Yale students are smart. Yale students are angsty. Yale students are creative. Yale students are open-minded. Yale students are many things, and not least of all is this: Yale students are lucky. We’re lucky because we’re smart, angsty, creative and open-minded; we’re lucky because we have that luxury. We’re lucky because we have famous architecture outside our bedroom windows, performances and athletic events throwing themselves into our arms every weekend, and prominent professors waiting for us in their offices every Tuesday afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m.
To their credit, Yale students do not tend to take their good fortune for granted. We’re aware of our entitlement to the point of embarrassment and anguish. We cringe at the sights and sounds of poverty on the outskirts of our campus. We draw chalk murals on our glittering sidewalks urging higher wages for union employees. We support a liberal political agenda that includes universal health care and heavy taxes on the wealthy.
What’s wonderful about all this is that Yale students really know that the world outside is not perfect, and we really care. We want to do something about it, and a lot of us probably will. We want everybody to live the way we do. We want everybody to be safe, well-fed, happy, educated, powerful. We want everybody to enjoy the opportunities that we’ve been handed on a silver platter our entire lives.
What’s worrisome about all this is that, as aware as Yale students are that the world isn’t perfect, we don’t understand what the world actually is. We don’t understand, for example, that the wealth that has allowed us to come to Yale in the first place — whether our education is funded by our parents or the University’s financial aid endowment — owes in large part to the very capitalist bureaucracy that is ruining the world as we speak. We don’t understand that the very luxury that allows us to be activists, allows us to spend our summers building houses, prevents us from ever knowing what it’s like to actually be the people we’re trying to save. We don’t understand that our designer jeans and cellular telephones are produced in factories outside the United States by underpaid workers and, moreover, do not come from the businesses that employ the people we’re trying to save. We don’t understand that espousing a liberal set of beliefs for the sake of liberating underprivileged Americans is patronizing.
Here’s the thing: we can, of course, believe in whatever we want, regardless of how wealthy our fathers are. We can believe in liberalism, we can believe in open-mindedness and human rights and idealism and peace and tolerance; in fact, I think we ought to believe in all these things. I, too, believe in health care and education, in change and progress. I believe in policy implementation that is drastically different from the current state of affairs in America. Don’t worry, I’m a liberal just like you, Yale. But we liberals have to make one of two choices.
Our first choice is to believe whatever we want, and to live our lives however we want — even if belief and life contradict each other. We can take our parents’ money — earned in the horrendous, cutthroat realm of corporate America, no doubt — and use it to buy expensive sweaters, salon treatments, cars, iPods. We can carry designer handbags into the polls only to vote for Socialist candidates. We can believe whatever we want, with just one catch: if we don’t live the way we vote, we should politely refrain from pushing our agenda on the rest of the world. We should be calm about our activism, less presumptive about each other when we declare during section that Republicans are the reason for all that is wrong with the world.
After all, isn’t to understand the opinions of others the whole point of liberalism? Don’t we arrive at our beliefs because we consider all sides of an issue and see merit or at least logic in all of them? Doesn’t that strengthen our cause?
But we needn’t keep quiet. In fact, I advocate that we speak out and engage each other in political discourse as often or as infrequently as we please, but that as long as we’re making it clear that we despise any party but Green, we don’t drive around in sport utility vehicles, and as long as we denounce and ridicule corporate America, we don’t spend hundreds of dollars on a new cellular telephone every couple of months. Liberal activism is at heart inspiring and necessary, but becomes ridiculous when espoused by naive students for whom a four-figure monthly allowance is utterly essential.
In the end, our little Yalie hearts are in the right places. We want to shelter the homeless, feed the poor, make love not war. We need to be more careful, though, when it comes to consistency. As we all grow into our adult personalities and our political beliefs develop, we must all keep in mind that, unless we really practice what we preach, we should stop preaching. I have a friend for whom everything is a political statement: Cinderella is about workers’ rights in a male-dominated society, any remotely scientific topic becomes a lengthy advocacy for stem cell research or environmental protection. Sometimes I agree with his politics, sometimes I don’t, but, bless his heart, he is consistent. He is humble, respectful, has clearly considered every corner of every argument he makes, and devotes everything to the pursuit of a better world. Unless we can be like him, unless we can be liberal in both thought, practice and speech — and a lot of us can — we should keep just a little bit quiet about our glorious liberalism.
Helen Vera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.