The Roots of Faulty Reasoning

by John Strayer | 5/2/96 5:00am

There are two common mistakes that we Dartmouth pundits make in our various arguments. These two elements are so pervasive in the bad reasoning that goes on at this place that someone really must do something.

First of all, if I hear one more argument that starts with the following phrase I am going to scream in violent pain: "Well we are all smart enough to get into Dartmouth, so ..."

This goes wrong in a bunch of directions, including the fact that among Dartmouth students, intelligence is not universal. In admissions decisions there are all sorts of factors that can either override or mask the dumbness of a particular candidate. The factor that is most responsible is one that is rarely talked about: money.

But more important is another way the "smart Dartmouth student" notion goes wrong. It is the fact that intelligence in the academic sense by no means equates to awareness in the social sense.

Just because we are "Ivy League Students" does not mean we don't have our collective heads up our arses when it comes to understanding what is really going on in the culture around us.

And so we move to the second element in my theory on bad Dartmouth arguments. Because of the way the D-Plan strains our lives, we develop an irrational loyalty to the institutions that help us survive.

I myself know that my sophomore summer would have been miserable if not for the house I joined. And so, in my old age of Senior Spring, I am still anxious about the future of the organization.

With best friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and would-be friends all bouncing on and off from term to term it's nice to have an organization, an immutable thing, to hold on to throughout the storm. This thing is a group of people, big enough to continue unabated through the fluctuations of the D-Plan, but small enough to be within the finite human capacity to know people.

This solid point is provided by a cappella groups, affinity house groups, minority groups, athletics, undergraduate societies, fraternities and sororities and more.

But this whole process has a rather significant, unintended sideeffect. We are dedicated to these groups as we conceive them. Our organizations are so vital to our Dartmouth experience that we miss the fact that they might be even better otherwise.

How many times have I heard people argue to the effect of, "...but I have had so many great times with my brothers that I get upset when people tell me things should change."

Look, there is no need to invalidate the plentiful good times we have had in our various organizations. By providing a stable social group our "houses" have played a vital role in each of our Dartmouth experiences. God bless 'em for it.

But as we reflect on our lives at the College, we should be big enough to admit there are aspects of our lives that could be improved. Particularly in the area of relations between the sexes, might not things have been better? How many people do you know that have settled for "random hook-ups" given the obstacles to serious relationships.

As hard as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we simply are not satisfied with the relationship between men and women on this campus. Instead of questioning the structure that leads to this frustration, we find ourselves rationalizing with any number of statements that begin, "Men/women here suck because..."

Instead of blaming the opposite sex for gender relations on this campus, we must come to examine the root source of our difficulties. Such an examination is complicated by our extreme (but understandable) loyalty to those very institutional structures that cause the problems in the first place.

Let me put it to you this way: the structure of the D-Plan places inherent difficulties in the way of long-term healthy relationships between men and women. Given this situation, would anyone rationally choose to further divide students by sex into smaller organizations? Would we rationally choose to define social space in terms of "men's turf" and "women's turf?"

It seems to me that you'd have to be dumb, or misguided by loyalty to answer yes. Maybe it's both.

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