Zachary Fine (BA ’15) stepped smack into the middle of the intellectual conversation about millennials with publication of his essay, “My So-Called Opinions,” which was published in the April 6, 2014 issue of The New York Times. In it, Fine writes about about his perceptions of some of the downsides of pluralism and of growing up in a world in which the range of forums for conversation can lead to inhibitions about expressing a strong opinion.
The Times’s series The Stone, which featured Fine’s essay, is a forum for discussion on philosophical issues. Fine is a frequent reader of the series, and in August reached out to the moderator, the philosopher Simon Critchley. Though Fine was certain that Critchley would not respond to his email, soon after hitting send, the Gallatin undergraduate found himself in Critchley’s office, talking about Fine’s observations of his peers and friends. Their conversation led Critchley to pass along Fine’s essay on the subject to the editors at the Times. Eight months later, Fine’s original essay was in print and online.
“There is a sense that there’s no transparency with these major publications for my generation,” says Fine, “but we do have many valuable opinions that should be shared. For me, this was a wonderful exercise in learning about navigating the system and finding a way to situate a small opinion.” Fine describes his essay as “deeply-felt,” and based primarily on his own experience, which he wanted to share.
As if to prove his thesis, the response to the piece has been strong. Fine, whose concentration is art history and philosophy, has received a range of responses—from accusations that he is “entangling himself in a gesture of post-colonial oppression” to more favorable responses from fellow millennials struggling with articulating their anxieties and thanking him for giving them voice.
For those who have responded favorably, Fine says, “I’m excited that I was able to provide people with a language that accommodates a feeling that they have.” In addition to feedback from his peers, Fine has also heard from established scholars, including Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardener and art historian Hal Foster. The Gallatin junior says he would not presume to speak for everyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, but that he wanted to engage in conversation about the specific challenges of being a millennial.
With this essay, he seems to have done just that.