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This is a test

It’s true — I’ve heard a lot more about student protests of commencement speakers this year. At the Twin Cities branch campus of my university, for instance, there was an eruption of student activism over inviting war criminal Condoleeza Rice to give the commencement address — although part of the protest may have been over the fact that she would have been paid $150,000 to spew a few platitudes for 20 minutes.

We may have been missing the point. Zach Weinersmith explains the situation.

studentprotests

He then goes on to explain the reason behind these costly displays. I give you a choice. You can go read the rest of the comic, which is the easy way out. Or you can go read this paper by Joseph Henrich (pdf), titled “The evolution of costly displays, cooperation and religion: credibility enhancing displays and their implications for cultural evolution”, which will take rather more of your time, requires slogging through a little math and logic, but will enhance your credibility because of your investment in the subject.

The paper is also a little annoying because it will require looking at a university, or any other institution, through the same lens you would a religion. I made that sacrifice, though, so that you can see my opinion as justified and worthy by virtue of my effort.

Now I have to take my wife on a walk to the coffee shop…to help her “determine how much to commit to, or believe in, a particular representation”. I can tell that thinking this way is going to lead to a rather cynical transactional view of relationships.

Comments

  1. numerobis says

    I’ve noticed some freeze-peach grumblings in the NYT and elsewhere about students refusing to listen to “opposing” voices. It made me wonder: why is it that someone might protest Condoleeza Rice a couple years after she left a government responsible for multiple wars and the destruction of the economy. We all accepted to listen to John Hume a year after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Young people are such whiners!

  2. ledasmom says

    I’ve been pissed off for twenty-four years about how my particular graduating class got portrayed for their objection to their graduation speaker. And now all of you can make a very good guess as to where I graduated from and what year.

  3. says

    It’s a busy day; I read both the comic and the paper abstract.

    Display is everywhere, from wearing suits to appear trustworthy in business (no idea what connection one has with the other) to religious pageantry and commencement addresses.

    Somewhere I read an article about these commencement speakers that said; “Go ahead and protest, kids. You paid for it with your tuition and student fees, and you won’t have the opportunity in your work life.” And that is true. I recently had to listen to an address from a CEO that made me sick to my stomach. But it would have been professional suicide to have stood up and walked out. As a tech guy pushing 60 I can’t afford that.

    Damn.

  4. says

    It’s disturbing how many people can’t tell the difference between having the right to speak freely, and being paid handsomely by a university to give a speech, in a way that signals great respect for your opinions.

    To round things off with a nice Godwin:

    Arresting holocaust deniers is a violation of their right to free speech. Not wanting them to be lauded at your graduation ceremony isn’t.

  5. Pen says

    “The evolution of costly displays, cooperation and religion: credibility enhancing displays and their implications for cultural evolution”

    It may be academia, but it’s so damn true. And then you get runaway effects with massive investments in funerary goods, sacrifices, wedding arrangements, even children’s birthday parties FFS.. which are either consumed or of no further usable value. It’s like peacock tails in biological evolution (or so I’m told).

  6. says

    If someone actually did a burning of a stack of money like that I would be amazed and very interested in the controversy.

  7. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Arresting holocaust deniers is a violation of their right to free speech. Not wanting them to be lauded at your graduation ceremony isn’t.

    Yes. and ~~ , I think. Confusing phraseology there. More simplistically, “Refusing to attend the speech by someone you disagree with, or demanding that a proposed speaker not be accepted, is NOT censorship; does NOT violate the Free speech of the speaker, etc.”
    uhm, not much better, my phraseology. My key point is the word “censorship”. Refusing to listen is NOT censorship. The Right to speech is not a Power to Require Listeners.
    ~_~
    to get Filosofikal::
    Is it really speech if no one is there to listen to what someone is saying? Is talking with no one around really speech at all? Free speech has to have listeners, to even be speech.

  8. twas brillig (stevem) says

    “it will require looking at a university, or any other institution, through the same lens you would a religion. ”

    Quotemining…

  9. David Wilford says

    Looking at every institution as you would a religion? It’s simpler to say that striving for institutional prestige via high-profile commencement speakers is a practice some egotistical colleges and universities engage in. I’m glad to see some of the recent cases criticized for their expense and controversial politics.

  10. David Marjanović says

    …So this is what comes out when universities compete with each other.

    Why would universities compete with each other? That’s a completely ridiculous, counterintuitive concept…

    …oh. Even though they’re public, they’re businesses, financed by tuition fees and donations. Of course they compete for fucking customers and donors.

    Where I come from, all public universities – which is almost all of them, including all the big ones – are funded from one and the same pot of money (taxes of course). No such silliness as competition among institutions that all want the same things (education and research), no donations, no silly speeches by anyone other than the dean of the faculty you’re graduating from, no heaps of money on fire or otherwise.

    Condoleeza

    That’s a misspelling of a misspelling.

    She’s Condoleezza, with eezz, because her parents didn’t manage to @#%*$#/§@%*#!%@*!%$# read con dolcezza, the musical instruction that a piece is to be played “with sweetness”, “softly”, “tenderly”. It’s Italian (as always); the c is (roughly) prounced “ch”, and the zz is pronounced “tttts”.

    the University of Iowa

    Thanks to, probably, some marketing person, it’s The University of Iowa with capital The. I wonder if that’s an attempt to say “we’re the real thing, there aren’t any other universities in Iowa that deserve to be so called”.

  11. David Wilford says

    Nah, it’s a marketing thing. Iowa State University is a fine university also and so is the University of Northern Iowa. Just wish they all had lower tuition rates.

  12. magistramarla says

    I attended the AF Academy graduation last month. VP Biden was the speaker, and I found his speech to be funny, informative and uplifting. Unfortunately, I sensed that many of the families and friends of the cadets were not very appreciative.
    It’s very sad that the right wing nutjobs have had such a huge influence on our military. VP Biden pointed out that this was the first class of cadets to graduate after the repeal of DOMA, and that they have willingly and without a single issue accepted out LGBT cadets into their ranks. He also mentioned that these fourth year cadets sponsored the first-ever “Take Back The Night” event on the campus to raise awareness of safety issues for cadets on campus. I cheered loudly, but many of those around me didn’t.
    I hope that this new crop of young officers will work to change the culture in the AF.

    BTW – No university can beat Cal Tech for graduation speakers. The year that my daughter graduated, the speaker was Ray Bradbury. Stephen Hawking was also present as an honored guest. Our family had the privilege of meeting both. Every time that we’ve visited there, we’ve met Nobel prize winning scientists and some incredible students and graduates.

  13. mikeyb says

    The costly display idea goes back to the economist Thorstein Vleben and is prominent in the work of Zahavi. I can understand (not the same as accept) the idea of wanting a prominent speaker, but why Rice? Are we lacking in people who have done some pretty important stuff. There must be about 100 people I could think off the top of my head that could be better candidates.

  14. Hotblack Sparkiato says

    Pretty sure Condoleeza Rice was not a commencement speaker at the Twin Cities branch of your university. She was hired for the “Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series”. ($150,000 private money) She spoke at Northrup.

    It was at Rutgers that the faculty and students objected to her speaking at commencement. ($35,000 + honorary degree) She backed out of this one.

  15. nich says

    David Marjanović@13

    Thanks to, probably, some marketing person, it’s The University of Iowa with capital The. I wonder if that’s an attempt to say “we’re the real thing, there aren’t any other universities in Iowa that deserve to be so called”.

    Here in the states Ohio State University takes that shit to the extreme. I think Ohio even enacted a law making the THEEEEEEE part of the school’s official name way back in the late 1800s. If you ever have the misfortune to catch the first few minutes of a professional sporting event on TV in the U.S., the broadcast often features intros from star players in the contest in which they say their name and the school they attended. You’ll have OSU alums staring down the camera and practically shouting the “The” as they introduce themselves. Often they are only alums in the loosest sense. If you’re talking about the National Basketball Association, star players often leave school to go pro after their freshman year, aka “One and Dones”, making the whole “THEEEEEEEE Ohio State University” thing all the more stupid.

  16. ck says

    I think Zach Weinersmith got one part wrong on this: I doubt any potential benefit to the students was ever actually considered in the process of scheduling these speakers, except perhaps as a post-hoc rationalization.