The Dartmouth Observer

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Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Stop whining!

Prof. Jere Daniell, who recently retired from the History Department, and who taught me an invaluable lesson in writing good historical prose, will tell you if you go and speak to him (and you should take up the Review's suggestion and do so) that there's a culture of complaint at Dartmouth. Everyone -- left or right -- likes complaining, he says, and there's no point in doing so. More often than not, you can't do anything about whatever you're complaining about; persisting in your course of action will only make you more quick-tempered and less likely to have a sense of humor. History has this effect on many of its elder practicioners, I suppose. Jacques Barzun says the same thing in a wonderful little essay entitled "Toward a Fateful Serenity" (it's the first essay in The Jacques Barzun Reader):

History is concrete and complex; everything in it is individual and entangled. Reading it, mulling it over does not weaken concern with the present, but it brings detachment from the immediate and thus cures "the jumps" -- seeing every untoward event as menacing, every success or defeat as permanent, every opponent as a monster of error.
Joe Rago -- who is a History major (and a very good one at that: I read several of his papers that he submitted for publication in the Dartmouth History and Classics Journal, and I know that he's writing a thesis this year) -- seems to have imbibed some of this spirit, as his refreshing op-ed in the freshman issue of the Review suggests. By all means have opinions and be skeptical: but be prepared to engage in "robust, intelligent criticism—the reasoned exercise of judgment, discrimination, and taste." I couldn't agree more with this non-partisan statement.

Now if only this praiseworthy attitude could rub off on some of his writers. And, to be fair, on the Free Press's as well.