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"I do not like you. I cannot say why, but this much I know: I do not like you.” I was asked to translate this quip in my first semester of Latin at Duke. Since then, Martial’s beautiful bluntness has summarized how I’ve felt about this place as often as not. It’s one of our most sacred traditions: there are things at Duke we like, and there are things at Duke we do not like, and it is unfashionable to like everything.
We’ve finished that most sacred rite in the Duke year: men’s basketball. But never women’s. And also never any other sport even though they work hard too. For a senior, it’s a bittersweet moment. The last time seeing throngs of people descend on Cameron, the last time seeing people spend a month living in a tent to see a two-hour game, and the last time realizing how many hours we have poured out while achieving nothing more than our own amusement.
I ask because since September of last year, Duke’s residential housekeeping staff have been required to work weekends. On March 6, I attended a student-run appreciation lunch for residential housekeepers—student-run because HRL offered no such gesture. The event ran from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Those housekeepers present had to leave at about 12:40 p.m., because per university policy they must clock back into their buildings by 1 p.m.
There is no such thing as dialogue at Duke University. There exist only monologues in parallel.
“Joys do not stay, but take wing and fly away.” The Roman poet Martial captured that uncomfortable feeling of seeing something good drift from us and wanting to somehow hold onto it. How do you make change that lasts when you’re not around to keep it in place? Institutionalize it. And how can Duke students institutionalize an undergraduate’s perspectives? By electing an undergraduate to the Board of Trustees.
On Friday, we were told that three of our Greek chapters are being investigated for alleged hazing. Our community has been silent for five days.
“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”
“And the people in the houses/ All went to the university/ Where they were put in boxes/ And they came out all the same/ And there’s doctors and lawyers/ And business executives/ And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky/ And they all look just the same.” Malvina Reynolds wrote this song, “Little Boxes,” in 1962. Who would have thought she visited Duke, where—as the story goes—the children of privilege find privileged careers.
Answer: Just like healthcare.
The theologian Augustine observed that his teachers, “being beaten in some trifling question by another teacher, would seethe with more bile and envy” than the most rambunctious child. Those in positions of stewardship are often more puerile and irrational as those whose best interests they pretend to steward.
“Don’t boo. Vote.” President Barack Obama spoke those words to a heady crowd at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. I remember that night. There was a buzzing optimism in the air. Hillary Clinton was on track to be the next president. Trump seemed a farce: a side-show within the side-show of a Republican party scrambling to find anyone who stood a chance against Clinton’s momentum. On the day of the election The New York Times gave Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning.
Dear President Price,
“I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts!” So (supposedly) spoke the Trojan priest Laocoon, urging against bringing a wooden horse into Troy. This phrase has persisted so long, I think, because it tells a basic truth about us: we often consider solutions to be clear and next steps to be obvious. All too often, we make declarations about what happens next, but do not have conversations about what that next step commits us to doing.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Thus spoke Aristotle, one of the early proponents of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics claims that the good we do issues from our good habits, and the bad from the bad. This system is optimistic about human nature: bad habits can be made good.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is Socrates’ whole method reduced to a refrigerator magnet, but its insight is profound. We cannot live well if we do not shake ourselves out of our complacency. We must question what we are doing and why. If we haven’t interrogated our beliefs, how can we know them to be true?
In Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wonders why we are content to be miserable and do nothing about it. “How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved?” We might put this question to Democrats on the Hill. How can you think our state of affairs is so disordered, and yet do so little to change it?
“And when memory failed and written records were falsified—when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.” Thus spoke George Orwell of the new status quo in 1984: once we become attuned to one way of seeing things and doing things, we’re helpless to see or do things in any other way.
There is a Cherokee legend in which a grandfather tells his grandson of a fight between two wolves. The one is evil, angry, envious, arrogant and inferior. The other is good, hopeful, benevolent, compassionate and honest. The grandson asks which wolf will win. The grandfather’s reply? “Whichever you feed.”
“We can endure neither our vices nor their cure.” The Roman historian Titus Livius—“Livy”—wrote these words two thousand years ago. Livy’s concern was that some institution or other enters a society, at first with good or at least permissible reason. Then, through citizens’ caprices and ignorance, that institution takes on a hazardous shape it was never meant to assume.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Matthew, 6:24.