Lohse: Damning Indifference

by Andrew Lohse | 11/28/11 11:00pm

As Dartmouth's annual term of fraternity hazing finally culminates in hell nights this week, less secret violence is attracting news in the country at large. Not enough people are watching.

The image of police nonchalantly pepper-spraying peaceful protesters at the University of California, Davis last week is seared in my mind. I am beginning to realize that my fear, or perception, of the passing of the free and open American society that I have grown up in is a solitary one, especially when surrounded by intellectually sanitized Dartmouth undergraduates and their desire to indulge in similar acts of violence.

When I asked a girl that I was seeing if she could relate to the victims if the incident at all alarmed her her shrug was so indifferent that I could almost hear it over the phone. In contemporary American society and on this campus, we are so desensitized to shocking acts that they seldom surprise. Many believe that the bright future we were sold the one fleeced from us in broad daylight by our military-industrial-banking complex and its post-Citizens United "for the corporations, by the corporations" Congress is still waiting to be grasped, that it couldn't possibly be compromised.

The indifferent responses I've heard about the UC Davis incident are not arguments about speech, assembly and the ethics of "counterterrorism" law enforcement. They are just disdain, almost refusals to comprehend that something very real and relevant and wrong is happening, and that this incident is a bellwether.

We are so far into what Guy Debord termed the "society of spectacle" that the truth of what we're losing a level economic playing field, our unmitigated rights of speech and assembly, the sanctity of our vote, our command over our legislature has become so compartmentalized that it eludes us. Reality has become so mediated and atomized that it's hard to even know that big, concerning things are happening elsewhere.

But the girl I tried to talk to about all of this, the one soon working for a financial firm I've invoked in these pages before, expressed only indifference. And really, why should it matter it to her? Like other students here who think like corporations instead of people (because the two are in fact not the same), many have more to gain from the silencing of dissent. So does the whole elite financial complex, from our congressmen, who can apparently "inside trade" legally, to Wall Street, who will do anything to acquire the best minds first to stay one step ahead of prosecutors and regulators. Now they have to stay one step ahead of an angry, democratic mob.

In this light, indifference almost borders on nihilism. I'm not sure if it's a generational trend, but it is certainly comes from the elite, and it is bred in cultures like Dartmouth's. It's bred in the rampant hazing this fall and past falls, in the ways real people violate each other in gutted Keystone mansions, with secret oaths and no oversight: "We just hang out."

The same covert culture of crony capitalism that has imploded our basic constitutional rights and economic stability pulls us into its own ranks initiates learn to "protect the brotherhood" at all costs, manufacture lies to "keep the house safe" and practice their burgeoning "management skills" by managing debauchery and subordination. Extrapolate this system outwards and you have a sketch of the pervasive attitudes, experiences and ideologies of the former bros with their hands on the yoke of a nation.

At the root of this culture is an anachronistic system of patriarchy: mythologized zones of substance abuse, suspended ethics, formal attire and sexual assault. Somehow, in trying to hold fast to a lost world an America, a Dartmouth though still barbaric, somehow innocent and genuine we have sacrificed enough to believe a false history, that our world has always been like this, "lest the old traditions fail."

This history is maintained by soft and hard violence. It is false, whether the lie is manifested in pledge hazing or corporate titans evading taxes, regulation and responsibility, and leaving the nation with the bill. We need to demand a different vision. Watching the UC Davis protesters being pepper sprayed, I thought we could have a generational moment, something like Kent State or Chicago in '68. From talking to Dartmouth students, I doubt we will. The ideology of violent domination has won, from frat basements to the halls of American power.