by Tyler Nadasen-Gladstone, AP'18
I hesitate to speak for the whole. In the space of self-governance, our individual voices give way to something larger. In dialogue, we negotiate the delicate terrain of conflict, find common ground, and advance competing visions of utopic blueprints for what we can build here together at Arête’s Glacier Bay session. I’ve tried to map the landscape of collective thought, the prominent features of which will continue to develop with the erosive force of argument and the tectonic shiftings of minds changed. If we are moving towards consensus, we are doing so at a glacial pace. My writing on self-governance will inevitably fail to account for the wealth of perspective that abounds in this group of humans, fail to do justice to dissenting opinions for I will take liberties, liberties that haven’t been granted to me, to generalize when it is probably unfair to so do. All in all, I will fall short. Personal reflections of this nature are, in pretty obvious ways, contrary to the mission of self-governance itself. My words are only relevant insofar as they contribute to dialogue and, try as I will to capture that dialogue in my best approximation, this is a transcript of my words alone. But someone has to do it, so here’s my synopsis of our last meeting:
The days have been full and, naturally, accompanied by fatigue. Exhaustion, however, is distinct from lethargy and both appear to be present and active. The latter is cause for concern. Conversation oscillated between identifying the source of the problem and seeking a cure. It is agreed that the issue, after taking the time to be more specific, manifests as the sensation of aimlessness and purposelessness. A spare whiteboard proved useful – on it, we brainstormed a list of communal activities and scheduled a few for the rest of the week, including an upcoming hike and night of card games. Still, though, there remained a feeling of dissatisfaction, as though our remedy were insufficient.
Discussion eventually migrated to a related but distinct topic. We were challenged to give words to the culture that we are creating. Each and every one of us played a hand in the inception of the prevailing atmospheric quality, the mood and attitudes that flavor the air. As such, we all are responsible, whether we’re conscious of it or not, for both the strengths and weaknesses of its particular tenor. The question, posed by Margaret, was intended to prompt self-awareness of our shared values, whatever they might be. The hope is that, through deliberation, we may actively determine those values, should we choose to do so, should we take issue with inertia’s natural trajectory and, when our discontent deems it appropriate or necessary, intervene to right our course.
At present, we have a lot to be proud of. It is encouraged, if not expected, that we challenge not only ourselves, but each other. Our lives of relative excess back home have cultivated an appetite for various comforts and privileges, comforts and privileges that we are eager to identify, interrogate, and abandon, if we come to the conclusion that they are either frivolous or inconsistent with living out our personal visions of a good life. There is a palpable abundance of energy, an energy that gives substance to those very same suspicions, however abstract, of what a good life consists of. It is an impatience, an eagerness to make good use of time and energy, that lures restless legs up and out of the cabin, up the mountain, off the dock and into the freezing waters of the cove, into kayaks and out to open ocean, towards adventure in all its many forms. And, truly, people find adventure everywhere, from wanderings of the mind to helping out whenever someone can use an extra hand or two, taking on extra hours without being asked. Our behavior attests to the conviction that labor is an opportunity, not a burden. At this point in time, intervention seems neither appropriate nor necessary. After all, if it aint broke…
Again, our answer was vaguely dissatisfying, despite how well everything seems to be going. It’s almost as if we wished something were broken, so we’d have something to fix.
We’d reserved the last chunk of self-governance to articulate our hopes for next year’s cohort at the Glacier Bay session. There was talk of a time capsule, of leaving our mark in the form of completed labor projects, and various other ways of giving back to this place and the people that keep it up and running. Sentimental musings persist, for they are valuable in their own right. But it wasn’t long before our imaginations for the following group of Arête students became a little more forceful. Talk of hopes for next year evolved into talk of expectations for next year’s group. And it was here, at this point, that the meeting came full circle.
It became clear that we had been having one conversation the entire time. The moment we understand our demands for future Glacier Bay cohorts is the exact moment that we understand what we demand of ourselves. ‘Demand’ is an appropriate word – in accepting our spot in the Arête program, we are granted access to an experience that is simultaneously an investment, quite literally, in our lives as future servants to humanity. What that means, exactly, is itself up for debate. But what is clear is that we are indebted and, if we are to pay what we owe, we are asked to think about more than our own enjoyment during our time here in Alaska and afterwards.
In making sense of our own demands, we can discern the values we aspire to. We can best perceive the distance between ourselves and our ideals, a distance that points in a clear direction, when we concretely define those ideals. It seems as though the actual cure to our collective lethargy, directionless, and purposelessness resides in the search for values that dwarf both our anxieties and our pleasures in the service of something more, values that loom larger than ourselves– a construction project of the highest order.
Tyler Nadasen-Gladstone is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session. He recently graduated from Deep Springs College and will finish his degree at Columbia University.