My university has introduced a new requirement for all of its incoming freshmen. Before the beginning of the semester, the new students are obligated to participate in a series of activities aimed at developing their feelings of responsibility as citizens. What does that mean in practice?
Freshmen will be loaded into buses and will be taken to perform community service activities. This will somehow teach them the value of responsible citizenship and communal action.
As of now, there is a total of 3 faculty members at out university who seem to be bothered by the idea of coercing community service out of students. As you might have guessed already, I’m one of them.
For one, this forced socialization bothers me on a visceral level. When people start college, they are already adults. Doesn’t it mean that they should decide for themselves when or whether they want to socialize, be charitable, do things for the benefit of the community, etc.? Isn’t it extremely patronizing to imply that they need to be forced into all of these activities?
Then you have to remember that we are a state university. Making students perform tasks that the state needs seems dangerously close to coercing free labor out of people who don’t have a choice in the matter.
Of course, there are also the autistic students who often thrive in the classroom and do extremely well academically but who, at the same time, are made intensely miserable by the forced cheerfulness of such collective public outings.
The idea that people need to be forced to spend a lot of time together as a group, involved in some sort of a collective action for the benefit of the entire society, and that it is perfectly fine for the government to force people to dedicate their weekend to provide free labor for the benefit of the state is, once again, a deeply Soviet idea.
Yes, I know that I keep repeating the words “the Soviet Union” like an obsessive parrot. But what else can I say if the bailouts, the “too big to fail,” the puritanical hysteria, the forced gynecological procedures, the war on contraception, and the coercion of community service are very familiar to me precisely because I have lived in the the Soviet Union?
We either choose to guide ourselves by the respect for the rights of an individual or we don’t. There is no middle ground and there are no other options. I strongly believe that only through cultivating the respect for the individual rights as the highest value, can we achieve a civilized society worth living in. You know why that is? Because “collective interests” do not exist. There are simply shrewd individuals who manage to sell us their own interests as somehow hugely valuable to everybody. Such people force us to sacrifice our interests for theirs because they hide behind some completely spurious collective good.