A narrow scope: purple bubble or purple haze?

Alan Greenspan called it a “once-in-a-half-century, probably once-in-a-century type event.” Alan Blinder compared our predicament to that of Lewis Carroll’s Alice when she found herself at lost in the depths of a rabbit hole. The two presidential candidates spoke about the event in apocalyptic terms. The Financial Times harked back to the 1930s as the only appropriate comparison. Meanwhile, in Williamstown, students spoke of foliage.

There’s something to be said for the naïve bliss that permeates the Purple Bubble. In a way, its isolation injects it with objectivity: since it is difficult to imagine how inflated housing prices or suicide bombs might affect Bubble dwellers, our opinions on these events remain largely untainted by emotion-stained subjectivity. We can look at this past week’s events sort of like the New York Times: rather than inject the discussion with moral overtones, we can prescribe specific measures to remedy the tumult. We can intellectualize to the point of sterility instead of empathizing to the point of distortion. I bet Morty wouldn’t have launched into a diatribe like President Bollinger’s when Ahmadinejad visited Columbia; this is Williamstown, not New York!

Another advantage: Ephs are somewhat immune to the constant barrage of information regarding Lindsay Lohan’s latest coke binge or Sarah Palin’s most recent moose slaughtering. Students are more likely to be reading Kant than US Weekly, more likely to be contemplating Robert Nozick than questioning the authenticity of ScarJo’s boobs.

But this brings up another point, one to which Nozick alludes with his concept of the “experience machine” in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. This was one of the first passages I read upon arriving in Williamstown, courtesy of my (brief) foray into philosophy, and it alerted me to the likelihood that I would become quarantined among the purple hills. As my philosophy professor at the time can verify, I probably didn’t get the brunt of Nozick’s argument; what I did get, however, was a stronger sense of the value of authenticity. In an effort to urge me to query Nozick’s claims, my professor constructed a hypothetical example: if your partner were cheating on you, she asked, would you rather know and have to deal with the consequences? Or would you rather not know and proceed happily, adhering to the status quo?

This past week it was as if close to every Eph’s partner was cheating on her and she didn’t know. Our world was on the verge of collapse – see New York Magazine’s picture of a “perturbed” Lloyd Blankfein for proof – and most of us were either recovering from Harvest dinner or pondering Marcel Proust. As one of my friends, a rare breed of Eph who walks down Wall Street proudly (even prior to graduation), commented: the cataclysmic last week will only hit us when our parents deny our request to come home for vacation.

There comes a point, it seems, when the Purple Bubble becomes too much of a purple haze. It’s not that ignorance is bliss but that selective knowledge is bliss. This may be a product of the general Williams disdain for all things finance-related (with the exception of the College’s endowment) or simply the result of our focus on “bigger things.” Almost every day, after all, we are reminded to “Climb High, Climb Far / Your Goal the Sky, Your Aim the Star.” Perhaps, simply, it is because we are a liberal arts institution the philosophy of which necessitates a remote location. Recall that Thoreau said of our College: “It would be no small advantage if every college were thus located at the base of a mountain.”

I’m not saying that students should understand the intricacies of a CDS, or even the constituents of the acronym. And I certainly don’t think that we should install more TVs, airing CNBC nonstop. But maybe we should make more of an attempt to broaden our scopes. Or maybe Williams should buy all its students iPhones so that nytimes.com is in our pockets.

Anouk Dey ’09 is a political science major from Toronto, Ontario.