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An Unduly Hard Month of May in the Current Age of Reason

This month of May has already taken a deadly toll on the intellectual life of America, in ways both figurative and literal. Aside from all the daily dumbing-down of the United States that you’ll note in the headlines and talk radio chatter, we’ve also lost some of the very best minds from the previous better era of high culture and academia.
Earlier this month we penned a heartfelt farewell to Tom Wolfe, who was the greatest American writer of the past half-century in our opinion, and now we find ourselves respectfully noting the past week’s deaths of both Richard Pipes and Bernard Lewis, who in our opinion were the two most formidable thinkers of their time in their essential academic fields
Neither Pipes nor Lewis were ever nearly as household-name famous as any of the Kardashians or the latest rap star or that lawyer for a porno performer who’s lately been on the cable channels causing all sorts of problems for the President of the United States, but in the long run we expect they’ll prove far more consequential.
Pipes, who died on May 17 at the age of 94, was a Harvard professor of Russian and Soviet history. That sounds pretty boring by current pop culture standards, and that Harvard professorship will immediately raise suspicions among the current version of conservative talk radio chatter, but his scholarly analysis of the Cold War, which was a hot topic at the time, played a key role in bringing that conflict to a for-now successful conclusion for what’s left of Western Civilization and classically liberal democracy.
Despite his Harvard professorship and the academic fashions of his moment, which politely agreed that international communism was an historical inevitability, Pipes daringly predicted that the Soviet model’s fundamental flaws doomed it to failure that a robust challenge from a more culturally and economically vibrant and militarily stronger West could more quickly bring about. President Ronald Reagan had already reached the same conclusion, but he still drew on the depth of Pipes’ analysis as he pursued that agenda, and he was quite effective in noting to the press and public opinion that his policies had the imprimatur of a some fancy-assed Harvard professor who scholarship was unchallenged even by his critics. Both Pipes and Reagan suffered the derision of the left, which was probably harder on the academic Pipes, but for now they seem vindicated by history.
Lewis, who died Saturday at the ripe old age of 101, was a longtime professor of Middle Eastern studies at the equally fancy-pants Princeton University. That sounds pretty boring to the popular culture and suspicious to the talk radio chatter, too, but he also did Western Civilization a huge favor by defying academic fashions about the great global civilizational clash that was unleashed at the end the Cold War.
Lewis was born into a middle-class Jewish American family around the same time T.E. Lawrence, who had majored in was was then called “Orientalism” at an elite British University, was leading an Arab revolt to help Britain’s efforts in World War I. By the time Lewis was pursuing his higher education in the same discipline it was called Middle Eastern studies, but he went at it with the same diligence and cultural confidence as “Lawrence of Arabia.” He mastered Hebrew far beyond what his Bar Mitzvah reading required, became equally fluent in Farsi and Arabic, modestly joked that he could “make the noises” of another 11 languages, and dug deeply into all of the cultures those languages represented and reported his finding in pristine English prose.
Although he inevitably found plenty of good and bad in all the cultures he surveyed, as well as the intrusive and all-too-human culture he came from, Lewis never shied from the necessary judgments needed to make sense of it all. He frequently defied the academic fashions of his time by opining that fundamental differences between the Islamic and more or less Judeo-Christian cultures made a “conflict of civilizations” inevitably in an increasingly small world, and that in the long run the world would be better off the more culturally and economically and military stronger West prevailed.
Despite his undisputed scholarship and Ivy League credentials, in the 1990’s Lewis was challenged as the premier Middle Eastern scholar by Columbia professor Edward Said, whose surprisingly best-selling book “Orientalism” charged that the academic field was still tainted by a Occidental bias against the poor victims of the West’s rapacious colonialism. The debate was still raging when some suicidal Islamist terrorists crashed hijacked airplanes into the Wold Trade Center and the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania farm field way back in ’01, and for a while there the debate between Lewis and Said was a hot topic. Both sides have since had considerable influence on subsequent events, for better and worth, but for now Lewis has been more influential, and we expect that in the long he will be vindicated.
For now, though, one month’s loss of the likes of the clear-eyed likes of Wolfe and Pipes and Lewis gives some worry,  especially when the rest of the news and talk radio chatter is so alarmingly divorced from the sort of fact-based and dispassionately objective analysis these men once provided.

— Bud Norman

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Cultures of Rape, Cultures of Denial

Few Americans are up to date on the latest events in Cologne, Germany, or Rotherham, England, or Malmo, Sweden, and far too many Americans are altogether unaware that such places even exist, which is a shame. Here in America we’re understandably preoccupied with our own problems ranging from rape to immigration to our entirely unsatisfactory presidential contest, but the events elsewhere should provide some applicable lessons.
It took a few days for even the most knowledgable Germans to learn to about it, but the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne and Hamburg were marred by the coordinated attacks of gangs of as many as a thousand young men robbing and groping and often raping young women revelers in the public squares. It took a few years for the English to learn that more than 1,400 young women and girls in Rotherham were systematically abused by organized gangs over a 16-year period. Even now most Swedish media would rather not admit that their country rivals Lesotho, South Africa, as the “rape capital of the world,” and that its third-largest city of Malmo can probably claim that awful distinction. The American media are mostly just as reticent about the matter, and not just because of their audience’s stubborn parochialism.
Even the most polite press have been forced to admit that those gangs in Cologne and Hamburg were described by their victims of being “North African or Arab,” the gangs that terrorized Rotherham are described by even the most discreet British presses as “Asian,” and by now only the most steadfastly proper publications in Sweden deny that the horrific rise in their country’s rape rate is caused by its carefully undefined “immigrant population.” Most of the American media are just as reticent as about it, given their fealty to a variety of storylines that are severely complicated by these facts.
When forced to confront such inconvenient truths, the more forthright of the liberals will bravely argue that tales of rape and pillage have always been used by white folks to oppress the “other,” from “The Birth of a Nation” to lurid pulp tales of the Sheik of Araby’s harem to the white slavery of the Yellow Peril, and that after all a rapist of color is no more deplorable than the more pallid sorts of rapists, and we’ll stipulate to all of that. We’ll also stipulate to the undeniable fact that most “North African and Middle Eastern” and “Asian” and immigrant people and whatever else you want to call Muslims are not inclined to rape. Such arguments are of little consolation to the victims of Cologne and Rotherham or Malmo or countless other cities throughout the west, however, or to those who love them, and there’s no denying that the victims are increasing in number or that is has something to do with a policy of admitting large numbers of immigrants from cultures with vastly different notions from the west regarding women and their rights as fully-fledged human beings.
Better to leave to such matters unmentioned, so far as the polite press is concerned. The polite press is more concerned with the “culture of rape” that supposedly permeates the modern American campus, where the administration and other smart folks claim that one in five co-eds endure a rape along with that all that crushing student loan debt, and celebrates a Columbia student who hauled a mattress around campus for years to protest the treatment of her thoroughly-debunked claim she was raped by a foreign student, and worries about such sexist micro-aggressions as presuming a student’s preferred pronouns, and never seems to notice that the modern American campus is the most liberal institution in America. They’re also busy promoting an open-door policy toward parts of the world that have vastly different notions regarding women and their rights as fully-fledged human beings, not to mention the rights of homosexuals and transgendered reality television show stars, so they’d rather not get into a discussion of how that fits with the happy rainbow multi-cultural storyline. They’ve also got the difficult chore of sustaining the candidacy of a feminist heroine whose husband has been believably charged with everything from groping to rape to jet trips with pedophile billionaires to islands full of underage sex slaves.
The modern liberal can somehow reconcile all of this. Bill Clinton’s worst offenses can be forgiven because of his support of abortion, and of course of his wife shouldn’t be held responsible for the behavior she merely enabled. Multi-culturalism trumps feminism, just as everything else always seems to trump feminism in liberal politics, and if Donald Trump is predictably rude enough to point that out, well, Donald Trump is easily ridiculed in liberal circles. The feminist hero is insisting that all should be welcome and that Islam has nothing to with anything but peace, and that all victims of sexual abuse save her husband’s should be believed, and the news from Cologne, Rotherham and Malmo will go largely unmentioned, and the crackdown on collegiate sex and the welcoming of millions of unassimilable young men from parts of the world with vastly different views regarding women and their rights as fully-fledged human beings will all somehow make sense.

— Bud Norman

The Timelessness of Tom Wolfe

Although we are far too old for hero worship, and have suffered far too many disappointments to place much faith in even the most promising public figures, we still regard Tom Wolfe with pretty much the same awestruck reverence as when we first encountered his writing in our more starry-eyed youth. The Wichita Public Library’s copy of his anthology of the “new journalism,” followed by all of his works in the genre, led directly to our newspaper career, and his Atlantic Monthly essay that summed up everything we hated about contemporary American fiction and called for a more robust and reportorial and realistic style, and then of course each of his subsequent masterpiece novels, inspired our own modest literary efforts, but after more than 40 years of devout fandom he somehow seems to get even better with each passing headline.
There’s almost a sense of deja vu in all the stories that are coming out of academia and the rest of post-racial America these days. All the talk of a “culture of rape” on the American campus is redolent of Wolfe’s scathing essay on “Hooking Up,” from way back at the turn of the second millennium, as well as his novelistic treatment of same subject in “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” published in 2004, and both are still essential to understanding the current hysteria. Countless racial contretemps, right up to the “Black Lives Matter” movement of the moment, were foretold in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” All those celebrities with reputations for cutting-edge political opinions probably don’t realize they were already thoroughly satirized way back in 1970 as “Radical Chic,” a Wolfe coinage that is still often and effectively deployed, and reading about a recent event that occurred in the Dartmouth University library reminded us of the companion report “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” a phrase that might soon be back in usage.
In case you’re not up on the latest campus capers, last week a large group of black Dartmouth students and some radically chic white compatriots marched through the library shouting obscenities and threats and sometimes spitting at or pushing the students who were attempting to study there. So far as we can tell their grievance is that Dartmouth has failed to provide a “safe space” for black students and their radically chic white compatriots, and no one well versed in Wolfe’s work will be surprised to learn that the school’s Vice Provost of Student Affairs has described their actions as “a wonderful, beautiful thing.” That Vice Provost of Student Affairs is a “flak catcher,” as Wolfe described the poverty program bureaucrats of the late ’60s, and he had been thoroughly “Mau-Maued,” as Wolfe described the time-honored technique of black protesters using their intimidating blackness to win concession from the supposedly all-powerful but in fact quite cowed The Man, and we’ll forgive the now-octogenarian Wolfe if he decides he has nothing more to say on the matter.
Still, we’d love to see his sly style and slick punctuations and perfectly timed capitalizations take on the subtle nuances of the Dartmouth library invasion. How he could relish that the Mau-Maus are Ivy Leaguers, with all the Ivy League privilege that entails, and that the racist institution they rail against is dominated by people who consider themselves the most exquisitely non-racist people in the whole wide world, right down to their tearful and radically chic confessions of “white privilege,” which at least awards them some sort of status as the better sort of white people, with such status being another recurring theme of Wolfe’s take on American culture, so it would make for a great essay. As avid students of his work we guess he’d also be amused by the video that shows the would-be students who were attempting to study during the protest looking more bored than threatened, seemingly unworried that even the most Mau-Mau sorts of Ivy Leaguers and their most radically chic white compatriots constituted a physical threat. Those more studious Ivy Leaguers who were in the library probably don’t have the benefit of our more vibrantly diverse public school experience, which did little for our understanding of higher mathematics or foreign languages but did much to teach us when to get the hell out of a tense racial situation, but even they seemed unimpressed. That the administration of one of America’s most prestigious universities immediately acquiesced to an assault on its library is by now a hackneyed ending.
The same tactic of invading by public spaces and harassing the unfortunate folks who happen to be there has also by been deployed outside of academia by “Black Lives Matter” activists, usually at fashionable eating places frequented by young white hipsters. One needn’t have the keen Wolfe eye to note that this hardly seems likely to dispel any notions that even the most racist white people have about blacks, much less the sorts of young hipsters who dine at fashionable eateries, or the more studious sorts of Dartmouth students who intended to be at the library instead of at a protest, and that it’s such delightful fodder for the right sort of writer.
Far be it from us to presume what Wolfe might notice, but we hope he’d allude to the fact that the protestors aren’t invading those Twin Peaks breastaurants where the biker gangs congregate, or any of several south side bars we can think of here in Wichita, or any of other decidedly unsafe spaces where more genuinely racist people can presumably been found. Wolfe also foretold the rise of stock car racing and its bootlegging roots and celebrated the redneck culture that gave it birth, and his Charlotte Simmons’ only hope against the craven academy was her country upbringing, and he sensed a certain strain of more pugnacious white America that would sooner or later confront the Ivy League Mau-Maus. The outcome remains to be seen, and we hope Wolfe gets to weigh in.

Tom Wolfe is about the same age as our beloved Dad, who is the only other man we regard with an awestruck reverence that is even greater than in our starry-eyed youth, and who has contentedly slowed down a bit lately, so we can’t blame Wolfe if he sets back in some high-end brand-name divan and in some swank apartment in a fashionable art of New York City and sips some status symbol wine in his white suit with his slyly but unapologetically white self and takes some same satisfaction in knowing that he got the important things right. We’ll try to keep up Wolfe’s call to literary arms, but it will be hard to surpass the master, and impossible to keep up with events.

— Bud Norman

So How Do We Refer to the Jayhawks?

The student senate at the University of Kansas has voted to repeal the rules of English grammar by using “gender-neutral” pronouns in its official pronouncements, and the news of it comes at a perfect time. With another college basketball season looming, it’s good to have yet another reminder of why we’re not rooting for the Jayhawks.
Proud though we are of being Kansan, and as much as we love to feel morally superior about the state’s abolitionist roots, we’ve never been able to embrace the Jayhawks. It’s partly the annoyingly smug attitude of their omnipresent basketball fans, who tend to go on at length about James Naismith coaching there and the three provable national championships and the two other mythical ones back in the ’20s that only fans of the mythical Jayhawk seem to recognize. They’re at a loss when they run into a University of Kentucky Wildcats’ or University of California-Los Angeles Bruins’ fan, and they keep nicely quiet during football season, but when they run into fans of Kansas State University’s Wildcats or Wichita State University’s Wheatshockers during basketball season they can be downright exasperating. Mostly, though, it’s the school’s tendency to do things like repealing the rules of English grammar for the sake of academic trendiness.
Pretty much any collegiate sports team you might root for is similarly tainted, given the appalling state of American academia, but KU has always seemed more so than either KSU or WSU. The S in KSU indicates that it is a Land Grant University, and thus dedicated to agriculture and engineering and architecture and other things that require objectively verifiable results, and although the departments of the fuzzier disciplines seem to have usual number of trendy academics it still draws a student body that is unlikely to elect a student senate that repeals the rules of English grammar. The W in WSU indicates that it’s an urban university, with a student body that has had enough years at the local aviation factories to realize that some extra educational credentials might move them up a step on the career ladder, and is not at all concerned with such matters as gender-neutral pronouns, and doesn’t even mind that some serious money from the left-wing’s favorite bogeyman Charles Koch has greatly assisted their basketball team’s recent success.
Up in Lawrence they pride themselves on their programs in law and journalism and the liberal arts in every sense of the term, among other fuzzy disciplines, and their students tend to come from swank Kansas City suburbs in Johnson County and the tonier parts of Wichita, rather than the small town folk who flock to KSU or the factory workers who wind up at WSU, so this sort of gender-neutral nonsense comes more naturally there. An impeccably liberal friend of ours used to cover the state legislature for the Lawrence paper, and even he went off on a rant one night about the professors of 18th Century Japanese poetry used to show up at the statehouse with wild demands, and how the agricultural guys from KSU and the the team from WSU touting its new composite aviation materials research seemed so much more reasonable, and although we assume he’s still rooting for his alma mater Jayhawks he seemed a bit embarrassed by it. He was always a most assiduous practitioner of the English language, too, so we expect he would be further embarrassed that it has been repealed by the institution where he matriculated.
The rules of English grammar have well served agriculture and mechanics and all those other objectively verifiable disciplines, and they’ve suited the small town folk and the factory workers well enough, and we hold out hope they’ll persist. KSU and WSU have gotten their licks in against KU over the years,and  just last year the ‘Shocks whipped the ‘Hawks pretty good in the tournament, where the “Chickenhawks” weren’t able to dodge their rising interstate rival, and which we have re-watched at least twice on YouTube, and there’s faint hope we’ll even reach a day when you call a man a he and a woman a she and nobody’s offended that the indeterminate case is expressed in a male gender and we can get back to the more important business they teach at Land Grant and urban universities and in the real world.

— Bud Norman

The Future of History

God once offered to spare the city of Sodom from destruction if He could find but fifty righteous men there, a figure that Lot shrewdly but to no avail negotiated down to ten, so there’s hope yet that modern America academia might also avoid His wrath. A full 55 well-credentialed scholars have signed a letter protesting the College Board’s cockamamie Advance Placement U.S. History framework, and even such less merciful sorts as ourselves can hope they’ll redeem all the rest of their profession.
There’s already a grassroots resistance to the framework, which dictates what will be on one of the two most important college admission tests and the most common advance placement examinations, and thereby effectively dictates what will be taught about American history to America’s most promising high school students, and dictates that it will be the anti-American Howard Zinn version that already predominates in public education, while a few of the Republican presidential contenders are already making an issue of the similar Common Core curriculum that the same dictators are hoping to impose on America’s schools, but it’s good to have some allies with elite academic resumes on board. Grassroots groups of concerned moms and dads and Republican presidential candidates are easily caricatured as jingoist know-nothing yahoos trying to “organize an educational system around what can’t be taught to children,” just like those Bible-thumping hillbillies in the Scopes Monkey Trial, so we’re happy to be able to appeal to the sorts of authority that usually are immune to such libel. It’s still 33 less than the “Gang of 88” faculty members at Duke University who signed on to that Ox-Bow incident involving the university’s lacrosse team, but it’s a start.
Among the signatories on that letter of protest from the National Association of Scholars are Charles Kessler of Claremont McKenna College, Jean Yarbrough of Bowdoin College, Ronald Radish of the City University of New York, Stephan Thernstrom of Harvard University, and Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a particular favorite of ours, along a couple of National Endowment for the Arts chairpersons and others familiar to right-wing nut-cases such as ourselves as the last bastion of common sense in American academia. There are also the likes of historian Robert Merry, a fierce critic of Bush-era foreign policy, the University of Oklahoma’s Wilfred McCLay, known for questioning the traditional individualist ethos of American society, and Harvey Mansfield, whose distinguished career has been accommodating enough to remain a fixture of Harvard’s Faculty since 1962, along with many others who can’t easily be accused of being know-nothing jingoist rubes. They’re an infinitesimal slice of academia, to be sure, but collectively they come out far more diverse and markedly superior to the academic average, and it can only help in the coming fight.
Someone or another –probably Winston Churchill or one of those smart English fellows — once famously remarked that academic disputes are so fiercely fought because they are so very petty, but the fight those 55 academics have joined is of the greatest consequence even here in the real world. The framework that the College Board hopes to dictate to America’s schools is a history devoid of heroes, any mitigating explanations for America’s actions over its long history, or any acknowledgement that this desultory tale has somehow culminated in the richest and freest and most powerful nation in that broader world history the College Board’s curricula purports to teach. Our own high school education culminated way back in the mid-to-late’-7s, but even then we were intellectually marinated in the academic skepticism of that post-Vietnam era. the inevitable result has been an American president who likens America’s exceptionality to that of Greece or Britain and who later insists that we are only exceptional to the degree that we comply with international restraints, and a world from China to Russia to the Middle East that suddenly realized that a post-American age has at long last dawned, and a moribund economy that no longer entices that risk-taking entrepreneur who is now told he didn’t actually build his life’s work.
Reversing course will require a generation or two of differently educated men and women, especially the most promising high-schoolers among them, and we’re grateful that a grassroots movement and a few Republican candidates and an infinitesimal slice of academia are among those manning the barricades.

— Bud Norman

Academia Nuts

A friend of ours is fond of citing the fact that Kansas has the third least-educated legislature in the country, and he always sounds rather embarrassed for the state when doing so. We can’t confirm that this actually is a fact, but even if it is true that our legislature’s level of educational attainment is closer to Abraham Lincoln’s than Barack Obama’s we are not bothered. William F. Buckley famously stated he’d “rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston phonebook than to the faculty of Harvard University,” and these days we’ll go even further to say that we’d vote for a randomly selected high school dropout over many of the highly credential academics we keep encountering in the news.
Almost every day brings some further news corroborating our opinion that academia has more or less gone crazy. Last week we were grousing about that British professor who wants parents who read bedtime stories to their children to feel bad about, and just yesterday we were ridiculing that Harvard professor who thinks that Christians don’t care about poverty, and on any given day we can make fun of the “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and “micro-aggressions” and other assaults on free speech and common sense that are fixtures of the modern campus, but today it’s the latest ravings of Boston University’s Saida Gundy.
The newly installed assistant professor of sociology and African-Amercan studies had already made the news with a series of profanely worded and randomly capitalized “tweets” that called white males a “problem population” and asserted “white masculinity is THE problem for America’s colleges,” among other similarly bigoted opinions. The statements were enough to prompt a reprimand from the university’s president and force Gundy to issue a statement of regret “that my personal passion about these issues led me to speak about them indelicately” because “I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve.” One might hope that her white male students will get a more nuanced and complex explanation of why they’re awful people just by virtue of their race and sex, but a subsequent internet rant suggests that the assistant professor’s personal passions are more likely to prevail.
It all began when a Facebook page linked to an article criticizing an actress’ Academy Award acceptance speech calling on blacks and homosexuals to support the cause of equal pay for women, and a woman who identified herself as white and a rape victim posted her disagreements, adding in usual Facebook post fashion that “I LITERALLY cry and lose sleep over this.” The post so offended Gundy that she responded in her own clumsy style that “‘I literally cry’ … While we literally die,” and added a link with the suggestion “try this article. A white woman explaining this issue to other white women … who manages NOT to cry while doing it!” This prompted a reply of “No really. I got it. You can take your claws out, thanks.” This provoked such passion in Gundy that nuance and complexity and standard English once again were lost, as she hit the capital letters key to respond “THIS IS THE SH*T I AM TALKING ABOUT. WHY DO YOU GET TO PLAY THE VICTIM EVERY TIME PEOPLE OF COLOR AND OUR ALLIES WANT TO POINT OUT RACISM. my CLAWS?? Do you see how you just took an issue that WASNT about you, MADE it about you, and NOW want to play the victim when I take the time to explain to you some sh*t that is literally $82,000 below my pay grade? And then you promote your #whitegirltears like that’s some badge you get to wear … YOU BENEFIT FROM RACISM. WE’RE EXPLAINING THAT TO YOU and you’re vilifying my act of intellectual altruism by saying I stuck my “claws into you?” This was enough for her target to post that she would “exit” the conversation, but Gundy added a final taunt to “go cry somewhere, since that’s what you do.” After another brief rant, complete with the random capitalizations and the mistaken use of “prospective” rather and perspective, she signed off with “My name is ‘Sai,’ but you can call me Dr. Gundy.”
Being foul-mouthed, illiterate, childish, insensitive, and arrogant, not to mention so conspicuously lacking in nuance and complexity, usually wouldn’t cause a professor any grief, but the fact Gundy’s passion was unleashed on a woman who identified herself as a rape victim might prove problematic. The posts have been removed from the Facebook page, although they were caught on “screen shots” by several offended readers who have passed them along to the university’s administration, and at this point Gundy isn’t saying anything about it, and so far neither has the university. Our guess is that those lucky Boston University students who are paying $46,644 in tuition for a lucrative degree in African-American studies will get plenty of Gundy for their money.
Should she find herself out of a job, Gundy could move to Kansas run for the state legislature in any of a few carefully gerrymandered districts we have out here. Her doctorate would raise that average level of education in the legislature, but we don’t think her presence would make it any smarter.

— Bud Norman

Safe Rooms in an Unsafe World

One of our longstanding literary ambitions has been to write a satirical novel about the modern university, something along the lines of Mary McCarthy’s “The Groves of Academe” or Kingsley Amis’ “Lucky Jim” or Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” but it looks as if we’ll have to abandon the project. Academia is now more ripe for ridicule than ever, but apparently to the point that it is beyond satire.
Such a humorless publication as The New York Times recently ran a rather straightforward story that the latest campus contretemps that the combined talents of Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, and the usual gang of idiots at Mad Magazine could not have rendered anything more comical. Headlined “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas,” the story told how Brown University hosted a debate between the founder of a feminist web site called feministing.com and a female libertarian on the topic of the “culture of rape” that now reportedly pervades the American campus, and how members of the school’s Sexual Assault Task Force responded to this exchange of ideas. Worried that the libertarian’s perspective on the issue “could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” and might even be “damaging,” the Sexual Assault Task Force members created a “safe space” for traumatized listeners to retreat from the debate, complete with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” Even if we had the imagination to concoct such absurd details, we would have rejected them as too obvious a burlesque of the infantilizing nature of modern higher education.
As The New York Times ruefully notes, such episodes are now common at America’s colleges and universities. Almost every day tells of a student being disciplined for merely questioning the veracity of that highly questionable “one if five women on campus are victims of sexual assault” claim, or professors being charged with “micro-aggressions” for patting the arm of a student angered by an opposing viewpoint, textbooks coming with “trigger warning” to alert the possibility of unapproved ideas, or women’s rights activists being barred from campus because they’re advocating the rights of women in the wrong cultures, or some other more mundane case of campus activists chasing dissenting views off campus. Institutions of higher learning once insisted on vigorous debate and an unflinching look at facts as necessary tools to the discovery of truth, but they’ve now determined they have all the truth they need and no longer anything as potentially traumatizing as debate and unwelcome facts. Little good is likely to come of it, and certainly less than one would expect for the tuition prices being charged today.
The same censorious instincts are found in the broader left, and score the occasional victories against free speech, but they are unlikely to prevail outside the campus. Reality intrudes outside the campus, as well as what’s left of the First Amendment, and most people who haven’t undergone an expensive indoctrination at such elite institutions as Brown University find it very annoying. Nor will anyone who has been so carefully shielded from opposing opinions and unpleasant realities be likely to prevail in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. Worse yet for those who took refuge with the cookies and coloring books and videos of frolicking puppies, they’ll be up against conservative foes who spent their years of higher education being constantly bullied, ridiculed, and shouted down for their beliefs, not just by their professors and deans but also by all the movies and television shows and the rest of the popular culture. The right’s arguments will be honed and its spines stiffened by the college experience, if they get nothing else out of it except perhaps for a still-lucrative degree in math or science or engineering or one those other suspiciously “objective” disciplines.
Even those supposedly oppressed sub-cultures that the left presumes to speak for are unlikely to offer the same sort of refuge as the modern university. If those people retreating to the “safe rooms” of Brown University are planning on community organizing in America’s poor neighborhoods, they’ll find that there are no cookies or coloring books or videos of frolicking puppies, and plenty of uncomfortable facts that they’d rather not face.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and Racist Frat Rats

The latest battle against censorship on campus is being fought at the University of Oklahoma, just a few hours drive down I-35 from us, and it’s an ugly affair. Modern academia and its censorious impulses provide free speech advocates with plenty of opportunities to stand up for reasonable opinions that somehow offend liberal sensibilities, but in this case we are obliged to defend the right to some unabashedly old-fashioned racist boorishness.
It all started when the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chartered a party bus and decided to celebrate the occasion with a boastful chant about their racially exclusive admission policies, replete with frequent use of a certain notorious fighting word and a jocular reference to lynching, and not in the ironically anti-racist manner of the more up-to-date nightclub comedians. Somebody recorded the event with a cellular phone’s video camera, of course, and it wound up on the internet, of course, and of course much offense was taken. The outrage was such that hundreds of OU students and faculty staged a protest, the national fraternity revoked the offending chapter’s charter, and the university’s president summarily expelled the two students who had been identified as leading the chant.
As free speech advocates we have no quarrel with the peaceful protests, and acknowledge the national fraternity’s right to restrict its membership however it chooses, but the expulsions are another matter. The courts have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment and cannot punish students for their speech, no matter how offensive, and for a variety of good reasons. Aside from the plain language of the Constitution, any restriction on free speech will inevitably lead to another, important ideas will be squelched because some well-organized group or another will find them offensive, and given how very touchy academia is these days there’s no telling where it all might end. Already America’s universities are restricting debate on a variety of issues, from the global warming issue to Israel to the “culture of rape” that is said to pervade the modern campus, but the dialogue about race is especially constrained. Anyone challenging liberal orthodoxy on matters of race is routinely branded a racist, even if they are trying to address the frequently disastrous results of liberal orthodoxy for black America, and any effort to ban racism, no matter how well-intentioned, will allow the keepers of the faith to shut down debate completely. Given how many well-organized groups are taking offense at the slightest provocation these days, placating them all would require limiting scholarly discourse to quiet, guilty shrugs and sympathetic nods.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be offended by those boorish frat boys and their witless chant, or that you shouldn’t avail yourself of a heaping portion of free speech to express your offense, or that widespread public scorn isn’t an appropriate way of dealing with such unambiguously racist sentiments. In fact, we note that such stigmatizing has rather effectively made the public expression of such racist sentiments rare, and improved race relations to the point that a bunch of drunk frats joking about lynching seems to be a more pressing problem than actual lynchings. Similar results might be achieved if society were to once again attach a stigma to deliberately vulgar language and contraceptive abortion and unwed parenthood and a host of other social ills that the left doesn’t seem to find offensive, but even in these cases we would prefer social persuasion to governmental coercion.
The president of OU might soon find himself in one of those courts that have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment, and we won’t mind seeing him lose this one. He was formerly a governor and senator for Oklahoma, back when then state used to elect Democrats to such high offices, and was known for his occasional liberalism and constant devotion to state’s oil and gas industries, so we suspect the same political instincts led him to expel those two students. The controversy caused OU to lose a potential football recruit to the University of Alabama, after all, so the students had not only offended liberal sensibilities but also posed a threat to a crucial business interest. This will only exacerbate the public’s scorn for the two students, and further deter future racist chants on campus, but we’re not so concerned. If that potential football recruit truly believes he won’t encounter any racist frat boys at the University of Alabama he won’t be able to comprehend a playbook, much less an American history textbook, so he probably wouldn’t have done the Sooners any good even if those racist frat boys hadn’t been too stupid to know that there are cell phone video cameras everywhere these days and everything winds up on the internet.

— Bud Norman

The Rising Cost of Wising Up

Every day seems to bring another executive order, and the latest presidential edict concerns student loans. With a stroke of President Barack Obama’s magic pen the indented need pay no more than 10 percent of whatever monthly income they might be lucky to have, and all those recent graduates who voted for him as part of their embarrassingly idealistic college phase will no doubt be glad for the help. They’re still liable for the entire outrageous cost of their unmarketable degrees, however, and the president’s fix only perpetuates the unsustainable system that got them into that fix.
The cost of a college education has quintupled over the past 30 years, and a brief conversation with a randomly selected recent graduate will demonstrate that the quality of that education has declined just as markedly, but the only solution being offered is to help students stretch out those costs over a lifetime. If Wal-Mart or the Koch brothers or any of the other corporate villains being pillared at almost every college were subjecting their customers to crushing indebtedness with such shoddy practices they’d go out of business or into jail or both, but academia enjoys such status with our college-educated elites that the government intervenes only to help their alma maters continue their price-hiking ways. The administration is seeking to regulate away pesky price competition from the private sector, has nationalized the student loan program to make sure that they’ll keep enough money flowing to accommodate the tuition hikes that inevitably follow the expanding credit, and argued that denying even the most academically ill-prepared youngster an opportunity to go deeply into debt for four years of left-wing indoctrination and a piece of paper that might win a job pouring coffee at some some hipster bistro is somehow anti-intellectual.
Which is not to say that the administration isn’t willing to impose some burdens on academia, such as a new rating system and rules about how colleges are to handle allegations of sexual assault. The same academics who voted overwhelmingly for the president are bristling at the government’s intrusiveness, which they feel is more appropriate to everyone else’s business, but it’s hard to muster any sympathy or even fend off the schadenfreude. The sexual assault rules are a result of academia’s faddish obsession with the “culture of rape” that the feminists insists pervade those green lawns and ivy-covered halls of the average campus, by which they mean the promiscuous “hook-up” culture that has followed academia’s half-century-long assault on traditional Judeo-Christian morality, and it was bound to happen that some governmental do-gooders would sooner or later take their cause seriously. One can only hope the new rules will prevent a rape or two, even if there are already laws against it, which somehow pre-date feminism, but given the rapidly expanding definition of the crime on the modern campus and the lax standard of prove being mandated by the government it might also create a culture of false rape accusations based on hurt feelings rather than actual offenses. Concerns for the rights of the accused are somehow sexist, though, which can only be explained in a high-priced college education.
The new rules might accelerate the trend of fewer men attending college, which could in turn make the high-priced experience somewhat less appealing to many of today’s libidinous women, and thereby hasten the inevitable popping of the higher education bubble. At some point on the cost curve even college students will wise up, and if not their parents surely will. Giving the professors a taste of the governmental regulations they have long championed might improve their thinking, too.

— Bud Norman

Fight Fiercely, Harvard

Of all the nasty names that one might hurl at a political opponent, none is quite so annoying as “anti-intellectual.” The term implies hostility to the intellectual process itself, evoking an image of rubes in John Deere ball caps pulling suspenders away from their beer bellies as they spit tobacco and rail against those pointy-headed perfessers back east, but it usually means nothing more than dissent from the consensus of elite academic opinion. Any true intellectual would concede that over the centuries the consensus of elite academic opinion has often proved catastrophically wrong, while history has just as fr equently vindicated the views of the beer-bellied and tobacco-spitting rubes, but for some reason “anti-intellectual” remains a term of opprobrium.
The point was brought to mind by a recent editorial in Harvard University’s student newspaper, The Crimson, in which the authors take two Harvard-educated Republican politicians and a social conservative news commentator to task for daring to criticize their alma mater. Attributed to “the staff,” the editorial damns the trio as apostates, class traitors, and of course “anti-intellectual.” Anyone unwilling to toe the Harvard Line for the rest of their days, the editorialists say, should matriculate elsewhere.
Although we are not regular readers of The Crimson, the editorial was so widely ridiculed in the conservative media that we could not resist taking a look at it for ourselves. Sure enough, it’s quite ridiculous. The authors ooze self-righteous condescension, lamenting that they could not have met a “young, wide-eyed Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, or Bill O’Reilly” and shown them the error of their error of their narrow-minded ways, and they adhere to the stereotype of Ivy League snootiness so faithfully that their work reads more like a parody from the Harvard Lampoon than an earnest editorial. Despite their archly ironic tone, the writers charge that conservatives are intolerant and thus not be tolerated on the Harvard campus, and they argue that anyone who independently reaches conclusions that differ from what he has been taught by his supposed betters is anti-intellectual, and they don’t seem to notice any irony there.
The editorialists are presumably undergraduates at Harvard, and perhaps should therefore be forgiven the characteristic arrogance of youth, but too many of the people who are graduated from the elite colleges and universities carry the same presumption of intellectual superiority through public life. Such hubris always brings about a downfall, just as the Greek philosophers warned, but apparently today’s Harvard students are spending their time on more modern texts such as the Marxist clap-trap that the editorialists seem to seem to cherish. There’s no reason that more sensible sorts should be cowed by the ivy-covered credentials of such snot-nosed brats, though, and if these are the intellectuals there is no shame in being against them.

— Bud Norman