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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    All hail the Plastics!

    “”We were brainwashed.””

    It’s how George Romney, father of former candidate Mitt Romney, described his support of the Vietnam War, but more importantly it’s how members of the oft-praised “”Breakfast Club,”” a cheesy ’80s film, described their views of high school cliques. Most college students remember this stratified system with a grimace, nodding knowingly at the cafeteria map featured in “”Mean Girls”” while remembering the exact table where they sat. College is widely praised as a post-clique paradise, yet this is far from the truth. Cliques are prevalent at the UA, and the continued development of these cliques is in fact the development of society at large.

    To understand how this comes about, one must begin in a pre-clique time: the innocent years of childhood. As children, we have no sense of the order of the world – we have trouble enough with our sense of balance. Thrown amongst our peers in day care or preschool, we associate with everyone without discrimination. Having developed so little personality, everybody is relatively the same and each individual in turn garners equal value in this barely-developed worldview.

    As children grow up, though, they acquire personality and realize that they have more in common with certain peers than others. These become their first good friends, and the members of their first clique. Through middle school and high school, personality continues to grow, evolve, develop nuances and change. Cliques in turn become more complicated, friendships begin and end, and any sense of infant solidarity has been lost.

    Yet in a seemingly universal phenomenon, the stratified caste system of high school vanishes once we go off to college. Have the popular classes simply abdicated their rule in some sort of glorious revolution? It’s naive to assume that all differences have been eliminated; it wouldn’t be too hard to guess the hypothetical cliques of students walking on campus. So where has all the class agony gone?

    Calmed hormones and rampant drinking (the ultimate equalizer) aside, there is a significant element missing: forced association. There are no “”cafeteria maps”” in college because there’s no common eating room and no common lunch hour. Students are rarely forced to work in groups on class projects. The sheer size of the campus eliminates many of the associative pressures. Cliques remain, but rather than competing for power in a limited environment, they instead have more than enough room to live and let live.

    Cliques represent one of mankind’s greatest freedoms: the freedom of association. With few exceptions, we make friends not to gain power for its own sake, but to increase our overall wellbeing. Associating with those similar to us simply makes us happier. When teachers and principals attempt to “”break down the system”” through cafeteria initiatives and forced group association (“”re-programming,”” perhaps), they are cracking down on this basic liberty.

    The concern, of course, is that this freedom of association among peers will lead to fragmented disunity. None other than the great James Madison decried “”factions”” and their negative influence in Federalist Paper No. 10. Since it’s Madison who offers the strongest anti-clique argument, perhaps we should consider the role of cliques in his natural arena: politics, where the cliques are known as parties. Talking heads and (ironically enough) politicians decry partisanship, and presidential candidate Barack Obama has made great strides in the race preaching a message of “”post-partisanship.””

    Consider, though: In a country with such a wide gamut of political views, we have only two major political parties. The problem isn’t too much partisanship; it’s too little. It’s like having a high school cafeteria with only two cliques. Does grouping everyone at one table make the situation any better?

    The main reason that we can maintain a wide number of cliques without destroying a civil society has much to do with our highly nuanced personalities. College in particular marks a great expansion of our activities and interests; what college student can be summed up in a simple description like “”jock”” or “”math nerd?”” For almost everyone, one group is simply not enough. As individuals join together in wide-ranging groups, they provide links between these groups, and in turn, form society as a whole. This is the natural end of a cliquish system, not the factionalized world so often feared.

    Yet this won’t stop concerned parents from fretting over “”marginalized”” kids, administrators from launching “”inclusion initiatives,”” and student activists from coordinating table-swapping shenanigans. It’s a shame to see so many influences lined up against the development of a modern society but in our priggish and “”politically correct”” world, it’s hardly surprising.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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