A new year, a new sad and cynical play for relevance by Trinity’s least prolific, but most pompous, student publication. The total of twelve pieces published in the Burkean Journal over the past two months must have had such an effect on the students of Trinity that the Journal feels that it’s time to expand to both UCD and DCU.
The liberal bubble is popped, the thought police are dismissed, and most everyone is astonished at the intelligence and eloquence of the noble vanguard of The Burkean Journal who accomplished all of this.
That events did not transpire in quite this manner is not particularly relevant to the brand of the magazine which has embraced indignance as a substitute for integrity. Those who write for Trinity’s new magazine are a good deal more interested in courting controversy and constructing outrage where it does not exist than they are in the conservative convictions they have refashioned into their personal crucifix.
The failure of the wider student community to recognise the undeniable correctness of their positions and worldview is the impetus behind their promotional posters – one of which contains the words “SHUSH! THE THOUGHT POLICE ARE AROUND” in red typeface.
It’s neither disagreeable nor new to observe that the way we conduct discussions around important but divisive issues, both in Trinity and in the modern world, is highly flawed, and suffers from a tendency to shame, where we ought to listen. The Burkean Journal is wrong to think that the problem is dire enough to demand its intervention, and that even if it were, its brand of self-satisfied smugness would be the solution.
Like most student publications, the Burkean Journal has published some readable and interesting pieces alongside some other more poorly-researched and shoddily written ones. This is to be expected in any amateur journalism – though some contributors might be helped by putting down the thesaurus.
What is unique about the output of the journal is an underlying and eerily consistent indignance with what everyone who doesn’t write for the Journal thinks about their chosen issue. The foundational belief of the Journal is that the set of beliefs it admires are under siege; that it is impossible to imagine that they would be given anything close to a fair hearing in typical student discourse, and that, in light of this, the only reasonable reaction is to collate those ideas in a place where they are given implicit supremacy.
This leads to a tendency to focus more on expounding the ways in which their view has been marginalised than on actually explaining that view. An enlightening, if brief discussion of Cuban refugees is derailed by angst at the way in which many politicians spoke about Castro after his death. A summary of Trump’s first year in office jerks wildly between sycophantic praise and self-satisfied jabs at “The Left”.
An article criticising the reaction to comments made by John Waters at an event in Notre Dame concludes with a bizarre claim that it is this sort of discussion which led to the introduction of “gender-ideology” into the school curriculum. What exactly gender-ideology is, and how it relates to John Waters, are not things that the author feels under any pressure to tell us.
There is something odd about this, not least because the two major newspapers in Trinity would happily accept most of the pieces published in the Journal – the remainder would probably be rejected for reasons more to do with their prose than their ideology.
But also because it means that the magazine is wrapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-proclaimed Conservatives are outraged by a lack of diversity in student media. They then, instead of putting forward their views in that student media, write for the Burkean Journal. However, because they are writing for people who already agree with them, the tone of their writing is bitter and its logical underpinnings are the assertive and unconvincing kind used by people who know that those reading what they have to say already agree with them.
Few people read these articles, fewer still take anything away from them. The failure to start any discussion becomes for the Journal further evidence of the student body’s collective effort to silence those few brave conservatives.
I’m not one of those people who believe that the views in the Journal are without value; we should all try to consider a greater breadth of arguments about the big issues of our time. But the Journal is counter-productive to the rigorous examination and dissemination of these views, because it fragments who sees what, and motivates its writers to treat their subjects in only the most superficial way. Even those who seek out the Journal to have their view challenged are let down, because much of its output is so obnoxiously and poorly argued that it has the inevitable effect of reinforcing the view you already held as the right one.
Foundational to much of this is that The Burkean Journal subscribes to the toxic worldview that encourages to people to pick a side before they think, instead of thinking for themselves. You either believe the opinions of the Journal wholesale, or you do not. In fewer words, you are either with them or against them.
This is a concerning approach. It hands people a set of beliefs on radically different subjects, and because those beliefs are labelled Conservative, it expects that people who have decided they are conservative ought to believe each of them without exception. This same process occurs across the political spectrum and becomes all the more entrenched when the very newspapers we read embrace one or another of these labels.
Up until now, student journalism has avoided some of this partitioning. If the expansion of the Burkean Journal is to herald the beginning of such a trend, it should concern us all greatly.