Monday, April 17, 2006

Advice from a Princeton professor to graduates…

… "let your attitude be closer to that of an immigrant Mexican yard-worker than of a French bureaucrat."

John V. Fleming, Louis W. Fairchild '24 professor of English at Princeton University, pens The latest French revolution in the Daily Princetonian:

Half a million French youths on the barricades of their privileged entitlements, united in an unembarrassed, indeed self-righteous, defense of economic stagnation, have given me much needed perspective. Young Princetonians, I take it all back and beg your pardons. Compared with your French counterparts, you are all mini-Magellans and micro-Mother Teresas. French protestors carried a huge banner: "We Will Never Surrender" (in English, especially for CNN). Bracket the fact that surrender has been France's national outdoor sport for two centuries. What are they refusing to surrender to — apart from common sense, I mean?

I couldn't have spent four decades as a humanities professor without gaining fluency in the sclerotic cliches of a soft left rhetoric. But it appears that in France, the mainstream political spectrum actually believes it. The place is positively crawling with time-warped Socialists who still quaintly believe in Marxism. You still find in "Le Monde" terms like "comprehensive economic planning," "common ownership of the means of production" and even "revolutionary cadres." In allegedly communist China, 73 percent of the population agrees that "free market capitalism is the best economic system." In statist France, it's about 35 percent — possibly the same 35 percent working their guts out to keep afloat a "social model," untainted by Anglo-Saxon iniquity, of paying people for producing nothing and, not infrequently, doing nothing, while they suck off the great teat of the State.

[…] Though its ostensible motives had to do with employment, the Paris demonstrations were more closely affiliated in spirit to what we recently witnessed in Damascus and Karachi than what we saw in Los Angeles. Theodore Dalrymple has argued in his remarkable essays that Islamic truculence, including that of some highly visible European Muslim youth, is born not of strength and confidence but of fearful disquiet and perceived inferiority, weakness and vulnerability. In general, similar anxieties command the French "Youth Employment" protests.

What we laughingly call the "real world" can be a scary place. But as seniors hand in their theses and enjoy the last relaxed weeks before facing it, I have a few words of advice for graduates. Not a one of them is "Plastics." A Princeton diploma is, among other things, a testimony to a lifetime of privilege. It is never too early to start paying back. Do something serious, useful, daring and fun. Travel around, and use the foreign language we helped you learn. Invent something. Start a company. Teach something wholesome to somebody who needs it. Revel in your individuality and personal enterprise in a way that satisfies you by helping our needy world. Take some big risks, and fail a few times. Let your attitude be closer to that of an immigrant Mexican yard-worker than of a French bureaucrat. This country doesn't owe you a living, but it affords you unequalled opportunities to make a decent one. Work really hard. Create the wealth of the commonwealth. Combat social pathologies, illiteracy, epidemic disease and sanctified ignorance. Be "rich of holy thoght and werk." If you end up rich in dough as well, endow a Princeton chair and found a charitable foundation. Die happy.
HT ¡No Pasarán!

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