Going Gentle

Ronald Reagan famously said that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” I disagree. Government inefficiency doesn’t terrify me. That’s fear mongering, and a nakedly bullshit statement. But recently, Dartmouth’s collective journey “forward” has felt like we’re drifting into an uncanny nightmare.

Terror is living death; the rusting of our joints and limbs; the wasting away of our vital tissues and organs. But we inhabit the one tissue that doesn’t decay like the others. The mind, instead, suffers from an erosion of the soul: atrophy.

Atrophy leads us, by the hand, gently into that good night: an act repugnant to our visceral instincts. A mutation that substitutes something unnatural for the animal. We’re no longer compelled to survive by pushing against the elements, or strengthening through stress. Atrophy is the daughter of apathy, which is itself a product of modern institutions and Band-Aids that reap our resilience, quell resistance and discomfort, and enervate our struggle for inspiration. 

My fear lies with our administration’s notion of what help is. Help demands communion, but instead we’re prescribed fragmentation. One cannot conquer inner demons by segregation. A blind eye only gives them strength. 

A culture that ritualizes brain damage is a problem which stems from a community that is lonely, anxious, and dependent. An itching that came from nowhere but grows with every year. Nagging, we pour alcohol to clean the wound. A ban is not help. The itching still furrows.

Help should empower, not cripple. A smartphone app is not empowerment—a young woman knows when she’s being raped. 

Without challenging ourselves and each other to find common meaning, without struggling to understand each other’s problems, we rigidly compartmentalize our relationships, and our social skills, like anything else neglected, break-down. The man who benefits from this consent-app “solution”, if he does exist, does so—in a case of tragic irony—specifically because our society makes smart-phone apps advertising whether the sex you’re having is rape or not. Rape is a problem of people.

A problem of people is one that calls out for real help, not patchwork issued from a disembodied echo-chamber. Questions of self-preservation, the meaning of life and death call for fiery debate not a solution doused from a high reign.

The eyes of America were on us, and we had to do something or suffer the stain of a negative news-cycle. So, we followed protocol: the precedent set by all institutions that are “here to help”. Institutional solutions are easy. Clamping down and shutting out and breaking apart are effective distractions, nothing more. Solutions don’t overcome dissonance. They forfeit the grounds for conflict and in so doing also remove the possibility of moral exercise. Lobotomy. 

Next term, when the ban kicks in and the other programs start up, we may not drink as much liquor, (or do so as openly), and that might not be the worst thing for us. In time, we won’t mind it.  But not minding the “solution” stirs an increasingly familiar sensation in my gut. Something important is wasting away.

I’ve heard that during long trips in outer-space, astronauts need to constantly exercise to fight atrophy. Like it or not, the administration has made it clear that these programs and institutions and solutions are moving us forward into some new frontier; I just hope I can still stand up when we finally arrive.