Puritan ‘city upon a hill’ still governs U.S.

Erik Hoversten

Fridays are big campus visit days. Today I’m going to help high school students on the college warpath, but anyone who gets stuck in a lot of goofy ice-breaker activities can relate.

So, you’re looking at the college essay question. “If you had a time machine, where would you go?” You might go visit the grandfather that died before you were born, hang out in Medieval Europe or see what life is like in 2354. These answers are a dime a dozen. You need a more philanthropic solution.

“The Onion” reported Wednesday that President Clinton has sent a single Marine back to 1389 to assassinate Sultan Murƒd I of the Ottoman Empire to prevent the Muslim invasion of Kosovo, resolving the crisis in our time.

I would travel back to 1620 to prevent the Mayflower from reaching America. It set a bad precedent. No one is better at doing whatever they want and putting a guise of goodness over the top, a practice still at the root of American culture.

If you read Monday’s Daily, there was a letter from an educated couple with degrees from one of the finest land grant institutions in the nation. They were upset the old “f”-enheimer showed up multiple times in the article about rioting in its natural form and not cleverly disguised as “f@#&.”

In seventh grade Spanish class, we might not have been able to ask how to get to the grocery store, but we knew how to make suggestions about what people could do with their free time. Even though I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning, I first heard the chief of four letters in first grade when I was reading “Dan Frontier” all by myself. I’m guessing anyone who can read well enough to pick up a newspaper will not be fooled or protected by a f&$@ing asterisk. Still, we have to put up facade of decency, although no one is decent and everyone wants to know what the mob was yelling.

Then there’s fraternities. What are fraternities about? So far as I can tell, they’re about living with a bunch of pals, blowing the froth off of a few (and a few more), advancing knowledge of female anatomy and generally enjoying the collegiate experience.

What do fraternities say they’re about? Big words. Brotherhood, education and philanthropy.

I would say the first answer is far more accurate. Especially since philanthropy projects are mostly panhandling, and if you didn’t know what “philanthropy” meant, you would likely infer it was incessant bitching from observing such projects in action.

I don’t think many people have problems with the first answer. It’s more or less the same thing that’s going on in the dorms and the same thing that’s been going since they figured out how to distill alcohol. Still, they feel obligated to hide behind an ideological disguise.

When I think about why I’m not particularly fond of the greek system, it’s not because of anything they do, it’s what they pretend to be. Instead of kicking back and relaxing, they have to justify enjoying life because they and the university feel some abstract, residual, Puritan pressure. The altruistic air of the greek system is the major reason I can’t respect the institution.

Speaking of people I can’t respect, how about those Republicans? Republicans are perhaps the most guilty of this. “If we reduce taxes on rich people, they’ll spend more money so there will be more jobs for the unemployed.” They also like to talk about family values and suck up to the Christian Coalition.

I would respect Republicans if they would just come out and say “we’re rich and we don’t want to pay taxes.” Republicans seem to think they work a lot harder for their $200,000 a year than someone who spends 50 hours a week in a packaging plant. It is also implied that if people were motivated, they would pull themselves out of poverty.

At least that’s a legitimate philosophy and a defensible argument. It beats trying to explain how basic economic policies will have the opposite effect of what’s intuitive and pretending to be interested in helping people out.

The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a knack for expelling people they didn’t like or torching them as witches, but keeping it under the guise of the better good.

Their politics were vicious enough to rival today’s politicians, and they treated each other terribly. The whole time they kept up their image of a “city upon a hill,” an example to the rest of the world.

I don’t mind that the Puritans made it here, but I would use my time machine to ensure that a band of fun-loving, honest folks beat them here. Then we might spend less time pretending to be offended and shocked by scandals and junk media and more time focusing on pressing issues and enjoying life.

Erik Hoversten is a senior in math and physics from Eagan, Minn.