BAD to the Bone
"BAD IDEAS are those that are palpably unsound...BAD ideas, on the other hand, are widely accepted and so familiar as to go largely unquestioned."
This distinction, invented by Paul Fussell in his Book BAD, or the Dumbing of American, is a godsend for the frustrated, thinking person. Fussell applies BAD only to national idiocies, but several palpably bad--and widely accepted--ideas floating around Harvard could use some scrutiny as well.
Once one gets into the mode of identifying BAD--defined as the huge gap between appearance and dismal reality--it comes easily. Some national BAD ideas; the "Buy American" (i.e. "Don't Buy Japanese") craze, thinking that tax cuts enacted over a year from now will somehow alleviate the present recession, the assumption that we care whom Bill Clinton slept with and how many times and the idea that the public's "right to know" means that rape victims should be forced to testify live in front of 250 million people.
But if you think BAD ideas are merely a product of public ignorance and demented profit seeking, you are sadly mistaken. We have a number of inanenotions circulating around Harvard under the pretense of rationality.
AN INSTITUTIONAL idea at Harvard that epitomizes BAD is the belief that extracurricular activities, such as the Parliamentary debate team, should be basically self-supporting, while sports teams should not. Who came up with this idea? Fortunately, other schools (like Princeton, Rhode Island College, and the most of the rest of the planet) do not share this mental paralysis.
Not only does Harvard have more money than other schools (and many states and nations), but extracurriculars are so cheap. How much money does Harvard pour into its football team? How strong is the admissions tip (another BAD idea) for a team that can be counted on to lose? Undeniably, Harvard's extracurriculars--not sports--are its strength.
While it is reasonable to think that some activities should fund themselves (such as publications, which can sell ads), most extracurriculars are not businesses. (Please don't respond that the nominal Undergraduate Council grant constitutes "support".)
Mentioning our student government brings us to two more BAD ideas. The first is that the Council is somehow representative of anything. Wake up! We're talking about a group of students who get together and play student council. It barely qualifies as an institution, let alone a representative body.
ANOTHER BAD idea is that the Council, unrepresentative as it is, has some sort of legitimate claim to appropriations for extracurriculars. It doesn't. Not only are Council members incapable of assessing the strength of competing claims, but their logic is idiotic.
A group or team that's been around for a few years will get a small grant, the Council reasons, because with time it should become self-supporting. Why is that? What financial means are supposed to be available now that weren't before? Why should extracurriculars be self-supporting at all? This premise is very BAD indeed.
Yet another institutional source of BADness is the Quantitative Reasoning Requirement. Passing this requirement somehow means that we know about statistics and computers (Only statistics for the lucky class of '95). But how do writing a uselessly simple program and cramming for a test demonstrate anything? If we are expected to be statistically literate, then the QRR should make sure we are statistically literate. The pseudo-requirement we have now is pointless.
SOMETIMES BAD is so obvious that it is perhaps better called bad, because it is neither widely accepted nor unnoticed. Take, for instance, the non-uniform grading curves that exist in large courses, making getting the right TF equivalent to winning the GPA lottery.
What is the theory behind the idea that TFs should decide grades independently? If you plan on taking Literature and Arts A 40a or b or Government 10, make damn sure you get an easy section leader. Of course, sometimes you don't have a choice. In the sophomore tutorial for history, for example, the amount of assigned reading varies among sections (Reaching beyond BAD into ATROCIOUS).
The are some political sources of BAD ideas on campus. Take the conservative view that homosexuality is "deviant" and "unnatural"--an inexplicable belief given that homosexuals have always existed in the same proportion in every past society.
And then there's the notion that homosexuality is morally bad because the purpose of love relationships is procreation--procreation assumed as good in a world of starvation, overcrowding and rapid destruction of the environment to sustain a human population that everyone wishes were a lot smaller.
Some people believe that Western culture should have primacy in a liberal education either because it is truly better than other cultures or because it is more relevant to our way of life. The first claim is amusing; the second, puzzling. The whole point of a liberal education is to learn subjects like philosophy, literature and quantum physics that probably will be completely irrelevant to whatever we do in the future. Harvard, as we all know, is not a trade school.
Probably the last great BAD idea on campus circulates among a number of men in final clubs who are definitely not fans of the Radcliffe Union of Students. Let's face it, guys: The finals clubs are sexist. And elitist. It takes so little imagination to see what goes on the Porcellian or the Fly and so little effort to realize why they don't want to admit women. Guys, why bother with the pretense that there is something beyond institutional misogyny that would suffer if women were admitted? Spare us.
THIS LIST is not all inclusive. There is a lot of idiocy going on around us waiting to be noticed. Like the absurdly few number of left handed chairs in lecture halls. Or the printing of new editions of textbooks that are virtually identical to past editions, different enough only to render to old versions unusable--this resting on the dual falsities that students are so tremendously wealthy that they can afford never to buy used books, and that the environment has an unlimited supply of trees for us to chop down. With minimal effort you're bound to find some more BAD ideas.
They're everywhere you look.