David Pozen ’02 recently told the Yale Daily News: “My dad was saying he felt like he had been at a Vietnam protest rally …. this may be the cause to undertake and galvanize students and alumni in the way bigger national issues did.”
What could a cause this important be? Sweatshops? Reproductive rights? The homeless lining New Haven streets?
No. The issue was money. The event, a Yale Entrepreneurial Society mixer for alumni and students at the Yale Club in New York City, was a gathering astonishingly trivial in comparison to the noble protests and enlightened spirit that informed the debates of the ’60s.
Indeed, this event and Pozen’s comment are typical of the entire Yale Entrepreneurial Society, which in little over a year has become Yale’s largest undergraduate organization, boasting over 700 members. The Society’s surreal rhetoric of idealism masks its true aim, which — despite its organizers’ convoluted claims to the contrary — is to encourage the accumulation of wealth among their own kind.
People who lost brothers and sons to the Vietnam War and people who spent years fighting its injustices must surely feel betrayed by this generation of students, whose only equivalent passion is, according to Pozen, the yearning for material gain.
In the past months, Yale’s campus has been littered with YES flyers advertising this event and the impending Y50k competition in which students compete for money to start their new businesses. Perhaps you’ve seen the most offensive of these flyers — it depicts a package of Ramen noodles, a staple of ethnic and low income families and asks “Do you really want to be eating this for the rest of your life?” This is offensive in such a multitude of ways that it is hard to begin listing them, but let’s try.
First of all, this ad degrades and humiliates anyone who grew up eating this food, anyone who grew up without a silver spoon in his or her mouth, not to mention Chinese people. What can an aspiring Yalie, a visitor, or a homeless person who happens to see this think of an ad that so cruelly excludes them from Yale’s inside joke. What does it tell them about Yale students?
Perhaps even greater than this insult is the implication that the ultimate end of a Yale education is to eat expensive food. To a student who wants to devote his life to the arts or to the Peace Corps, or to any conceivable passion other than his own wallet, this poster is the most insidious kind of discouragement. In the minds of those who devised YES, sacrifice, scholarship, and struggle for some higher purpose have become laughable, a joke for a poster.
I would like to think I have a greater purpose here, a nobler end in mind.
I understand that America is a capitalist nation, guided and formed by Adam Smith’s vision of each person following his own ends both for himself and for the good of the state. In small lumber businesses, in local real estate firms, in bakeries and small-town finance firms, this vision is fulfilled, a peaceful coexistence between man and nation colliding in the economics of personal freedom.
But there is a time to every purpose. Of course Yale is subject to capitalist economics, and her students must surely keep financial considerations at the forefront of their minds, but the inside of the classroom is so prized precisely because it is a respite from the harsh realities of a market economy.
It is our privilege, our responsibility as students of higher education, to take a step away from the world as it is and instead ask how it should be. I, and those who help us pay to be here, have scrimped and saved not to get a financial return on the investment, but to allow us to accumulate something money can’t buy, something more akin to “light” and “truth” than hoarding domain names.
YES claims to have an altruistic facet to its mission, including the financial renaissance of New Haven. The organization also claims it instructs students about the intellectual intricacies of developing a business. Even if the society did have a purpose other than making money and the glossy mission statements rang true, they still would not come close to justifying the society’s existence in light of a liberal arts education.
To encourage students to start companies and start making money is to bypass the uniqueness, the vigor, the beauty and the ultimate utility of a Yale education. John Adams once said “My generation was full of politicians and statesmen so that our children could be chemists and scientists, so that their children could be artists and philosophers.”
Where do the entrepreneurs fit in this vision of America? As Adams so eloquently put it, our parents sacrificed so we could leave better lives than they did. But I bet he meant a better life in a more spiritual, fulfilling way. In fact, I bet Adams would be happy if each of us spent the rest of our lives eating Ramen noodles.
Someone who understands what Adams was saying, New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick, once said “Somewhere along the line, and it may not even be terribly soon, you’ll begin to face choices that you will recognize as choices between your heart and your security, between your passions and someone else’s well-meant advice — if you are lucky and pay attention to your education and experience and not just accumulate it like a bank account, you will likely run into that elusive, even momentary thing, some happiness in life.”
We, all of us, are on the brink of these decisions, these choices that will lead us either to happiness or to profit. Let us take what is noblest and best about our time here into our hearts as we make them.
Charles Finch is a junior in Berkeley College. He regularly writes columns for the Scene section.