PIÑATA DIPLOMACY: Reforming ourselves

What the hell was that?

My first General Assembly is, of course, today’s topic. But don’t go! I understand your weariness – the front page article, the editorial, and all the guest commentary pieces from student politicians with an overestimation of their own importance, as if we the constituents waited impatiently all weekend for their straight-talk account of things. I get it, but hear me out.

There must be a better way – not as the person next to you at the GA meant it, as if switching the venue or using clickers to vote or abandoning Henry Robert and his pesky rules would be enough. There must be a better way to debate, interact, and coexist on this campus. Forget the Students’ Society – any reform must be of ourselves.

The illusion – absolute and unchallenged – that we’ve already entered the real world is absurd. We haven’t. We all came here for an education, yet the “politicized” among us swagger as if they already have it. The Israel/Palestine debate, Choose Life, all of it. Everyone wants to be regarded as expert, fully knowledgeable, and fully developed intellectually. Thus the self-promotional declarations of conservatism or radicalism, because above all else, we must avoid being called apathetic.

We best manifest this illusion whenever offended – for it never stops there. Actions! The world must be rid of this menace! Made safe. I will save the world – with this GA resolution!

When offended by something, we may say so. This is our right, largely unchallenged, except by a few censorious McGill undergraduates with critics of abortion in their crosshairs. In fact, observing the astonishing frequency with which this right is exercised these days, journalist Michael Kinsley has called ours a “culture of umbrage.”

However, it is an entirely separate thing to propose the official and immediate removal of that which offends. This is not a personal right. Moreover, to compel one’s community to eliminate what one finds offensive would be tyrannical, solipsistic, and itself quite offensive.

Why is it so difficult to understand this as a two-step process? There is an important normative difference between condemning something and demanding its elimination, and a greater degree of justification is necessary for the latter. My tolerance for those who don’t recognize this grows weaker by the day.

Another thing: please, no more debating as if you’ve never heard the arguments of the other side. Again, the anti-pro-lifers are guilty (though one finds evidence of this infraction on both sides of the Hillel/Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights debate as well). Many pro-lifers believe abortion is brutal murder. You’re free to disagree, as I adamantly do, but you can’t expect to persuade anyone by employing little euphemisms like “bodily sovereignty” outwardly inoffensive but fraught with obvious and charged meaning. You have to realize that isn’t going to work, and specifically why not. By completely ignoring the counter-arguments, you reveal yourself as having operated all along in bad faith, purposely and contentedly divisive.

Those pushing the “discriminatory groups” resolution wanted to be seen as progressive insurgents, Alinsky’s latter-day saints, pushing the envelope, challenging the system, audaciously hoping, preserving 1968. History will vindicate! But it wasn’t like that at all. It was contemptible, totalitarian, and, not least, a complete waste of time. You fooled nobody, and appeared quite ugly in the process – perfectly transparent under those awful Shatner lights.

McGill isn’t the real world. But eventually we’ll apply in that world the lessons learned here. This realization should temper all campus activities – especially the controversial – with an appropriate dash of humility.

There’s nothing automatic about civilization, nothing permanent or self-sustaining. It requires actual work. You can’t just smash everything to bits and force the world to conform to your own arbitrary fancies. The realization that some students think this is the real world, and behave the way they do, sobers one quickly to the dangers facing us all.

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