My alma mater the University of Chicago has managed to get what it’s always wanted: attention from the national press. Unfortunately, it did so by sending a completely unnecessary letter to incoming students announcing the school’s opposition to trigger warnings and safe spaces, concepts the letter doesn’t seem to understand at all. So let me wade into this muck in the hope of achieving some clarity. As the University of Chicago taught me, it’s best to begin by defining one’s terms.
Just as sexual harassment is a form of expression which is nonetheless regulated to make it possible for women to function in the workplace, various kinds of campus behavior are forms of expression which may nonetheless be regulated to make it possible for non-majority students to function in academe. Surely there are ludicrous examples of demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, just as there are egregious examples of on-campus hostility and discrimination (e.g. men parading outside a women’s dorm yelling “No means yes! Yes means anal!”). The issue in either case is the boundary between free expression and expression designed to intimidate or silence. No one can deny that a burning cross is an example of expression but as its purpose is to terrorize, it’s considered to be on the wrong side of that boundary. So, in Europe, is Holocaust denial, though it’s tolerated on American college campuses (while assertions that the earth is flat, say, would not be).
Thus people who take seriously the possibility that a person calling black women “water buffaloes” intends to demean and silence them are simply engaging in the type of critical thinking to which universities are supposed to be dedicated as well as the complementary analysis of what is necessary to protect an environment of civil discourse.
I’m a passionate advocate of the educational experience I had at the U of C, and nonetheless I think the letter to incoming students could more succinctly have been rendered as “F**k you if you imagine anything you think will be of interest or concern to us; you must have mistaken us for someplace that cares. And if you don’t like it take your female and black and brown and queer sensibilities elsewhere.” And I am revolted that my alma mater decided its reputation was best spent on that kind of dog-whistle right-wing nonsense.
You don’t want to use trigger warnings? Don’t. But there’s no need to denounce them unless your real purpose is to let people (especially, perhaps, donors) know that you’re indifferent to any concerns about mistreatment based on identity, and that any complaints about such mistreatment will be met with dismissiveness and derision because how dare any of these 21st Century concerns impinge on the 19th Century approach to which we’ve apparently dedicated our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor?
When I spoke up at the law school, I was thanked for expressing “what the women think.” When a classmate objected to the teaching of Plato’s Symposium as though it didn’t refer to gay love, he was told that the University didn’t “cater to special interests.” When students and faculty spoke out for diversifying the curriculum beyond the dead white “mods and greats” beloved of the British university system, the response (from Saul Bellow, no less) was “where is the Proust of the Papuans?” though the whole point of his query was to ridicule the idea of our finding out.
There was nothing “micro” about these aggressions; they were perfectly visible examples of the majority’s desire to humiliate and stifle the minorities. And the University’s admissions policies in those days (though not now, happily) were carefully designed to make sure that black and brown and even female people were in the tiniest minorities possible.
So the U of C has a long history of behaving as if modernity were a personal insult, and this letter to first-years is as much in keeping with that tradition as any boob’s expressed desire to make America great (meaning white) again.
I’ve heard there are donors to other schools who’ve withdrawn their support when their alma maters have acknowledged their role in slavery or in any way made a reckoning with the imperfections of the past. So just to balance things out, I’m withdrawing my support of an institution which seems to glory in denying there ever were any such imperfections or that any discrimination or hostility continues to exist today. The U of C exercised its privilege of flipping the bird to its incoming students and I’m exercising my privilege to flip the bird to the U of C.
I hope the faculty and administration don’t experience that as traumatic; but just in case I’m providing this trigger warning.
Over on The Nonprofiteer, I critique the whole Giving Tuesday concept and particularly its latest iteration, in which people don’t have to actually give to participate.
Plus, h/t to our friends at Political Wire, for quoting a Republican legislator who can’t seem to imagine a black man who isn’t incarcerated.
I see that “conservatives”(Howard Husok and Scott Johnson, for example) are showing their respect for traditional values by pissing on Pete Seeger’s grave before it’s even been dug. Like Mike O’Hare, I have no apology to offer for Seeger’s support of a totalitarian system in Europe except that he failed to grasp the full nature of what he was defending. (Seeger does deserve some credit for his belated denunciation of Soviet tyranny after the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1980.)
What the critics fail to note is that there was a system of totalitarian oppression considerably closer to home than the Ukraine. When the Communists were demading equal rights for African-Americans, “conservatives” such as William Buckley were defending the violent suppression of black voting in the south to maintain the “advanced race” in power.
As to support for totalitarian systems abroad, Dick Cheney remained a fan of white-minority rule in South Africa – and a foe of “Communists” and “terrorists” like Nelson Mandela who wanted to overturn it – long after Seeger abandoned Stalinism. Or think of the long list of “our S.O.B.’s” around the globe: Franco, Battista, Papa Doc, Mobutu, the Somozas and the Contras, the Shah, the Greek colonels, d’Aubuisson, Savimbi, Pinochet, Chiang, the ISI in Pakistan. None of them, and none of the American politicians who backed them as they ruled by terror and torture, attracted any animus from the right wing resembling the attacks on Seeger. Did City Journal publish a memorial F.U. to Buckley, or to Strom Thurmond? Not that I saw.
So the people now denouncing Seeger mostly aren’t in any moral position to criticize him. And not a one of them is worth a damn as a banjo player.
Update In answer to queries in the commments:
1. Yes, Seeger renounced Communism. He quit the Party in 1950, and in 1980, addressing the Town Hall protest meeting over the imposition of martial law in Poland, he gave a long and moving speech (which I can’t find in video or transcript, though Susan Sontag’s talk that same evening is famous) about how his fear of playing into the hands of “anti-Communist” warmongers had caused him to be inappropriately silent about East Berlin in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Again, I’m not aware of any of the people now criticizing Seeger having made any comparable recantation about the tyrannies they have supported, or comparable criticisms of the people who supported our domestic racial tyranny when Seeger and his fellow Communists were opposing it.
2. And yes, Buckley endorsed violent as well as non-violent means to maintain white power in the South, subject only to the caveat that the costs of violence had to be weighed against its benefits.
I’m not going to bother to refute the “Democrats do it too!” responses to my earlier post about Republicans’ addiction to violent hate speech. That sh*t just won’t wash.
But the fact that your neighbor actually has a beam in his eye doesn’t mean that you don’t have a mote in yours. While eliminationism is pretty damned rare on the Blue team, rudeness, intolerance and abusive misreprentation – the semi-deliberate misreading of opposing views to make them seem less valid – aren’t as rare as they should be, in a community that prides itself on non-judgementalism, open-mindedness, and a basis in reality. “We’re better than Bill O’Reilly” isn’t really a very high standard.
One example that has come up on this blog is the treatment of Megan McArdle, now at Bloomberg. Megan is a friend, and a far more subtle and nuanced thinker than many of her libertarian confreres. She is perfectly capable, for example, of recognizing that social insurance can facilitate entrepreneurship and other forms of socially desirable risk-taking. Her book on failure, which I read in manuscript, is superb.
That’s not to say that Megan isn’t an opinionated libertarian, or that she doesn’t sometimes overestimate how much economics she understands in ways that justly outrage professional economists. But it has long seemed to me that the contempt with which she is sometimes treated, both in comments here and elsewhere, is far out of proportion to her actual offenses. And it seems to me that I’ve deteced a trace of gender bias. In particular, there have been hints that my promotion of her work, and defense of her against attack, must be based not just on friendship but on erotic attraction. (The same happened when I defended Ana Marie Cox, whom I’ve only met twice. In each case, the visual evidence provides some apparent basis for the charge, but it simply wouldn’t come up in the case of an equivalently attractive male blogger – assuming that such a creature exists – if the person doing the defending were female, or a gay male.)
Following up on Amanda Hess’s complaint, McArdle has now posted a well-crafted essay on the extreme abuse to which female participants in internet discourse are routlinely subjected (to which Conor Friedsdorf, having guest-blogged for Megan, also testifies) and an even better essay on why accusations of sexism (or, as she does not say, racism) are so likely to be counter-productive.
It seems to me that progressives in particular ought to take this set of problems seriously, and that the two McArdle essays linked to above fully justify my claim that she is someone worth reading even if you come from an utterly different ideological place.
That won’t keep me from making merciless fun of Megan if, as I hope, her gleeful predictions about the demise of Obamacare are falsified by experience. (Megan hates it mostly for the same reasons I love it: without any consideration of its virtues as health care reform, it’s a massive downward redistribution of income, and it’s a signature accomplishment of a President and a party I support and she opposes. Of course I still think that her own point about failure strongly supports the decoupling of health insurance from employment.) But enough with the gendered personal abuse already.
I agree with Ed Kilgore that the pundit blah about “partisanship” – with its implicit assumption of equivalence – ignores the frequency and virulence of pure hate speech within even relatively respectable precincts on the Right. I’m not shocked when some Faux News ranter wows a Texas GOP audience by joking about murdering Californians at random. But Bill Whittle did so as a warm-up act for Ted Cruz, who is discussed seriously as a Presidential candidate, and Cruz did not object. Worse, as far as I can tell no one among the Red commentariat, or in Red Blogistan, has objected, either. (Consider this a bleg for exceptions.)
Note that Whittle’s speech was much, much nastier than anything the Rev. Mr. Wright ever said, and there’s no question that Cruz heard every word. And yet – so far – none of the GOP fans who populated the fainting couch over the Wright sermons seems to have a problem with this. Worse, I can confidently predict that if Cruz does become a Presidential candidate, the mainstream media won’t see this as a story on a par with the Wright story. Hate speech on the right is simply dog-bites man.
Footnote Yes, there’s plenty of regional bigotry among bicoastal progressives, and hearing “cracker” or “redneck” used as pejoratives makes me queasy. But I’ve never heard anyone on the Blue team express the idea, even in jest, that killing Texas, just as Texans, would be a good idea.
When a company called Freedom Enterprises (no, really) poisons the water supply for 300,000 people by carelessly allowing thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol to leak into the water supply from a worn-out storage pond conveniently located just upstream from the area’s main water treatment plant, that’s called “free enterprise.” Free enterprise is good.
When the Federal government trucks in a million liters of bottled water, that’s “big government.” Big government is really bad, because it makes people lazy rather than self-reliant. Why didn’t all those folks have the gumption to buy stills?
When you add regulation to big government, you get socialism. The next step is torture chambers and gulags, or even Obamacare.
I certainly hope the Tea Party crowd in West Virginia will stoutly resist the socialist plot to provide them with “free” water at the expense of hard-working taxpayers. Perhaps the legislature could make it a felony to distribute socialist water.
Bonus query for members of the Federalist Society Which enumerated power allows the Congress to appropriate money to supply drinking water after a toxic spill?
Looks like Tony Soprano, sounds like Tony Soprano, acts like Tony Soprano.
When the Mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse him for re-election, Christie had his henchman in the Port Authority close the on-ramp from Ft. Lee to the George Washington Bridge. Then he and his buddies lied about it.
If you think about it, that’s much nastier than garden-variety corruption of the kind Christie engage in as United States Attorney, when he used deferred prosecution agreements to funnel money from corporate lawbreakers to his buddies – including another prosecutor who had declined to indict Christie’s brother – in return for not pressing criminal charges.
Christie as the GOP nominee for 2016? Bring it on!
Headline of the week:
And it gets better from there.
In the eyes of Republicans, the agreement with Iran has a fatal flaw: It was negotiated by the Obama administration. This president could negotiate a treaty promoting baseball, motherhood and apple pie, and Republicans would brand it the next Munich.
No phony even-handedness, no false equivalence. Just straight reporting. Bravo!
After he finished yelling at a teacher “I’m tired of you people!” Christie called a state Senator he’d like to see defeated “an animal.”
Some political journalists seem to think that the Soprano-for-President campaign might go somewhere. I really, really doubt it. Even if Chris Christie were able to send his inner spoiled child to its room, there’d still be the sleaze to deal with.
This is vile, it stinks to heaven. I used to be pretty good at teaching public policy in a non-partisan manner (we have some of my former students reading this blog and if I’m wrong, don’t hold back) but the last decade or so has really cramped my style, hooboy. The insouciant cruelty of fat and happy Republicans simpering about making hungry children dependent (are there no poorhouses? do the mills not offer employment to a deft eight-year old?) after they engineered the budget deficits they have now decided to rail about, and carried water for the “job-creators” who feathered their nests giving us the recession that’s put so many people on the street and on food stamps, is simply Dickensian. Eric Cantor is a horrible person, whipping a gang of racists and ignorant, fearful, haters into increasingly unspeakable behavior with fake moralizing and outright lies.
And the horse’s asses he rode in on.
Medicaid expansion, too. Mississippi, our own Haiti, land of poverty, despair, and early death, turns down free federal money in order that its poorest don’t get medical care? It can’t even be selfishness among the plutocrats: how is it good for business that its workforce is sicker? It’s simply cruelty, far beyond the possible bounds of policy debate or the scope of ideology, an abomination no religion can countenance. What did these people’s parents raise them to be? What were they told in Sunday School?
I give up, I’m not up to this. But luckily, there is Käthe Kollwitz.
May your dreams be haunted with sick, starving children, you swine.