Uninformed Action


by Alex Shapanka

Encouraging creative expression via the arts,  duu Speakers&Stage brought Joseph Gordon-Levitt the other night to come speak about his project, HitRecord. Between wearing capes and the sing-a-longs, JGL engaged the audience in a conversation about the economic crisis – extremely relevant for a school that sends nearly a quarter of its students into finance. Students’ comments really struck me, not for the content but rather their lack of substance.

They made some valid points. Such as while thousands of dollars in debt, it’s pretty difficult to turn down the zeros on a check from Goldman. The way they referenced the financial crisis, however, suggested a lack of knowledge. Someone going into finance next year should be able to site more than “corruption” as the cause of the economic turmoil. What do you even mean by corruption? Be more specific. HitRecord? Hit the books.

I don’t mean to castigate the students who were brave enough to get on stage and talk to 1,200 people. They just happen to make me realize that most of us are uninformed. On November 6, the country went to the polls, though a commendable number of Duke students chose to vote early on campus. It’s great that this campus cares enough to participate, but I’m curious how many of us were actually responsible voters. A friend of mine told me she just cast her vote as a straight party ticket, despite not knowing a single candidate. If we have no clue what we’re supporting, we probably should hold off on taking action until we educate ourselves.

Let’s look at a more common example. We all walk down the plaza telling ourselves, “Don’t look! Be strong!” Yet we inevitably get pulled over by one of our friends tabling for another random cause of which we know nothing. Still we hand over our DukeCards, sacrificing Flex so our friends will stop pestering us. While we may defer to our friends’ judgment, we shouldn’t act without being informed – no matter how much we trust them.

It’s time we stop speaking and doing without knowing. We’ve all sat in class and listened to a peer talk for minutes on end with command and courtly language only to realize he or she said NOTHING of value. Being able to carry on a conversation about anything is a useful skill. Even better when you can sound competent. But you should not – I repeat NOT – depend on it. For some reason, Duke students don’t believe that.

Many of you might argue that I’m being idealistic because we live in a world that holds such a talent in high esteem. Rather than espousing principles that you may think only exist in the theoretical vacuum, let me play politics and make it accessible for the system in which we live. If you believe it’s important that we be able to talk about anything, then you should want to learn. The knowledge you gain carries with it credibility, which stands to help you engage in conversation.

We depend on our ability to talk our way through anything. We learn how to speak but not say a word. It’s time we actually learn.