly foresee, fulfilling a myriad of expectations that came with us when we arrived.
The burden is only aggravated by the inescapable sensation that, no matter which path we choose, the entire endeavor will prove fruitless. Either circumstances will never allow us to put into practice what most awakens our spirit, or our experience will painfully rectify years of naïveté.
Tugging at our heels, too, is the debt we naturally feel to those who nurtured us, who in turn have expectations of their own of what we are meant to achieve in our time as undergraduates. Though the forceful wishes of family members can be just as powerful, unfortunately, these conditions are increasingly being shaped by actual creditors.
At times, this constant frustration may fester into an understandable ire against the institution that is the source of so much pressure. We begin to probe violently for external reassurances that we are, indeed, receiving the best possible return for our investment.
In lieu of flicking through the Bulletin, circling those courses that we valued for being intellectually stimulating, we begin to demand clean accounting from Bollinger’s cronies, whose capacity to deceive we discover is outrageous. After all, where the hell are those $1,394 going?
Justly so, I may add. Yet the danger this poses is the gradual mental replacement of our dreams and aspirations by what were once viewed as means. What was at first a genuine pursuit of knowledge, often coupled with a strong sense of social responsibility, degenerates into an relentless pursuit of wealth justified by a gruff response along the lines of “that’s just how things are.”
There’s no doubt that “that’s how things are”: Tragically, that which has enriched the world to the point in which the majority of men and women can find self-fulfillment by virtue of being free from the constraints of nature (put simply, the capitalist mode of production) is what acts coercively to destroy that possibility.
The hope is that’s not how things need to be.
That nagging fear of failure can thus affect much more than the choice of a major. It cements our subjection to a paradigm that is in need of reevaluation. We are part of a very privileged few with the actual capacity to engage in criticism, in the fullest sense of the term. Don’t let the anxiety take that away from you.
Virgilio Urbina Lazardi sits on the Editorial Board. His eyesight is so poor that he spends most of his time on campus squinting. He has yet to finish an essay by Max Horkheimer that he was supposed to have read for yesterday.
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