It’s a bit difficult to know where to start with this, as there are so many aspects and it has a bit of a historical lead in that is tricky to exactly pin down. I will start by saying there has been an increase in identity politics activism and what could be viewed as mass intolerance on campuses in the US (which will inevitably be followed by a similar trend on campuses worldwide). This intolerance is leaking out into the wider world – as for example with ideas surfacing such as opposition to cultural appropriation – people objecting to restaurants selling ethnic food if they are not from that ethnicity, or writers being told not to portray characters in their novels who are a different colour than them, or artists being demonstrated against for doing likewise. Similarly – in what one could generalise as political correctness – ordinary people are shamed for questioning opinions by being called racist, transphobic, genderist, sexist, without any specific consideration of their opinions being entertained. It amounts essentially to a lock down on free speech and it is not simply happening in the Universities, but throughout society.
The issue is not so much students being rambunctious, because God knows, that is what students have always been. They should protest and object and think loudly and annoy everyone, while they’re young, while they still know everything. (Heh.) The issue seems to be a new level of absolute intolerance of points of views that are different to one’s own and are considered to be outside the new orthodoxy, even to the point of violence against those who disagree with one being acceptable and even promoted — ”there are different types of violence”. This is unusual in the sense that the so-called left wing of politics was generally associated with peaceful protest and general tolerance. It seems that the more extreme one wing of politics becomes the more closely it resembles the extreme wing of the ”other side” of politics. The Antifa are the new fascists.
Some terms that one might need to understand to appreciate the issues in the area….
Identity Politics – a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.
Identity Politics and Critical theory (see below) give rise to areas of teaching that include women’s studies, gender studies, race studies etc. This may seem harmless enough on face value but surprisingly has given rise to situations where, for example, Toxic Masculinity can be promoted as an issue of concern, or a peer-reviewed academic article can be published by someone who identifies as a hippopotamus.
Intersectionality – a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.
Critical Theories – Critical theory is a social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole. Critical theories aim to dig beneath the surface of social life and uncover the assumptions that keep us from a full and true understanding of how the world works. Critical theory emerged out of the Marxist tradition and it was developed by a group of sociologists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany who referred to themselves as The Frankfurt School. Relevant here is Postmodernism.
Postmodernism – postmodernists believe that there isn’t such a thing as absolute truth. A postmodernist views the world outside of themselves as being in error, that is, other people’s truth becomes indistinguishable from error. Therefore, no one has the authority to define truth or impose upon others his idea of moral right and wrong. (Source)
Social Justice Warrior – is (nowadays – my note) a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism and identity politics. (Source -Wikipedia) But anyways we all kind of know what is meant by social justice warrior.
There are other areas that might need definition – at least I needed to have them defined as they were new to me, just like the above terms were generally new or very vague to my understanding – but I will mention them if necessary.
As I cannot cover all the issues, I will just give a flavour, and add others later on as I come across them.
One of the uniting features of the new activism is the desire to COMPEL others to do as one demands. The most recent case of Campus Conniptions concerned Professor Bret Weinstein. He is a Professor of Biology at Evergreen State College Olympia, WA. Note, he is a left wing professor with a long history of activism against racism and sexism. For several years now students at Evergreen have held a very successful day of protest called the Day Of Absence, when students of colour voluntarily absent themselves from campus for a day. Apparently this has normally been a very dignified day and students take part in political consciousness-raising activities off campus. This year however it was decided that instead the white students and faculty members would be asked to leave the University. Weinstein objected to this as follows…
“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles (the theme of the Douglas Turner Ward play Day of Absence, as well as the recent Women’s Day walkout), and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness….the second is a show of force and an act of oppression in and of itself.”
The result was that his class was stormed by protesting students, demanding he resign, to the point that campus police were called. The police had to leave, so angry were the students. Later on the students corralled the teachers, including the College President, in their offices, refusing to let them leave until certain demands of theirs were met. Teachers had to beg to be allowed to use the bathroom, and be escorted by students to relieve themselves. As of today the College has closed down temporarily since it cannot guarantee the safety of its students and teaching staff.
Some videos relating to the issue –
The nervous looking dude is the College President…
And okay this is a Fox News / Tucker Carlson video….but i cannot find any other short interview with Weinstein.
In case one might think this kind of divisiveness is limited to college campuses, here is a contemporary story where the Mayor of Paris has asked that an upcoming street festival be banned because it specifically excludes white people from 4/5ths of the festival territory. How can racism be countered by more racism?
French anti-racist and antisemitism organisations strongly condemned the festival. SOS Racisme described the event as “a mistake, even an abomination, because it wallows in ethnic separation, whereas anti-racism is a movement which seeks to go beyond race”
But back to the Universtities..
One of the earlier events in the manifestation of this new situation on campuses concerns the resignation of 2 Yale faculty members in 2015. Erika Christakis and her husband Nicholas left their positions because Erika objected to an email from the college Intercultural Affairs Council which instructed students to be culturally ”sensitive” about their choice of Hallowe’en costumes. She wrote a letter saying that students should not be compelled to avoid dressing in some way for fear of it being labelled as cultural appropriation. She said people should have the right to have fun, be inappropriate, give offense and take offense, and learn to negotiate that as human beings. Her husband said ”if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” They both had to resign as a result of the storm of controversy their opinions caused. (Source)
More recent events have included
Charles Murray attempted to deliver a speech at Middlebury College in Vermont last April.
(Source). Charles Murray may not be ones cup of tea. He is described as a libertarian conservative social scientist. Some of his theories could be called controversial, even dreadful – it seems he has some bad ideas about genetics. His proposed speech was printed, however, and sent anonymously to hundreds of college lecturers around the US to be rated and the vast majority rated it as liberal, left leaning and inoffensive. Nonetheless the faculty member of the college who had intended to interview Murray – Allison Stanger – ended up with concussion and being removed from the college in a neck brace due to the violent reaction of students objecting to the exercise of free speech on their campus. They would be better off learning how to argue persuasively against people like Charles Murray, so that people could understand their points of view and support them, rather than of grabbing Stanger by the hair when she tried to shield Murray from the mob and twisting her neck to the point of damage.
In response to the Charles Murray / Middlebury situation Dr Cornel West drafted a statement called “Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression”.
”…all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses. As John Stuart Mill taught, a recognition of the possibility that we may be in error is a good reason to listen to and honestly consider—and not merely to tolerate grudgingly—points of view that we do not share, and even perspectives that we find shocking or scandalous. What’s more, as Mill noted, even if one happens to be right about this or that disputed matter, seriously and respectfully engaging people who disagree will deepen one’s understanding of the truth and sharpen one’s ability to defend it.
Rebecca Tuvel is another casualty of campus political correctness. She is an assistant professor of Philosophy at Rhodes College, and she wrote an article in Hypatia Journal called ”In Defense of Transracialism”. (Source.) Essentially the article was intended to provoke thought and debate – if a person can identify as transgender, when the apparent biology says otherwise, then using the same criteria as is put forward among professionals who support transgenderism, why can a person not equally identify as transracial? In response Tuvel was pilloried in the academic community, accused of ”epistemic violence” and egregious levels of liberal white ignorance and discursive transmisogynistic violence. She was in effect subjected to a witch hunt for expressing a controversial opinion designed to stimulate thought. These kind of witch hunts are being referred to at the moment as ”the left devouring its own”.
Jordan Peterson is a lecturer in Psychology at Toronto University and his position was challenged and he faced severe criticsm from students and fellow faculty members for refusing to submit to what he calls ”compelled speech”. He refuses because he believes this is the thin edge of authoritarianism. Bill C-16, which is being presently considered to be passed into law in Ontario, compels people to use such pronouns as individuals decide are appropriate to them at any given time. Given that the number of gender pronouns extends well past 70 this would be unworkable and Peterson refused, for which he almost lost his job.
“One thing I won’t do is use the made-up words of postmodern neo-Marxists, who are playing a particular game to gender identity, as an extension of their particular reprehensible philosophy.”
Jonathan Haidt has created a website to challenge some of the issues arising in this context. It’s here ~https://heterodoxacademy.org/
I have not read much there, so cannot speak for it in totality. Haidt describes the mobs who are shutting down campuses as a “new religion, an auto-da-fé against a heretic for a violation of orthodoxy.”
He says –
“The great majority of college students want to learn. They’re perfectly reasonable, and they’re uncomfortable with a lot of what’s going on,” says Mr. Haidt, a psychologist and professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, “But on each campus there are some true believers who have reoriented their lives around the fight against evil. These believers are transforming the campus from a citadel of intellectual freedom into a holy space—where white privilege has replaced original sin, the transgressions of class and race and gender are confessed not to priests but to “the community,” victim groups are worshiped like gods, and the sinned-against are supplicated with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.”
An interesting academic article from Professor Charlotta Stern of Stockholm University challenges the insularity of the sociology departments in Universities where much of the Critical Theory is breeding. It’s available to read here ~ https://econjwatch.org/articles/undoing-insularity-a-small-study-of-gender-sociology-s-big-problem
And just as lecturers are taking an stand against the new orthodoxy that demands and compels unthinking compliance, students themselves are also reacting against the shutting down of free speech. The wheel always turns. This is the good thing.
Students gathered at the University of Chicago and issued a statement calling for the right to free speech.
Our ability to listen to, wrestle with, and ultimately decide between contending viewpoints fosters mutual understanding as well as personal and societal growth. The active defense of free and open discourse is crucial for our society to continue to thrive as a democracy premised on the open debate of ideas.
The student-run The Crimson which is a magazine of Harvard University has also come out in favour of free speech.
For students who object to speakers’ ideas, we urge an openness to the potential intellectual contributions that those with whom they disagree could make to their communities. Though we support students’ right to protest—it is another cornerstone of a free society—we believe this right should be exercised with utmost caution, and in a civil manner. After all, if students believe that a speaker’s ideas are unequivocally wrong, they would do better to civilly debate the speaker rather than protest violently.
That’s all for now, though I will be following the issue. The post ended up being long but it is mostly intended as a way for me to order my thoughts on the matter and keep some records…not to bore you to death.