Saturday, November 27, 2010

Banners of the Tribe: Social Studies

Brad DeLong has a long, interesting post on the recent semi-centennial celebration of the Harvard Social Studies program: The Social Studies Major 50th Anniversary Celebration Party and Bitter Internal Ideological Power Struggle There are many highlights and low, but here is one that caught my eye (from a Luncheon talk):

I will give you an answer, by telling you another story, this time from my years teaching at Columbia. In 1968, as some of you will recall, the students occupied several buildings and brought the university to a screeching halt for two weeks. The next semester, I was teaching a course in which I was anguishing over my inability to find, in the text of Kant's GROUNDWORK OF THE METAPHYICS OF MORALS, an absolutely valid a priori proof of the universal validity of the fundamental moral principle, the categorical Imperative. After class one day, one of the students came up to talk to me. He was one of the SDS students who had seized the buildings, and I knew that he was active off campus in union organizing. 'Why are you so concerned about finding that argument?' he asked. Well, I said, if I cannot find such an argument, how will I know what to do? He looked at me as one looks at a very young child, and replied, 'First you have to decide which side you are on. Then you will be able to figure out what you ought to do.'

At the time, I thought this was a big cop-out, but as the years have passed, I have realized the wisdom in what he said.

What they are saying, whether they realize it or not, is that once you swear allegiance to the banners of the tribe - any tribe - you no longer have to think. Somebody or something else will make all the decisions for you.

I will pass.