Yale has innumerable traditions, social, political and academic, ranging from the silly (secret societies) to the exceptionally silly (building villages on Beinecke Plaza). I’ll remember most of them with fond amusement in years to come.
But there’s one tradition that will not draw an indulgent shake of the head from my elderly future self, and regrettably, it seems to be thriving.
During each of my four years students have defaced posters representing positions they could not abide. Each time it was heralded as a sign of the death of civility, of an impending epidemic of intolerance.
If I had a dollar for every time someone prophesied the impending abolition of free speech or an impending wave of hate crimes, I’d have enough money to end world hunger and still have enough left over for a Snapple at Gourmet Heaven prices.
Behind this penchant for apocalyptic rhetoric, it seems to me, lies the notion that having suffered for your ideas makes them more valid. The fallacy of martyrdom belongs equally to the campus left and right, and tends to crop up most stridently among groups that have run out of things to say.
Time and time again, Yale’s activist groups lose sight of their actual agendas and become focused on slights perpetrated against them by rival groups, by administrators, or by the Zionist ideologues who run the Yale Daily News.
Often such posturing begins with an actual incident, which then becomes a narrative of persecution. The problem comes about when isolated acts become the basis for litanies of persecution. Righteous anger gives way to cheap attempts to find shortcuts to the moral high ground.
The speaker’s new-found role as heroic victim eclipses the substance (or lack thereof) in the actual speech. As a result, substantive conversation is lost, replaced by name calling and self-righteousness.
Yale University brings together a remarkable number of bright, motivated people. I trust that when I come back to visit, I will find this fact unchanged.
I hope that upon my return to Yale I will also find standards of public discourse commensurate with the intelligence and potential of the people who live, work and study here.
Eli Muller is a senior in Silliman College.