The Wisest Fools

The political wisdom of this world is really nothing but utter foolishness.

The Underground

Admittedly, this last iteration of The Underground started off much more political than it should have. I was intent on scolding academics and coastal elites for their clinical and condescending response to the November election, and not-so-gently mocking those intrepid social scientists and “experts” as self-righteous safari types who in the interest of “breaching the divide,” decide to venture into “middle America”—which, lo and behold, is also home to many liberals—to see how these strange creatures called conservatives live.

“Look! A wild conservative in their natural habitat! Let’s get closer and see what they’re up to. It’s been said that these creatures exhibit primitive behaviors like a love for firearms and Chick-fil-A…”

That column would have been more than a bit dramatic and more than a bit facetious. I do think it’s also quite problematic that many people have, at best, taken such a…scientific approach toward trying to understand “those other voters” and, at worst, written them off as useless hateful bigots. It’s as if one part of the country is peering through a microscope at a petri dish of something they only consider useful as statistical observations, and it’s not as if conservatives aren’t guilty of similar stigmatizing and stereotyping.

I am also complicit. I love to talk politics, people, policy; philosophize about the role of the state; and joke about politicians’ antics with anyone who’s willing to grab a meal with me. I’m a proud conservative, and I and others derive a peculiar thrill from being something of an underdog in collegiate politics. Those damn liberals!

But politics isn’t everything. It’s easy to talk about demographics and emotional and historic and ethnic factors and whatnot, but at the end of the day, none of them really tell us who we are as people and communities.

I would never say that politics isn’t important. It absolutely is, and we here at Harvard are especially charged with responsible stewardship of the leadership roles that many of us will have. But as I walk through the Yard in the crisp spring night, or watch the sun set over the Charles, or laugh with my teammates and comrades over a surprisingly good dining hall meal, I can’t help but feel that there are so many things that matter more than politics.

I am willing to bet that even the most politically active and vocal students at Harvard have found some of their greatest joys and happiness in something other than political engagement. Even at the activism-obsessed liberal bastion I and others affectionately refer to as “The Kremlin on the Charles,” I find that most people don’t let their activism or ideologies interfere with personal interactions with others. Most of us treat “The People” very differently than we treat “the people” in our lives. We seem to believe the personal is the political, but these two realms rarely align neatly.

Sure, that white cisgender straight male holding the door for you might be a sexist chauvinist promoting patriarchal oppression, but you smile and thank Ricky from your Organic Chemistry lab holding the door for you in the rain as you close your umbrella. Sure, that crazy hippie liberal with the Bernie Sanders stickers and Birkenstocks might be a socialist intent on the systematic dismantling of American enterprise, but you cheer and embrace your teammate Julie after systematically dismantling Yale’s unfortunate soccer team.

Our political callings, ideologies, and platforms are meaningless if we don’t, ultimately, treat people well. While this latter concept seems to have numerous and varied interpretations, when we leave the safety of groupthink and echo chambers, we encounter real people in real day-to-day situations, and we ought to treat each other with a standard of decency befitting the miracle that is a human being. Hopefully not news to anyone!

Politics won’t make us any wiser, nor any happier. There are representatives and individuals I respect who truly see their participation in our political system as humble civil service to their community and country. Most politicians, however, do not feel this way. We are fools to believe there is personal peace and fulfillment navigating the long hallways of bureaucracy, and I really do hope “career” politicians have some light in their lives that makes them want to get up every morning. The rhetoric and tropes of politics must surely lose their luster fairly quickly.

By the world’s standards, what I read, what I study, what I write, and what I experience might one day make me wise. But if I haven’t treated people around me well, if I haven’t seen through their politics to their humanity, if I haven’t loved my fellow man truly and deeply, I will be nothing. The purported wisdom of this world is utter foolishness to God, and I may forever be nothing but a wise fool. You know what? That’s okay.

Grace M. Chao ’19 is an Economics concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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