Student (anti)politics....

Mark Batalla, columnist for the Daily Nexus has written an important piece that gives some insights into the student culture and some of the reasons behind its anti-politics ("Campus, World Filled With Prospects"). His perspective is bleeding with privilege resisting its own recognition, amnesia and denial of responsibility. It's an excellent example of the political consciousness of many American students who attend top-ranked universities.

About political movements for social justice and peace on campus, he says, "I’ve personally stopped caring.... It’s gotten to a point where I can no longer get any more jaded and instead laugh at these futile attempts to change the world.

I think Mark is representative of many of the students here at UCSB and that we need to take stock of this fact. Part of me thinks that this resistance and spite he and many students hold for activists (anyone who actually rocks the imperial boat) is based on the privilege and power that they, as members of the ruling class, are unwilling to questions and give up. Life is good in IV. The beach and beer-pong beckon. The future is bright. They are mostly guaranteed white collar jobs and suburban green-grass life from here on out. Insulation from the rapidly dying ecology of our planet is comforting. Distance from the pain and suffering of the majority of humanity is granted. Life as a hyper-consumer is possible, practical and appealing. Attempts to change the world are *"futile."* Mark is a borg. Remember the borg? *"Resistance is futile."* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_(Star_Trek)

While I'm all for education and movement building, and do agree that a majority mobilization can be built to oppose the occupation of Iraq (and I'm down to organize this), I think that the people who read and agree with columnists like Mark are unreachable and largely impossible to change when it comes to root causes (oppression, racism, patriarchy). They might verbalize dissent against this or that particular war, but are unlikely to ever do anything to stop the war, let alone address any of the injustices of imperialism. I think Mark represents a huge, majority chunk of the student population. This is what's hard about organizing here at UCSB. People like the power, affluence and pleasure of their social position. It's good to be on top. It's possible to rationalize and justify the poverty of others. Our society is awash in ideology that fulfills this goal. I think that at a deep level many of the students, even the self-described "progressives" amongst us recognize that the war (not just Iraq, but military violence, US imperialism), xenophobic racism (the Immigration "crisis"), and other issues taken up by the protesters they deride, are the bedrock of the material culture and power of America, and that they support this through their jaded and cynical acts of anti-politics.

Mark says, "it’s easy to become jaded about our surroundings..."

He makes a really strange comment about not being perturbed so much by, "the causes [protesters] represent or their effectiveness in raising awareness" but that he objects to the "confrontational" tactics of "spineless protesters." I think this really gets at the matter. It's one thing to talk about bad stuff that happens to other people, but once "spineless protesters" start implicating him in systems of power, as someone who gains from the oppression of others, then that's too much. And if the protesters dare get in the way, if they dare to disrupt privilege and the ability of someone to carry on business as usual, then they receive the wrath of the entitled. The message in a nutshell is; don't dare challenge the ease with which an American becomes jaded.

Mark ends his column with some vague reference to the "real world" beyond UCSB. So he defines life here in IV and at UCSB as a bubble as do many students. To have to actually give a fuck about the war, nuclear militarism, racism and patriarchy, all of this according to Mark is part of the real world, not UCSB, thus when some protester gets in his way and challenges the bubble concept, that's too much. Students like to think that their time here is apart from the world and that the only appropriate politics then is "awareness raising." A politics of responsability - the ability to respond - is vehemently resisted in favor of a politics of choice and convenience. People want to choose which "issues" they become "aware" about at their convenience. They don't ever want to hear about the violence and repression they are implicated in, whether they like it or not.

In this sense I'm inclined to explain student apathy differently than most people: it's not that students lack the necessary information and that all us activists need to do is educate them. Rather, it's that most UCSB students, like most consumer class Americans, like their power. All the "awareness raising" in the world won't do anything about this.

"He says, "This saturation of causes and annoying activists contributes to student apathy."

Probably the opposite. What he's really saying is that he's unwilling to give up privilege. "Annoying activists" who implicate their fellow students in systems of oppression and in militaristic aggression don't cause student apathy. They simply make people like Mark come public with an answer to the most important question: Which side are you on?

Empire or autonomy?

This is not coke or pepsi, but Mark wishes it was, as do a lot of the students here.


Anonymous said...

I am for your autonomy.

josh said...

Have you ever read Myles Horton's autobiography? It's called the Long Haul, and it's one of the first organizing books I ever read.

It talks about how people learn not by being told something.. but through experience. My grandma tells a story that relates to this. Her brother was a long-time Republican, never understanding the purpose of universal health care and such. Then he got cancer. He was on his death bed, in a hospital, and next to him was another sick person who didn't have insurance. He finally understood. My grandma had been arguing with him for decades.. but it took that experience to change him.

Its a similiar situation with these college kids. Yeah, privilege is part of it. But I think a lot of it is also pessimism from not having experienced victories. There's a reason why Saul Alinsky started organizing communities by winning that new stop sign. When people win, it gives them hope. I think I was lucky in that the first campaign I was ever involved with (opt-in) was a winning one. I know that things are doable, so I stick with it. When I think about all the people that have burned out over the years, a lot of that has been not seeing those victories (that and not taking care of themselves).

Having movements that are culturally accessible helps too. So its hard for people to say that you're just a bunch of 'weirdos,' even though they'll always say that.

anyhoo.. you don't need to hear these things.. just some thoughts.