I don’t wear a bike helmet. I have lots of undergrad friends. I have social skills. But I’m still a real Stanford grad student, and the evidence is that I just don’t understand why you crazy undergrads give a flying fuck about the ASSU.
And that having of undergraduate friends means I get a continuous barrage of facebook requests to join the “event” that is voting for someone for whom I’m ineligible to vote for some position I don’t care about. (Last year, I summarily defriended one idiot for sending me a facebook IM about the ASSU.) I’ve already been tagged as a picture in one facebook campaign ad. I even got an email from a GSC candidate (at least I was eligible to vote for that one, though it didn’t stop me from bluntly ordering him to keep his stupid campaign out of my inbox). And I actually saw a rally last night. A rally. At old union. A RALLY. For an ASSU election. This annoys me, but I understand that the undergrads have it far worse, because of house chatlists.
To the candidates, as well as those pushing ballot measures and the like, I want to know: why? And bear in mind, I actually support one candidate for ASSU executive, for the first time ever, because I personally know this candidate and know that same is a good person. (Not naming — not endorsing here.) But I still want to know: why on earth are you doing this?
Be honest here. I think the usual answer to this question is dishonest. At best, it represents self-deception, and for many it may represent deception of others. The usual answer is about some cause — this year, it seems to be about diversity. It’s often also about various sorts of university/ASSU reform.
Why do I say that’s dishonest? Because you should all know that if you really wanted to pursue those goals, there would be a million better ways to do so than via the ASSU. The ASSU has no power. There’s very little that the ASSU can actually do to influence university or public policy that determined students can’t do better themselves. Pretty much all the ASSU does is channel money to student groups. Which is great. Fine and dandy. But then why all these elections about all this other stuff?
Here’s an example. There’s this big stink right now going on about ROTC. But wait a second. How does the ASSU get involved? Well, apparently it’s all about having an “advisory referendum” about ROTC’s return.
Seriously? There’s been all kinds of delirious controversy, fights in the ASSU’s “constitutional council” (who cares?), bitchy op-eds in the daily (who cares?), impassioned pleas by other TUSB bloggers, over whether or not the ASSU should hold an advisory referendum??!! Are you people on crack? Anyone who really cares about the issue of transgender representation in the military should be out organizing people to put pressure on political leaders about the policy, or directly on the stanford administration about the presence of ROTC. Not trying to resist some stupid “advisory referendum” that will contribute nothing to actually achieving any political or social end.
It’s laziness. Rather than actually working to achieve the noble causes in which you believe, you fight moronic symbolic battles in a meaningless election for a meaningless entity. It’s also a desire for attention and credit: you’d rather be the politician who gets to claim credit for some achievement rather than the people on the ground actually doing the work to make it happen.
The same sort of question applies to those who want to hold offices because you think you can support things like diversity (stated, always, in the vague and abstract), or other public-spirited causes. Is that really the best way you can spend your time? Or is it just the easiest? Consider this: Stanford has a pretty progressive student body, as do most elite schools. If you personally don’t get elected, the chances are that someone else who supports diversity or whatever will get elected instead. So why are you, personally, running? Do you genuinely think you’ll do a better job of achieving progress in some diversity-related area than the alternative candidates, even though — remember this — the ASSU actually has no power? Or are you just too lazy to find some effective way to achieve your (noble) goals?
Here are some Stanford students with public-spirited commitments who are not lazy: a group is working on bringing a stanford-run homeless shelter into existence. Note that this group isn’t, as far as I can tell, wasting its time in stupid meaningless ASSU fights. Instead, they’re actually trying to achieve something that would actually achieve some concrete good in the world.
So for those of you running for the ASSU for what you like to think, or say, are public-spirited motives, I ask you this: is the time you’re spending on your ASSU campaign, or the time you spend doing ASSU work, going to do more good for the world than the same amount of time spent creating a homeless shelter? If the answer is “no,” and I think it has to be, then it’s about time you reexamine the relationship between the values you claim and the behavior you exhibit.
(Economics majors: the operative phrase here is “opportunity cost.”)
But this, of course, assumes that you actually have basically public-spirited motives. And that’s a pretty hefty assumption. At this rally into which I inadvertently stumbled, I heard Kelsei Wharton (at least, I think it was Wharton, I’ve never met the guy in person) going on about how “we is stronger than I,” and all kinds of similar populist drivel. But this is the same Kelsei Wharton who resisted a cut to his executive salary on the grounds that “We need to get some money in our pocket just in case something comes up.” Previous ASSU executives have looted the expense account. It goes on and on.
I can’t help but wonder how much of the motivation for all of this ASSU activity is a genuine desire to contribute to some good cause, and how much is for the almost $80,000 in salaries that the ASSU pays out, and how much is just simple resume-padding.
And then I can’t help but wonder why anyone bothers to vote for this thing at all (except, again, for student group funds). Hell, why am I even bothering to write this long blog post about this totally irrelevant nonsense?
Oh, yeah, because I’m annoyed by the spam. Right.