Cognitive Dissonance and Cold Ones

I can sum up the essence of my senior year routine in three
words: “thesis, beer, thesis.” (Rinse, lather, repeat.) Maybe “beer, thesis,
beer” would be more accurate, but these two activities make the time pass a lot
differently, so it’s hard to tell which was more prevalent.

This routine was the result of a choice I made—a choice to
exploit the strengths of this institution. The two most ridiculously available
things at Pomona College are a captive audience of brilliant scholars paid to
indulge and critique students’ intellectual flights of fancy and, also, free

Thankfully, they complement each other perfectly. Both are
antidotes to the cognitive dissonance necessary to be a student at Pomona
College—to being asked to critically challenge ideas and institutions on the
one hand, and being expected to comply with all kinds of demands, expectations
and rules on the other. (This is probably the paradox of a formal liberal arts education in general.)

Beer makes all this a little easier to stomach (even if the
beer is Pomona Queen, and even if you have to present an official-looking
Pomona ID to access it). Beer makes the cognitive dissonance of everyday life
tolerable and, eventually, even pleasurable.

And a senior thesis,
at least in my discipline, is an escapist exercise whereby you can build your
own theoretical argument from the ground up, systematically excising the
contradictions and dissonance from it during the lengthy but satisfying editing
process. If only I could do this kind of surgical cleanup with my own life.

If current trends are any indication, these things may one
day be relics of Pomona College, things that I’ll ask students about when I come
back for Alumni Weekend only to be met with furrowed brows and incredulity.
Yes, I suspect open-ended academic projects fueled by school-sponsored hops will
one day be a thing of the past. Every year, it seems, another department drops
its thesis requirement, and most of their students choose to eschew this
daunting and optional responsibility. (Less than a quarter of students in my
own major chose to write a senior thesis this year.)

And the free beer thing, if I understand correctly, is
constantly and increasingly under threat of assault from the administration.
The reasons for this are various and probably not worth getting into here. I
don’t like this war on beer, but it makes sense to me. I don’t really
understand why we get free beer in the first place, unless it’s for the
palliative purposes I outlined above.

However, if the “Pub is cancelled” Facebook event is any
indication, some people are out there fighting for their free beer. I’m not fighting for things

I criticize Pomona College a lot. I criticize it for the way it
coddles students and refuses to hold them accountable for their arrogance and
intellectual overreach and for its refusal to interrogate or at least acknowledge its own complicity in unjust systems of power. But what am I if not one of
those overreaching students, and what is my tuition money if not a complicit
factor in the practices of the institution it supports? To fight the college is to dishonestly deny
that the only tangible things I still value– my intellectual work and my
alcoholic release – are enabled and even provided by the institution
responsible for my existential and ideological discomfort. The college giveth,
and the college taketh away.

This an unusually jaded, elliptical and rambling column
from a columnist who is typically a healthy degree of all of these things. So
I’ll close by noting that, having been given the choice between our theses and
our beer, most of us are choosing the beer. (If I had to guess, I’d say that
Pub will outlast the thesis requirement.) I can’t say I blame us. I’ll see you
at Senior Week, and most likely I’ll be nursing a cold one.

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