There’s already been plenty of comment about this Atlantic article, originally included in its September 2022 issue. Most of the commentary – this David Thompson piece is a good example — focuses on the attitude the author, Xochitl Gonzalez, had toward her tenure at her Ivy League college. She, the article makes plain, is used to being bathed in endless noise. While there’s certainly a lot of that in New York City, where she grew up, she was disturbed by the lack of it on her chosen campus. Her attitude might be summed up as “How can these people have it so quiet all the time?”

     To save you the trouble of reading the article, Gonzalez generalized the “white students’” preference for quiet to a general preference of “rich people.” (Yes, it’s right there in the title.) And she didn’t like it:

     I soon realized that silence was more than the absence of noise; it was an aesthetic to be revered. Yet it was an aesthetic at odds with who I was. Who a lot of us were.

     Now, the dominant reaction to Gonzalez’s emission was probably “you go your way and we’ll go ours.” (I’m sure a few commenters threw in a “tough shit” for lagniappe.) But there’s an aspect here that can’t be dismissed as just a clash of preferences.

     Those “minority students” who were accustomed to endless noise were relatively recent entrants to the Ivy League. They found themselves in an environment that was what it was long before they got there, having been made that way by persons quite different from them. As such, they could not reasonably expect that the setting would greatly resemble their home turf.

     But the thread of unreason dominant among them was that of “identity:” “Hey, we like noise. We’ve been saturated by it. Silence oppresses us. Noise and constant partying are who we are. That’s the way it’s always been for us, and we want it that way no matter who complains.”

     Viewed through an “identity” lens, the clash is insoluble. Indeed, noise, unless suppressed by force, always defeats silence. Even an approximation to silence is extraordinarily hard to achieve anywhere there are other people around. Everyone has to collaborate in maintaining it.

     Silence, like most uncommon things, is greatly valued and sought after, especially by those of us who want to think. But not everyone wants to think. And not everyone who shows up at an “institution of higher learning” is there to learn.

     Still, that’s what colleges and universities are for, isn’t it? It was when I attended one.

     Another facet of the expectations at play was surely that those “minority students” – Gonzalez being representative – arrived unaware of the intellectual demands their college coursework would put on them. Apparently their previous education had not been nearly as demanding, which says something about both “grade inflation” and the deterioration of minority-district schools. It also says something about the elevated dropout rate among minority enrollees at American colleges.

     The “politeness and basic consideration” upheld by David Thompson (and myself and no doubt many others) is required in a place where one’s intellect will be tried. The “identity” nonsense promoted by Gonzalez is an attempt to evade the real matter at issue: the function of an institution of higher learning. Colleges and universities aren’t intended to be playpens for adolescents. If you want to learn, you must have conditions conducive to learning. Constant noise and an unending party atmosphere don’t qualify.

     But the typical college of our time is captained by persons who are unable or unwilling to enforce those conditions. Gresham’s Law inevitably kicks in; when treated equally, the bad drives out the good. Soon enough a college where silence and tranquility are unavailable will cease to attract students who actually want to learn. Those that dominate the institution will be noisy, they’ll party to their hearts’ content, but they’ll learn very little. They’ll leave with nothing but debt to show for their time there, barring those who settled for degrees in “Gender Studies” or “Black History.” Their expectations of indulgence for their “identities” will shatter against the expectations of prospective employers for competence and diligence.

     For a cherry atop the slag heap, they won’t be welcome in places where quiet and consideration for others are valued.

1 comment

  1. Not just rich people. Hillbillies and rural folk generally prefer the peace and quiet. It’s what they are used to.

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