10 things I hate about Cambridge – ‘Apathy’ and the opposing hacking classes
JACK MAY rails against those who tarnish us all with the lazy slur of apathy.
I’ll be honest with you — I like a drink just as much as the next guy.
Perhaps even more so, especially if you put me in a context where your glass fills up when you’re not even looking and before you know it you’re trying very hard not to throw up on the train home.
Like most students, I understand the intense emotional and spiritual value of the pub, and I busy myself with the tough work of keeping such establishments afloat as often as is realistically feasible.
That being said, it’s a dangerous business, and the average student pub-pilgrim is attacked on both sides. If your drink of choice is beer, you get lovingly but unnecessarily patronised by the greying patriarchs of the right-wing press, penning irrelevant and dismissive pieces about the latest ‘hysteria’ of student politics on campus with a blokeish nod and a wink. “Most students are too busy chugging beers to give more than a sideways glance to the authoritarian censorious shriekers who would stop us indulging in a little light (read: misogynistic) banter”, runs this line, with a bit of variation here and there.
If you’re evil enough to enjoy a glass of wine or gin and tonic from time to time, you get pilloried from the other side. Student Union hacks and the no-platform cognoscenti sneer at people who “just don’t seem to care” and are too busy “appropriating French culture and oppressing the working classes” by mere virtue of knowing the difference between a merlot and a carignan (for what it’s worth I haven’t a clue but pretend to make sure a date is impressed enough to pay the entirety of the bill).
“Why aren’t white people taking more of an interest in our campaign to repatriate the seventh paving stone from the far left corner? Probably because they’re all evil and too busy drowning in a vat of their own privilege, the heartless oppressors”, runs the original draft of the Varsity thinkpiece before some poor sod has to draft the response email basically saying try again, this is terrible.
The fact is that neither response quite cuts it. Both instead represent two distinct but remarkably similar, so far removed from the experience of the majority, sensationally invested in their own vested interests, whether those be the perpetual hegemony of the ‘cishets’, or the bloody-minded pursuit of the belief that capitalism is inherently racist/sexist/homophobic etc. etc. (#smashliberalism).
Most students aren’t actually apathetic at all. They flag up the key issues that sweep across the conveyor belt of politics, whether by virtue of Facebook’s algorithms or a bad case of library Tab-website procrastination, and make informed if subconscious decisions as to which are worth investing time and energy in understanding and participating in.
In the case of the NUS referendum, reports suggest that a whole load of students have decided that this is actually an issue that really matters. Turnout is set to be a record high, and whatever the outcome is, nobody can say that this hasn’t been a genuinely broad-spectrum democratic exercise, even if the exact terms of that democracy have at times seemed a little… odd.
Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about the issue has either already voted, one way or another, or feels deeply ambivalent about making a ballot-box commitment if they don’t feel they fully understand both arguments.
The same is true in the coming EU referendum. With so much conjecture and personality-politics rhetorical jousting, a lot of us don’t feel we’re in a position to commit ourselves to a decision that is clearly so important when all that cuts through is eternal Boris v Dave oh look, here’s Jeremy no wait it’s Ed no the other Ed from the Twitter day no wait back to Boris back to you in the studio.
It’s hard to get a real sense of what matters in these situations, and that instinct — to quietly scrutinise, reading and understanding with a view to making a genuinely informed decision — is the exact opposite of apathy, though its silence may be easily mistaken as such by those who hold a grudge against, say, most of humanity.
The NUS referendum has seen a popular mobilisation and a public discussion that has, with a few prominent discussion, been informed, comprehensive, and congenial.
Students have recognised that Jewish students have raised serious concerns about antisemitism that have exposed broader failings of the organisation, but have also had to think carefully about what our affiliation to the NUS does for us, and whether leaving is a sacrifice worth making to be crystal clear about how we stand up to discrimination.
So, to both of you — to the hacks padding around the dingy spaces of CUSU’s offices, and to the hacks mincing around the gentleman’s clubs of London — please, please, understand this: it’s not that we’re apathetic; that we are too lazy to participate, that we’re too willing to let the world roll by without eager leaving a mark on it, or that politics is something for other people to do.
It’s not that we’re not interested, it’s just that a lot of the time you’re not particularly interesting.