By Michael Wang
I’ve been exposed to quite a bit of social justice in my time. It’s been a generally virtuous—if broad—banner which has rallied the hearts and minds of innumerable people across recent history and geographical space to mostly positive results. Before I had come to this university, I had never really encountered such a smattering of educated, informed individuals who could be so passionate about the manifold injustices plaguing the world and their thoughts. As if through osmosis, I became familiar with a respectable variety of less-than-ideal circumstances that had defined a good chunk of the world.
It has been nearly four years: I am a senior about to graduate, and though the discourse about global injustices dominates my conversations at Brandeis, the tragic effects of these injustices are not present in my life. Recently, I was reflecting on some of the things I have experienced during my time here, and I remembered some stimulating, ongoing discussions I had had with a few acquaintances concerning things like the environmental hazards of fracking, the FIFA stadium in Qatar, the post-Gaddafi civil war in Libya and Ebola. I realized that, until now, the content of these conversations had pretty much vacated my and—apparently—most of my friends’ heads since then. Many of said friends conceded that they did not remember the conversations at all.
Afterward, I looked up the updated statuses of the topics mentioned above:
Most of America’s domestic oil is produced through fracking now.
Stadium builders are still dying in Qatar.
Libya has been in its second civil war for nearly three years.
The Ebola epidemic was actually successfully quarantined and is relatively under control.
The general trend was that the better part of the provocative issues my friends and I had once shared in lost our collective attention without ever really improving. An international crisis might have enjoyed a 15 minute conversation here, an organized discussion there, been venerated with a well-articulated, passionate, 800-word, sage post lauded by the 30-50 people who threw “likes” at it on Facebook—then, months going on years of unbroken silence and patchy oblivion.
I am pretty sure it is mostly a symptom of college busyness; is it really practical to worry about people being victimized while one is meticulously laying the bricks of their future? At times those motions of metaphorical brick-laying will go rheumatic and unsteady, while at other times it is just hard: a bombed test, a difficult lab protocol, a reversal in friendship, an unhealthy study habit, a bout of jealousy, a hitherto unaddressed flaw thrown into squirming relief.
I don’t know about everyone else, but it seems my memory of the outside world’s problems is, more often than not, cut short in the face of tangible tribulation. From what I have gathered from the handful of people with whom I have spoken about this, it seems it is a general consensus that the immediate obligations of the individual will just about always trump the abstract torment of the many.
My observation about students’ memory of talked-about injustices might just be an idle thought or an unfair assessment based on a sample size too limited to be statistically significant. But it is by no means a novel idea, nor is it exactly controversial in most circles of thought. It makes me wonder if it is bad that the better part of our discussion on the tragedies that wax strong in the world is carried out for, what I believe to be, mostly recreational purposes.
When you say it aloud, it sounds a bit uncouth. But that is what I think most of us are doing. Most of us are highly educated, lower-middle-class to wealthy individuals currently residing in a state with an economy nearly the size of Iran’s. And I don’t think it is bad to spread knowledge of something sinister, as recreational discussion of injustices has no ill consequence even when its main object is the mildly pleasant electrical stimulation of a student’s brain.
I just think it might do us well to sometimes remember a number of the forgotten problems still lingering about the world even after mainstream publications have abandoned their stories in favor of reporting Trump tweets. Maybe five years from now, one of us will have the theoretical expertise to devise a non-prohibitively expensive method of desalination or even more efficient tune-ups for our alternative energy sources. Maybe 15 years from now, one of us will run for public office and help reform the education system or the way voting districts are organized. Maybe 50 years from now, I’ll inform someone that rock is dead, and they will revive it. It is beyond the spiritual endurance of most people to always bear the gestalt burdens of the world abroad, but I do think it is worth the effort to efficiently review one’s portion every once in awhile. Who knows, over the next 70 years, a few of us might end up being the right people at the right time.