The Arizona Desert Lamp

Self-Medication and Darfur

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 1 October 2008

I didn’t get around to Laura Donovan’s column yesterday; before that though, there’s a wonderful piece on modernity and the college campus from the excellent Culture11, worth excerpting in its entirety:

Matt Crawford ably explains how college campuses have become incubators of schoolmarmish therapeutic supervision. No longer confident in the mission of higher education and therefore too hobbled to resist becoming an adjunct of popular society versus an engine of its thoughtful scrutiny, the American university now routinely recommends that its students turn to therapy and medication versus self-reflection and self-reliance. In this way, our colleges are exemplary of a  contradiction at the heart of modernity: the Cartesian project of mastery and rational control has not liberated us from sadness and depression but still we press on undaunted, still trying to master and control ourselves, attempting to transform the burden of existential angst into the inconvenience of chemical deficiency. In other words, the central premises of modernity are mastery and control while the thinly veiled ground of a thoroughgoing therapeuticism is individual frailty. If Peter Lawler is right, that we’re really “stuck with virtue”, then we’re stuck with the conditions that demand virtue, and the self-limitations that paradoxically require more self-responsibility. By abandoning the humanizing aspects of the humanities, or its part in educating us to understand our longing for happiness and its necessary obstacles, universities have become centers for career preparation overly sensitive to the moods of its consumers and insensitive to the demands of their souls.

This, I think, begins to hint at the real problem behind the ‘Save Darfur’ movement and its many manifestations. Donovan essentially called for students to travel to the region, but I have far lower standards: point to Darfur on a world map. Hell, I’ll even give you two hints: it’s in Africa, and it is not an independent state.

The column also gets high merit points for containing the single truest sentence that the Wildcat has published so far this year: “Understanding the issue is essential to solving it, but that alone does not encourage someone to take action.” I would go even further, and argue that in this case it discourages action. Education is seen as an end-point, not a step along the way. Once you’ve bought the T-shirt, you are an aware, concerned, active citizen — in your own eyes.

Which, ultimately, this has always been about. It is not about Darfur, or polar bears, or voter registration — it is about validating the self, an ultimately selfish movement. Then again, it’s probably better than the alternative; I, for one, am concerned about my eventual deployment to the Northwest Provinces under the Obama Administration. The last thing we need in this day and age (or just about any day and age) is more intervention.

UPDATE: I should also point out that this is not aimed at legitimate efforts — serious NGOs have contributed greatly to ameliorating a humanitarian crisis. However, these NGOs are not the issue; the issue are the students who sign up for a Facebook group and consider themselves “engaged”, who buy a shirt and consider themselves “aware.” If you’re serious about Darfur, Donovan seems to imply, go the full ten yards.

But whatever your stance, ‘Save Darfur’ should NOT be a fashion statement. This sort of activist chic is even worse than the “green shopping” phenomenon.


One Response

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  1. Ashley said, on 1 October 2008 at 1:22 pm

    For the hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country that have researched the Darfur genocide, written letters to their local newspapers, organized fundraisers, attended rallies, signed petitions and contacted their elected officials – education was not the end point of their activism. Rather, it was the stepping stone that allowed them to take meaningful and effective action that is working to bring peace to Darfur. To be sure, the violence and suffering in Darfur continue – but Darfuris are alive today because this broad-based, bi-partisan, ecumenical movement of citizens has taken a stand on this issue.

    At the vanguard of this movement have been students – many of whom you’ve likely seen sporting Save Darfur t-shirts around campus. These students have been key organizers on their campuses – pressuring their universities to divest their endowments from companies funding the genocide, organizing guest lectures to educate their peers, and pressuring our presidential candidates to outline their plans for tackling the crisis from day one of their term in office. For them, the campaign to end the first genocide of the 21st century is not a fashion statement.

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