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Get in where you fit in

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In his autobiography, the legendary Groucho Marx wrote about an incident in which he resigned from a prestigious social club: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” I note Marx’s quip as I consider the myriad attacks on Ivy League schools and other so-called “woke” institutions. In particular, I find it strange that so many people who condemn these institutions – whose political ethos is the antithesis of theirs – desperately want to join them.

It has always been true that many people are not content to join the “club” that heartily welcomes them. Still, I wonder why people who claim to be so diametrically opposed to the “woke left” increasingly are seeking affirmation and status from places like Harvard. Perhaps the answer is found in the question, but I find the misplaced victimhood among these people to be endlessly fascinating – and astoundingly sad. Why not seek solace at proudly conservative institutions? Wouldn’t it be more productive to spend their time and resources trying to turn Oral Roberts or Liberty or Hillsdale into “better” versions of Ivy League schools? Do they have a martyr complex? Are they masochists?  

Even more strangely, many of those who are very critical of leftist institutions are alums of the very schools that they seem to despise. Ron DeSantis. Josh Hawley. Ted Cruz. Donald Trump. Clarence Thomas. I am not suggesting that such alums should refrain from criticizing their erstwhile stomping grounds; in my view, no institution (academic or otherwise) is inherently above reproach. I am suggesting that most of these individuals are being disingenuous for the sake of politics. Further, while it is true that most people’s political views vary over time, having an Ivy League imprimatur on one’s résumé frequently overrides any political considerations.

Though I am a registered Democrat, I consider myself to be a “radical centrist” given the extremities of our two major political parties. I am also a pro-life Evangelical Christian. I am also an African-American. In some contexts, I strongly embrace orthodoxy; in others I completely eschew it. Thus, the term “ambi-sectional” (as opposed to intersectional) probably best describes my philosophical outlook. My comfort with ideological tension makes me generally unsympathetic to people who consciously make decisions that they know run counter to their beliefs; this includes conservative would-be joiners of organizations they abhor.

If lack of self-esteem is not the reason (at least for some), perhaps there is something more sinister afoot: authoritarianism. Whether communists or fascists, the impulse to order the world according to one’s own viewpoint is very troubling. America and other nations are awash in what I refer to as proto-fascism, which is the impulse to embrace confirmation bias, limit the speech of others, deny election results, and fall prey to (or knowingly support) disinformation. In extreme cases – which are becoming more common – these people turn to violence when all else fails. Democracy is resilient, but it is not impervious.

Even as people like Andrew Sullivan constantly rail against Ivy League institutions being anti-democratic bastions, one has to wonder about the means by which he would change them. For example, one common argument is that Ivy League schools routinely fire people who do not adhere to “woke dogma”. Is the solution to fire those who are currently doing the firing – replacing them with people who will be fairer in their hiring decisions – with “fairer” being define as hiring “anti-woke” professors?

To be clear, I feel equally strongly about those on the left who join conservative organizations and then complain about said organizations (and their co-workers) being… conservative. Why would a staunchly pro-choice person apply for a job at Focus on the Family? Why would a health conscious person join Altria? There are plenty of spaces that welcome one’s viewpoints, no matter what those viewpoints may be. Personally, I have no desire to join a racially segregated country club. I wouldn’t even sue to join. (Then again, I strongly dislike golf, so maybe that is at play as well.) But that’s just me. Do people do such things for recognition? Is it the desire to be a contrarian? The only case in which I would consider making an exception is if dire financial circumstances compelled me to seek employment at an organization that I find to be distasteful.

Lest some people view my perspective as a call for “separate but equal” institutions, please allow me to disabuse them of that notion. God gives each of us the free will to pursue that which our heart’s desire, irrespective of whether said pursuit is good for our heart (or others). I am merely suggesting that people refrain from dramatically increasing their blood pressure by seeking roles, honors, recognition, or other pursuits that do not genuinely add to their sense of joy and purpose.

Students and others would dutifully ask Dr. Howard Thurman, the initmitable educator and philosopher, what the world needs from them. Dr. Thurman, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King, responded: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The world would indeed be much better if we all heeded Dr. Thurman’s advice.  

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