Mar 242009
Authors: Ryan Nowell

Well kind readers, for various reasons, I have to cut my tenure here on the opinion page short a few months. The gig’s not any less glamorous (the coke-fueled boat parties on the French Riviera will be missed), but time and energy are in short supply and high demand.

Since this is it, I thought it best to touch on the running theme I always felt did the most good and was most important to spread — the value of deep, nonpartisan cynicism.

Sure, I’ve had my share of partisan articles, and I’m not about to eat crow over them. I hate George Bush. I think Sarah Palin’s an idiot. Sorry. But if I had written an article calling bull every time the Democratic congress did something skeazy, well, I wouldn’t have written about anything else. I’m looking at you, Chris Dodd.

I’ve been accused of a lot of things during my run here — America-hating, white guilt, liberal self-hatred, tired socialist ranting, McSwane apologetics. And from a hostile perspective, I’m sure I look like a foppish Chairman Mao, lazily blaming all society’s ills on faceless market forces and Christian patriarchy.

Since the politics we seem to understand are just cartoons, then really campuses are composed of two people — there’s the pony-tailed eco-collegiates, downing free-trade soy lattes, insisting you’d be a better person if you felt crappy about the plight of the insert-indigenous-peoples-here.

And there are the dashing young Turks fresh from their second read-through of “The Fountainhead,” boldly proclaiming socialism a pile of quibbling, sentimental garbage, right before ubermensching up to Red Feather each weekend.

Neither is entirely wrong. Socialism is certainly a pile of something. Not garbage, but not a sustainable economic paradigm, either. But if you believe anybody absolutely, then you’re being lazy.

The world, in all its complex magnitudes and bristling minutiae, does not care what letter is stamped on your voter registration, and trying to explain everything with one didactic perspective only pigeonholes you, not humanity at large.

Staying on your philosophical toes is perhaps more important now than it ever was. For all my digs at this country, I don’t want to propagate the idea that America is a pit. America is a great place to live. It is, in fact, an absurdly great place to live.

We exist in the apotheosis of consumer culture. We have any kind of food, anytime we want it. We have thousands of advertisers and network executives throwing themselves at us for attention. We have our own private chariots to freight us about town. Even our paupers have easy access to unlimited amounts of anything they want to see.

We have so much to occupy us, actually, that we have to pick and choose what we can spend time on. And with information more widely available than any other time in history, the challenge is to manage this selectivity wisely, for with the tap of a button or the click of a key, we can decide how much of the world we see and how we see it.

We can essentially customize our reality, tailor it to our biases and interests, and live in a sort of meta-real isolation, disconnected from the world while simultaneously swarmed by it. The pitfall of living in that world that never challenges your perspective and never demands more than your passive consumption is terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is for you to be cursory. About the news, the economy, the war, our leaders, our country, our standard of living and your stake in all of it.

In many ways this is asking a lot. It’s not enough to read a paper. It’s not enough to Wiki something and call it good. It’s not enough to sit through a news cycle and think yourself informed.

It’s far easier and better for your mental health to cement your world view first and seek out evidence to support it, rather than sifting through a sea of terrifying, frustrating and depressing information and trying to come to your own fluid conclusions. But if you do, is your priority really the truth, or your own comfort level?

I’d like to thank everybody who has praised, griped, promoted, sniped and just plain spent the time reading these. Whether you’re happy or sad to see me go, there wouldn’t have been any columns without you, and I really appreciate lending me part of your day these last few semesters. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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