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campus speech wars
The Foundations of the Campus Free Speech Crisis

How did college campuses become such intolerant spaces? On Monday night, TAI contributor Jonathan Haidt considered that question on Charlie Rose with guest host Dan Senor and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Asked why it is so difficult to support Israel publicly on campus, Haidt makes one particularly important point:

The old idea of education is, come to campus, we’re gonna teach you lots of perspectives…What would an economist say? What would a Marxist say?

What’s happening now is, and it’s only some students in a few departments, but they’re learning one perspective to look at everything…There’s a good kind of identity politics which is, you know, if black people are being denied rights, let’s fight for their rights. That’s the good kind. But there’s a bad kind, which is to say, let’s divide everybody up by their race and gender and other categories. We’ll assign them moral merit based on [the idea that] privilege is bad and victimhood is good.

Now let’s look at everything through this lens. Israel. The Palestinians are the victims. So, therefore, they are the good and the Jews, or the Israelis, are the bad. This one totalizing perspective—all social problems get reduced to this simple framework. I think we’re doing them a disservice. I think we’re actually making students less wise.

As we argued in our coverage of last week’s violent protest at Middlebury College, fighting illiberalism on campuses will require more than a defense of abstract principles. Professors and administrators must be ready to engage in a substantive debate that can take on the core ideas of the ideology underlying many students’ opinions—an ideology many faculty have spent years incubating. We were happy to see a group of Middlebury professors sign onto a statement reaffirming that “exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence”, as that is one of the most serious misunderstandings hundreds of Middlebury alumni and students have about the nature of rhetoric.

But Haidt observes something even more fundamental about the simplified and indeed simplistic nature of how today’s students are taught to think (if one can even call it thinking). The issue of Israel is an instructive example. The country’s conflict with the Palestinians is one of the most complicated political debates of our time. In a healthy academic environment, there would be lots of ideas and opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as students and faculty use different approaches to grapple with the controversies. But on today’s campuses, there has been essentially one acceptable position for many years. Increasingly, this is becoming true about a host of issues, and Haidt’s explanation of why that is the case is one of the most persuasive we have heard.

The entire conversation is worth your time. Here it is:

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  • Suzy Dixon

    These brainwashed kids have all sorts of problems. They’ve been raised on adderall or ritalin and often still have substance abuse problems. They wear Che Guevara and even Mao T-shirts, or just all black when they’re out rioting carrying the anarcho-communist red and black flag.
    They don’t believe in free speech. They believe in drugs and communist dictators and the massacres they committed.

  • Fat_Man

    The time for hand wringing has passed. It is too late. The colleges are done. They are cooked.

    The time for law enforcement and punitive measures against the colleges has arrived. Subject them to taxation and penalties for excessive salaries, excessive administrators, tenure contracts, etc.

  • D4x

    The BDS movement, including on campus, and Palestinian- oppressed-by-colonialist myths taught in History departments, about to both get major head slaps on March 29, 2017. “…US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, the first US governor to sign into law anti-BDS legislation, will address the conference participants in the General Assembly Hall. Since assuming her post as ambassador, Haley has come out strongly against the UN’s biases and prejudices and has expressed her unequivocal support for Israel.

    Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon, World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ambassador Ronald Lauder, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and other known speakers will address the summit as well.

    The event is a partnership between Israel’s Mission to the UN, the WJC and pro-Israel organizations including ACLJ, ZOA Israel Bonds, StandwithUs, CAMERA, B’nai B’rith International, IAC, Maccabee Task Force, Hillel International, SSI, Hasbara Fellowships, the Jewish Agency for Israel, AEPI and others.

    “This is a new era at the UN in which we are voicing a clear call in support of Israel. We will gather in the General Assembly Hall
    and stand against the attempts by the BDS movement to infiltrate the UN and harm Israel,” said Ambassador Danon about the upcoming event.

    “This gathering is on the frontlines of our battle against the global BDS movement. Israel has countless supporters who work tirelessly against these forces of darkness. Now is the time for us all to come together as a united front as we face this challenge,” the Ambassador continued.

    During the conference, participants will discuss the major issues at the heart of the fight against BDS. In addition to the opening plenary, three panels will convene focusing on social and digital media, campuses all over the world, and the private and business sectors. Each panel will include internationally renowned experts in their respective fields as well as representatives who have faced the challenges of the BDS movement firsthand and prevailed.

    “In the UN, international institutions, and academic forums, we are witnessing a dangerous form of anti-Semitism in the attempts to
    delegitimize Israel and deny the Jewish people their right to security and sovereignty. The BDS movement does not seek peace, it seeks the destruction of the State of Israel,” said WJC President Lauder.

    “This is undeniably anti-Semitic and it must never become acceptable. We must stand up for what is right and expose BDS for the
    fraud that it is. We cannot fight anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel alone. We must work together to spread the truth and to make sure that the world knows that this is not just a Jewish problem, it is a problem that concerns us all,” Ambassador Lauder concluded.” ”

  • rheddles

    This is not about ideology or principal or way of thought. And there is nothing new about it.

    This is how 18-22 year old males behave when no one keeps good order. The issue is that this kind of behavior will continue and grow until it is sanctioned severely. Both students and the professors who egg them on.

    • M Snow

      Sadly, the screaming crowd contained a fair number of young women as well.

  • WigWag

    Pimple-faced high school graduates show up at college in late August or early September more or less as blank slates. They may have some vague political views but for the most part those views are inchoate and nebulous. It is only after the faculty gets their hold on these students that they turn into marauding leftist maniacs. It’s not education, its indoctrination and for the most part, the students aren’t to blame. The simple and sad reality is that what’s taking place on campus today is not all that different from the self-criticism sessions used to mold the thinking of innocent Chinese during the Cultural Revolution.

    It is no mystery that the most senior faculty who are calling the shots are baby boomers who never had the maturity to escape the fantasies they grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s. Look at the 200-300 most elite colleges and universities in America and you will be appalled at how intellectually shallow and emotionally immature the faculty is.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there is a feasible political remedy for this. Trump could take it on, but its hard for him to do with some much on his plate and while taking incoming fire from the desperate political left.

    • D4x

      POTUS can confound them by destroying the concept of Identity Politics, by delegitimizing the BDS movement on campus, and, with images like this, from the first WH tour, 03 07 2017, since Inauguration, confuse them with Official Portrait of First Lady Clinton on his right:

      Photo: AP/Evan Vucci

    • Makaden

      “[these kids] show up at college…more or less as blank slates.”

      I’d like to push back against that. Steven Pinker has shown (The Blank Slate), and Thomas Sowell before him (Conflict of Visions), that blank slate-ism, if I may call it that, is a core idea of the left. Pinker argued (mostly from the hard sciences) that it was a demonstrably false idea. Here, you are arguing that 18 year olds, with 18 years of socialization, arrive as blank slates. I think if you listen to the arguments in the linked video here, you will hear good reasons why there are structural issues in the way we process information in the Twitter/Facebook age, the way a generation has been “helicopter-parented,” and the installment of outrage culture (couched as justice) as reasons to believe students come primed for exploitation by the professors you identify.

      Where I live in Oregon, in a local high school, someone found graffiti on the wall that used the “n” word. I’ve been around for 43 years, almost all lived on the Left Coast, and I cannot tell you how many times I have seen that word scrawled on bathroom walls. I don’t condone it in any way. But the students at this high school saw fit to conduct a WALK OUT from their classes to protest the ridiculous scribbles of a moron on a bathroom stall. And the media sought to cover it extensively, not just in writing, but on site with reporters and cameras.

      Here is your high-water mark of outrage culture. Bathroom scribbles stop an entire school and capture the attention of a metropolitan region.

      What is truly insidious is to consider the ways that outrage culture can be exploited for the interests of competing victimization groups. Have Jews and antisemitism been getting too much sympathetic treatment in the media? Force a story of the cultural appropriation of West Africans in the menu of a lunch room. Or, as just happened last week, a leftist idiot can capture an entire nation by phoning in bomb threats to Jewish centers so he can get back at his girlfriend. (There are definitely other antisemetic things going on in the U.S., but this particular idiot-former-reporter stopped a nation and made the president address something that was–wait for it–fake news.)

      Kids don’t come as blank slates. They are already primed for exploitation, and sensitized to the importance of virtue signalling.

      • WigWag

        I think your comment is a very interesting one, but I’m not sure that you are getting Pinker quite right. I’ve read several of Pinker’s books including “The Blank Slate,” “The Language Instinct,” “Language, Cognition and Human Instinct” and most recently “The Better Angels of our Nature.”

        You’re absolutely right that Pinker believes that the idea that humans come into the world with a blank slate is ridiculous but that’s because he’s a biological determinist. He believes that when it comes to behavior genes are far more important than the environment and that language and social skills are more hard wired than learned.

        In this regard he’s not all that different from one of his mentors, Noam Chomsky. Pinker and Chomsky have different political views but Pinker to this day has great respect for Chomsky. With that said, I doubt that even Pinker would say that our proclivity to become Democrats or Republicans is a hard wired trait though he might think that the proclivity for a person to be progressive or conservative is biologically determined.

        By the way, I have attended a few of Pinker’s lectures. He’s a dynamic speaker with a hysterical sense of humor.

        It is true that young adults arrive at college exposed to cultural influences that they are exposed to from the press and other purveyors of popular culture. But I still think that most kids arrive at college with only a vague concept of what they believe politically. I don’t think that most arrive hating themselves, their families, their country or their culture.

        While they may be primed by their cultural milieu to fall victim to an obsession with victimization, I think it’s something that happens in college that confirms them in their self-hatred (which is really what the pathological politics of the left is really about).

        Far too often our elite institutions of higher education turn impressionable boys and girls into stark raving lunatics.

        There is a piece of good news; the indoctrination wears out. Twenty years after they graduate half of the Middlebury students who rioted over the appearance of Charles Murray will be conservative Republucans themselves.

        It’s that thing where a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.

        • ljgude

          Interesting discussion of Pinker and blank slates, but I would have to disagree that the high school kids arrive without politics. The Frankfurt school has marched through that institution too and their minds have been weaned, for example, on Howard Zinn ‘s People’s History of the United States. My sister, after tutoring my grandson for most of a year in American history asked “Why is there never anything for Americans to feel good about themselves in this book?” When I went to high school in the 50s American History was designed to make us feel good about our country. When we went to college we got taught to think for ourselves and if we decided, in die course, to hate our country that was allowed too. Today it is all indoctrination all the time – probably from the beginning. In short I believe the virus infects the whole stack from K to Phd.

          • WigWag

            In the late 1970s Pinker, E.O Wilson and Richard Dawkins famously participated in a vitriolic and very public debate with the late Steven J. Gould about what was then the relatively new concept of sociobiology.

            The debate, which you may remember, had serious and interesting political ramifications. The position of Gould (and his collaborator, Lewontin) was that the environment trumped biology when it came to the organization of human society and to many individual human traits. This point of view had its origin, at least in part, in the work of B.F. Skinner. Skinner may have been viewed as an arch conservative (mostly because he was considered a critic of Freud who was all the rage on the left) but by the time Gould and Lewontin made their arguments, their position was considered progressive.

            E.O. Wilson, Pinker and Dawkins, biological determinists all, were reviled by progressives and their position was considered to be reactionary.

            There are several ironies here. As I mentioned, Pinker’s mentor, Noam Chomsky, was one of the original biological determinists but he is obviously a radical leftist. Pinker is widely disliked on the left and the right. Dawkins position as a biological determinist has evolved to make him a leading atheist critic of religion. In the 1979s he was considered a reactionary; today he is considered a progressive and he is hated by the right.

            One last thing; these debates were conducted in the 1970s, long before we developed a sophisticated understanding of molecular genetics and long before the development of sophisticated neuroimaging techniques. Both sides of the sociobiology debate were doing little more than making educated guesses.

            Modern scientific techniques have proven that the biological determinists were right and those who argued that environmental influences were written on a blank slate were wrong.

            But even that is subject to change. Hence our new understanding of epigenetics.

    • ——————————

      “Pimple-faced high school graduates show up at college in late August or early September more or less as blank slates.”

      A persons indoctrination starts at birth, as we are mostly a product of our environment and upbringing.
      However, the seeds of the insidious left-wing disease are already planted through the media and the school systems long before children reach college….

  • Andrew Allison

    Israel’s “conflict” with the Palestinians is not in the least complicated: the Palestinian’s clearly stated objective is to destroy the state of Israel. Furthermore, the Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no desire to end the attacks on Israel, since that would mean an end to the flow of money and support.

    • Blackbeard

      True but it’s actually worse. If you read the Hamas charter, for example, their goal is more than the destruction of Israel it’s the eradication of all Jews everywhere.

  • ——————————

    Higher learning is the antithesis of basic human nature, and no amount of info pushed into a human brain will change that. We still kill, we still hate, we still possess greed, etc. We seem to think we can educate our way to cultural utopia, but forget we can never change what we are in our DNA.
    It is only our technology that allows us to be pursue our kindnesses to our fellow man, and those kindnesses have risen through the ages along with our advancement in technologies.
    But it is all just a thin veil of kindness. Just permanently shut down the global electrical grids and we will quickly revert to what we were.

    The only way all this campus madness will stop is if the institutions of higher learning, and those who work in or support them, are burned to the ground by the center and right leaning proletariat….

  • Boritz

    “Professors and administrators must be ready to engage in a substantive debate that can take on the core ideas of the ideology underlying many students’ opinions”

    This is a call for outrageous behavior that will result in the swift termination of any professors and administrators who dare to step over this well-defined boundary of propriety and decency. The academy doesn’t have the infrastructure it needs to develop the infrastructure it needs to develop the infrastructure to accomplish this, having jettisoned all that.

  • Puddle_Glum

    Kids in tech fields in the private sector remind me of the way I was in parochial school. I pretended to agree to avoid worthless conflict. Though I didn’t fully disagree just wanted to think through subject matter and issues freely.

    It’s the softer subjects that pull in kids who are looking for agreement and a time and place to call home.

  • FriendlyGoat

    A professor could summarize the Israeli/Palestinian problem quickly with fairness and balance, leaving everybody mad in 10 minutes. He could first of all point out that, after about 70 years we have two sides secretly intent on standing with their pat positions and wearing the other side down. He could question the wisdom of Israel being placed as a twentieth-century nation where it is placed. He could question whether having “Islamic nations” or a “Jewish nation” by name at all are good ideas. He could, as a sideshow, even question the credibility of three religions as they currently bear on this matter. He could question why we talked about two-state and one-state solutions for several decades when evidence seems to suggest neither side intends to pursue either course in a fully-meaningful way. Are we educated yet?

  • Patty O’furniture

    Haidt is WRONG. There is no “good kind” of identity politics. If we permit that assumption, we must then acknowledge (if we believe in free speech) that someone else may deem some other kind of identity politics as being the “good kind.”

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