An Open Invitation to Question

Hey, reader. I’d like to invite you to something. It’s something really important to me, and it means a lot to me. It’s something that I think more people should do, and it would be awesome if you could take me up on my invitation! I’d like to invite you to question.

Question everything. Question the questions you ask. Question the reason you do things. Question the laws that hold you, and question the rules you follow. Question the people that are in positions of authority that affect you. Question the powers that be and question the words you read and ask, “how does this affect me?” Ask, above all else, “why?”

I got out of a really frustrating board meeting at the Solar Energy Association tonight. Our president had a problem with the way that I openly stand in defiance of three important actors, motivating subjects for this post: Vanguard, a student-run organization that claims authority over engineering clubs and organizations; CatLife, the “social media” made for clubs and organizations; and the Office of Student Involvement (OSI), the official overseeing body of all student clubs and organizations.

I am openly defiant of Vanguard because they claim authority over engineering clubs and organizations, requiring us to do reports and make specific kinds of charts for our projects and other seemingly arbitrary items. I question the authority of Vanguard, and do not understand how they feel that they have the power to tell us what to do. For instance, Vanguard requires us to write an annual report of our organization and make Gantt charts for our projects. I’m not saying that Gantt charts aren’t a good way to organize projects, nor am I saying that annual reports aren’t a great way to summarize our year for the record; I’m saying that I question the very fundamental idea of them telling us that we should do things a specific way.

To Vanguard, I ask: under the authority of whom do you feel you have the jurisdiction to make such calls? Why should anyone do anything you tell us to do? You have no funding and you give us no funding. My members have never met you before. You do not come to our meetings. You do not come to our events. You do not pick up a marker and solve our equations, nor do you write any code for us, nor do you – let’s be honest – benefit us in any way! The only reason why so many organizations are still a part of Vanguard is because they joined at a time when Vanguard was beneficial, a time when Vanguard did have funding, a time when Vanguard was active, a time when Vanguard did contribute to our community, but that’s exactly what Vanguard is: a was.

OSI, as another example, requires us to advertise all our meetings on CatLife. That’s trivial, honestly, but it’s only a spoonful of the much larger soup of requirements, some seemingly arbitrary and others rather reasonable, that they impose on us. To that, I ask: why? Who benefits from this? Why is this a requirement? Why do you feel that you have the authority to make such a requirement? The obvious answer is, “OSI is the body that oversees all registered clubs and organizations, and so they can therefore put requirements on registered clubs and organizations.” Well sure… but why? What’s stopping a student organization from cutting themselves from OSI and just running themselves independently? In fact, wouldn’t it be within their best interest to?

When your only instrument of authority is subtractive – the disqualification of an organization – then how justified and stable is your authority really? Your authority is at stake when large numbers of individuals realize, “Hey, what’s stopping us from just separating ourselves entirely from OSI? What’s stopping us from just separating ourselves entirely from Vanguard? Wouldn’t it be within our best interest to?” They fall like dominoes, and the house of cards you’ve built comes crashing down.

I can understand the requirements that the Associated Students of UC Merced (ASUCM) put on us. They’re the primary funding body. They require that you write a bill or proposal in order to get your funding approved by them. That is reasonable. That is additive. That is an exchange that logically makes sense and benefits both parties due to an addition, not a subtraction. ASUCM needs to know what you would like funds to be appropriated to, and you would like funds to be appropriated to X, Y, and Z. Thus, the requirement of a bill is reasonable in order to give your argument as to why funds should be appropriated to X, Y, and Z.

I don’t understand the requirements that OSI puts on us. They’re subtractive, based on threat, based on taking something away from one party. I don’t understand the requirements that Vanguard puts on us. They’re not subtractive per se… just neutral. Vanguard demands, but neither takes nor gives in return. There is no current benefit for staying a part of Vanguard.

Do you see how I’m making a not-so-subtle parallel to the powers that be? The government? Any body that holds “authority” over you? Do you question it? Do you ask why? We sign into a social contract as a society because there are rules that may benefit us. You agree not to break my stuff and I agree not to break your stuff; there is a clear mutual benefit in such a rule like that, and I can see how that is a reasonable rule. However, what about rules that aren’t reasonable? Rules that don’t seem to have a benefit to all, and seem to take from others? Rules, parties, powers based on subtraction, not addition?

Do you question it? And if you don’t,