Throughout the past few months, the world has undergone a plethora of changes. The Republicans won the Senate and the House midterm elections. America has undergone preparations to wage a bloody war on Iraqi soil. We scented the winds of facism in Europe as Jean-Marie Le Pen entered the French runoff elections under a racist platform. It seems as if the world is on a rapid descent into chaos, with us as innocent bystanders.
Yet as we shrug and walk past, lamenting the way things turned out, we do not strive to understand, nor fix, the problem. The few of us who do take action often act blindly, lashing out at even those who are remotely opposed to our views. It is this absence of thought which places us at a severe disadvantage when attempting to actually solve the problems which we face.
Reflexive action usually solves nothing. The massive FBI investigations of Muslim and Arab-American citizens were in reaction to the attacks on Sept. 11. In exchange for civil liberty violations, the impulsive FBI actions resulted in few noteworthy leads and no arrests. Therefore, the question we ought to ask is, “How can we prevent this sort of thing from happening again?”
The answer is easier than you might think. Had the FBI thought things through, they would have never pursued such a costly task as sifting through the files of innocent Americans simply because of their race. Our problem is the lack of empathy in today’s society. Our solution is to regain that empathy through the maintenance of an open mind.
This is Williams College, considered by many to contain the best and the brightest that society can offer. We pride ourselves on our moderate liberal ideals, and our willingness to take action when action is necessary. Our student body has a clear sense of civic duty. Yet, when confronted with an unpopular idea, the student body is whipped into a frenzy of condemnations and activist marches.
The clearest example I can think of is the printing of the David Horowitz advertisement. It endorsed an already unpopular side to the Israel-Palestine situation, but when Williams heard that it was from Horowitz, a known racist, students threatened protest rallies and implied that the Record endorsed such views.
The assumption was made that since Horowitz was a racist, the advertisement was as well. However, upon closer inspection, one can discern that the advertisement itself did not attack any particular segment of the Arab population, only the Arab states threatening Israel. Although offensive and demeaning, the Horowitz ad was not racist.
What drives us to such absurd conclusions is, in short, our good intentions. It is our want to save the world that drives us to activism. We protest for ‘sexy’ causes like the prevention of war with Iraq, the fight against racism and the battle for increased AIDS drugs for third world countries.
However, in our haste to be recognized, we tend to overlook other, more obscure, but no less important causes, such as books for unprivileged children or third-world conditions in the Appalachian mountains. We grasp the big issues without giving equal weight to all problems of the world.
We must retain the open-minded spirit which we brought to the Purple Mountains, and struggle to avoid simply suscribing to mob ideals. We must relearn the spirit of empathy and commiseration that allows man to feel another man’s suffering. It is only with these that we can we face the bleak future with optimism and strength.