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A WRITER in the last Advocate kindly forestalls the last trump, and sits in judgment upon the Harvard student. We had expected light weight, but were surprised at total depravity. The Harvard student is reduced to a pygmy in the presence of the heroic figure that impersonates with that author the sublimed and etherealized student. Mental indifference and moral baseness furnish the lighter portions of the picture, for which fine clothes and cigarettes afford a sombre background. We recognize the tenderness with which he has touched off our little weaknesses as flowing from that culture which is most "sympathetic with every mood, passion, and failing in all ages and climes" (except our own?).
So ardent a lover of his race could scarcely have intended such black pigments for students in general, and we must seek among ourselves peculiarly for the peccadilloes of licentiousness and drunkenness which he has placed in pillory. I am afraid that with our author anxiousness for our ultimate perfection has outrun observation of facts. I object to the otherwise good figure in regard to Society's veiling its head in the presence of immorality, on the ground that the mask is for the erring. That one should pretend to discover among us openness of vice, that last step in moral degradation, is surprising, when it is patent to one who observes at all that loss of caste is its result, while the portion of the habitue is contempt. At worst, we are whited sepulchres.
But I do not forget the germ of truth in the writer's remarks, though greatly exaggerated and wrongly interpreted. There is an excess of vice in our College above the average of society at large. But if this fact be co-ordinated with other facts, thereby exhibiting a uniformity or law of nature, our author is disclosed as uttering a somewhat futile protest against some such matter as the tendency of profits to a minimum or the increase of insanity with increasing complexity of society. Of late the class of facts in question has undergone examination, resulting in the following generalization, applying to all colleges and to assemblages of both the sexes. I quote from the current number of the Science Monthly from an article entitled "Women in their Relations to Crime":-
"It is a singular fact that a great preponderance of numbers in one sex over the other, unrestrained by ties of family and without the natural dependence of different occupations and stations of life upon each other, almost invariably defines a locality in which the various forms of crime exist to excess."
The author of "An Evolutionist's idea of Harvard" may deem it supererogatory and profane in me to seek explanations when he has contented himself with vigorous adjectives, but a rational account of a small but inevitable excess of vice points out the mote that darkens the clear vision of that author and opens the way for a mild protest against the lengths to which rhetoric has led him. In the character assigned to us as indifferentists, we can hardly be indignant, and other considerations forbid us the forcible language of the article in question. Notice the ingenious paralipsis when he writes, "The honor of the College forbids me to publish," and then dips his pen in bitterness and gall,
"Defaming and defacing till he left
Not even Launcelot brave nor Galahad clean."
There is one weak spot at least in our armor of indifference. We are concerned for the good name of our College, but not being explosive in our feelings we merely adapt the words of Junius to Sir W. Draper for this occasion. Your attack, Sir, does honor to the goodness of your heart. You express yourself in the warmest language of your passions. In any other case I doubt not you would have cautiously weighed the consequences, but here I presume you thought it would be a neglect of duty to lose one moment by consulting your understanding. We forgive your excesses and place them to the account of an honest, unreflecting indignation in which your cooler judgment and natural politeness had no concern.
It is to be noticed with what impartiality he levels all, scoffing at "the best among us" and the "hard students" in a manner that can hardly be termed "sunny and well-tempered," and while possibly "kindling the enthusiasm" that leads to "gratitude to past and affection for future generations," neglects the plainer and less romantic duty of justice to the present, - which is precisely in the Ercles' vein he decries, - the very pessimism of the Nation, leaving us neither mind, morals, nor manners.
Thus far we have been concerned with the exaggerated and atrabiliar statements of the writer. His co-ordination of the facts with the phenomena that had been the subject of this discussion is hardly ambitious enough to merit the name of reasoning. A fondness for the universal affirmative or negative is not to be cultivated in writings of a controversial nature. Having published with boldness "that culture is only the perfect blossom of moral character," singularly enough a few lines later he tells us "that it is, in short, only the result of long study, rich experience," and moral character. By which happy compromise we are left in doubt as to how far he asserts that culture comes from morality which language, used in its ordinary acceptation, is indeed the dispings of a new philosophy.
A code of morality, it will be seen, can only influence mental processes indirectly, that is, by determining the mind to such or such researches; but investigation once set afoot, the laws of thought, of evidence, and of logic, and not rules of action, conduct us to truth or falsehood, and thus when rules of morality, as well as all else, are subjected to the scrutiny of reason, they cease even indirectly to influence mental growth and become themselves the product of thought. Thus do we find, superstitions apart, that moral character is the perfect blossom of culture, which differs in several regards from the author's remark. To say that the cultured man is the perfect man, and must therefore have moral character, is true; but we needed no angel from heaven to tell us this. As entering into a discussion on Indifference or any trait of the mental development of the Harvard student, the subject of morality is irrelevant and absurd. From this to indifference itself.
Some philosophy and much ingenuity have been Wasted in galvanizing the corpse of indifference, and in subsequently accounting for its life-like movements. I strongly suspect that with the real indifference writers have had also in their minds that appearance, I will not say affectation, of it which comes from some acquaintance with the world. A countryman at a fair goes off like a surcharged soda-bottle at every wonder, but when the bloom of curiosity is rubbed off it is seen to be gaucherie to overflow, since all things have their explanation.
This may be good or bad, and may be ascribed to such and such causes, as superficial ideas, lack of enthusiasm, pessimism of the Nation, or what not. This, however, is the mere appearance of indifference. With regard to real indifference which is the matter discussed, it is mere verbal gymnastics to call it anything else than laziness. There is individual indifference to mathematics or philosophy, resulting from mental characteristics, which of course is not termed laziness; but, these differences cancelling each other in one college as compared to another, there is that general trait whose causes may only be traced among the various sources of laziness as social conditions and material environments. And here let me stop to give reasons for indifference that will look homely in the presence of the philosophy heretofore paraded. I mean the wealth of our College, its size, and neighborhood to a centre of social, dramatic, and musical attractions. Is it far to seek that men with affinities of this description become indolent of thought and incapable of sustained effort? They do not labor up the Mountain because they choose to entertain themselves with dulcimer and harp in the valley below.
Thus the author of "Indifference again," as it seems to me, was wrong in co-ordinating laziness and superficial ideas as causes of indifference; since indifference is laziness, though superficial ideas may quite probably be the causes of laziness. But the authors who have sought the origin of our indifference in the character of the Nation have suffered worse confusion of thought. For it is obvious that they have confounded the fact of our receiving pessimistic theories with the fact of subscribing to them in blind faith. In so far as the authority of the Nation closes the eye of reason, thus far is it productive of sloth. Not pessimism, but to be cowed into pessimism or anything else, therefore, is the evil. I question whether pessimism, as such, does not tend to increased activity of mind, whatever blight it may cast upon the moral sense, as involving critical examination into things ordinarily unquestioned, and a constant warfare with the received optimism. I might quote the extraordinary activity of the German Schopenhauer; and as to the general futility of any philosophical theory in stopping the processes of thought, the name of Spinoza is instructive as a believer in the doctrine, of all others, to stop effort, - I refer to the theory of Universal Necessity. I should, however, scarce think of seriously refuting such ludicrous reasoning as the writer in the last Advocate indulges himself in upon this subject, but subjoin it as a specimen of the inaccurate and hasty writing of that martinet in logic: "Such facts . . . . are unhealthy; they need to be supplemented by what Heine would call enthusiasm of the idea, or by some other powerful emotion. Whether it is the province of the newspaper to furnish this or not I do not care for the present, it is enough that the Nation does not furnish it, and therefore it is bad for us." In which I take the liberty of substituting for the words "newspaper" and "Nation" the words "roast beef," thus: Whether it is the province of roast beef to furnish this (enthusiasm of the idea) I care not, it is enough that roast beef does not furnish it, and therefore it is bad for us.
Which is very true if enthusiasm of the idea is the only good, otherwise I need not inform so "brilliant a logician" he is guilty of the fallacy of denying the antecedent.
I had intended to notice several other vagaries of thought in the writer named, but understand that another contributor has forestalled me.
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