The next item on the PennBDS agenda is another discussion of academic boycotts. Given that I’ve said everything I want to say on that subject here, I thought I’d step off the agenda just this once to talk about something inspired by Nycerbarb’s thoughtslast weekend regarding community.
Those thoughts came to mind last weekend during which my son’s Boy Scout troop was participating in the Klondike Derby (stick with me for a bit, since this will hopefully add up to something before the end).
You need to understand two things about this particular scouting trip. First off, my kid’s Scout troop is way bigger than any troop I’ve ever heard of (more than 100 kids), which means that any trip requires moving upwards of 50 people to another town and into the woods. Second, the Klondike includes the use of sleds to race and to move kids and gear, and this year’s dry winter meant there was no snow to push the sleds over.
And so for the last several weeks, dozens of boys (with a healthy dose of participation from parents) had to figure out a way to build wheels onto those aforementioned sleds. And when the day of the trip (Saturday) came around, we needed to borrow trailers to haul sleds and gear, get 50+ people from point A to point B, schlep hundreds of pounds of equipment up hills and over rocky terrain Hannibal style, and do the whole thing in reverse the following day.
Such an endeavor required the participation of dozens of people contributing their time, their cars, their power tools and their backs in order to make a trip like this a success. And the Klondike was actually a council-wide event, meaning troops from around the region were sharing our experience, requiring yet another group of volunteers to organize the program, prepare the campground, judge events – in short, to spend weeks and months ensuring that my son enjoyed 48 hours in the woods eating stew.
The thing is that none of these volunteers, none of the parents, none of the troop’s adult and teenage leaders, none of the 11-14 year olds hauling backpacks, tents and gas stoves derived their biggest satisfaction out of what they got out of the experience. Rather, our pleasure was derived from what we put in.
During four hours of pushing sleds with ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful steering systems, we didn’t think about what was in it for us, or horse-trade this much sled pushing for that much cleaning duty. Even the kids didn’t have to bribe each other to pitch in, they just got on with it, creating a community, or more specifically building on a community that’s been in existence for decades.
Now contrast this with Nycerbarb’s experience of BDS advocates turning to her community (in this case, the co-op community) specifically to get something out of them. You heard her describe how people in her co-op don’t just shop but contribute their time and volunteer effort to keep open an institution that provides value (in that case, healthy food and reasonable prices) to members. And those members, in turn, derive satisfaction from shopping at a place that is truly their own creation.
But the BDSers perceive the co-op differently. For them, it’s a high-profile place filled with caring individuals who might be able to be convinced to put the name and reputation of the institution behind the narrow, political propaganda message that is the heart and soul of BDS.
Barb talked about the space members know to afford each other, since even the tightest community needs to allow for diversity coupled with privacy. But the BDS programs hammers at what they perceive to be trivial nicities, insisting that their political message becomes the law of the land (or, at least the co-op) and the topic of rancorous arguments, regardless of who such a program appalls and offends along the way.
Now the Boy Scouts go back pretty far and are institutionalized enough that no one would try to leverage their rep for partisan gain (certainly not on international issues). But I look across all of the civic organizations I belong to (including a synagogue and other secular and Jewish community organizations) and realize just how easy it would be to subvert them in order to score points against my political rivals.
The only thing protecting them from this fate is that this is something I would never consider doing in a million years. For these organizations, be they a co-op, a Scout troop, a city, a church or a major university like U Penn are the sacred cornerstones of our civic society. And they can be fragile, as the bitterness and rancor that have visited BDS targets demonstrates.
No doubt the boycotters trying to take advantage of the good nature of other people and leverage the reputation of an institution they had no role in building justify their thoughtlessness by claiming it is motivated by a higher good.
But if they are willing to ravage other people’s communities for their own political gain, might they also be willing to ravage these “higher-goods” to create such justifications? If they’re ready to step on the face of their neighbors in order to get their way (while all the time declaring their devotion to the neighborhood), why should we take them at their word that they (and they alone) represent the values of an even larger community, including values such as human rights, international law and justice?