‘The Coddling Of The American Mind’: Young Totalitarians in Training
“I am told I will not be allowed to leave,” Professor Bret Weinstein texted his wife. “I don’t know what to do.” But Professor Weinstein hadn’t been taken prisoner by ISIS or a drug cartel.
In The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, the authors describe what would become known as the Evergreen Incident, a student takeover of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington:
Student protesters barricaded the main entrance to the administration building, and for several hours, having occupied the building and gathered together the leadership of the college, including President Bridges, they held them in an office. With the leadership team sequestered, the students prepared and later presented their demands….
These demands included the firing of Professor Weinstein, whom they falsely branded a “white supremacist.” Their evidence? He’d written an email saying that no one should be excluded from campus on the basis of race. The students chanted “Racist professors got to go,” which, in a burst of original thinking, they rhymed with “Hey hey, ho ho.”
Outside the office, students video-recorded themselves making sure that the room had no escape routes and that there was enough student “presence” to prevent administrators from leaving.
Neither the police nor the school afterward chose to prosecute these students, or even to discipline them. But the occasion called for a sacrifice. Professor Weinstein had to go.
The authors, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, certainly don’t condone this sort of thing, but how far do they go in condemning it? Their characterization (in the book’s subtitle) of the perpetrators as having “good intentions” best sums up their attitude. We don’t generally praise the intentions of kidnappers. We lock them up. Remember that these particular kidnappers, who at one point denied one of their victims even the freedom to go to the bathroom, didn’t belong to the common criminal stock. They were elite, mostly wealthy, college students, exquisitely superior, accustomed to obedience and moral deference. They were “woke.”
Still, what happened took more than the presence of a few dozen pampered thugs. The students could seize their professors, but they remained unprosecuted. This required the freely-offered participation of those professors themselves. When first taken prisoner, the college president “ordered the campus police not to intervene.”
“That night, in an email to the campus community, an Evergreen media studies professor wrote approvingly that the protesting students were doing ‘exactly what we taught them.’”
The End of the Acadame
Liberal arts colleges of the United States now function as political reeducation camps. This simple fact has become so commonplace that even to mention it is to appear old-fashioned. As the authors point out, the usurious price of higher education, combined with its lack of practical utility, probably contributes to these brats’ perception that they’re entitled to decide what they’ll be taught. In any case, they want to be taught that they’re morally superior to their elders, and that anyone who disagrees with them on any point of doctrine is some species of “supremacist” with a scorching case of the phobias.
Major areas of study based their grades on their enthusiastic recitation of received political truths. In short, these young people arepaying to learn that they occupy the status of secular saints. They need not to be educated, but to be obeyed. No one, including a hard-left-wing professor like Weinstein, can take recourse in the principle of charity.
Straightforward, traditional words like “racist” and “sexist” were direct accusations and could be demonstrated to be true or false, which is why they’re obsolete. Today, the sacerdotal accusers level non-empirical, impressionistic charges of “privilege” and “problematic views” against which no defense is possible.
Epidemiology of a Mass Hysteria
The authors blame all this on the new generation, “iGen,” and its background in “safetyism.” They point out that modern college students, while demanding their own way, justify their authority by recourse to fear. When someone disagrees with them, they say, it’s a threat to their safety. Hence they require the shelter of “safe spaces” where they can’t be “triggered” by various heresies. Unfortunately, these safe spaces extend at least to the boundaries of campus, necessitating totalitarian levels of speech control.
In The Coddling of the American Mind, we learn that three great philosophical untruths stand behind this mass fear:
- What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker:” exposure to offensive or difficult ideas is traumatic
- “Always trust your feelings:” feeling upset by an idea is a reason to discount it
- “Us versus them:” homogenous tribal thinking that leads people to shame those whose views fall outside that of their group
We learn, too, that overprotective parents and the ubiquity of social media hobbled these poor kids’ sense of security and autonomy. Fair enough.
But something older is at work, too. When the college students of China’s Cultural Revolution rounded up, tortured, and murdered their professors for their political disobedience, there was no use blaming helicopter parents. When at Salem the young began seeing witches everywhere, it wasn’t because of Instagram. The young, who we esteem as uncorrupted moral guides, are nothing of the sort. They’re inexperienced, ignorant, and passionate. Dangerous, in short. And when their guilty elders give them the power of denunciation, the result is always the same.