- Lindsay lives in Hyde Park, Chicago. She has a high recidivism rate as a student at the University of Chicago.
Like most schools, my alma mater donated a fraction of its undergrads to the national party following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Being the opposite of a party school, the University of Chicago’s response was no match for, say, Penn State’s riotous street party, but nonetheless (according to an article in our student paper), one fraternity’s members “marched, chanting and singing patriotic songs” to a local bar to celebrate and planned a party for the following night, “America!!! F*CK YEAH!!!” The accompanying picture of two dozen or so exuberant undergrads decked out in red, white, and blue made me feel slightly ill, which, according to Jonathan Haidt’s editorial in the New York Times last week (“Why We Celebrate a Killing,” 5/7/11) classes me with those who “[missed] all that was good, healthy and even altruistic about last week’s celebrations.” Agreed. But I believe in the end that it’s Haidt’s argument that is missing something essential — specifically, a legitimate step from our tribal evolutionary heritage to a moral justification for any modern expression of that heritage.
Haidt argues that (a) the post-ObL celebrations exemplified what Durkheim called “collective effervescence” — the strong, ego-dissolving emotion that allows individuals to experience themselves as part of the group (in this case, the tribe of America), and (b) we therefore should embrace this kind of response as good and perhaps even necessary for us to “[step] out of [our] petty and partisan selves” and act in service to something larger.
I believe that (a) is more or less correct, and (b) is dangerously wrong.