Reflecting on Campus thought police
April 21, 2012 Leave a comment
In my recent post Campus Thought Police, I suggested that all the attention campuses pay to hate crimes and intolerance ends up diminishing individuals’ sense of agency and empowerment. Looking at it after the fact, I wondered if I could make the connection more clear.
To clarify on sense of agency: when the community is given no sense of progress, it comes to feel powerless.
The messaging that comes from the campus establishment treats hate and intolerance as if they were perennial, unparalleled mortal dangers. The constant use of such an urgent tone makes it seem as if the Civil Rights era counted for nothing.
But there has been much progress. Racism, sexism, and other bad -isms have become stigmas to a culture that is now loathe to harbor stigmas. Nonetheless, instead of placing us somewhere on the long arc of the moral universe, campus voices convey to us that we are in a Sisyphean task: rolling the boulder ever up the hill with nothing to show for it. The unending klaxon calling us to battle stations against intolerance eventually convinces us that we are fighting some insurmountable evil. No reasonable observer can maintain hope if they take the academy’s message at face value.
To clarify on empowerment: activism shunts individuals to the radical margin when they should be integrating with the mainstream.
All the prevalent theories on race, class, gender, and so on shove earnest young souls like cattle onto the divisive boat of oppression politics. If they stay for the ride, they go on to commit civil disobedience, plan direct actions, and lead generally counterproductive lives. The dogma that they are in mortal combat with oppressive forces locks them necessarily into solidarity and cooperation. For the sake of comrades and self, they’re never free to think that oppression may not actually define their existence.
But if their worldview is mistaken, then in all their sound and fury they are missing their true calling. Instead of uncritically fighting on some far flung front of the war on oppression, students should be preparing to constructively enter a society that is on balance more just than unjust. They should experience the wonderful challenge of interpersonal competition rather than the dull drumbeat to cooperate with comrades. The university prides itself as a marketplace of ideas, but if there is any such competition, it hasn’t pierced the Berlin Wall that upholds the politically correct dictums of the academic establishment.
Campus leaders’ actual if unintended conveyance of a lack of progress erodes onlookers’ sense of agency. The shunting of students into unfruitful radicalism not only bereaves society but dis-empowers the students as well. The leading voices of the academy need to re-examine the message they’re sending to the world.