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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “I challenge, therefore I am”

    It was a sight that wouldn’t really ruffle feathers here in Arizona: Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen border patrol group, was poised to give a lecture on immigration policy at Columbia University.

    Really, there was nothing strange about it – until angry students stormed the stage, overturned tables and unfurled a banner in Arabic and English that read, “”No one is ever illegal.””

    I thought our campus crazies were bad. But while the UA’s protestors seem to content themselves with playground skirmishes, students at Columbia have apparently busied themselves with dismantling the First Amendment.

    “”I don’t feel we need to apologize or anything,”” one student told The Columbia Daily Spectator. “”It was fundamentally a part of free speech …the Minutemen are not a legitimate part of the debate on immigration.””

    The paradox there – that silencing free speech is somehow a form of free speech – is troubling, and it’s indicative of a broader trend: The notion that challenging something is a justification for anything.

    “”Challenge over the past 40 years became a more powerful social value than clarity,”” Daniel Henninger lamented recently in The Wall Street Journal. “”One of the byproducts of challenge is that you don’t have to think very much – about the point or the consequences.””

    Truer words were never spoken. Too often, it seems, challenge has become an almost instinctive reaction to perceived wrongs, regardless of whether or not there’s really anything to fight about. And what’s most disturbing is that, absent a real solution to the problem, the very act of challenging becomes empty and useless.

    Consider, for instance, one branch of the early feminist movement, a school of thought that challenged the family unit as “”the central agent of repression”” that was responsible for “”both the subservience of women and sexual taboos.””

    That’s all fine and well, I suppose – one is entitled to his or her opinion. But what was conspicuously absent from the feminists’ argument was a feasible solution that wasn’t lost amid the bluster and outrage.

    As political philosopher and feminist activist Jean Bethke Elshtain explained, “”Family critics failed to …articulate viable, humane alternatives to replace what they proposed to reform or ‘smash.'””

    Unfortunately, Elshtain’s words apply to much of today’s liberal left, the side of the political spectrum that is itching to “”smash”” systems of repression and injustice but that is noticeably lacking in viable solutions once they get there.

    Abolishing the American family, after all, is no more an answer to our nation’s ills than overthrowing “”the Bush regime”” to instate a socialist one (as advocated by some of the more militant groups on the left) or running roughshod over unsuspecting Minutemen.

    It’s difficult to discern just what it is that drives this knee-jerk reaction to challenge anti-feminism, conservative economics or anything else that could possibly be construed as the status quo. But one suspects that at least part of it is a sense of nostalgia for the “”glory days”” of the 1960s, when it was not only necessary to challenge the establishment – it was cool, too.

    Today, though, many of these so-called “”challenges”” ring false: Rosie O’Donnell ranting against guns of all shapes and sizes on “”The View”” (the Second Amendment be damned); women’s groups stringing up senatorial candidate James Webb for writing 27 years ago that women shouldn’t be in combat (even though Congress, President Carter and the Joint Chiefs felt the same way); the American Civil Liberties Union threatening to sue over new regulations that would allow single-sex schools (despite evidence that such schools might actually improve students’ scores).

    Now, the point here isn’t that challenge is unnecessary or even something to be looked down upon; indeed, dissent is what keeps a democracy honest. But to challenge for the mere sake of challenging diminishes dissent’s value when it’s deployed with such frequency (and farce).

    So to all those who feel the familiar urge to “”refuse and resist,”” it might be valuable to consider the fact that there are reasons why “”the establishment”” is, well, established. And if there’s truly something to fight for, realize that real change doesn’t end at the picket line. The mere act of challenge isn’t a raison d’etre – pursuing a plausible resolution is.

    Grandiose theories of social transformation are important; they keep our society moving forward. But to repeat a favorite quotation of Freud (the theorist’s theorist): “”Theory is good, but it doesn’t prevent reality from existing.””

    Damion LeeNatali is a senior majoring in political science and history. He can be reached at

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