Hirst: The power of discussion

Our world is at war with itself and we appear unable to turn sword into plowshare.

Nuclear proliferation presages nuclear Armageddon; Great Depression has squandered great opportunity; Regressive fundamentalism is beating down progressive liberalism. Sixty years of upward progress toward man’s old-aged dream of individual freedom consistent with law and order is giving way to the ant heap of totalitarianism.

Our future is marked by uncertainty. A high probability of catastrophe accompanies that uncertainty. The potential for a post-modern Dark Age seems higher than when we arrived at University. Civilization is crumbling.

Is this sentiment grounded in reality? Is reality grounded in this sentiment? Our movies depict destruction and our newspapers forecast doom. But our experiences suggest otherwise. We plan our lives as though today’s opportunities will remain tomorrow. But we forget yesterday’s lessons – the world is always moving up or down.

Events at Yale have increasingly demonstrated this to be such. A once-unstoppable endowment posted a roughly 25 percent loss. After adding niche majors to the curriculum in recent years, the University may be forced to cut low-enrollment courses next year to save money. Tragedy has struck the Yale community in the most unimaginable way with the murder of Annie Le GRD ’13 The Bubble has offered little sanctuary in a world divided against itself, but is hardly the only institution to have fallen, unable to defend itself or others.

Congress has proved too timid to defend the document which vests it with power. Financial institutions failed to guard against the worst excesses of their own bankers. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the international organization empowered to inhibit the use of nuclear energy for military purposes, has spent more time castigating those attempting to limit the spread of nuclear technologies than limiting the spread itself.

Liberals cowered at being called liberals. In the words of Michael Pomeranz ’09, they hid “behind their New York Times barricades in between sips of their cosmopolitans” rather than defend secularism, human rights and human dignity (“In place of real enemies, imaginary foes distract,” Feb. 18). Teachers of morality — professors and religious leaders — became educators of “ethics” and preachers of intolerance.

If we entrust certain institutions to safeguard the public good and they become anathema to that sacred trust, where are we to turn?

In all this, the greatest failures have been among those obligated to promote civil discourse, without which we cannot even begin to discuss the threats ahead. This loss of civility has been commented on with great frequency, but the prognosticators are missing the point.

Some have decried our shared unwillingness to talk with regimes with which we disagree. They say this is detrimental to the cohesion of the “international community.” I say that corrupt presidents who rape pillage and plunder their own country for personal gain and threaten their neighbors with annihilation are not members of any community of which I am a part.

Some see civility in terms of being polite; Dolores Umbridge remains their model citizen.

Some look back nostalgically on an era long gone, in which civil discourse was the order of the day. I wonder which American history they’ve been smoking, and where I can find a pipe big enough to partake.

Finally, others, with an awareness of where we’ve been and the difficulties going forward, present themselves or identify others as national unity figures. These people understand the cynicism of those who embrace the tawdry political over the transcendent national and those who place themselves in a permanent opposition to everything “other.” They are not naïve. But this approach—unity at all costs—while altogether fitting and proper, may not be our most necessary corrective.

The days when a newsman or commentator earns the moniker “the most trusted man in America” are not with us right now. So, we must create the conversation.

We must talk with ourselves. We must talk with our neighbors. We must engage with the affairs in our own provinces. In a world teetering on the edge of tearing itself apart, with dynamos beyond our mortal control, we must, though it may seem counterintuitive, return home in order to repair a broken world. Our charge is simple if not easy: refurbish, tear down and rebuild local institutions that promote common discourse.

Picking up a local newspaper is a good start.

Adam Hirst is a senior in Branford College.

Comments

  • Crass

    Leave Annie Le out of this.

  • BR 11

    Great Column!