Harvard's Rational Discourse
Being able to attend an institution like Harvard is a great privilege. It is also a privilege that many of us are not yet entirely comfortable with. Anyone who has turned a simple query about where you go to school into a game of twenty questions understands what I'm saying.
When asked about where I go to school by someone back home, after exhausting the evasive replies ("Massachusetts," "Boston," etc.), I finally say: "Um, Harvard?" I sound like an idiot when I say the name of this fine institution with an interrogative lilt and a tone of muttered apology. From conversations with friends and classmates, I know that I'm not the only one who plays this game.
There are several possible explanations for the desire to downplay our status as Harvard students. Some of us may feel that we are not worthy of the privilege bestowed upon us. It's like the Room 13 poster, trite but true: "Was I the mistake?" And some of us may feel a need to apologize for being at Harvard, an institution with an international reputation for elitism and egotism.
The Gina Grant controversy, for all of its problems and negative media attention, has also provided us with an opportunity to consider what it means to be a Harvard student. Many people in the outside world have definite ideas about this. Talk to the man who has set up a small exhibit in Harvard Square devoted to defending Gina Grant and showing why Harvard is evil.
Not everyone outside of Harvard agrees with this fellow, however. In the popular imagination, Harvard is as an institution that occupies a special place in society. Should we believe the hype?
The Harvard myth has a certain amount of truth to it. Harvard's rigorous admissions process guarantees that its students will be among the best and the brightest. After leaving Harvard, many graduates go on to do great things for their community and their country.
But many students have bought into a part of that myth that is patently false: the nation that our remarkable education gives us special insight into ethical questions. One area where we should not believe we are "better" than other college students (or the rest of the nation) is in the area of making moral decisions.
Our being here gives us no special ability to distinguish between wrong and right. If our Harvard-developed intellects are good for anything, they are perfect for coming up with new rationalizations and justifications for thing that are morally wrong.
It is humorous to listen to Harvard liberals when they hypocritically attack conservatives for attempting to "impose their morality" on the rest of the community. In fact, conservatives take their morality from the community and from tradition. It is not their morality that they advocate. (Advocate, not impose--there's a difference). The morality they champion is our morality--the beliefs we collectively hold as a nation.
Today these beliefs are under attack Many individual citizens do not hold them. But when we talk about beliefs that are held by a community, we are speaking of generally-held norms and values. Unanimous agreement isn't required.
In reality, it is the liberals who bring you their morality, a set of beliefs all their own. This is why things that are truisms to most liberals are either hotly debated or strongly opposed by most of the American public. And the "morality" liberals have concocted is not informed by tradition or community. They have derived it from their own private rationality. They expound it on their authority as Harvard students.
Liberals do not hold a monopoly on rationality. Many beliefs passed down to us also are the products of rationality. Admittedly, not all of the beliefs held in the past were so informed (such as racist ones), but compassionate liberals are not in a position to talk about occasionally straying away from rationality.
Both conservatives and liberals employ rationality in forming their beliefs. But at least conservative values have been tested by experience. The value of testing should not be underestimated or ignored by people who think that being Harvard students gives them a privileged viewpoint from which to survey the world.