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The danger of blanket statements

<h6>Abby de Riel / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Abby de Riel / The Daily Princetonian

“Should Princeton Exist?” 

The thought-provoking and somewhat jarring title (for a Princeton student, at least) of The Atlantic article featuring President Eisgruber ’83 piqued my interest, as it was supposed to. No doubt the author, Emma Green, sought to draw in readers with the syntactically simple, yet morally complex, question. One continues to read the article and discovers that, in Eisgruber’s eyes, Princeton indeed should exist for the reason that it is a uniquely special space that uplifts underprivileged students and fosters talent. 

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The article concluded in a manner somewhat antithetical to the implications of the question posed by its title, with President Eisgruber defending Princeton’s continued existence. With this in mind, I began to think of similar blanket coverage questions and statements such as “ACAB,” “Abolish prisons,” and “Princeton should/should not exist.” Specifically, I considered how these statements are often simplistic and usually not an entirely accurate representation of a movement’s sentiments regarding a certain issue. 

This becomes problematic when it results in an “either/or” kind of rhetoric in which people feel totally committed to their side of the argument. Any concession or acknowledgment that the opposing argument has legitimate points becomes an issue of betrayal and a hindrance of fruitful debate. In a world plagued by misinformation, it is crucial that we stop resorting to blanket statements, phrases, and slogans and instead choose descriptive, holistic statements to convey our grievances. 

It can be argued that the short and catchy nature of slogan-like short phrases is a necessary attribute, crucial to achieving the objectives of garnering attention, spreading awareness, and recruiting support for said movement. Yet, it is exactly because these movements and sentiments are reduced to short terms and phrases that they result in polarized debate and ultimately hinder the accruing of support. 

Boiling down complex ideas to a single phrase or term indubitably erases much of its nuance. As a result, much of the argument’s thesis is left to be mistakenly misunderstood or intentionally misconstrued by whoever comes across it. It is not difficult to imagine the ways in which this kind of misinformation can become dangerous and even harmful. 

This spread of misinformation increased exponentially over the course of the pandemic when everyone found themselves locked in their homes with not much else to do. During this time, and still now, opening any social media platform nearly guarantees you will be bombarded with a slew of tidbits of novel information. Whether this information is true or not is already a difficult thing to discern. For instance, Instagram posts do not allow for hyperlinks that direct a reader to the source from which the information cited in a post originated.

The issue of misinformation is only intensified when you realize that the difficulty of fact-checking is compounded by the ease with which short phrases can be misinterpreted, intentionally or unintentionally. Princeton students, most of whom are a part of the Gen Z or Millennial generations, grew up alongside the rise of the internet. Our generation’s increased technology literacy means that we have the responsibility to make conscientious decisions in what we post to ensure the chance of misinterpretation and misconstruing of information is as low as possible. 

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The question of feasible alternatives to slogans, therefore, becomes all the more imperative. A complete departure from slogans is not a reasonable expectation, nor is it a warranted one. Rather, the focus should be on cautiously crafting slogans and ensuring the intended message is received by its audience. Readers should look closely at trending slogans and the context in which they are being circulated. Doing so will help to keep slogans and short phrases grounded in their initial meanings and prevent harmful misunderstandings.

So the next time you are presented with the question of whether or not Princeton should exist, or a similarly simplistic question, seek to understand it and share it with others in its original context. 

Ashley Olenkiewicz is a first-year student from Porter, Texas. She can be reached at ao8250@princeton.edu.

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