Pragmatism and Marxism are two states that, we learn at college, are not necessarily commensurate. A pragmatic approach involves a response to stimuli; a Marxist one, on the other hand should only respond to problems (and, indeed, formulate problems) after a thorough investigation. As Mao (following Confucius) writes in his 1930 dictum “Oppose Book Worship”:
“Investigation may be likened to the long months of pregnancy, and solving a problem to the day of birth. To investigate a problem is indeed to solve it.”
In an academic environment, the ‘Marxist’ approach of allowing a thought its proper gestation period is key. Immediate action, a mere response to stimuli seems to fly in the face of everything that higher education stands for, and even classes that flaunt their ‘practicality’ in the real world (think, for example, of ‘Studies in Grand Strategy’) have as their central emphasis a considered and investigative approach to problem solving. At university, ‘pragmatism’ smacks of Neoconservatism (or Neoliberalism on this side of the Atlantic); but once you leave the New Haven bubble, it hits you that this is how most of the world operates.
To be able to achieve ideological goals, I have realised, as I near the completion of a year in the ‘Real World’ after Yale, one must be ready to react as well as inquire. While the term ‘pragmatic Marxism’ seems a bit silly to me, a ‘practicable Marxism’ (or, indeed, whatever theory you have admired throughout your University career) is necessary to implement good in the world. Theoretical aloofness ignores suffering and struggle, while a dogmatic adherence to set parameters defeats the spirit of enquiry.
Do not believe, like me, that the “long months of pregnancy” were the countless hours you spent in Connecticut Hall or poring over manuscripts in the Beinecke, and that the birth will come to you in the form of a meaningful and useful job or mission after graduation. Graduating requires you to continue your investigation while reacting, and by reacting in whatever job you choose, you must have projects and read and remain creative, despite the legions of patronising interviewers and the inevitable period of self-catechisation followed by self-condemnation after every failed job interview. A theory will not withstand the heavy weather over tumultuous seas you will have to cross if you do not remember to continue your investigations while occasionally allowing for practical reality.
And a final piece of advice for the Class of 2012: get a job as quickly as you can. If you wait, you’ve nothing to fall back on.
Case in point: my first ‘job’ interview came in October, after months of emails without reply and the occasional rejection letter (“times, as you know, are tough … “). It was for Monocle magazine, a fashion/lifestyle magazine that I had applied to as a last ditch attempt. Ushered into a sleek room in their stylish minimal offices off Baker Street in London, I realised that my attempt to dress like a minor politician had been in vain; I was in the land of skinny jeans and skinny ties and skinny people. Informed that the job would be two months of coffee-making and that I would receive a 20p (about 30 cents) a day (I’m still not sure if that’s legal or counts as slavery), I asked whether, as an intern, I might possibly pen or contribute to an article. The answer I received:
“We’ve got really good writers writing for the magazine, so I don’t think so.”
Well, I’ve found a job now and I’m working towards greater goals within a dynamic theoretical framework. Perhaps Shelley, after all, was right when he finishes a sonnet on the rotting state of England and the English in 1819:
“All these are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst to illumine our tempestuous day.”