Devoid of context, the phrase “work hard, party hard” may seem to indicate the application of vigor to all things. But this understanding is less plausible when the phrase appears at Yale. In the world outside of Yale, “work” is narrow; it is a designation limited to remunerative, income-generating activity. “Party,” on the other hand, is broad in the world, and extends to various activities with friends, family or even oneself.
In the world, one “works hard” in the sense that one is very diligent in providing for the needs and wants of those for whom he is responsible, and one “parties hard” in the sense that he endeavors to experience the fullness of being. Indeed, that Thoreau went into isolation to “suck the marrow out of life” reveals the breadth of the “party hard” clause.
At Yale, the respective scopes of “work” and “party” are reversed. Work is a broad term referring to a host of academic and extracurricular pursuits, whereas party is a narrow term referring only to social gatherings where drinks are served. It is evident, then, that the phrase “work hard, party hard” — while still conveying the sense of intensity — is very different at Yale.
At this point, one might reject this reflection as a trivial piece of writing on an everyday phrase. Indeed, the phrase seems a commonsensical description of a reality. Yale students do work, in the latter sense, with intensity, and they party the same way. Yet this critique is not of the accuracy of the phrase; the phrase is evidently true. Rather, this critique is of the principle embodied in the phrase.
The principle, on the other hand, is partly chronological and partly teleological. “Work hard, party hard” has a certain chronological wholesomeness because one adhering to its chronology will never go into debt. Yet it also has a chronological emptiness, a meaninglessness realized when the cycle repeats over and over again, when the only thing following “work hard” is “party hard,” and the only thing following “party hard” is “work hard.” Too many live in this cycle, blind to any higher purpose or disbelieving in human mortality, until death snuffs out the triviality and the deception.
The principle is also teleological. “Work hard, party hard” implies that the reason for which one works hard is so that he can party hard. And the way in which Yalies party is destructive of the order of the human soul, and thereby destructive of the value that the ordering invests in the soul. Thus, any value that had been created by working hard is destroyed by the disordering of the characteristic experience of partying hard.
These chronological and teleological critiques combine to define this principle of entropic nihilism. The phrase is both chronologically cyclical and teleologically suited to disorder. The principle is nihilistic because the phrase is both chronologically redundant and teleologically without a higher purpose.
Though this critique has gleaned the principle of entropic nihilism from the “work hard, party hard” phrase at Yale, once identified, the principle is evidently at work elsewhere. The principle is at work in the shift of the American Left from equality as an end to individual autonomy as an end. The principle is at work in the shift of the American right from an emphasis on opportunity to a nativism that restricts opportunity.
Most imminent for those at Yale is the fact that this principle undermines the purposes of the University. Since its founding, this institution has clung to lofty goals for progress in the world. Though these goals are now secular, they still share the conviction that progress is not inevitable, but possible through the creative power of man. The principle of entropic nihilism eats away at the nature of the university, for it rejects any activity that is either important or progressive. No university that lacks the means of its own preservation can advance.
The principle of entropic nihilism, then, needs to be replaced by a principle of constructive value. Just as nature’s God has endowed each human with value by creating a moral order, so too do humans create great value when they create a cultural order. Thus they can fulfill the great task of humanity, to fill the earth with a rich cultural order, confirming their own creation and nature as that of the image of God.
In conclusion, then, with a new principle, a new phrase is needed. The phrase cannot be descriptive, for a new reality has yet to appear. Rather, the phrase must be an admonition, a method of accountability by which humans stir each other to a paradigm of constructive value. I suggest “Work steady, party ready.”
Peter Johnston is a sophomore in Saybrook College.