Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

TO THE EDITOR: In a time long before even the birth of Dr. Pottle, Socrates, convicted as a “corruptor of the youth” and sentenced to death, had the option to preserve his own life. Had he admitted guilt, his life would have been spared. His friends tried to convince him to swallow his pride and toss aside his principles, to simply speak the words. They tried to persuade him to flee from jail, but he would not. He would neither admit an untruth, nor would he accept life in exile. Wishing in his final hour that his sons be taught to do, as he did, what their hearts and minds deemed right, Socrates accepted his fate and drank the hemlock, the deadly poison. Yet, as he knew he would, he lives on as a martyr, his ideas embedded deeply in the consciousness of Western culture. If Western culture is built on the ideal of self-reliance, and there can be little doubt that it is, then Socrates’ act of conscience can be considered a seminal moment in building that tradition. By choosing, in spite of those in power, and against the advice of his friends, to die, rather than, in flight, undermining what he believed to be right, he established a value that is the seed of what is quickly becoming a global society: the desire and willingness to act on just personal convictions (the distinction between ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ being that one’s own actions do not infringe upon the abilities of others to act on their own just personal convictions). For many years following Socrates’ noble act, to the majority of the population, self-reliance lay dormant, stifled by almighty emperors and monarchs, and the domination of the Catholic Church. History has dubbed those grim days the “Dark Ages.” During the Renaissance, with the ideological revelation of humanism, self-reliance rose again. Martin Luther, in his revelation that each Christian could connect with God in his own way, on his own, instead of requiring a priest (a symbol of the institution of the Church) as a middleman, is an early example, one which shows that this powerful ideal can penetrate even religion, a concept that has, for centuries, turned men, figuratively speaking, into sheep. Skipping over a few hundred years, and many, many more potential examples of self-reliance during a time of mass philosophical epiphany (an era definitively labeled “The Enlightenment”), we come to a very recognizable date: July 4, 1776 (light bulb). The signing of the American Declaration of Independence! It was an event that not only paved the way for the tradition of NFL Football on Sundays and the luscious Big Mac, but one that marked the beginning of modern society (whoa!). Every fifth grader can tell you why our vaunted Founding Fathers (were there Founding Mothers? No? How does that work?) chose to sever ties with England and its monarchic government: No Taxation Without Representation! The Fathers, (is the U.S.A. the biological opposite of Jesus Christ? Can Immaculate Conceptions go both ways?!?), because of this tyrannical outrage, decided to set up their own government, accompanied by a liberal economic system. They created a new republic, in which the people (blacks and women eventually included) got to elect their own political leaders. The Fathers also gave birth to capitalism, in which people (still pending female inclusion) were forced to decide how they would make money, in theory, with motivation determining one’s respective level of success. Unfortunately, the inevitable presence of scumbag politicians, followed by the inevitable transformation of government into bureaucracy, the inevitable autocracy of bureaucracy, and the inevitable greed and corruption therein has made it so that neither of these systems really works, but the ideal fueling them, self-reliance, is certainly one that seems to ring true with the human race. Political republicanism has spread to Europe and beyond, and capitalism—well—even Libya likes it, in its corrupt way. That is, in perhaps the most condensed and perfunctory manner ever written, a history of self-reliance and why it is the basis of modern society. Brevity and incompleteness aside, the facts are undeniable: everybody who believes in democracy, whether he knows it or not, considers self-reliance to be of the utmost importance. To use a simpler more meaningless term, I speak of “freedom”. After all, if not for freedom, otherwise defined as our collective right to self-reliance, then for what does America stand? Just ask those living in rural Arkansas wearing gas masks to protect themselves from the imminent perils presented by Al Qaeda: when people have attempted to abridge our freedom (or, in our paranoia and stupidity, when we have perceived a threat to be near), we have reacted with, often violent, anger. For the people who have attempted to perform upon us such unspeakable political, economic and moral violation, we have words such as “terrorist,” “fascist,” “communist” and “(expletive).” We disagree with these people, we go to war with these people, but, very often, we submit to versions of them. That is exactly what I would not do. Phillips Academy should be a symbol of everything that is great about America, the “land of opportunity,” for it is a school of opportunity. Andover lauds its students as the “best and brightest,” the “future leaders” of the young generation. One who puts in the effort to succeed there opens himself to countless options within the various branches of our systemic tree, the roots, of course, being self-reliance. If all this is true, the school being an educational institution, must be cautious as to what it teaches these future rulers of mankind. The Blue Book cites honesty, a principle begotten from the fruitful loins of self-reliance, as the “basic value on which the community rests.” This directly implies that, between all members of the community, there is (or should be) a mutual expectation of honesty. This expectation naturally extends to the employment of self-reliance, for, as a boarding school, in the absence of our parents, the faculty of Phillips Academy is charged with our supervision. The manner of their supervision is an extension of the education they are paid to give us, for these faculty supervisors are teachers, and we are there to learn. Thus, since neither faculty nor student wants to be together at all times of the day, and because such constant “both eyes on you” supervision would be educationally counter-productive, not to mention socially awkward, we are granted a degree of self-reliance, in the form of physical autonomy. The expectation of honesty, the trust that we will use our independence responsibly, is what provides the balance between supervision and education. That balance, as the Blue Book notes (“The focus of our disciplinary system is education…”), is perhaps the most important aspect of boarding school residential life. One way or the other, when students leave Phillips Academy and go out into the real world as subjects of the law, they will be fully responsible for themselves, their actions absolute objects of self-reliance. If Phillips Academy wants to teach its students to use that future self-reliance properly, it must not violate it as it teaches them. The breathalyzer policy is the foremost example of how Phillips Academy has regressed in this manner. The policy, in its very existence, casts students as potential criminals. The machine, in its authoritarian nature, gives teachers the right, once they have accused a student of drinking, and he has denied it, to assume he is not trustworthy, ignore his denial, and force him to take a chemical test. It means that, while in attendance, the self-reliance of students is severely restricted, and their senses of honesty and self-respect are constantly exposed to violation, based on the purely subjective judgments of educators masquerading as police (unless they are police disguised as educators). It means students are the subjects of an administrative regime that is too petty and small to be called autocratic or authoritarian, but too obsessed with control, too focused on the bureaucracy (as opposed to the individual), and too fascist to be called—ahem—not fascist. That is why I refused the breathalyzer test. I would not submit to a rule that undermines the stated values of the Academy, a rule that assaults the basis of all the principles that we, as contemporary Westerners, have been taught to believe in. My act of self-reliance, on behalf of self-reliance, resulted in expulsion. I realize that this does not make me Socrates or George Washington, but it does mean that I am closer to them than to, say, Benedict Arnold or a Nazi collaborator. Ask yourself where you lie on that spectrum. -Chris Massie