Desire for Comfortable Isolation, Homogeny
Published: Tuesday, February 3, 2004
Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011 17:04
In last week's Tripod, Cyriac George wrote a brief article that began to address the apathy on this campus. Although he did not delve into the detail necessary to completely prove his point, he did succinctly outline it: "the general lethargy that pervades our environment is ... indicative of a greater trend in civilization - the pursuit of comfortable self-preservation and the absence of intense and engaged activity." Among all the recent outcries concerning the safety of students on campus, I detect a deeper message. Behind the proposals for more gates, checkpoints, officers and patrols, we are asking that our lives be monitored so as to exclude any and all extraneous influences upon it.
Although nobody in their rational mind would argue in favor of muggings, such negatives are unavoidable consequences of living in modern society. In cities, such as Hartford, an extraordinary range of people work and live together. Thus, a criminal element is simply a given in such a context.
What scares me in some of the arguments made by the "increase security" group is that their goal appears to be the complete separation of us and them. If checkpoints existed at all campus entrances, and only the Trinity community and approved guests were allowed in, our community would become even more insular than it already is.
A rail-trail was recently proposed which would run from downtown Boston west to rural Mass. One of the towns through which the proposed trail would run was Weston, my home town, a small, affluent Boston suburb. Not surprisingly, committees were formed, and a majority opinion was formulated claiming that the proposed rail trail would burden the town's character and quality of life.
It is clear in the language of the report that outsiders from less affluent towns would constitute a security risk for Weston's established residents. Clearly, Weston's "quality of life" was contingent upon the exclusion of those who did not conform to its de-facto cultural standard. The dissenting report included a statement from a police chief of a neighboring town contesting the potential for crime increase.
Weston's recommendation that the trail could be built, but just not through their town, equated to the erection of a giant fence at our borders. Perhaps this idea of creating regulated environments is not new, but the frequency with which it occurs, especially in suburban America, is frightening.
If suburbia is the counter to increasingly pluralistic inner-cities, then it can also be seen to represent the static over the dynamic, and the group over the individual. By effectually closing off the borders of a town or institution to one favored group, those being denied admittance are also being denied any concept of self. The other, singular, does not exist. The acts committed by my town were shameful as would be any move by Trinity to further seal the campus.
Isn't it funny, then, that the Trinity student veil of apathy is broken only when our imagined calm is shattered. A mugger lurking on the lower long walk is certainly an unfortunate circumstance. We, who decry being denied inalienable rights to party and behave apart from and above the rest of society, suddenly want to hold "them" accountable for that which we seek to avoid. Although I do not advocate crime, I do advocate faith in the individual.
However, I fear that such faith in the individual, in the face of often blinding stereotypes of the group, is something on the decline not only here at Trinity but throughout our country and the world. We will be asked to choose, in the near future, between individual liberty and group security. My fear is that the trend George outlines will not only continue, but also grow in scale. If we continue to pursue "comfortable self preservation" at the expense of "intense and engaged activity," we will be less tolerant, we will live in constant fear of the other, and we will create more enemies than we will friends.
Cyriac George, as president of the SGA, has the right to lament the lack of genuine student engagement. In my various leadership positions, which I have cultivated over my four years at this school, I can understand where he is coming from. There is so much to be done here, on this little campus, and so few people willing to do it. Although there is a silent and small army of warriors who, through their actions, directly challenge "comfortable self preservation" as the end for our means, such people are too few and too far between. But then again, considering that many of us in this community come from places like Weston, should I really be surprised?
I can not force anyone to seek goals greater than "comfortable self preservation," and I can not force anyone to participate in "intense and engaged activity." However, I feel that it is my duty, as an independent free thinker in a position of social privilege, to warn them about the pitfalls of not trying.
My ultimate hope is that as we leave this campus for the next stages of our lives, we will, through intense, engaged, and self-motivated activity, create lives and communities in which self-preservation is only a facet of a larger commitment to the perpetuation of the ideals that make us all human. But we must begin here. Now.