The problem with the student collective

By: Michael Torres

Photo: Adrián Rivera Ferrán /Pulso Estudiantil

There are various surprising facts about myself that would make it seem as if I were a demagogue, a pleonastic fool, and perhaps even a political charlatan. It ought not be shocking that these epithets and other uncharitable smears have been spewed at my character by opponents, at face and back. I’m often graced by the handful of enemies who are at least willing to engage with the premises I argue for rather than resort to logical fallacies and ad hominem attacks. I aptly use graced because it is a genuine pleasure to dispute with these people, whether at a table or at an online forum.

If there’s one thing we can all likely agree on is that the discourse surrounding complex political and cultural issues is marred with inadequacy and intellectual ineptitude. We are beseeched to seize opportunities like these, to dialogue between each other, to debate ideas and to allow the best to rise to the pillar to subsequently be scrutinized and toppled by a better one. Such has been the modus of the Oxford form of debate, which now proudly, or at least should, extends to all universities across the Western world and beyond.

I emphasize the West in these respects due to recurring, though not entirely unprecedented, processions against free expression across college campuses under the guise of inclusion and respect. Young adults have been convinced – indoctrinated would be a more accurate description – by leftist professors that an invisible and highly political boogeyman has attained absolute control over society. Let it be known that this beast is in itself an anachronism merely to serve the political agenda of those who’ve no evidence and lack intellectual honesty. When pushed on the matter, more often than not, these ideologues lack any credibility, spouting conspiratorial nonsense of the sort they’d criticize the political right of, and rightly so.

Those who know me best will correct the uninitiated of my fervent hatred of lazy argumentation. However, they will follow up by proclaiming the openness with which I receive those arguments, even ones that may contradict my own, and receive them with appreciative scepticism, as I would recommend all to do.

As a preface, readers should know how exactly I align myself politically. I am of the old school of Liberalism, of the enlightenment men and women who professed liberty and reason above all else. This will include, as it quite obviously should, John Stuart Mill, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Milton, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Constantia (Judith Sargent Murray) – whom I add as a benefit to those who know of few Liberal women of the era. With political liberty comes economics as well, which ought to include Adam Smith, David Hume, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Joseph Addison, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt and Ludwig von Mises.

Most political compass tests appoint me as Libertarian Capitalist, of which I refuse to call myself as, for I consider the Libertarian movement dull and uninteresting. I will, however, gladly call myself capitalist by virtue of being liberal.

In Puerto Rican affairs, I am a staunch proponent of independence, though I reject alignment with the Independence Party. They lean too politically left, they are too reactionary and too Marxian. Ideologues can only achieve so much with the moralizing they commit to. They are more activist than they are politicians, always have been, hence they’ve never garnered any significant support for their proposals and proclamations. This would seem surprising to some, but a nation’s sovereignty is in fact one of the most liberal positions one could have. Jefferson defended State Rights over giving the Federal Government more power, to the extent whereby he refused to address the slavery question even though he privately abhorred the practice. This question would later be resolved by Lincoln, in a reluctant act to end the Civil War, for he too stood by Jefferson’s ideal of State Rights.

This fact is even more accentuated today with the current issues facing the European Union, considering the United Kingdom has voted to leave, with other members inclining similarly.

I think this is a Puerto Rican ideological test worth talking about, since this is a contentious topic, one that has chained the country’s politics for over a century.

I’ve shown my cards, the foot by which I limp, as Puerto Ricans would say.

Recently, I’ve frequented the college group known as Sabes que eres de la IUPI si ______, forum where students aid each other in the daily musings and distresses of college life. And as per college culture, it never strays away from political topics, even more so now with the Fiscal Crisis and the Student Strike.

If I ever do assess the Fiscal Crisis it will be in another article, so I will limit myself to the issues facing the University of Puerto Rico.

On February 21st, a day before the first student assembly of the semester, I wrote an article on my personal blog titled A Revolution Without Freedom, where I analysed the main claims behind a possible student strike against budget cuts. I cited my sources, and even included images to properly display my criticisms of the Student Movement (M.E. for its Spanish acronym). One such criticism, which I still uphold, is the pervasiveness of Marxist ideology in the movement. I had previously commented on it on the university group, also noting my distaste for the Puerto Rican political right. However, on this particular matter they are unequivocally correct.

Marxist philosophy has required active proponents (activists) in order to push the class warfare narrative. The philosophy itself has evolved over the past few decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, whereby it has purported itself as intersectionality, a term often used in Gender Studies programs, which are heavily influenced by Marxist doctrine, Foucault philosophy and Butler’s sociology. Butler was in fact a philosopher herself, though her influences permeate more on social behaviour and criticisms of such. They all coalesced into what would aptly be described as an ideological disease called Postmodernism, quickly spreading through the University system across the world.

Postmodernism goes all the way back to Rousseau’s Social Contract (1762) and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755), and Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (1788). These were the counter-enlightenment men; unapologetically authoritarian, collectivist and religious, of the sort that would be repudiated by the left. They were anti-reason and anti-individual, for people must fulfil their duty to the development of the species.

Intersectionality itself means that people’s identities intersect between each other, and the analysis of these intersections helps broaden the knowledge we have of how each identity experiences the world and life. In essence, it has been boiled down to an oppression Olympics, whereby the more marginalized identity you have, the more oppressed you are, and the more activism must be done in order to protect you. On the web, a meme was created to show the extreme absurdity of this idea. In accordance to it, a black, transgender, Muslim woman, with autism would be the pinnacle of an oppressed identity.

It may seem as though I mock it – certainly I am – but I state this in all seriousness because I’ve seen, read and interacted with people who genuinely ascribe to these ideals. Aside from confusion, one cannot help but feel some fear as to what these people, in large groups, would be capable of.

And frightening it has been, for the Kantian philosophy allows these identitarian groups to claim moral superiority on the basis of their identity. What they happen to be, their identity, becomes a valuable asset in their fight against the arbitrary oppressor and those on neutral grounds, the dissenters or disagree-ers. The irony lies then in the throwing of pacifist Martin Luther King Jr. out the window, the left’s prince. To hell with judging a person by their character, for their skin defines their reality, therefore we must protect them. As coined by Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson, it’s the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. There is no worse form of condescension than the assumption that a group of people or a person require unwanted help.

I would be remiss not to argue that we’ve already, and still, have groups like this. Certainly more violent. The Bolsheviks, by Saul Alinsky’s standard for radicals, would fit quiet aptly into what would be called a Radical. Others would include most terrorist groups; ISIS (Islamic State), FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional), FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), Boko Haram, IRA (Irish Radical Army), Hezbollah, ELN (National Liberation Army), Shining Path, Al-Qaeda, Indian Mujahedeen, and the list goes on further. They are all fighting for political power, utilizing any means necessary to achieve it. Some, arguably and relatively, more justified than others.

At the end of each day, it is in fact a power play. Those who’ve read Alinsky and Machiavelli will understand and distinguish its pervasive nature in modern political discourse, and throughout history.

The phrase “by any means” reminds me of Oscar Lopez’ recent interview after his release by President Obama. He was bold enough to quote, as if it gave any justification to his actions – in fact at the same time openly admitting his impenitence – the United Nations’ Decolonization Declaration, Resolution 1514 (XV). Of course, he fails to put this quotation under proper context, which would be if the island were under military oppression, i.e. forceful suppression of our inalienable rights, which we are not. Lopez’ attempt at noble posturing failed miserably, though it did not fail to embolden the impressionable leftists of the island and the mainland.

I find it highly necessary to define what radicalism is since it has been incessantly thrown around campus and countrywide discussions on the Student Strike, from both sides at each other. The definition I use comes from Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals (1971). The terms by which the word has been used however are self-interested. It has been flung by the Strikers (“huelguistas”) at those who oppose the movement, and it has been thrown by the political right at the Strikers. Under the Alinsky standard of “by any means necessary”, either side could be accurately described as radical. As a student myself I find it more distressing that those who claim to represent me are acting in such a way.

I can duly criticize the political right in the country, but I shall leave that when necessary, which right now it is not.

Those Strikers not only claim to speak for what interests me as a student, and the student body, claiming the ratification of the strike as their justification, but they also claim to represent the country’s workers, the middles class, and the lower classes. They are often bold enough to claim to speak for the entire country against the suppressive government and the oppressive Yankee colonizers. Herein lies an obviation of the fourth rule of Means and Ends, which states, “judgement must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.” (p. 30, Rules for Radicals)

Strikers still hold on to the political assessments of their descendants, who attributed the country’s woes on the Yankee invasion and colonization in a broad sense. All the way back to 1492 absurdly enough. Although crimes were committed against us by Spain and the United States, after the Constitution of Puerto Rico was ratified in 1952, founding the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it delegitimized any argument based around these crimes. This of course doesn’t absolve the countries responsible, nor should we forget the history of their authoritarian rule over the Puerto Rican people. Regardless, we should not resort to the absurd historical accountability argument, otherwise, the entirety of the world would owe respects to the Vikings, and the Nordic countries would owe us reparations. Still, how far back should a country owe reparations to another country or culture? By which standard is this decided?

Other than this rule, the Strikers and their opponents can fittingly be described as radicals. Even if these standards were not considered, they would still be addressed as such, regardless of the veracity of the adjective. This harkens to the ninth rule which states, “Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.” (p. 35) Therefore, it matters not what either side does, whether it’s to coerce University officials or press charges against the entire institution, they would continue to be Radicals.

Having established how exactly we should refer to the strikers, we ought to now address their problems as an organized group, or organized groups I should say. It is already widely known that the movement in its entirety is unavoidably sectarian, which is par for the course for collectivization. Not one group is in complete agreement with the other. They do not agree on the means by which they’ll achieve the ultimate end, but they do agree on that end, which has unfortunately been neglected to be specified. Since the start of the strike, I’ve constantly questioned what the ultimate end is. Various issues have merged into the movement’s claims, consequently causing the hazing of ideals and purpose. O’Neill’s alleged sexual harassment and the University budget cuts are mutually exclusive issues, they do not correlate whatsoever. The only possible way they could would be if we were arguing about government corruption, and even then, relating either to each other would be a stretch.

They intend a multifaceted, multitasking movement where every issue a particular group of the entire collective finds troubling will be added to the blend of claims that must be met. As has already been evidenced, multitasking is an inefficient way of managing different tasks, resulting in mediocrity and plenty of loose ends.

Acknowledging these fact aids us in understanding how the M.E. works and how it’s organized, or how it’s unorganized. Moreover, it shows the inadequacy by which the University’s issues are being handled or addressed by the students in general, not just the movement, aside from the administration itself of course.

One such disagreement was by which means they would push their ideals and inspire support, whether by violent means or through dialectics. Some were quite clearly more violent than others. Violence itself was not absent in the movement, though some were more reserved than others. They attempted a dialogue, but this was futile, as they later understood, because that would mean their narrative and ideals would be put into question. And if there’s one thing radicals cannot handle, in fact refuse to, is dissent because it would mean that they do not have a clear goal in mind. This was evident in student assemblies and plenaries, where if anyone were to even make an indication of dissonance it would be quickly quelled by the Strikers through intimidation.

These practices are not new to radical groups or people. In fact, it is how they operate. The only possible way an authority can keep control and power is by ridding itself of any challenge to them. This is regardless of whether they are in a position to exert punitive measures against those who oppose them. The Strikers were equal to those whom they controlled, at least they made it seem. On closer inspection, having gone to see the Strikers myself and what they do, what they discuss, I saw that, as Orwell would say, “some were more equal than others”. This was clearly due to the charisma they exerted. As per the mammalian side of our brain, we gravitate toward those of our species who have leadership exuding from their character.

Most of the students who did emanate this charisma were the eldest, those who’ve been in the University for over five years at the least, while some were graduates, claiming to protect and fight for their alma mater. What is often forgotten by political activists is that no one has asked for their opinion, much less their help. Activists per se are presumptuous people, period. Therefore, they are prone to erroneous assumptions about their importance in society.

Lastly, I wish to address the ingrained collectivism of the M.E. It’s been argued before that collectivism isn’t inherently wrong considering how society itself, civilization, is a collective where people cooperate with each other in order to maintain order and to progress. This is perfectly true. Part of being human, a mammal, is that we collectivize ourselves to guarantee survival of the tribe, such it has been through millennia. However, we should not resort to the primitivation of our species for the sake of argument. We have no need for tribalism anymore. Humanity is globalized enough to make collectivization unnecessary and in fact dangerous. We need only look back at the 20th century regimes and what ideals they espoused.

The ethnic fascism of Hitler and political fascism of Mussolini were no less collectivist than the communism of either Lenin and Stalin. As a matter of fact, for these ideologies to function properly, they necessitate nationalism, or a sort of group essentialism, whereby one’s group is the exemplar and all other groups or people should follow suit. For the Nazis it was the Aryan race, for the Soviet Revolutionaries it was the Bolsheviks, for China it was Maoism. Not only is nationalism necessary, but it comes together with hyper-puritanism, whereby if someone were to even incline into dissent, or even act in such a way that the movement or leader disapprove of, it is off with their heads. Metaphorically and perhaps even literally.

Our century has its fair share of puritans and nationalists, limited to their group and nothing more. We call these cults, but they are not limited to religion, as the modern progressive movements – BLM (Black Lives Matter), intersectional feminism, Anti-Fa (Anti Fascists) – are to be taken into account. A cult requires a leader or a leading edict, which these movements have. They require strict rules and regulated memberships, which they have. They require a means to an end, which, as I’ve highlighted before, lacks proper definition.

The most important aspect of a cult, or a collective, is that it needs a villain. Without the devil figure in their cautionary tale, they have no purpose, regardless of whether their goals are justified or not, or even real. To BLM it’s the police and the white man. To feminists it’s the patriarchy, men themselves. To anarchists it’s the government. And to most left wing movements it is capitalism. To the student movement, it is the government and the administration, and capitalism – it’s always capitalism.

Perhaps in a future article I will defend capitalism against this pernicious consensus of the University of Puerto Rico.

These collectives ask of its members to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of the cause, whatever it may be. This is the reason why the M.E. is sectarian in nature. No group can agree with each other on the specifics of their claims, nor the means by which they plan to achieve them. They all, however, act in unison. No group dare split from the collective, lest it be ostracized and exiled from the cause, because they clearly do not favour the cause. This is why, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, “the trouble with socialism is that it takes too many evenings” the last word oft interchangeable with “meetings”.

I challenged leaders of the M.E. to debate their claims and to essentially justify themselves, their existence, their cause and their actions. Only one replied to the challenge in vague and ad hominem filled comments. The rest likely ignored it. It depresses me to think that those who claim revolutionary ennoblement cannot face those who stand against them. Such has been the history of revolutions. A chaotic history, but one filled with diverse thoughts and ideals. And this is the diversity we should aspire to, not one of skin, genitalia, sexuality, nationality, culture. I say no to diversity of identity, and yes to diversity of thought.

The other side of this stained coin is their scathing indictments against individualism. They seem to mix egoism, the philosophy of self interest as morality, with egotism, which is self interest in excess. There is nothing wrong with looking out for oneself and our loved ones. In fact, it is completely natural. Society is made up of individuals who start out in the family collective, to then be introduced to other collectives where they have the free will of whether to be involved or not. Such is the way a free society operates. People have the freedom to join different groups, of distinct and dissonant ideologies, yet they do not have the freedom to impose ideologies on anyone. This is why we have separation of church and state. They do however have the freedom to try to convince others of their ideals. That’s why free speech is protected, to ensure that all people have liberty to think as they see fit and to discuss those thoughts amongst each other.

The very essence of individualism is to be free. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as Jefferson wrote on the Declaration of Independence, inspired by Lockean philosophy. I have no doubt that the M.E. wants to be free, from the state, from the administration, from anyone who would prevent students from receiving their education. A laudable cause. And that is where it ends. Their actions lack the respectability of their words, and they do not leave much to the imagination as to what they’d do once in power. How they’ve managed their groups is telling enough. Moreover, we should reconsider whether we want to be led by neurotic young adults who’re still trying to figure out their own lives.

This fact should not dissuade youth from participating in causes they deem necessary, just as long as their actions do not infringe on anybody else’s will.

This is the main ill of the student movement. They lack self awareness and self criticism. They focus on an abstract collective against an abstract villain, neither of which are ever defined. They also lack one of the essential ingredients in any intellectual or political revolution, as shown by history, which is an argument for freedom. As I argued in my previous article, they do not want to be free, they want entitlements which have been standardized by a system that can no longer sustain itself.

I by no means intend to crash the entire system, though the thought has not escaped my mind, and neither has it from the minds of many strikers, I’m certain. However, if the student movement has a desire for change, then it must first revaluate its ideological leanings and be open, not just to criticism, but to being wrong.