Last week, Keith Urbahn ’06 lamented the three — count them, three — pre-frosh he spotted cavorting around this storied campus in politically incorrect left-leaning T-shirts (“Radical unchic: think before you wear,” 4/20). The kids in question were here for Bulldog Days, eyeing Elis and weighing the merits of this fine institution. I sincerely hope these three students didn’t happen upon that article, or otherwise catch this backhanded jab by the “unchained reactionary” himself; but in case they did, I offer:
An open letter to the three, Che Guevara-shirted pre-frosh:
Dear friends, you rock me like a hurricane. You have earned the ire of the campus conservatives, always a top-shelf achievement, and you did it on your very first day.
Rest assured, young flock, your future classmates are not all sartorial snipers; nor, indeed, are the bulk of them shrill, unsavory witch-hunters. Speaking strictly from personal experience, polyester-sporting double-boiled Reaganites with “W” stickers and arcane prejudices are the exception at Yale, not the rule. And they’re easily avoided: Just turn tail whenever you catch a whiff of “Donald Trump: The Fragrance.”
(Ah, sweet retribution. For after all, if Urbahn has license to build sweeping political generalizations on a smattering of T-shirts, surely he won’t begrudge us a roast of the ultimate capitalist cologne? Onward.)
Fear not, pre-frosh, I see your Che Guevara shirts for what they are: a simple, pop-culture clothing selection with a fun, rebellious streak. I grant that you, tender academic tyros, may not yet know the complete story behind the Cuban Revolution. Nonetheless, I respect your freedom to wander around our daunting Ivy League campus sporting whatever logo you like. To assist you, I’ll offer three bits of advice: Do resist the guilt-mongering that would make you ashamed of your contrarian political statements, do be prepared to defend your chosen logo, and do ward off raging campus conservatives, if you must.
Just so we’re all on the same page, the fundamental concept of communism — the one so revolting to conservatives, capitalists and other narcissistic basket cases — is equality. Yes, clashes did occur in those states that sought to implement this system, and yes, theorists did foresee these clashes in their writings. The imperfect implementation of Marx’s concept is indeed to blame for a good number of ills; still, this hardly demands that Marxism “carried the seeds of mass murder within it,” any more than Adam Smith is to be blamed for Ollie North hustling weapons to Iran. To brand a system of fundamental human equality as a recipe for ultimate evil is at once darkly humorous and dangerously misleading, since it tacitly exonerates capitalism, perhaps the single most damaging, exclusive, greed-fuelled system ever devised by man.
Now, before you send me your T-shirt, you ought to know: I’m quite at home in this capitalist society, but I’m not an apologist. I’ll freely admit that this is a system that seems to particularly relish the exploitation of the poor, saddling them with crushing health bills and then yanking the rug out with corporate-lobbied bankruptcy reform. This is a system where hatred, intolerance and prejudice are rife, a system that has presided over some of the most brutal killing sprees in human history. American capitalism in particular maintains its dazed population in a spiraling eddy of revolving debt, fear and consumption, polluting, wasting and consuming resources at an alarming rate. Americans boast an environmental footprint of 25 acres per person; if everyone on Earth lived like an American, we’d need five planets just to sustain us. The point is simple — you have good reason indeed for questioning the validity of this system, for it is your generation that will inherit its sour legacy.
Anyway, back to your Che shirt. While it is undoubtedly satisfying for Urbahn to smugly brand you — politically charged teenagers — mere “hipster poseurs,” in doing so he trivializes your (potentially very earnest) opposition to the actions of the American government. Don’t mind the right-wingers; they’d prefer to mock the shirt you’re wearing than change anything about the unjust world they occupy. And for pop-culture lessons, look elsewhere: perhaps to a college junior who doesn’t put quotes around the word “cool.”
I’m also prepared to concede that perhaps your T-shirt doesn’t betray any political bias at all: Maybe you donned it seeking safe passage through the chanting throngs of GESO supporters who, like it or not, are a far more significant presence on campus than McCarthyist stooges and fashion police. Remember, for every “unchained reactionary” at Yale, there are dozens who would recoil with horror at a George W. Bush shirt, and, on the bright side, you did well to avoid irking them.
And to Mr. Urbahn, a suggestion: Lay off the pre-frosh. If you hope to target mindless drones ignorantly buying into the propaganda of wholesale slaughter, try looking closer to home. It’s amazing what injustice is excused these days with the invocation of patriotism.
Michael Seringhaus is a fourth-year graduate student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.