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Immature Speculations

in Columns/Musings of Mariani/Opinions by

This is a poorly researched, ill-structured, half-baked attempt to answer a question I do not know. It is uncertain this attempt should even have been undertaken, and it is unclear this description is accurate. In the face of such uncertainties, I can only ask you to read this article as a personal favor, inasmuch as the possibility that you will read it creates the possibility that at future points in time you will reflect positively upon your decision and act of reading it, creating the possibility that my creation’s existence could at least be partially justified through even a single contribution to another being’s existence and conceptions.

I think there are forces we can somehow conjure that are beyond any explicit or even theoretical framework of understanding that we could possibly devise with science, reason,philosophy, or even religion, if religion is only defined as the practice of a particular theology. Our inability to articulate these forces as thoroughly as compliance with our intellectual values requires, does not preclude us from talking about them, but it makes it difficult to determine what they really are. Yet we cannot hope for better ideas not yet conceived to spread like wildfires and solve our problems, because even when good ideas have been popular, they have never prevented us from making mistakes. The articulation of perfect principles is insufficient so long it is possible for us to defy even our most dearly and authentically principles. Saints and heroes make mistakes; in fact many of truly remarkable and courageous people of the past are motivated by a desire to correct mistakes they made which they know they cannot solve without total dedication, and perhaps not even then. We will not solve our problems by trying to find specific solutions to them, no matter how broadly we define the scope of problems. Something like faith or instinct or hope or humanity or culture or humility or confidence has been so thoroughly lost as to be beyond our contemplation or at least far outside of our interests. Whatever we have lost as a civilization or a species or whatever constitutes us is something I think Children have in abundant supply.

To expand on the previous point, that children tend to possess a component of the human being that currently has an inadequate and unbalanced role in how adults manifest themselves within existing societies, I want to describe what I think this component is or at least what its attributes are. I think it is possible for children to interact with the world and with themselves in a more integrated and better way than adults. Children are not just required to listen to their adults and teachers; they simultaneously have an easier time complying and defying both. We only authentically listen to those we are convinced are the most thoroughly able to conceive of problems and solutions. As we accept fewer solutions as the number of problems multiplies in a compounding fashion, a consequence which itself contributes to the existence of the widespread and complete uncertainties that produce this climate of intractable uncertainty. Simultaneously we can only manage to significantly resist the most outrageous and unjustifiable authority. Our mistrust extends even to our own ability to believe in ourselves as beings, even as we our intimidated and controlled by the petty and the superficial whose capacity of action is surely less than the capacity of action the good and the kind and the wise and the loyal and the
humorous and the creative.  

I think that we think our abilities are the products of faculties, like reason or our creativity or our humanity or our biology rather than these faculties themselves. The implication for this is we cannot create or destroy anything in existence but we can only be involved or affected with the birth and the death of things. The distinction between a process like creation and a process like birth is that a human creation come into existence through processes we can at least partially understand, whereas processes like birth, or capacities like reason, we intimately participate in, yet do not cause and do not understand. No separation exists between understanding and action or between reason instinct and feeling. When we utilize our core human faculties we can transcend the lack of understanding and the lack of courage which seem to alternatively dominate us, because the act of engaging with our core faculties requires partial courage necessary to act upon we understandings we understand to be limited. We do not have to know everything or even believe that it is possible for us to do so, but rather we must, I think, forever be disturbed by unanswered questions and the possibility not only of evil forces but also of our complicity with these forces.

Personally I find it possible to have faith in humanity and therefore also in the desirable reality produced when there is an egalitarian distribution of power that I and others pursue to make possible. We practice what we understand to be the specific actions this faith requires, and in the long and human activity I am joining when I attempt to do the right thing.

I think that I cannot identify my problems with an amount of certainty sufficient to overcome the socially reinforced cowardice and complacency which sabotage my ability to
do good, but then this conundrum itself might by the identity of the problem. Perhaps I must learn to be thoughtful in such a way that I do not make the mistake of letting my fear stop me from being courageous.

Musings of Mariani: humanity is not hopeless

in Columns/Musings of Mariani/Opinions by

The unseasonably and unnervingly warm weather along with the continuing and developing efforts of the current Presidential administration to ruin as many people’s lives as quickly as possible are working together to create a disturbed mood on campus. Yet a specific incident reminded me of the quotidian heroism characteristic of humans in their best moments. The impaired help of my roommate and the courage and charity he and his friends showed was truly inspiring.

My roommate fell very ill this week because he has been unable to access essential medication which allows him to be healthy. Like many of the truly great students that go to our college, he orients his studies so that the pursuit of his academic interests coincides with  positioning himself in order to maximally engage with the world, with the goal of benefiting mankind. He loves studying the processes of the natural world and wants to be an ecologist so that he can be part of the efforts to combat the ongoing disasters produced by climate change. Even in his state of near total debilitation, what upset him most was not his own physical discomfort, but rather the disruption of his own work. Like Nathan Hale at the gallows, his own sickness was for him a personal tragedy because it meant he could not serve the noble cause to which he is determined to devote himself.

In addition to my roommate’s own selflessness, I was profoundly moved by the concern people showed for him. Though he was very sick, he summoned the strength to go to classes and study sessions. His bad condition was so obvious that many people offered help. People texted me and asked me if there was anything they could do for my roommate and if he was able to access the medicine he needed. These were not close friends of ours, but simply classmates whose own human sentiment for charity drove them to help a member of their community who needed it.

I am prone to feel a disillusionment with Swarthmore and with humanity, in part because I worry that both have become—or perhaps always were— so corrupted that they do not offer a home for me or for anyone. The world is far from perfect, and Swarthmore is even further, but in both places we can obviously count in our company many saints and heroes and prophets and virtuosos. Yet, we often lose sight of this. In attempting to fight the injustices of the world, we learn to see past the false goodness and shallow values which pervade and erode our world. Yet our radical critiques do not and must not take away our ability to really love and really believe in things with certainty. The extent of our despair and outrage at suffering in the world can only be equal to our belief in beautiful and sublime opportunities of human existence. We can only be profoundly disappointed in the human race if we have faith in its capacities and capabilities. If life is hopeless and people are inherently bad, then there’s no reason to expect or fight for better things.

If serving the oppressed and pursuing justice seem hopeless, we must remember that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Progress is made when people try to do things they are told are impossible Undeniably, the world faces grave crises. Our own government is now controlled by the orange-haired personification of greed and vileness and the sorts of people that would voluntarily and enthusiastically choose serve him. Nevertheless, we are in a position no different from the heroes of the past. In fact, we are perhaps more able to create change than anyone else. We are in a community where many do really care about justice, where there are many efforts and opportunities to help, to reform, and even to revolt. Our institution is not perfect and does in some ways limit our ability to conceive of and enact change, but surely these limits are not insurmountable and surely we are better off being engaged with our school and with our society than remaining in a perpetual state of cynical hopelessness.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner addressed the problem writers face in examining the human condition when people constantly felt bodily, animal fear because of the ever-present threat of nuclear destruction. Faulkner said that we cannot let this threat take away a writer’s ability to appreciate the noble side of humanity. His words seem as relevant now as they must have been then: “I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking… but I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail… because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”


The end

in Columns/Opinions by

The end is nigh.

Recently, I have been thinking about the end a lot as we approach the end of the semester, the end of classes, and the end of Obama’s presidency.

Time itself seems to be shrinking.   

These past eight years have been pretty momentous in terms of the amount of social change we were able to achieve. Though I can be overly critical of Obama’s administration and politics in general, I think American politics-as-usual has had a pretty good run. However, in the wake of the elections, politics-as-usual may be something in the past as both major American parties undergo serious reconstruction and re-conceptualize their respective directions.

On a personal level, despite the emotional rollercoasters I have been subject to, I had a pretty good semester as well. Sometimes, I worry that I, like America, peaked during this past semester, and everything is going downhill from here.

The future is always a scary prospect, and endings can be pretty shitty sometimes, but shittyness itself must end as well. The future may traumatize us and leave us with scars that we will never forget. Some of us may not even survive the immediate future. I am scared of what American politics may look like in these next four years, and, selfishly, I am also scared of how my next semester will turn out—but they too shall pass.

No matter what, it is our duty to continue to love one another and to remember those who are left behind. To paraphrase Professor Atshan, choosing to love is a political act because you are stating that you want other people to thrive. As American politics transforms itself under the new administration, we must not forget our mutual commitments to one another in creating meaning along with the love that we espouse.

The hackneyed Dr. Seuss quote goes: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” Why can’t we do both? I am happy that some have always chosen to love, and hence, I will smile. Similarly, I will always mourn the diminishing of love.

During the Democratic primary, I supported Senator Sanders’ insurgency of love. The pain of Bernie’s loss hurt for a while. The intrinsic fact that he lost did not faze me; the disturbing thing was that a movement rooted in love and solidarity seemed to have faltered in the face of larger and more heartless political mechanisms. Bernie is just a cute, old man that was nice enough to offer a helping hand and a vision to fix our broken shit.

Lest we wish to maintain the economic and political systems that have helped to produce our current cultural and political climate, we as a country need to radically rethink our priorities. Hyper-individualistic corporatism is simply unsustainable, and it continues to shock me that some choose profits over people. This distorted form of capitalism we live in now must end. To be clear, this particular form of capitalism that I speak of is one where larger conglomerates hold oligopolies and strangleholds on various sectors in the economy—one where money speaks louder than people’s voices under Citizens United.  

There once was a time when liberals and conservatives alike agreed that supporting people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and fighting for universal healthcare is simply the right thing to do. Now, somewhat paradoxical to their name, it seems hard to advocate for doing the right thing without the right labeling you as some radical communist. At the same time, many on the left choose to pay lip service to historically marginalized communities while sitting on a high pedestal of false superiority in a liberal bubble and fail to adequately interact and understand the struggles of the same communities they claim to advocate for. Both sides consistently demonize one another, and the mere conceptualization of having two distinct ‘sides’ is part of the problem.

Now, more than ever, we must choose to recognize each other as humans. More specifically, we must recognize the complexities and multi-faceted nature of everyone around us and acknowledge all of our commonalities and differences alike. We must wish to see others thrive for everything that they are and everything that we are not. We must choose to love.

All things must end, but love must live on.

Swarthmore as a nation-state

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Swarthmore is an educational institution that encourages enlightenment and critical thinking. Yet, at the same time, it is mired in structural racism, patriarchy, and capitalist hegemony. We seek to make our home here and expect to find love but are perpetually rejected. The institution cannot love us because it is blind to our value as anything more than instruments of production. Our humanity and the love we seek, we must discover in ourselves and in each other.

As our institution operates currently, we view maximum production as the goal because through a capitalist, hegemonic lens we view ourselves as instruments of production—as disembodied minds. We are however, complete beings with hearts and souls and needs that at times may conflict with the goals of the capitalist nation-state. If a student has a problem set due by midnight but is struggling with physical or emotional health issues and needs some recovery time, what are the risks of taking such a measure of self-care? The state teaches us that if workers slow down or collapse on the assembly line they risk being fired or replaced with fresh hands that can continue to manufacture capital with celerity. Swarthmore overemphasizes cultivating our brains because it is the organ that produces capital for the institution. Once we begin to treat our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits as connected and indivisible however, we can see ourselves as whole and begin to love ourselves again.

Swarthmore has constructed its space in a capitalist, industrial way. The physical spaces available for the community to bond are primarily academic. Social spaces are either rooted in some element of the industrial production such as eating, sleeping, studying, or they are centers for refuge and/or rebellion against hegemonic domination, such as the IC, BCC, or the WRC. The recent Daily Gazette article “Regulating Fun” details the institution’s new party policies and more stringent regulations on social events and spaces. These policies place even more restrictions on the freedoms of the “workers.” Our breaks are timed, our fun is regulated, our freedom is managed for us by the boss.

Read or watch Mario Savio’s speech at Sproul Hall in 1964 during the Berkley Free Speech Movement. Ask yourself what has changed. Savio asks us to consider that if the educational institution is a capitalist operation, then the faculty are the employees and the students are the raw material to be commodified and translated into capital for the institution. He courageously asserts, “We’re human beings!” Savio continues to galvanize the crowd, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! … And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus—and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it—that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

However, institutional rhetoric reinforces that the State of Swarthmore provides well for its workers. It provides us with food, financial aid, housing, etc. This gives the state power over its citizens and can be used to control us and keep us complacent. It maintains fear that prevents us from challenging the system. The capitalist industrial production model our institution and many colleges and universities operate under inherently undermines the humanity of their members, commodifies human life and potential, and attempts to mold our identities to augment their neoliberal capitalist goals.

Does the college actually give us a lot, however? We are lulled into submission by the institution’s rhetoric of generosity. We are made to believe that our spot here has been gifted to us and we jeopardize this gift if we rebel. Each member of this community has earned their spot and we are what makes this institution operate, so we ought to be the ones in charge. There is no college without us like there is no nation without its people.

Viewing our right to place at this institution as a ‘gift’ preserves the capitalist hegemony that commodifies our rights and therefore our humanity. As American rapper YZ said, “I almost thanked you for teaching me something about survival back there, but then I remembered that the ocean never handed me the gift of swimming. I gave it to myself.” We are the nation and once we recognize our humanity, we begin to recognize that we deserve better. When we believe that we deserve better, we fight for it, and we will find the power to do so in each other, in our collective strengths.

We are at a crossroads. This is an opportunity to ask ourselves important questions that will guide the future of our institution. What is the purpose of our education? What do we want for our community? Who has the right to answer these questions and who has the authority to implement the answers? We have an opportunity to reconstruct our community as an environment rooted in our humanity, one in which we can thrive as individuals and as a group. Efforts to re-establish ourselves in the roots of our diverse humanities may include measures such as an Ethnic Studies Department, some form of a global citizen or diversity requirement, divestment from fossil fuels, the prison-industrial complex, Israeli apartheid, and other detrimental entities contrary to the social justice values of our institution, the values of those who make the Swarthmore nation what it is—The PEOPLE.

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