CRANKY & CRAMPY <3

(or, Your game, our skin)
divertimento for zombie and news-letter
by ZOMBIE DEBT

Zombie Debt, a new movement on campus, held an informational meeting
uh-oh!!!
yesterday to raise awareness about the dangers of increasing student debt. The group distributed zombie-themed fliers, decrying what they call an educational system of “interminable debt.” The fliers also shed light on the fact that tuition has risen four times faster than inflation since the 1970s. And to compound this crisis, the group purports that any attempts to speak out and campaign for reform have been met with “brute force” and riot police. It is an amalgam of iniquities, they argue, that has caused such mounting student debt. High unemployment, sovereign debt and rising resource prices have

??? have we claimed this???

made it possible, they conclude, to criminalize

???

poor students and people of color in a broken “system of global finance.”

This page supports Zombie Debt’s overarching cause and believes student debt to be a serious and pressing issue.

brilliant; we agree. who doesn’t?

But we disagree with the movement’s plan of action, or lack thereof,

Disagree with a lack of plan of action??? What does it mean to disagree with a lack of a plan of action? What’s your plan? Or do you plan to agree and not to do anything at all? Is it the fashion now, to agree with someone’s assessment of a problem but to scold them for not fixing it for you?

and its unnecessary and threatening radicalization.

what does this word “radicalization” mean here? what’s so “radicaliz[ing]” about an “informational meeting” with a “zombie-themed flier”?

Zombie Debt’s modus operandi is seemingly to draw a divide between the victims and the criminals.

Nobody is claiming these kinds of predatory practices are criminal. In fact, the problem is PRECISELY that they aren’t. They’re legal. Should they be? What do you think?

Students are sinking under an ever-growing pile of debt, they claim, because of corrupt loan officials and a greedy financial system.

Yep. Among other things.

Even the police and military are in on the game.

We’re all in on the game. We’re all playing. We have to, to get ahead; but we never do get ahead, do we? The security officers who came to tell us not to bother anyone were quite sympathetic, actually: it seems that at least one of them is under significant debt. But they have to be in on the game to keep their jobs, as do we.

The simple fact of its pervasiveness doesn’t make the game good.

And the only reason they keep students alive is because “we owe them.” Without their valuable dollar bills, students

who resist

would be mowed down like those at Kent State.

do you remember that those were real people, who really died??? “Kent State” is not just a phrase.

But with their valuable dollar bills,

nope, cash is dead folks. with their “valuable” debt….

students are simply pepper-sprayed by “absurdly casual” riot cops.

This position does more harm to Zombie Debt than good.

Only if “Zombie Debt” were a self-interested group capable of being harmed, rather than a campaign against a pernicious evil: the sale at exorbitant prices of an alleged “meritocracy” that has not materialized and never will. The zombies seek to promote intelligent critique and informed conversation. The zombies trust Hopkins students to understand and carry on an analysis of the situation. No one can expect perfect agreement on any issue — but how about explanation? How about analysis?

By radicalizing themselves — pitting “us” versus “them” — they are ridding themselves of any chance of civil discourse.

We need to ask hard questions about what civility is, and who it protects. Why is any action civil? Why is some incivility licensed (say, the psychopathic pursuit of profit without any regard for who might get hurt, albeit maybe balmed and bandaged with some post-retirement philanthropy)? Why some unlicensed?

How about the activities depicted in the images above? Who’s being civil there? Who uncivil?

And re: “us” and “them.” This language may seem simple, but it’s important to understand that some powerful interests have huge stakes in the flawed and unregulated financing of higher education we now tolerate, ignore, suffer through. I think we have been relatively clear that there is a specific “us”: college and university students. Whether or not you ever feel the pain of this situation, 3 in 20 of our fellow students are already debilitated by it. What is happening to these, our peers and fellows, is wrong. We need to stop it, no matter who is perpetrating it, even if it’s our authority figures, our parents. Even if it’s us.

As for them, “them,” the ones who are doing it, who are they? Well, there are lots of beneficiaries — no surprise. Zombie Debt would like to suggest, with Lester Freeman, that we follow the money. Who is jacking tuition? What are the rationales? Who’s profiting, how much, and why? What educational (vocational?) vision does this represent?(It’s a good question, though: is it even worth thinking about “them” at all? How big a “we” might we be?)

By pointing to a vast conspiracy manufactured by the elite and privileged, they are alienating themselves from the moderate base that is America.

Does this mean anything at all? Identifying an inequality does not itself “alienate” the majority of Americans. Referring to a concern for inequality as “radical” and “threatening” does. It manufactures a disagreement that isn’t present (“This page supports Zombie Debt’s overarching cause and believes student debt to be a serious and pressing issue”). And something can be a systemic wrong without being a thriller-movie “vast conspiracy.”

By blindly shouting from their extreme ideological wing, they are, in effect, extinguishing any possibility of actually reforming the iniquities they condemn.

“Blindly shouting”? “extreme ideological wing?” Does anyone really feel that the issues raised by the student debt campaign are “blind” or “extreme”? (“Shouting” we grant you :)) Does analysis inherently extinguish the possibility of reform, or is it the precursor to intelligently-conceived change?

Hyper-polarization and unswerving dogma may well become the nails in Zombie Debt’s coffin.

Is hyper-polarization coming from the critique offered by the zombies, or from the News-Letter?

P.S. It doesn’t matter how many nails are in the coffins of zombies. They are preternaturally strong.

But this isn’t the only problem with the movement. In addition to being dangerously radicalized, it is also disappointingly useless.

On the campus of a world-class university, we consider informed dissent useless?

Many students are already aware of the unpaid loans that they will eventually have to face. It is fairly well understood that a college education — especially here at Hopkins with its $40,000 tuition — is not a cheap buy. But what most students are utterly unaware of is what to do and how to do it.

The only “solutions” that Zombie Debt provides are “occupy everything” and “refuse all debt.”

› What about the fact that we don’t know “who decides where the future of our university is invested? We students, fuelling the whole monster with debts we might never pay off, have no say in where our money is channeled.” Do you need help understanding what needs to be done here?
› “Where does the money go?” here?
› “work-studies are displaced by unpaid internships – indentured labor, measured in academic credits and subsidized by personal credit.” here?
“higher education is increasingly inaccessible to working-class students and students of color.” here?
“supposed ‘need-blind’ admission cashes out as a preference for the rich”? here?
“there are fewer students with financial need attending Hopkins, and those that do manage to attend are saddled with more debt – triple what was borrowed a decade ago.” here?
“we are thrown onto the pile of student loan defaulters, which now tops 14% (up from a little over 5% a decade ago). Default – but not forgiveness; not even bankruptcy can discharge student debts, which the government makes sure we pay by every means necessary – intercepting tax refunds, garnishing wages, deducting from social security.” here?
“For the multi-billion-dollar lending industry, benefiting from years of deregulation and federal guarantees, there is no point in trying to keep us from defaulting on our debt.” here?
“Like the subprime mortgages that triggered the latest crisis, nonfederal student loans now fuel a predatory confidence game of securitization.” here? (hint: what would you do to prevent the 2008 financial crisis?)

Let’s get serious for a second. Does dissent equal failure? Radicalism? Here, in this setting? Is the attempt to educate ourselves and our friends, colleagues, and coworkers a failure? Or is it a step in the right direction? Shouldn’t we first admit that there’s a problem? That we need to wake up and demand explanations?

“Yeah, but we all know there’s a problem.” So what are we doing about it? What are we gonna do? The folks who benefit most from this system have every interest in perpetuating and strengthening status quo trends. They won’t do anything unless they absolutely have to. And they won’t have to until enough students are asking them very uncomfortable questions.

Both seem splendid — until one actually thinks about what they mean. Ought students stop going to college altogether? Ought students sit on campus all day until those “corrupt university officials” finally lower tuition? What exactly is “everything” and how will “occupying” it make student debts vanish?

GOOD! let’s keep thinking like this. These are great questions. How will we answer them?

In point of fact, students are “occupying” as we speak. They are occupying classrooms to receive a college education — an education that they hope will give them a head start in their chosen professional fields.

AGAIN: excellent point. We considered calling our campaign “occupation: university.” The editors point out something we ourselves have experienced: that education is our occupation, that we have also hoped that education will “give [us] a head start in [our] chosen professional fields.” And it might, might it not? We are still students. We are, in fact, as Hopkins students, some of the best in our fields. We have the best chance in the country of getting an excellent job. Our placement records are high. But being among the best doesn’t mean that much when you have to contend with entrenched advantage at the tippy-top. We hope that we, that everyone, will get the head start we all deserve for hard work. Most won’t.

How can they “refuse all debt” when the only options are to incur it or forgo an education?

Are those the only options? What’s going to happen to the many, many students who cannot repay their loans? Who refuse to repay them? (Debtor’s prison!! Yay 18th century. Occupy Old Bailey!)

For this board to look favorably upon the Zombie Debt movement, we need to see an actual plan for reform and a mitigation of extreme and largely baseless accusations.

The desire for policy changes is understandable. Let’s get on that. But “baseless accusations”? What kind of evidence is required beyond that offered in our literature? Beyond the anecdotal evidence so widespread it’s not even funny — likely in your mind right now? Beyond the horrendous youth unemployment rate? (Imagine the underemployment rate.) What do we do with all these people? Say, “Tough cookies”?

As you’ve said, we seem to all agree on something that’s really important. We still have time to do something about this. This university should be a model for a better world, not complicit in the short-sightedness and unfairness of the world we have now. And this space — college, our time to think! — is the space for it.

Does anyone have any illusions that this is going to go along just fine? That tuition can keep going up? Debt can keep accumulating and “earning” (funny term to think about in this context!) interest? That everything’s gonna be all right? Just sit down and take notes and say nothing?

Put it on the VISA?

Haven’t we seen this before?