One of the more absurd quasi-scandals in Yale’s recent history was what amounted to a poorly conceived theft of Light and Truth’s Survival Guide two years ago. Campus was abuzz, the pessimists among us anticipating the great conflagration of Sterling Library at the hands of the administration’s literary censorship Gestapo.
Alas, the whole episode was quickly forgotten, and L&T quietly returned to its niche on Yale’s campus — a lonely pile of anachronistic desperation sitting on the floor outside dining halls. But I picked one up this weekend and was quickly reminded of that most amusing caricature of angst and rebellion — the Yale Conservative.
But before addressing its content specifically, first take a moment to reflect on the audacity of Yale students who would refer to their own insipid musings as “Light and Truth.” And that’s only the beginning.
This year’s Survival Guide abounds with all your typical condemnation of the orgiastic, low-brow institution Yale has become since everything went straight to hell.
Nevertheless, they do offer some useful tidbits of propaganda for wide-eyed freshmen, most notably that the true path to eccentricity around here lies between J. Press and Mory’s, not Urban Outfitters and Starbucks.
Although tending to stay firmly on board the intellectual freight train of moral absolutism, the L&T staffers have no problem offering up their own baseless subjectivity whenever the infallible conservative paradigm is difficult to apply.
This is nothing unexpected or noteworthy, but for the uninitiated freshman who may be contemplating some of what was written in L&T, here’s a short response to a couple of the more glaring transgressions.
On Social Dissidence
L&T decries the proposal of a protest (by absence) made by some Yale faculty members over the bestowal of an honorary degree on President George W. Bush ’68 at last year’s commencement. Such was “the antithesis of engagement, discussion, and intellectual inquiry.”
Consider that people continue to discuss the merits, or lack thereof, contained in the faculty protest; also consider that one does not typically “engage” a commencement speaker in the sense of intellectual discourse. Finally, read over the timelessly resonant words of wisdom our esteemed president mustered for the occasion, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the relative intellectual merits involved.
And in a moment of stunning inconsistency, only pages later L&T proposes that freshmen choose not to attend several orientation activities, including workshops on alcohol and sexual education, because they are “particularly distasteful.”
Is this not suggesting to freshmen that one ought simply to avoid those discussions one does not care for?
Assuming there were, in fact, freshmen out there who felt that the subject of abstinence got the proverbial shaft in these workshops, the proper action in light of L&T’s previously stated views on intellectual engagement would have been for them to attend and speak up.
As a quick final note, if the difference in acceptability of these two protests is purely aesthetic, let us at least keep in mind that the relative levels of tastefulness between a speech by Bush and a condom on a wooden phallus is an altogether subjective matter.
On Yale Curriculum
L&T’s assessment of the Yale curriculum is a thoroughly horrific exercise in conservative pretense; there’s much to comment on, beginning with their intellectually bankrupt tirade against Professor Michael Denning’s FORMAC class.
The claim that FORMAC is “one of the easiest courses in the entire college” exhibits all the brilliant insight of an NRA bumper sticker.
Perhaps the lack of intellectual rigor Yale conservatives claim to see in virtually everything — and it seems most especially in interdisciplinary studies — proceeds from relentless drudgery through a strictly prescribed intellectual canon. Living life in the Academy according to any specific thought paradigm is not a rigorous path, even if one applies that paradigm to studies of antiquity.
Last year, Denning opened FORMAC with Hendrix’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner; true enough, if you sit in class with your notebook out trying to imagine how Alan Keyes would respond to what’s going on, I suppose one could call that an “easy” day.
But you’ve missed the song, my friend — in every way possible — and therein lies the pervasive blindness of L&T’s account of academics and life at Yale.
Donald Waack is a junior in Pierson College.