Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Hedonism at the Barricades

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Hedonism at the Barricades

Article excerpt

The images are eerily familiar: cops in riot gear, hundreds of college students chanting defiance, and wisps of tear gas floating through the late spring night. Mob psychology has raised its ugly head on campuses across the country - from two nights of violence this past weekend at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio to recent riots at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Michigan State University at East Lansing, and Washington State University in Pullman. Small wonder that college administrators are looking forward to graduation exercises with a special fondness. When the nation's campuses empty, beer-drinking and antisocial behavior move elsewhere.

What's happening on our campuses bears no relationship to the 1960s campus disruptions that divided our nation and ground the war in Vietnam to a halt. Many still debate that strange combination of political idealism and romantic indulgence, but no such high-minded controversy attaches itself to those who went ballistic when Michigan State University administrators ruled out beer at next season's football tailgate parties. Riots at the other institutions are being investigated, but my hunch is that the causes will never be precisely identified nor will the ringleaders ever be punished.

What we are dealing with is the politics of hedonism. It has radically altered what students mean by "fun," turning it into an entitlement. Binge drinking is considered fun, even though most adults see it as evidence of unhappiness. As this odd logic unfolds, if one can get blasted and "go a little nuts" in a large crowd, so much the better. Get in the way of this "fun," and there's going to be mass protest. The politics of the new hedonism finds itself sharing space with the old politics of accommodation and cowardice. Administrators have always been reluctant to call in the cops, feeling that the campus is a privileged place where all manner of dissent should be free to express itself. …

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