Where is your Vanguard now?
“It would serve no purpose to explain to the poor that they ought not to feel sentiments of jealousy and vengeance against their masters; these feelings are too powerful to be suppressed by exhortations.” -Georges Sorel
Last May, just as all of us were preparing to leave the oasis of intellectual discourse that is Wesleyan and head into the world of summer internships, summer fellowships or even a quiet few months at home, a disaster struck this campus. A series of parties on Fountain Avenue were broken up by police, who used tactics that can most charitably be described as “draconian.”
“Students attacked while celebrating last day,” The Argus headline shrieked, as morally indignant reports of what happened poured in, along with one or two snide Wespeaks exhorting Wesleyan students to “keep their mouths shut” in the future, but still agreeing that the police presence on campus was a colossal mistake. The Hartford Courant ran a series of even more snide articles strongly implying that the whole thing was simply a function of Wesleyan’s overzealous distrust of authority and penchant for activism. Almost more fingers were pointed in the space of a week than guns have been pointed during the occupation of Iraq. It was truly a nightmare.
And now, naturally, we are beginning to investigate how much of a nightmare it was, and the conclusion seems to be that there is blame to be thrown both ways. For my part, I find this to be a pathetic cop-out.
One can readily acknowledge that throwing bottles at police cars was probably an unwise move on the students’ part, but to try and compare that with the use of pepper spray and police dogs would be no more sensible than comparing Al-Qaeda with the United States Government. I am sure that somewhere there is a column begging to be written which celebrates the fact that a bunch of elitist Northeastern college students got their wimpy posteriors forcibly booted. I leave that sort of vulgar culture warriorism to the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Mike Huckabee.
The sole redeeming fact about the police actions is that they are most likely not illegal. However, just because the police can do something is no argument that they should do it, though I suppose one can’t blame them for reacting angrily to the rampant anti-authoritarianism on this campus. I will not accept the reaction we got, however. Wesleyan’s effete image merits a slightly sharper smack with a baton at worst; police dogs and pepper spray are an egregious overreaction.
With that said, the actions on Fountain are by no means an isolated example of hostility on the part of Middletown against Wesleyan. Let’s leave aside the fact that this hostility is dubiously justified, however, and consider where it most likely comes from.
Middletown is a blue-collar community, and Wesleyan is a highly selective, eccentric institution whose graduates have the option of a comfortable life in the upper-middle class. Or, to put it bluntly, Wesleyan is a posh, elitist institution, and such institutions almost always engender some sort of envy. One bum I met once on the streets of Cambridge once asked whether I’d give him money so he could “get drunk and beat up Harvard students.” I suspect many Middletown residents don’t need the extra alcoholic incentive to beat up Wesleyan students, if last year’s crime spree was any guide.
What is ironic about this is that many Wesleyan students pride themselves on not being elitist in any sense at all—a Wesleyan student is often the first person to assure you ze is not classist, racist, sexist, heterosexist, anti-feminist, homogenous, religious or Eurocentric. Alarmingly enough, I know for a fact that many Wesleyan students long for the day when a classless society will exist, and some of them probably even plan on instigating the revolution which will bring it about. Wesleyan students like to see themselves as enlightened intellectuals, free of the slightest bit of bourgeois pretension, who will act as an optimal vanguard for what they see as an incipient class war.
Be warned, my little vanguard-in-waiting, Fountain Avenue is what class warfare looks like in its purest form. If you want to see the true expression of blue collar solidarity taking on an upper-class institution and humiliating its members, look to Fountain Avenue. If you want to see how the proletariat treats intellectuals once they no longer have any need of your theories to rationalize violence, look to Fountain Avenue. If you want to see the Hobbesian state of nature, where property, class, law and authority are truly abolished, look to Fountain Avenue.
Men with large weapons and ferocious pets beating down the weak, cerebral, nonconforming minority will be what you see, and no amount of tossing beer bottles or writing upset Wespeaks about the horrors of a “police state” will change that reality.
I use the term “nonconforming” here because that is really what Middletown hates about Wesleyan—the fact that they have to share a town with this pack of anti-authority, utopian-minded egghead freaks. I don’t blame the citizens for that.
I do blame the police force for letting that impact their judgment to the point that they feel the need to arrest students for throwing Sour Patch Kids on the ground, or bring in police dogs and tear gas to break up a rally of drunken college students, most of whom couldn’t take each other in a fight, let alone trained law enforcement. There is certainly a lesson waiting to be taught for both Wesleyan and Middletown that will rise from this incident.
For Wesleyan students in general, the lesson might be that authority ought to be respected at times. For Middletown, it might be that drunken college kids are not a substantial threat, least of all to law enforcement.
And to the aspiring vanguard which thinks egalitarianism will instantly solve issues of class antagonism, I issue only this warning: the word “equal” also means “the same,” and whatever distinction you think might exist between the two, the proletariat will not listen to nuance when they’ve got your elitist, wimpy nerd ass up against the windshield of a squad car and it’s “conform or be tasered.”
Think about that before you agitate for “social justice” again.