Then She Banned the Whiffenpoofs From Making Provocative Harmonies

You may have seen reference to the Do-Something Syndrome. You almost certainly have noticed it in action.

In the wake of tragedy or catastrophe, you feel compelled to Do Something.

This could be (a) because Something, indeed, needs to be Done. But a far more common reason is (b) because you want to be seen as Doing Something. Either in your own eyes, or in the eyes of others.

Because, if you're not seen as Doing Something, you might be seen as Doing Nothing. And that would be bad.

Your actions don't have to be efficacious; in fact, given the psychology involved, they almost certainly won't be. (Remember: the point is to be seen as Doing Something. Unless you're picky—and why should you be?—Something can be nearly Anything. Choose something easy.) So the way to bet is that a lot of ineffective, empty symbolism and sloganeering will be involved. Since you're on the side of virtue, the prospect of shrill moralizing is high; this will be an especially valuable tool to wield against any nay-saying skeptics to Doing Something, should there be any.

Because—we've been told—you're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem. And you should lead, follow, or get out of the way. And, while you're thinking globally, you—must!—act locally. And

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole, awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

Or, perhaps most appropriately, the words of Mel Brooks: "We've gotta protect our phoney-baloney jobs! Gentlemen, we must do something about this immediately!"

Speaking of phoney-baloney jobs: that brings us to Academia, where the Do-Something Syndrome is rife. They go together like swamps and malaria. Once you're in a position of power (albeit perhaps only in your low-stakes domain), there aren't a lot of constraints. Moralizing and empty symbolic acts aren't criticized; they're almost always tolerated, and often applauded. If you've got the Do-Something Fever, a modern university is not the place to go for a cure.

So (finally!) that brings us to a recent display of Do-Somethingness that's unabashedly pure in nature:

In the wake of Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

Students involved in this weekend's production of "Red Noses" said they first learned of the new rules on Thursday morning, the same day the show was slated to open. They were subsequently forced to alter many of the scenes by swapping more realistic-looking stage swords for wooden ones, a change that many students said was neither a necessary nor a useful response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Perfect, no? The only upside is that if you're in the throes of Do-Something Syndrome, you almost certainly lack the foresight necessary to perceive how absolutely ridiculous you'll appear to the outside world. Then I'd have far less to blog about.

[Pardon if you've already seen the Dean Betty story, but if you'd like to read more: Volokh, Instapundit, Power Line, Hot Air. It's also touched on by Mark Steyn. ("But it's not just the danger of overly realistic plastic swords in college plays that we face today.") As it turns out, Dean Betty is near the end of her Deanship, and that's probably for the best.]


Last Modified 2012-10-19 1:57 PM EST