Phi Beta Cons

Hunger Strikers’ ‘Moral Intelligence’

The hunger strike for higher wages for Harvard security guards sallies forth. Today is Day 9. The usual parade of bombastic Boston and Cambridge politicians have been showing up to offer their support to the hunger strikers’ cause.

Jarrett Barrios, Cambridge’s state senator, will speak at the daily rally today; yesterday, it was Boston councilman Chuck Turner who came to the rally and called the hunger strikers “moral teachers” for the Harvard community, after lambasting the university for “only giv[ing] an education based on intellectual qualities” without a consideration of “moral intelligence.” (Yes, he’s a bit of a blow-hard, in true Boston style–you can watch his entire speech here.)
Re: “moral intelligence”: Starving oneself doesn’t mean the striker has the moral high ground—the reason why it’s effective is that, if serious and enduring, it amounts to a hostage-taking. The striker endangers himself, and blames it on others (thus the popular, and puerile, chant outside the university president’s office: “Let us Eat! Let us Eat!”). And even in the realm of morality, one would think an element of proportionality exists that would cause one to question the propriety of demanding a $2/hour raise by way of a hunger strike. In any case, how can a reasonable discussion about wages take place when one side sanctimoniously believes that the rightness of their position is so obvious as to be unassailable?
All of these thoughts have floated around the campus in various permutations, and I’ve been pleased to see a student backlash against the strikers’ tactics. Rather than showing students to be morally deficient, however, I rather think it gestures to most students’ intellectual refinement and willingness to look beyond mere sentimentality on questions of morality.

Travis Kavulla is director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the R Street Institute. He is a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners who held elected office as a Montana public service commissioner for eight years. Before that, he was an associate editor for National Review.

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