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2012 Fall Issue 6 (October 26, 2012)

On Abstraction and Journalistic Value

October 26, 2012
By Zoe Suche

Last week, I made only my second trip ever down to the first floor of the Libe (the first having been during the Silent Dance Party freshman year). I also, after fumbling around for a while and bothering the students who study on first precisely because they don’t want to listen to people fumbling around, managed to do the thing where you get the compact shelves to slide over, revealing a full eight shelves worth of material on which you plan on compsing.

I then did something that I’m sure, SURE no one in the real world does: I sat on the floor in that section for several hours, poring over titles and papers related to Nietzsche, morality, fatalism, and the cosmological hypothesis of “eternal recurrence”: that is, the idea that maybe after we die we simply live this life again, and again, ad infinitum.

I checked books out, walked home, and kept reading. I occasionally read excerpts to my housemates, who were tolerant but relatively indifferent.
Midway between “Beyond Good and Evil” and “Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism,” head spinning, I considered getting a tattoo of some piece of the text that particularly spoke to me.  At that point I decided that I needed to quit and get some sleep, but the point remains.

So yes, Jacob, let’s talk about what we do here. But rather than confining this conversation to the Carletonian Viewpoint section—or the newspaper as a whole, because I’m a little unclear on which is being criticized—let’s talk about what we do here at Carleton.

As everyone has said at some point, we exist in a bubble here, and that bubble has both positive and negative connotations for the students immersed in it for four years. One of the probable negatives? Perhaps, as has been discussed in this section, the lack of political diversity. A positive?

From my point of view, the fact that we’re encouraged to ask difficult questions, many of which cannot be objectively answered or simply lead to more questions; questions that might not apply directly to our current situation as Carleton students, residents of Northfield, or even citizens of the United States. Questions that are, in a word, abstract.

Abstraction and things we care about, though, are far from mutually exclusive. Why am I so enamored with Nietzsche? He looked at our antiquated God-concept and asked how we could possibly justify our current system of morality in the face of the deterioration of such a concept.

He asked how we should live our lives in the absence of an end created by a higher power.  Essentially, he proposed a solution to the existentialist problem of modern nihilism.

What? Not every reader of the Carletonian has had an existential crisis and is looking for a solution? They’re missing out, but that’s beside the point.  The point is that what might be considered dry, abstract, and lacking a heartbeat by some, could be interesting and thought-provoking to someone else who doesn’t mind that a solid answer isn’t produced.

It doesn’t work to endorse subjectivity as a fundamental journalistic value and then propose what is essentially an objective standard for what improves a Viewpoint piece.

That a reader might not find a piece exciting doesn’t indicate that the writer of that piece isn’t excited by it either. We should be careful about assigning, even by implication, a definition of “important issues”; Carleton might debateably be a one-party bubble when it comes to politics, but (at least in the philosophy department) we can argue all day over the relative value of a particular ethical system, or a particular conceptual definition of truth.

Neither question has purported practical value, but there certainly does exist a diversity of opinion, and for some reason unrelated to the concrete implications, people do care.

I might be heavily biased in this matter because I’m a philosophy major (although, of course, bias is always a positive thing) but as I see it, Carleton does a pretty good job of getting its students excited about topics that have minimal immediate practical application.

If we didn’t want abstraction, if we didn’t want unanswerable questions and outlets in which to muse about the nature of ethics, religion, and humanity, we wouldn’t have gone to a liberal arts college.

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