The Gospel According to Matthew

by Matthew Ritger | 11/19/09 11:00pm

This is a swirling, cloak and dagger tale; a story of secret societies, campus celebrities and media tycoons. This is nothing less than the death of conservatism at Dartmouth, and the birth of the Lone Pine Revolution.

This has to do with those inane flyers that appeared in bathroom stalls and inboxes across campus at 5 a.m. on Nov. 9, proclaiming the existence of a "Senior Society of Men" dedicated to stopping sexual abuse and gender inequality on campus, and even daring, "What are you prepared to do?" in that god-awful font. These flyers were, however, perhaps not entirely meaningless. For underclassmen who may not have been aware, or for those of you who weren't paying attention, I'll try my best to recap this Dan Brown plotline

Fact: It came to light in March of 2007 that an all-male secret society, unrecognized by the College, calling itself Phrygian or the Phrygian Society, had been formed in 2005, if not earlier with the specific purpose of advancing a politically conservative, traditionalist or anti-administration agenda on campus ("Secret society pushes anti-administration agenda" March 7, 2007).

Fact: That fall, campus buzzed with discussion of "The Daughters of Dartmouth," a group that had canvassed campus with shocking flyers, sardonically criticizing specific frats and institutions for misogyny or sexism ("Anti-sexism posters turn heads" and "Shaming and Naming" November 2, 2007).

Fact: That fall, Phrygian's agenda was "parity," which meant equality between the number of trustees on the Board of Trustees who were not selected by the Board and were instead elected by the alumni. Phrygian's view was that the Board was a lame-duck body seeded and selected by the administration to serve its own needs. Remember the lawsuits against Dartmouth, and the full-page ads in The New York Times, the candidacy of Stephen Smith '88, the Hanover Institute all these various scandals?

Fact: Phrygian's antics included bizarre missives in faux-ancient fonts, which ended up splashed across the pages of The Dartmouth. There was even a group photo published that unmasked many members posing with controversial conservative alumni Todd Zywicki '88. Surprise to none, many of Phrygian's members have been staffers of The Dartmouth Review; although, when the Review's editor-in-chief was a woman (Emily Esfahani-Smith '09, for example) we can assume she was not tapped for their all-male society.

Fact: Phrygian certainly also had its fun with The Dartmouth. There were countless opinion pieces by Phrygians multiple writers, who, I think, coordinated to create a bias and skew the alumni's concept of student opinion. The Dartmouth even serialized the cartoon "Blarflex" by James Bleuer '08 and Alex Felix '08 (both members of Phrygian), which eventually imploded in the infamously racist and scurrilous cartoon attack upon an outspoken student critic of the parity lawsuit (see "Voces Clamantium: Not Fit For Print" April 25, 2008, for some perspective), after which the comic and its authors were dropped from the paper.

Fact: Meanwhile, there is Phoenix, an all-women's secret society established in the mid-1980s, devoted to promoting coeducation and advancing gender equality on campus. Phoenix is akin to Casque and Gauntlet or Palaeopitus in that it is a College-recognized senior society with a specific mission; but Phoenix keeps its membership secret.

Conjecture: Phoenix is behind "The Daughters of Dartmouth." Remember those shock-and-awe flyers from the fall of 2007? I'm not the only one to believe this to be true; in fact I dare say it's a generally held campus belief.

Conjecture: Phrygian is behind these more recent "society of men for women" flyers. If you look closely at the flyers, they are signed "S.W.," which is how the documents obtained by The Dartmouth in 2007 were signed. I don't know what "S.W." means (Secret Weapon?) but it's there. My little birds tell me that a member of Phrygian even contacted a member of Phoenix, taking credit for the poster campaign; but that is unconfirmed.

Conjecture: If it's not Phrygian disseminating those posters, it's someone (Phoenix?) pretending to be Phrygian. I've been flitzing with the "S.W." e-mail account, and I get the feeling this can all be chalked up to the work of Jackal, a secret society dedicated to parodying secret societies, whose existence I unfortunately can't confirm.

Conclusion: All of this amounts to absolutely nothing. "The Lone Pine Revolution" that Phrygian claimed to be pushing was an underground attempt to revitalize Dartmouth's conservative tendencies; they either failed, post-Alumni Association elections of 2008, or have resorted to engineering an image-change by supporting women's rights, or have done nothing but polish their loafers. "S.W." might indeed be concerned about sexual assault, and rightfully so; but starting an anonymous campaign under the guise of a secret society, as the Daughters of Dartmouth once did, is strategy that garners a lot of attention but has little real impact.

What this all amounts to is not merely the death of conservatism at Dartmouth. What we are witnessing is the death of feminism, and of any kind of activism at all. Leveraging cachet and controversial tactics to influence the discourse is a sad excuse for activism, but these days it seems to be the only thing anyone myself included is actually prepared to do.