The Organizational Drone vs. the Intelligent Outsider

What is with the intellectual polarization of the Armenian community?

It has now been more than 30 years since Antranig Kasbarian penned a thoughtful op-ed for the Weekly entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” (Photo: Hairenik Archives)

It has now been more than 30 years since Antranig Kasbarian penned a thoughtful op-ed for the Weekly entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” The article engages with an issue that remains a thorn in the side of the Armenian community to this day: What is with the intellectual polarization of the Armenian community?

“Many people justly complain,” wrote Kasparian on Oct. 18, 1986, “that a good deal of Armenian youth can be classed into one of two types: organizational drone and the intelligent outsider.”

The “organizational drone” is someone unwaveringly dedicated to the capital-c Cause. Someone who participates in all the necessary events, sits through all the flowery speeches, and helps clean up afterwards. As the trope would have it, she or he accepts the collective ideology unthinkingly, without question, and in doing so, foregoes her or his most basic responsibility: to think for themselves.

The “intelligent outsider,” on the other hand, unencumbered by organizational responsibilities, employs the faculty of critical thought freely and with great ease. She or he is discriminating and skeptical, qualities which are highly valued in many worthwhile professions in the larger world outside the community. Detached, the individual flourishes elsewhere—far beyond the confines of the community, which would certainly constrict their intellectual growth (hope you caught the sarcasm there!).

The intelligent outsider, Kasparian argues, sees no place for any application of their thoughtfulness within the community (perceiving community as a place only for leisure and “extracurricular” activity, not for professional pursuits—after all, says Kasparian, “sacrificing and subduing oneself for the common good is simply out of vogue in the modern American dream”).

But while there may be some validity to the trope of the “organizational drone,” it’s certainly too cartoonishly reductive to be true across the board. There is, in fact, great virtue in working towards the common good with one’s fellow peers. And the lack of intellectual curiosity one does come across within the community is certainly not improved by the withdrawal of the intellectual from it.

It is also worth considering that both the community and the individual are worse off for this polarization.

Contrary to the analogy of organizational dronism, this newspaper is an excellent example of how the community and the individual can both mutually benefit from interaction with the other side.

Kasparian, an intellectual himself, with a PhD from Rutgers University, embodied the synthesis of the values posited in this opinion piece. A year after it was published, he went on to serve as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly, and eventually progressed to the role of editor, bringing much-needed direction to the paper at a critical junction in Armenia’s history (the collapse of the Soviet Union and the inklings of war in Artsakh). Following his tenure, numerous subsequent editors have come and gone, continuing the tradition of intellectual rigor and journalistic sensitivity.

We often have ways of describing the past in a hagiographic manner. Simon Vratsian, James Mandalian, former editors—we have come to view the intellectual work they did for the paper as something, which is no longer achievable. We have a misconception that things were better then; that those were the golden years; that today, our institutions are disintegrating around us and gone are the days where it’s worth investing ourselves in them professionally. If we’re to adopt this mental state, we’re certainly doomed.

What, after all, is a community, if not a group of individuals?

***

A version of this editorial was published in the July 7 issue of the Armenian Weekly print edition. 

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3 Comments

  1. I don’t know where I fit. Organizational Drone or Intelligent Outsider? I am not inside nor outside but rather very thankful for being part of this new ethnic and cultural heritage that I am discovering being an “Armenian.” For me my Armenian roots are a refreshing turn of events in my life. I grew up in Bolivia not knowing my Armenian roots until someone noted that my last name was Armenian. This new discovery has been for me like my spiritual journey, discovering my ethnic and spiritual roots have gone hand in hand. It is like returning from exile, like coming back home. My grandfather Ballivian’s family broke apart because of internal greed, envy and unforgiveness. Likewise our relationship with God was lost, we did not know why we were here and what was our purpose but God being rich in mercy put me back on track as I found Him whom my soul was hungry for, the Lord Jesus Christ. So, I became a born again Christian and later on discovering my Armenian roots. I have called Psalm 126, the Ballivian’s Psalm because it really represents what I feel in my heart, I was coming back home [zion or God’s dwelling place] and I felt it was a dream and my mouth was filled with laughter and praise and I can say (again), ‘The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

    Jorge Ballivian
    Sand Lake, Michigan

  2. Why wasn’t James (Jimmy) Tashjian mentioned as one of those brilliant past Weekly editors and intellectuals. Was it because he was a genuine Armenian AND American patriot? He loved this exceptional nation in which he lived and worked and served. But he was “eased out” of his position after political changes and leftist infiltrations in the highest levels of the organization occurred in the late 70’s, followed by visits from abroad and declines in organizational memberships. It was “their way or the highway.”

    We are very fortunate in this age to have a highly educated Armenian American community. The ANCA is doing an excellent job – no one does it better. I may disagree with many of its political picks, but they’re the hardest working people we have. I urge our Armenian American youth and young adults to think for yourselves and never be afraid to question anyone at any level if what they advocate just doesn’t make sense to you. I’m fully aware that you have been exposed to leftist thought in the halls of higher learning, but again – take it all in and think for yourself.

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