The debacles at two major American universities have just done us all a favor and laid bare the ideological fanaticism that is teeming under the hood of academia.
In Yale, some students were upset about an email that said campus administration should think twice about cracking down on insensitive Halloween costumes. Some students said that this was such a traumatic revelation that it prevented them from going to class. Some people believed them.
At the University of Missouri, a swastika made of smeared feces was found in a bathroom. A grad student then went on a hunger strike to protest the Mizzou’s apparent problem with scat-fetishist Nazis. (I don’t think there has ever been a campus swastika incident that, when the perpetrator was discovered, turned out to be anything but a hoax. The proof is left as an exercise to the reader.)
Something weird is being normalized on college campuses, and these two examples of such weirdness occurred close enough to each other that the otherwise selectively ponderous media was shocked. Normally left-leaning outlets like The Atlantic, The New Republic and even Salon were forced to publish pieces that suggested this madness might just be… madness.
It’s good that media establishment is criticizing social justice, but it’s criticizing it in the wrong way. The problem is that the media is calling them out for being babies, not for being psychotic Marxists.
The psychotic Marxist can manifest in ridiculous temper tantrums like we just saw, but it can also be a lot more serious. This was pointed out by blogger Scott Alexander. Slate Star Codex, his blog, can only be described as incisively and overwhelmingly reasonable, no matter what the reader’s politic leanings may be, and he had a great take on the issue.
It’s not well reported at all, but researchers face harassment campaigns and death threats for having scientific findings that question progressive orthodoxy. People are bullied by social justice warriors online and off to the point of attempted suicide, and then bullied again just for slightly disagreeing with their dogma.
This stuff is way, way bigger than college students being fragile babies, but Alexander correctly notes that, not for the lack of material, the media can’t seem to find an angle on it.
But it’s interesting to see the polemical contortions my favorite blogger had to tie himself into to save his article for polite society. He starts the blog post off with a caveat about how he started criticizing social justice back in 2010, saying that back then, only “wingnutty lesbianism-causes-witchcraft” circles bothered criticizing it.
He’s gesturing toward a quote made by Pat Robertson back in 1993, which has gotten lot of mileage since then as an example of a conservative being stupid.
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women,” the televangelist said. “It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
It’s important to note that that happened once, decades ago. And before we even know what he’s talking about, Alexander has to reassure readers that he isn’t right-wing bigfoot, like he needs to do that to get dispensation to have an opinion on people who are at the intersection of crazy and fashionable.
The fact that it’s expected to have these caveats isn’t the fault of Alexander or any other particular writer. But it speaks to nature of our cultural assumptions and of the parameters that define these debates. We live in a culture that uncritically believes in right-wing boogeymen.
We saw it at Yale with the boogeymen that wanted to legitimate the oppression of students by refusing to crack down on Halloween costumes. Mizzou had a supposed shit-smearing Nazi boogeyman that led to someone acting like an injured soccer player and going on a multi-day hunger strike. And then we had to have otherwise reasonable people reassure us that might be looking at these instances of boogeyman hysteria with the wrong kind of critical eye.
The Atlantic published an article titled “The Inanity of the Starbucks Christmas Cup ‘Controversy’” on Tuesday, just around the same time that several hundred articles saying the exact same thing were published.
For those who don’t know, a handful of dumb Christians (the media’s favorite kind) were upset that Starbucks changed its Christmas cup to a minimalist design without “Merry Christmas,” saying it was a snub to Christians, or something. The media exploded over this in a such a predictable overreaction that I – even with my journalist Google-fu skills – can’t even find an article on the subject that even talks about anything on the subject except how stupid these people are.
So, there was a reaction to a few pissed off people that was several orders of magnitude louder and angrier than the thing they are reacting to. Why should I believe in boogeymen who are forcing a stupid “War on Christmas” narrative down my throat when the people making the real noise are constantly publishing articles about that kind of thing, wildly out of proportion to the initial complaint?
The inanity of articles can reach a crescendo at which point hysterical witch hunts are validated. At Mizzou, we saw the president of the entire school system get ousted during a hunt for a racist witch.
Interestingly enough, the witch didn’t defend himself with any, say, magic spells. The witch hunters never seemed to be worried about having a fireball being thrown at them, either. Whoops, guess there was no witch after all.