I have a job at a campus eatery called Temple of Zeus. “Zeus,” as it is colloquially known, closed early on Thursday because of an event in Klarman Hall. During my shift that morning, my boss informed me that the event was a send-off for Interim President Hunter Rawlings. Rawlings has been president of Cornell twice before; he first occupied the position from 1995 to 2003, stepping in again in 2005 after the resignation of Jeffrey Lehman. One mordant customer told me, “I won’t begrudge Hunter his retirement party… for the third time.”
It does seem a bit, as the kids are saying these days, extra. While stocking the shelves of Zeus with coconut water and gluten-free Larabars, I heard a few notes of music from across the hall. Not a melody, but a distinctly inharmonious sequence of notes. Eventually I realized that a piano had been brought into the building, and that the piano was being tuned.
I’ve met President Rawlings briefly at Zeus; he seems like a nice guy. I’m sure he’s cognizant of the silliness of the situation. Maybe he’ll even make some jokes about it in his speech to the trustees — “Third time’s the charm, right gents?” Yet the event’s still happening while the graduate student union is being denounced, a student grocery store that was envisioned to combat food insecurity is kept from getting off the ground and a “mental health week” is paraded in front of architecture students that sleep in studio because they have so much work. The optics of it all simply aren’t that great.
This article could easily turn into a critique of the Cornell administration. But exposés are inferior to polemics in my opinion, as the latter renders the former unnecessary. In his essay entitled “In Praise of Idleness,” philosopher and social critic Bertrand Russell discusses labor in the post-industrial era. He writes, “from the beginning of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family… much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world.” Russell’s central thesis is that we work too hard. Technology has fundamentally altered civilization such that all of society’s needs could be fulfilled with everyone working just four hours per day. If this vision of the future were to come to fruition, everyone will have more time for self-fulfillment and the world will be a much happier place.
“In Praise of Idleness” is one of my favorite philosophical works, but I have one critique of it. Russell attributes the survival of the modern work week and the propagation of the labor’s “desirability” to some sort of en masse lapse in judgement. I contend that it is a direct result of deliberate subjugation of the working class. Even if you don’t totally agree with Russell, it’s hard to debate the fact that humanity’s productive capacity has increased exponentially over the past 300 years. Where has all this extra capital gone? Certainly the state of the middle class has improved somewhat, particularly in countries like America. But terrible poverty persists. For the most part, the surplus has gone right to the top, paying for fancy receptions with velvet curtains and finely-tuned pianos.
The inherent superiority of the rich is an idea that is completely integrated into the minds of the poor and middle-class as well as the minds of the rich themselves. It shapes our voting patterns, our history textbooks, even our fairy tales. The trustees, who have a ridiculous amount of power over the University, are costing us tens of thousands of dollars to get together for Hunter Rawlings’ third retirement party? Why should they get to do that? Because they’re the trustees. Using the dangling carrots of prestige, advancement and success, the elites have effectively pulled the rug we manufactured out from under us. And I’m not trying to sound woke or anything. Hell, I’m a victim too. I chose to come to Cornell. But in the words of an anarchist I used to know, “the class war is coming.”
Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Whiny Liberal runs Fridays this semester.