On Tuesday, Nov. 15, tired from pre-break homework, I lay down in the early evening and tried to nap — until the sound of chanting Yalies woke me.
As a rule, I don’t take kindly to my sleep being interrupted, but my objections to Occupy Morgan Stanley go deeper. I am a Democrat who agrees with many of the Occupy movement’s complaints about income inequality and the skewed nature of political power in this country. I support serious reforms to the finance industry, which has clearly become too risky (and perhaps too large). Nonetheless, I found the showy gimmickry of Occupy Morgan Stanley distasteful and offensive.
Why did the event happen on that day, protesting that firm? Many financial firms hold information sessions, and the choice of Morgan Stanley seems to have been a matter of mere convenience. This lack of specificity in the protest’s goals is further highlighted by the email the organizers sent to Yale students, which stated simply, “Too many Yale students go into finance, and these institutions do too much harm.”
Perhaps I take too much issue with generalization, but if the point of the event was, as Marina Keegan ’12 put it, to challenge the perception of “Occupy people as uneducated and uninformed,” her email’s platitudes only helped create such a perception. Finance is the industry by which our economy channels money from savers toward productive uses. Without it, economic growth would be impossible. America’s financial industry may be too risky and may make more profit than we think it deserves (especially after a crisis that has hurt millions), but the effect of the email was to imply that finance, in its entirety, is bad, and the Yalies who go into it are doing something bad.
It is troubling that simply for choosing to go to an information session Yale students should have to be subjected to humiliation — marketed as “advice” — by their peers. Contrary to what its organizers claim, the point of the protest was clearly not to prove to Yalies that they have other options. The point of the event was to create a confrontation with a specific set of students and to publicly embarrass them into not making a choice they are free to make. People actually hoping to change minds would not insist on insulting those people whose minds they’re trying to change. Does anyone think the students who attended the information session decided to consider other options because their peers tried to make them feel like bad people?
But what other options do these protesters prefer? Their choice of the art school as a venue would suggest that the students going to the information session should instead be painters or writers or actors. Yet not everyone is suited for these fields.
Nor is it clear that choosing a different career makes one unable to produce art if one has true passion for it. TS Eliot and Wallace Stevens, two of the greatest poets of the 20th century, had full time jobs in — wait for it — finance, even as they wrote their greatest works. Stevens actually turned down offers to teach at Harvard because he liked working for an insurance company. Going further back, John Milton’s political career was arguably as important to him as his poetic one. William Shakespeare, despite being a full-time artist, was very much a businessman.
One of my close friends at Yale had a summer internship at Morgan Stanley and plans to work there after graduation. He’s from a developing country and wants to take his two years’ experience with finance and the economics doctorate he plans to pursue and try to join the World Bank or the IMF — also parts of finance — and improve peoples’ living standards around the world. This sort of work would involve tedious and difficult number-crunching and statistical analysis. It would also change lives.
There is a perception that we choose between careers we want and careers that pay. This is a false dichotomy. Most people would find things they like and dislike in most careers. Choosing becomes a matter of balancing positives against negatives. Perhaps the early years of one’s finance career are partly filled up with menial tasks, but those who stick with it hope to someday make hugely important decisions about business strategy, expansion, lending and investment. Is this different from an actor’s spending years doing commercials order to set himself up for the roles he wants to play?
Happiness in life is determined by any number of factors, and one’s career — like one’s economic situation — may be an important part of that. But the idea that there is one career that absolutely fulfills each person is absurd. Fulfillment is never quite attainable. It is the ever-accumulating byproduct of hard work by which one slowly attains aptitude, meaning and excellence.