McGinley wrote for the opinion section of this paper until he graduated two years ago, and his columns tended to always come back to abstinence. He picked his idea and wrote variations upon a theme. Sometimes, his columns were well-argued, began with an interesting starting point or made insightful points. Other weeks, they were completely disagreeable and generated quite a bit of criticism. What McGinley did well was start a conversation, because whether he was right or wrong, he got people thinking. And, for most college students, it’s about time they started thinking.
To put it bluntly, college students are idiots. Well-educated, very intelligent idiots. Princetonians don’t read emails and then bemoan the fact that they do not know about events they received emails about, assume that not enough sleep will be enough and treat a hoagie like a balanced meal. It’s not that we lack common sense, it’s just that outside of academia, we take too much for granted, fail to think things through and therefore make a mess of things.
Shortsightedness and thoughtlessness were what McGinley was so good at whittling away. By continually writing about abstinence, he made people think about how sex relates to their lives. He managed to make people say what they wanted, and what sex meant to them. His columns made people pass the paper around over breakfast, ensuring that everyone at the table read them. Though the usual response was angry disagreement with McGinley’s views, he started a conversation nonetheless. McGinley wanted to shape campus culture because he recognized that campus culture shapes us as much as we shape it.
Like McGinley, I believe culture matters. And like an economist, I think people try to “optimize” their utility curves. Drinking is a part of that. But too many base what they want to do on internalized stereotypes from Hollywood and television, rather than on genuine introspection of what they actually prefer. Everyone is unique, and everyone has an unique “optimal” drunkenness and a preferred method of getting there. But there are diminishing returns to inebriation, and beyond a certain point, no one becomes happier through drinking more. Drinking quickly and without control isn’t just dangerous, it’s “suboptimal” for having fun. As I’ve often stated in my columns, treating drinking as a slow process, where flavors and aromas are valued more than getting drunk, produces slower, less risky, more fun drinking.
People get past their optimal level because of bad influences. Whether it’s Hollywood, eating clubs, on-campus organizations or just small groups of friends, we take cues from our environments about how to act. That’s why I find the topic of belonging so important. If people find good fits or find people they feel a strong connection with, they will become more responsive to those friends. They’ll be more likely to ask each other what they really want, and therefore be forced to think for themselves what they want. That can happen anywhere on campus, but considering I literally live in the basement of Charter Club, I’m biased toward seeing eating clubs as the purest expression of the power of belonging and the influence of environments. It’s a place where I, along with people like me, am able to create long lasting, deep bonds and shape the culture around us and expectations of our friends. Creating friendships and encouraging responsible, intelligent behavior are therefore quite intertwined.
Since friendship groups are themselves situated within a wider campus environment, McGinley had good reason to return to the same ideas about abstinence time and time again. He had his views on what he thought made everyone better off. I do too. He used repetition of similar columns to try to change what Princetonians saw in the morning paper, which would influence how they think and act. I want to do the same, except with alcohol and eating clubs. I’m confident that if you get together with friends and discuss what you really want, a side effect of that discussion will be drinking more responsibly.
As a graduating senior with what I feel is a fair amount of undergraduate experience, I hope I succeeded in starting some conversations.
Christopher Troein is an economics major from Windsor, England. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/05/11/30936/