What Will Fill The Vacuum?

 Posted by on 4 June 2008 at 11:20 pm  Culture
Jun 042008

Berkeley, California has long been the symbol of the crazy leftist wing of American culture. Yet even in that city, there are signs that the culture is beginning to shift, as illustrated by this recent story from the May 22, 2008 issue of The Economist.

The article first explains that the football stadium at the University of California Berkeley badly needs some critical earthquake safety renovations, and this will require cutting down a nearby grove of oak trees on university property. In response, a group of local eco-activists have staged a sit-in to prevent the school from cutting down the trees. According to the article:

…[F]or 16 months tree-sitters have been living in the branches. Varying between a dozen and a handful, the group includes anarchists, activists and travellers. None is a student.

…Intricate pulley-systems and rope-bridges connect the trees into an arboreal village. A group called “the grandmothers” comes every Sunday with buckets of cooked food that are hoisted up. Other buckets, of excrement, are lowered at intervals.

The university is seeking a court ruling to allow them to forcibly evict these trespassers from the trees. But the more interesting point has been the reaction of the UC Berkeley students:

A generation ago, they would have been turning the town upside down. Today, they study. Berkeley’s largest ethnic group is Asian-American. The ageing hippies in the city council find them shockingly conservative. When the campus police chief wrote an open letter explaining policies to deal with tree-sitters, 400 students wrote back, 90% in favour of removing them faster.

This is a good example of the “cultural vacuum” that Yaron Brook, director of the Ayn Rand Institue, has described in this interview from the September 28, 2007 issue of Forbes:

Today’s left doesn’t have anything positive to offer to young people. When they were socialists, there was at least something they were fighting for, and they believed in a right and a wrong. Today’s leftist agenda is negative and nihilistic–focused on stopping industrialization, capitalism and even Western civilization. But young people want positive values. That’s why religion is so strong today, because many view it as the only thing that promises a brighter future.

I believe that Dr. Brook is absolutely correct. Although the leftists’ ideas are still dangerous, more and more young people are turned off by their views and looking for something different. The real question is what will fill that ideological vacuum? Will it be a system based on faith and unreason, such as religion? Or will it be a secular alternative based on reason? Dr. Brook notes that:

Ayn Rand is the only voice that offers a secular absolutist morality with a positive vision and agenda, for individuals and for society as a whole.

This may explain the rising interest in Objectivism by active-minded individuals who want a rational alternative to both the loonie left and the religious right. More importantly, if a rational secular philosophy like Objectivism doesn’t fill that vacuum, something bad will…

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