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Doren '14: The myth of Brunonian progressivism

Brown is universally known as the rebel Ivy — standing apart from the entrenched educational elite by embracing progress and challenging the prevailing norms of our time. This reputation has served us well — if not always in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, then certainly in the spirit of our iconoclastic roots, which predate the nation itself. This reputation is what brings a distinctively eclectic collection of young people from around the world to study and work together on College Hill.

We like to pride ourselves on the belief that, unlike the corporate-driven ethos of Harvard or Princeton, Brown is an enclave of academic purity and raw intellectual curiosity. Unlike Columbia and Cornell, where the undergraduate colleges are merely engines of revenue for the more lucrative research programs, Brown is overwhelmingly focused on the undergraduate experience, and we like it that way.

Despite Brown's undeniable worth in these areas, a little self-evaluation would do us some good. As pronounced as some of our differences may be, we are, like the rest of our Ivy League cohorts, little more than a bastion of privilege through which the American professional class extends it socioeconomic dominance.

As winners of the ovarian lottery (as Warren Buffet would say), most of us have been gifted with ability, privilege, circumstance or some combination of the three. By whatever instrument of fate, the torch has been passed to us to serve as the leaders of our generation. Idealistic, capable and determined, we accepted this challenge. We swore we were different than the preceding generations of hedonistic aristocrats, who used their education and status to serve the interests of themselves and their kin.

But what has become of it? Where is the change that has been promised by the progress of the past century?

Case in point: the global economic crisis — the existential crisis of our time. This was a phenomenon of greed and excess, orchestrated almost entirely by the legions of Ivy League graduates who populate Wall Street corner offices. If you think Brunonians are exempt from this pernicious cycle, just take a look at the job listings over at the Career Development Center. While the vast majority of us do not contribute to the corruption of the educated class in this capacity, the reality is that we are the unknowing, passive perpetuators of its continued dominance.

Assortative mating, once confined to the annals of evolutionary biology, now seems to describe the incredible matchmaking function of academic society, wherein members of the educated elite almost exclusively marry one another and raise the next generation of the upper class.

Perhaps I'm drifting into Marxist territory here, but it seems as if the educated elite has plainly surmounted — and consumed — the bourgeoisie as the primary classical "oppressor class" — except that this new wave of class warfare is infinitely more subtle, and perhaps considerably more cruel. It is one in which we openly sympathize with the oppressed and the marginalized, though in reality, either through ignorance or conscious action, we do nothing more than perpetuate the dominant pattern of "bourgeoisie" control that has prevailed since the inception of modern industrial society.

It's the reason BrownFML and Spotted@Brown are inundated with frivolous anecdotes of upper-middle class decadence. It's the reason you can go an entire semester without meeting two people who would fall in the nation's lowest-fifth income bracket, despite our generous financial aid policy. It's the reason President Obama still holds a 75 percent approval rating on campus and the reason our own president remains on the board of directors of two major corporations.

All the while, we pat ourselves on the back for being the only Ivy that truly sticks it to the man. We support local produce by taking our bourgeois appetites to the farmers' market, or sign petitions about the latest pet cause of the environmental movement, or post an offhand Facebook status about some Third World problem so that we appear casually sympathetic and astute. As David Brooks once succinctly described, "The more (the educated classes) objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the views of the left."

Now, I know I'm probably being a bit harsh. If the student bodies — and presidents — of other elite universities could be even slightly more like ours, it would be a step in the right direction for society. But let's not kid ourselves here. Our university, and so many others like it, exists because the ranks of the upper and upper-middle classes need to be replenished from time to time with the will of young meritocrats. The only slim hope is that we can be the one generation to do it right in a very, very long time.

Oliver Doren '14 is a developmental studies and mathematical economics concentrator.



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