March 7, 2003

Intellectual discourse lacking

I'm going to begin with a disclaimer: this is not about the War On Iraq. For several reasons, I have no interest in "answering" the question of whether or not the United States should invade Iraq. The issue has been talked and written about to death by commentators both on and off campus. More importantly, my opinions about the war have no correlation to what could happen in the Persian Gulf. What has struck me in recent days, however, is how our campus has reacted to the potential conflict.

When I began as a student three years ago, the University of Chicago was generally described as a politically apathetic campus. "The students here are too worried about classes and grades to concern themselves with politics" seemed like the stereotypical impression of the U of C campus during the waning days of the Clinton era. However, unless the current first- and second-years are more politically active than the upperclassmen and they are the majority of those involved in the current protests, the U of C student body is, and always has been, extremely outspoken and almost uniformly liberal.

Obviously, as in any large group of people, there is going to be a wide distribution of opinions present among University students. However, outside of the economics department (which according to rumor maintains a sacrificial alter to the Dark Gods of Capitalism and Conservatism deep within a secret labyrinth under the quads), Republican students are as a general rule few and far between. This pronounced leftist orientation nevertheless has begun to grate on me.

For an institution that claims to be a center of intellectual debate and discussion, there has been a profound lack of opposition to the prevailing anti-war sentiment sweeping campus. Whether war is the correct course of action, or an unnecessary and unjust show of force is in a very real sense beside the point when the only voices being raised are crying the same empty slogans of "dissent," almost entirely devoid of any real thought or substance. "No War On Iraq," "War Is Not The Answer," and "No Blood For Oil" are easy to say and slap on posters, but offer nothing beyond sounding humanitarian. Recently in Cobb, I was especially irritated by a semi-flashy protest display featuring blue balloons and the unimpressive (putting as kindly as I am capable of) slogan "Drop Balloons, Not Bombs." Presumably, the intention of this was to sway opinions and further a peaceful agenda, but barring George W. Bush walking into Cobb and having an instant epiphany at the sight of these inflatable pieces of rubber, balloons are at no point going to be dropped on Iraq.

There are numerous intelligent and practical reasons why war with Iraq is a bad idea, but given how easy it is to preach to the choir of a firmly liberal student body, student protest groups have had no real reason to elevate their rhetoric to anything approaching an intelligent debate. The "teach-in" which took place this Wednesday is a notable exception, with several respected and knowledgeable faculty members offering their well-reasoned opinions on the issue. The overall tone of the event, in presentation and preparation, was more akin to an anti-war rally then anything informative (i.e. the "teach" in "teach-in"). Walking out of class and attending a series of speakers against the war and other symbolic gestures of protest are fine and dandy for those students who feel attracted to such symbolism, but sadly the U of C as a whole seems to have made up its collective mind before any debate took place. Whatever the strengths of the potential anti-war argument that could be made, the slogans and rhetoric currently circulating on campus opposing the Bush administration need to be opposed for the simple reason that they lack any credibility. Shouting "War Is Bad" is not going to sway opinions, nor does it offer any ideas more profound than would the insistence that "Puppies Are Cute."

I feel the desperate need for an actual debate about a war against Saddam Hussein. The anti-war movement needs to acknowledge the ambiguity of the situation in Iraq (as opposed to the current cliche that Bush = Evil,) and, beyond simply opposing the war, offer concrete and realistic solutions to the situation in that troubled country.