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.