What is the Macalester Consensus?

By David Boehnke

Matt Won is right—there is a “Macalester Consensus” (everybody knows this). However, what he failed to do was to provide any sort of analysis of why this is the case, preferring to talk about dudes and chicks who talk too much. Whatever he pretends to be politically, this failure to analyze speaks otherwise.
What is the Macalester consensus? The Macalester consensus is a commitment to feel-good values without having to deal with their consequences in practice, often by having sufficient privilege to ignore their consequences. This is why we should say: to hell with good intentions. If this sentiment worries you, please first consider what horrors have your name on them.
Why is there a Macalester consensus? Because, as demonstrated by the actions of individuals and our community, we seem to want to be a machine that produces members of the ruling class. Another way people say this is that we desire masters. Benevolent masters. And hope to become them.
More conservative students on campus would not help us with this problem. The problem is not that we don’t have enough points of view, but that we are happy not to have any point of view at all. Swept away in the romance of privilege, we soak in our thorough unpreparedness regarding the practical questions of making the world better, thrill in our future riches, and fail to consider taking education, for instance, into our own hands.
Classes, as well as activism, can be useful here. If one wants to transform the Washington (or Macalester) Consensus into something ethical (“a neo-liberal values set that has been pushed on the world by the capitalist complex in order to serve the ends of interests in certain developed nations” as defined by M. Won) one should encourage people to take the critical classes that make the reality of oppression apparent and propose solutions, as opposed to mocking them.

Of course, as Matt demonstrates, it is not enough to simply go to these classes. One must do something with them, in practice (as Matt failed to do even in his writing). As I said two weeks ago, “we should expect more and different things from the MacWeekly” particularly substantive analysis.
An analysis that understands that Macalester is currently shifting all gears to become as much like the most elite section of higher education as possible, a scene that defines itself as being the producer of a global bureaucratic elite, of celebrating how education reinforces or creates oppressive privilege. And it is easy to see us all becoming bureaucrats, scared to death of acting outside of our boxes, holding ourselves hostage while others change the world for the worse…isn’t that what’s happening now?
Throughout higher ed we see exploding costs and resultant debt, corporatization of priorities and research, attacks on hard-fought gains like affirmative action and academic freedom, and increasing barriers for the participation of immigrants and international students. As Michael Galvin pointed out last week, we see Macalester spending $41 million, $17 million of which will come from students’ tuition on improving our athletic facility in a thoroughly excessive way (it’s nice, but so are your socks) as opposed to, say, soliciting such money to reinstate need-blind admissions.
Of course there are also struggles against these things, and that is why we have people calling for the DREAM Act, for the abolition of tuition and prisons, for a different vision of Macalester…people standing up. If you don’t mobilize to change the political landscape, to change the play of forces outside the negotiating room (hearts and minds are sticks and stones), you surely won’t gain ground inside.
And then the absurdist dialogue interjects: “…money is not something we are good at producing. Money is something we must struggle with, and work hard for, and be realistic about. We are penny pushers with $480 million.”
We have failed in the past because we couldn’t imagine anything but failure. There is never a good time for the failure of the imagination. Let us decide that today is not to be one of those times…