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Why I write

Darryl Campbell | Sunday, September 28, 2008

As an op-ed writer, it’s easy to fall into a solipsistic mindset about your small corner of the paper. After all, every week you have to convince yourself that your opinions are good enough to be out there for public consumption, and that you are writing on something worthy of comment. Which is why, in a situation familiar to anyone who has had to write a term paper at the last minute, every two weeks I stare at a blank computer screen in a desperate attempt to find anything worthwhile to say before my deadline passes, and even though something always ends up in the pages of this paper, it’s probably far too self-congratulatory to hope that all – or even most – of what ends up here has been decent, let alone intelligent.There are two main reasons I write this column, which I suspect are true for everyone else who contributes to this paper. Obviously, there is plain and simple egoism – the knowledge that several thousand pairs of eyes at least slide past your writing before going on to the sports page (especially on a Monday), and the hope that some of them even stop to read it. Deep down, writers are all quite selfish: They desire to be read, understood, talked about and, if they get particularly lucky, to be seen as at least clever, if not intelligent.But during the course of these bi-monthly ego trips, I also try to make everyone who reads this column think just a little harder about the topics on which I write: education in general and Notre Dame in particular. Notre Dame boasts nearly 12,000 students, 5,000 faculty and staff and 120,000 or more alumni – and just as many opinions. Just last week, Viewpoint featured articles and letters about sustainability, parietals, football, underage drinking and politics, among others. Yet every single person who reads this paper has (or has had) a personal stake in educational issues and in Notre Dame’s intellectual life there is as much reason for our concern for educational issues to stop once we leave the classroom as there is for our concern for Notre Dame to stop once we set foot off campus.Still, there is also the risk that Viewpoint writers come off not like thoughtful, nuanced commentators but like gadflies and nitpickers, eternal malcontents who prefer to browbeat their audiences rather than to offer anything constructive. Between deadlines and word limits, op-ed pieces have pretty strict constraints and they are almost always half-baked. But for all their shortcomings, they all serve a political purpose, not in the sense that each has an ideological axe to grind, but in the broad and very crude sense that they try and push people in a particular direction or to get them to realize that they should uphold a particular cause.And at a time when politics and ideology are used interchangeably, when verisimilitude (“truthiness”) is more important than truth itself, when some people think that political campaigns are a more trustworthy source of information than the media, and when it’s easier to find a blog, a commentator, or a politician to think for you instead of doing the intellectual heavy lifting yourself, I really do believe that education and all its attendant side effects – critical and analytical thought, healthy measures both of skepticism and curiosity and the realization that there is more to the world than our own limited personal experience – is as important now as ever. I have strong opinions on the things that I write about simply because I care about them. If I didn’t, then this column would probably be nothing more than artistic expression, and I’m not much of an artist.

Darryl Campbell is a second-year Ph.D. student in history. He can be contacted at dcampbe6@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necesarily those of The Observer.