||The McGILL DAILY
OCTOBER 31, 1955
The Radical and the University
by Donald Kingsbury
This summer I was working in a linoleum factory and one of my good
friends was a student from Loyola who drank Pepsi Cola with me during the
morning and afternoon "breaks" when we were allowed out of our miserably hot
linoleum curing-cells. He took a rather dim view of McGill people, having
worked for the Loyola paper on a job which forced him to glance occasionally
at the McGill Daily. It seems we gave him the impression of being too
unorthodox, an impression which sadly, I could do nothing to rectify. Perhaps
his view was a bit exaggerated for there are certainly McGill students who
would be a joy to the faculty of Loyola, however, the density of unorthodox
people at McGill is high enough to cause comment.
It is easy to see how this comes about. Gather together the young
intellectual, the cream of many ethnic and cultural groups, expose them to
storehouse of knowledge and you are bound to cause a reaction between stude¤t
and professor, student and book, student and student that creates new
regroupings of ideas, experiences, facts, ways of thinking, et cetera. Some of
the freshmen are already intellectually inert before they reach university,
but many aren't and these latter, in time, form the radical elite which
universities so notoriously harbor. The fact that McGill gives courses over
such a wide field of man's heritage and is open to such a diverse batch of
kids inevitably makes it a breeding ground for the unorthodox.
Chances of Survival
And that is why I think western civilization, miserable and immoral as
is, has a chance to survive where all of man's other civilizations collapsed.
Social inertia has been a big killer. Once a culture begins to develop
momentum in one direction, only formidable forces can swerve it, however, a
survivor type civilization cannot be unidirectional because time constantly
presents it with new problems to solve. It must swerve or die. But to swerve
it must be capable of generating within itself forces opposed to the social
inertia and of an equivalent magnitude. So far as I know, the sole institution
which man has ever evolved that can create such forces is the `university.
Already our universities have caused an incredible change of cultural
direction, and the present rate of change is so great that no two consecutive
generations in human history have been farther apart than us and our parents.
So also will it be with our children.
Where our parents were radical in a linear sense -- right or left -- we
have developed a multi-dimensional radicality that tends to think of the
right, left, and dead center as its reactionary base. The burning issue of
our parents -- the great socialism-capitalism debate -- is passe in today's
university, not because youth, is more conservative, but because we are
digging into stuff more fundamental to the problems of our civilization than
economics. We smile at our LPPers and our CCFers. They are our active
reactionaries, sad cases born twenty years too late. They lack the mental
flexibility to learn new thought patterns and assimilate the latest research
material, they lack the self doubt, the ruthless self criticism, the humility
that is required of every kid before he is allowed to enter the folds of
the present day radical elite. Worst of all they lack the knowledge that every
theory, every way of life, every philosophy breaks down in some way after
enough analysis; they haven't got the guts to try to tear apart their own
theories. But just the same they are "the wave of the future", they know all
the answers, they can solve the problems of the universe over a cup of Student
Union coffee. Every generation has had its abortions, I suppose.
The greatest single motivation, I think, that can be found in today's young
unorthodox is the haunting sense of their parents' failure in the big time. It
is obvious to us that our civilization has been walking into the 20th Century
with two left feet, and still is, in spite of the older generation's bumbling
efforts. The whole of western heritage doesn't seem to hold a solution. We
youngsters are going to have to add something that has been missing and
subtract something that should not be there. What these will be, I don't know.
Student Union coffee doesn't have the same euphoric effect on my brains as it
does on the brains of our bright eyed communists. I do know that if we fail,
our civilization will be placed that much closer to disaster. And it will be
easy to fail. Our parents failed and they were not exactly fools.
Whatever saves our civilization, if it is saved, will ultimately depend
upon the university, for the university is the only powerful institution in
our culture not committed to any particular theory or way of life. It is
committed to truth, to the understanding of man and the universe, that's all.
And it is already an efficient mechanism for creating the new ideas which a
civilization needs, for testing the new ideas, for infecting a population with
the tested ideas. If social inertia ever depresses you, don't forget your alma
mater. God bless the university; God bless old McGill!