Life Is Short. When your Grandparents say that to you, when you’re say, eight or nine, you laugh, with this subconscious perception that you’re going to live forever, and that you’ve got years and years left before you end up thinking the same way. I’ll be 18 in November. Officially an adult. That rather alarming fact has made me realise that all those patronising elders from your childhood were bang on – life is short and all you can do is sit and watch the years fly by.
I know, I know, I’m only 17. I’m practically a baby still, but I can assure you, even at my age you feel like the years have gone without you. Eighteen is an age I used to dream of when I was younger, about twelve, thinking “That’s years and years away,” and when I saw cousins and relatives turning eighteen, they seemed so grown up, so mature, and smart, and I was convinced that on coming of age, your one of the adults, and your thinking about children and houses and getting married.
Marriage is the last thing on my mind. Even before I do reach ‘that age,’ there are so many things happening, that scare me half to death – and outline my transition out of childhood and into the scary real world.
I’m currently studying for my AS levels, the first year of traditional A-levels. Suddenly I’ve come out of my GCSE’s and my safety blanket has been whipped out from under me – I may be in the same school, but the nurturing and motherly attention your teachers subjected you to for all those years has dissolved into essay after essay, responsibility you cant really get your head around, and exams appearing before you’ve had chance to catch your breath.
And then there’s an even scarier prospect – university. I know I want a degree. I need a degree for my profession – but being launched, rather forcefully, into choosing an actual university, rather than just putting it to the back of your mind for ‘when you’re older,’ is what really shocks you into growing up. You have to choose your last place of education before your thrown to the lions in the real world – you have to decide where in the county you want to go, expenses, where you’re going to live, what you actually want to do with your life – and on top of all that there’s the extra pressure of UCAS, personal statements, and whether your choice of university will actually accept you at all.
I’m currently in the process of choosing my mine, I think I’ve cracked it, and the one I’ve chosen means I can do as planned and get a house with my boyfriend – but then there’s the gut wrenching feeling of “should I move away?” “What am I missing?” “Can we afford to get a house?” You know it’s irrational, but you cant help it – I know I want to go to TASC, get my degree in journalism and live with my boyfriend for the duration – but what with everyone choosing their own Uni’s, open days, and careers advisers making you feel like this is the last chance you’ve got – you feel nervous and doubtful nonetheless.
Which leads me to my next big transition: choosing somewhere to live. My boyfriend works full time and runs his own business, so in that sense we’ve got the advantage that he can get a mortgage. We’ve been looking at potential areas we could move to – but whilst he’s clicking away on the internet and thinking about ‘our first house’ – I’m sat beside him, barely believing that I’m leaving home and moving into my own house. That I’ll be cooking, cleaning, paying bills, decorating, and then living with him– there goes safety blanket number two.
The fact these big decisions are looming are joined by small first time experiences, adding to the transition from seventeen and innocent, to 18 and independent. This June, I’m going on holiday, abroad, without my parents. For the first time. Now, I’ve been to France and Germany with school, and last summer spend a week in a hired caravan on the coast with two friends – but this is different. France and Germany, I was supervised by teachers. At the coast, my grandparents were in their caravan on the same site – but when I venture off to Salou, Spain, with the boyfriend, I’ll be very much unsupervised.
I know I’ll love it, and I am excited. I spent a weekend in London with him, and we coped fine. I think its more the fact that I’m finally doing these things, everything I knew I’d do ‘someday’ is happening all at once and I know I’m not a child anymore. I’m happy about these experiences – first times, big decisions, becoming independent, taking mine and Matt’s relationship to an adult level – but at the same time it makes me wonder where all the years went.
I remember turning sixteen like it was yesterday. I remember my first love not so long ago, and then the heartbreak that followed when it ended. All these things have now been and gone, and it feels like I’m growing up a lot faster than I first realised. It’s said that these years are the best of your life, after you turn 16 it’s all supposed to kick off – party after party, boyfriends, dates, new friends. I was talking about mortgages to my boss at work, and he stopped and said, “you should be out on the town every weekend, spending your wage on beer and nights out, not thinking about mortgages.’
But frankly that’s not me. I do enjoy my social life, and I am living the wild teenager life in a sense – I’m not going to deny myself of a mad party or a good night out. I got to see about two live bands a month, and attend as many music festivals as I can afford in the summer. But with time going so fast – can you believe its March already? – I feel like I need to plan, as if I’m bracing myself for when it all explodes and suddenly I’m 18.
So what I’m requesting is a time freeze. It feels like before I know it another big experience has passed, another year has gone. If I can stop time, stop this ‘growing up’ business, just for a day, maybe too, I know I’ll feel more confident in the times that are to come. I know it can’t happen, well, not right now anyway, but wouldn’t it be perfect? If you could stop time, think about what’s been and gone, think about what’s to come, and rid yourself, just for those 48 hours, of the frightening feeling that life is short, and getting shorter.
I’m 18 this November. I’ll be the ‘grown up’ at the party who all the younger cousins are in awe of, I’ll be making big decisions that will affect the rest of my life, and all I can hope for is that I will be smart, mature, and grown up.
Wanted: one time freeze.
Divided We Fail: How Individualism is Holding the U.S. Back
The bootstrap mentality is about as American as apple pie. But it’s destroying our already frayed social net and education system. Can we resist our individualistic roots to mobilize and enact progressive policies?
To understand the swampy depths of American individualism is also to acknowledge that we have a serious inability to comprehend looming disaster. In fact, we’re uniquely terrible at it.
Loosely defined, American individualism is the idea that prosperity and growth is overwhelmingly the result of an individual’s hard work, cleverness, grit, and all that. (It’s both hilarious and fitting that one of our most reviled and economically disastrous presidents, Herbert Hoover, was the main architect behind the notion of American individualism.)
On one hand, this belief in individualism seems empowering. It tells us we are the captains of our own ships. It tells us we don’t have to be defined by our childhood traumas or underfunded school systems. It tells us that through scrappiness and ingenuity and discipline, we can rise above our circumstances and succeed, no matter what.
The inverse, of course, is that our failures are also ours alone to bear—with little regard for the systems and circumstances that cause some people to spend lifetimes catching up to where others were simply born.
American individualism explains so much of what we get wrong as a country, even in 2019. We downplay the systemic racism and violence of our police force through tunnel vision that tells us there are only a “few bad apples” rather than a flawed, oppressive police state. We’re unable to treat things like healthcare or housing as basic human rights, positing instead that those without access to food or shelter probably just haven’t “earned” it. And higher education—often treated as the great equalizer by meritocrats—is so expensive, it’s crippling our economy as a whole. Yet too many students are blaming themselves, and too many people are blaming students.
One is the Lousiest Number
These days, it’s hard to pick what to worry about more in the U.S. The list of societal threats certainly is long—climate change, the impending retirement crisis, the ongoing student debt crisis. These problems have been worsening for decades, and they’re all the result of failures at a systematic level.
The climate crisis was ramped up by decades of poorly regulated industries that pumped carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The retirement crisis that will likely come full force when Generation X starts leaving the workforce was set into motion by a shrinking pension system and the increasingly uncertain future of Social Security. And higher education became outrageously expensive over years of unchecked soaring tuition and fee increases.
But not everyone recognizes these mass-scale problems for what they are. Instead, too many people are blaming individual choices for giant societal failures. And these arguments are distracting us from collective solutions. Realistically, no one should be arguing that student loan forgiveness is a “half-baked” idea steeped in self-interest. Or that climate change can be reasonably combatted through laudable (yet mostly insignificant) individual actions like going vegetarian.
The numbers prove just how puny our individual actions really are against these larger-than-us problems. For example, even the most generous, self-massaged estimates put a single company like ExxonMobil’s annual carbon emissions in the range of well over 100 million CO2 equivalent metric tons. The average American, through even the most radical lifestyle changes and discipline, would likely only lower their annual emissions from about 20 metric tons to 8 metric tons. It would take millions and millions of people selling their cars and going vegan to equate to just one ExxonMobil. (Spoiler alert: There are way too many companies just like it.)
As Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists eloquently states: “We can’t ignore individual choice and responsibility; at the same time, we also have to recognize that our individual choices are constrained by corporate practices and government laws and regulations.”
A Way Out and Up
All is not lost, though. There is hope.
While the 2020 presidential pool for the Democrats may be a bit flooded, the makeup of the pool has revealed a trend: the ideas of sweeping economic relief and safety net programs are becoming more mainstream. If the Democratic party can just avoid spending its time strategizing against democratic socialism, we could enact policies that tackle these problems at the level they’re actually at.
Party insiders and centrists aside, it looks like voters are—even if just subtly and slowly—pressuring politicians to stop blaming individual choice for societal woes. The idea of multiple presidential candidates touting competing student loan relief programs would have seemed outrageous even a few election cycles ago—and now Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julián Castro are all on board.
The point is, we’re getting there. And if we can fight against our very American instincts, we can realize—en masse—that our efforts to save our planet might be better spent organizing than remembering to recycle our empty salsa jars. We can take solace in knowing a liberal arts degree isn’t a personal failing that deserves financial punishment. We can accept that, as individuals, we may not be as powerful on our own as we thought, but we also may not be as much to blame for our struggles.
And then, we can mobilize.
Ramsay and the Rabble: Miseducation at the University of Queensland
Conservatives should not flee campus just yet. There are good reasons to stay and fight.
For good reason, controversies in higher education are usually of short-term and limited interest to the Australian public, which is undoubtedly much more intelligent than anyone at a typical humanities faculty meeting. Examples abound, but for a measure of proof, look to Dr. Dean Aszkielowicz of Murdoch University, who recently expressed a chirpy contempt for ANZAC soldiers, or, as he called them, murderers unworthy of commemoration.
Fashionable whinging about a pervasive university rape crisis also comes to mind. The idea that Australian campuses are somehow comparable to the Congo or downtown Mogadishu cannot be believed by a thinking person, which is probably why it’s so popular among feminists of the young and mulish variety.
Such examples of academic mischief dominate the headlines and then disappear. The ongoing debate over the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, however, has proven to be an interesting exception.
Put simply, Paul Ramsay, the late businessman and philanthropist, left a sizeable bag of money for any Australian university that wanted it. The funds would go toward the establishment of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Western Civilisation, the hiring of academic staff, and generous scholarships.
The centerpiece is a Great Books program in which small groups of students would read and discuss the imperishable works of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Shakespeare, and others. This would provide students with a real liberal education – “the best that has been thought and said,” as Matthew Arnold put it.
That all sounds great, I hear the thoughtful Reader agreeing, and yes, it does. Our universities have centers for the study of China, Islam, and the like; why not establish one devoted to our own intellectual and historical tradition? Ramsay’s goal of promoting “an interest in and awareness of Western civilization” should strike any reasonable person as sound and modest.
Against all this must be set the utterly unhinged reaction from university staff and students. Countless protests, op-eds, and social media denunciations have left the Ramsay Centre homeless and its millions of dollars unspent. To recap: the Australian National University flirted with the idea and then impolitely declined; the University of Wollongong said sure why not and is now facing legal action by the National Tertiary Education Union seeking to reverse the decision; the University of Sydney, led by the indefatigable Dr. Nick Riemer, is sure to reject the proposal. Riemer, who spends an incredible amount of time sniffing about Ramsay and organizing protest conferences, allegedly teaches students in the Linguistics department. He was the academic loon, you may recall, who argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Ramsay curriculum “validates the worldview” of the Christchurch terrorist who murdered innocent Muslims at prayer.
This brings me to the University of Queensland, where there is some interest in setting up Ramsay despite the fact that the humanities board has twice rejected the proposed curriculum. Of course, radical anti-Western zealots desire to be the cause of radical anti-Western zeal in others, so it’s no surprise that the lecturers have corrupted the students.
In an apparent nod to Athenian-style democracy, Student Union president Georgia Millroy organized a meeting in the Schonell theatre, where some five hundred students gathered to debate and vote on whether negotiations with Ramsay should continue, the Brisbane Times reported on May 29.
It must be said that the young toads approached the task with a combination of demagoguery and smugness. With the lecture hall stacked, they loudly asserted their opposition, which was undoubtedly what Ms. Millroy hoped to achieve. Her comrade on the student council, Priya De, described the Ramsay Centre as “racist” without bothering to back up such a claim with evidence, and then she banged on for a bit about white supremacy. Other speakers of similarly limited vocabulary proceeded in a reliably platitudinous manner and added all sorts of nonsense to the Ramsay bill of complaint. In the end, only eight students voted in favor, and the Times should really do its journalistic duty and conduct a second headcount; those brave souls may have been sent off for reeducation.
This incident at UQ and similar ones elsewhere are not mere tussles in Australian higher education, soon to be forgotten. There is much more at risk. The failure to establish the Ramsay Centre would signal the success of “the culture of repudiation”, Roger Scruton’s term for Western culture’s masochistic hatred of itself and its inheritance. One must ask: is a considered appreciation of Western philosophy and history even permissible in its own home, the university? In Australia, the debate over Ramsay will help to settle this question.
For many conservatives, however, the debate is already over, and the losers are on the run. Roger Kimball, writing recently in the New York Post, argued that the Right should give up on trying to change the universities; such institutions are unsalvageable and new ones must be set up in their place. Salvatore Babones, associate professor at the University of Sydney, recently made the same case in relation to the Ramsay Centre.
This is a tempting path to take, especially for someone like me. I graduated in – good grief, when was it? – 2013, and since then I’ve undertaken the most intellectually liberating experience of my life: the gradual relinquishment of almost all the convictions I held as a university student. This has involved deep reading in a variety of sources, especially the Great Books, and a shuffle to the Right, well ahead of schedule.
That said, I don’t think conservatives should flee the campus just yet. There are good reasons to stay and fight: first, surrendering to the likes of Georgia Millroy and her mob is intolerable to me; and second, I think a kind of victory is possible.
This may be surprising, but I sometimes notice a certain lack of resolve in the anti-Ramsay crowd, despite their vociferousness, and I wonder if their hearts are really in it. Perhaps, deep down, they might even enjoy losing this particular fight.
How so? Well, the successful establishment of the Ramsay Centre would give many lecturers and their students their favorite thing of all: it would satisfy their desire to feel aggrieved all the time. They’d get quite a kick out of carrying on whinging about their victimhood and oppression. Imagine the safe spaces they’d have to build to protect themselves from those fellow students across campus, the ones who may have a shot at a decent and truly liberal education.