Sinking America: neoliberalism embodied on a college campus

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The ship is sinking. Say it with me. The ship is sinking.

The argument goes like this: people are stuck in the hull of a sinking ship. The crew is at odds about how to survive. While they argue, the end draws near.screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-11-20-44-pm

Zoom out to Occidental College, where two students lock eyes, and a sense of awkward, scared frustration fills the room. The two had just argued about their differing uses of restorative justice in comparison to transformative justice.

This argument represented a mode of speaking to one another that I hear around my school all the time, especially on subjects like neoliberalism, social justice issues and especially the recent presidential election. The result of defensiveness and quick tempers is that two people who could have collaborated in their efforts to further causes of social, political and economic liberation become closed off and combative, and — in a community as small as this — it ripples through crowds. Yet what strikes me is the counter-productiveness of this outcome, because both students value a similar kind of common good. Within the microcosm of Occidental, which reflects a greater population in America, there is a tension so destructive that little to no progress is made by those who identify as liberal, democrat, progressive or any other label associated with “the left”.

Stepping back is necessary to step forward at all. We’re getting lost in self-defensiveness, in fear of being remotely wrong, in a desire to be correct that has overtaken a desire to get things done.

If you identify as remotely liberal — as in “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” or just as a conservative who doesn’t like fascism — you’re in this hull, and you need to start paying attention to the fact that it’s sinking. If for you the ship seems to be alright, I implore you to consider why others around you aren’t feeling the same way. The guiltiest parties here are the ones convinced they’ve already thought it through — those who believe they’re the most righteous, those who believe they have the answer. They’re the ones, unyielding in their stances, who are speeding up their own demise, and the demise of everyone around them.

Hatred, oppression and Neo-Nazis will not take a breather while neoliberals and unbending democrats gather a legal defense and write a bill to push through our incredibly incompetent Congress. We have a Cabinet that wants to bring us back to the pre-civil rights era. We have literal white supremacists in seats of power. While we argue, the ship sinks.

The reality of the situation is grim — the system, the government we adhere by is falling apart. Actions like the repealing of the Affordable Care Act are not going to benefit the populace, and are not done in the name of the American People. Hence, the government we adhere to is not working for us. The left, a facet of that system that many young liberal and left-of-center voters support, is falling apart. There’s an effort here in Occidental’s overlapping, intersecting communities to create a world that aligns with our visions of peace, sustainability and equity.

At Occidental, as students, that means protests, fundraisers, civil disobedience, filibusters, petitions, education, listening, being uncomfortable, creating and fostering safe spaces, being politically correct and practicing communal care. There are good intentions, as both of the students who argued had, but the reality of the current political climate is that the Democratic Party and leftist ideologies are not effectively combatting what is essentially fascism, or even appropriately tackling issues like climate change, queer equity, gender equity, racial equity, class equity, religious equity and ability-based equity. We must be less combative and work to listen to one another if we want to manifest our dream of a better future. Making these dreams a reality requires working within the status quo just as much as it necessitates working beyond and outside the status quo.

This is a call for you to ask yourself one simple question: Are you doing enough?

The system isn’t working, and neither is the party. If the people aren’t working together either — if at Occidental we can’t engage in discourse because we are all too invested in defending our own opinions — then who’s going to get anything done?

The ship is sinking, but it doesn’t have to sink. We have a more than capable crew who just need to adjust their tactics, format their ideas and desires into praxis, into actions that adhere to the ideologies promulgated by the left. The divide between the two arguing students by the two students could have been soothed almost as soon as it began; had the two met each other with constructive criticism and a willingness to listen to one another and understand, we would be one step closer towards tangible, meaningful change.

I’ve witnessed arguments between people with the same desires for liberation because of differences in strategy; people arguing about strategy, when in reality there is no single holier-than-the-rest method that will magically fix the issues at hand.

That being said, while we must expedite our work for equity, we must work to prevent the erasure of marginalized identities and their struggles from this work, such as the percieved lack of inclusion of trans femmes from the women’s march, or the lack of attention to the recent swell of bomb threats to U.S. synagogues. Those are struggles that must continue to be centered, validated and represented.

As an Occidental College student, your junior seminar in Diplomacy and World Affairs does not mean you know how to stop ISIS, your campaign semester does not mean you are capable of determining the effects of voter suppression (nor should you minimize them) and your semester in the class called Whiteness does not mean you have an effective understanding of how to ‘fix’, or ‘undo’ racism. It’s time we understood what is truly at stake in stating that there are specific, succinct and single-approach solutions to issues of these magnitudes. Studying these areas does not inherently mean you have applied the knowledge to your lives, let alone applied it ‘correctly’. There are such severe dangers to self-righteous political ideologies (read: neoliberalism), and their continued work will undo any progress we have made as a community to fostering an inclusive, equitable environment.

The current system we live in is only a democracy based on our preconceived notions of the term, based on what we take for granted. We can yell that the current presidency and government are “un-American,” but until we confront our own demons and the realities of the Democratic Party, the left’s ideology and our inability to work together effectively, we will not manifest the progress for which we stand.

Karim Sharif is a junior English Major with a Critical Theory Social Justice and Music Composition double minor. He can be reached at