Among our many great accomplishments -- good restaurants and craft beer have to rank high -- we baby boomers have a lot to atone for, at least in the raising of our children. Especially those children whose heads we filled with mush and dispatched to elite universities.
This morning brings a sadly believable "social justice" moment from Yale. In brief, a group of administrators sent out a very inclusive email over a bunch of signatures imploring students to be careful not to offend anybody by dint of their Halloween costume. A professor responded quite reasonably with what is actually a lament:
Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.The response, suffice to say, has been massive demonstrations, and demands that both the professor and her husband -- who did his duty and stood up for her -- resign their positions at Yale. Click through the link and read the whole thing.
This is not an isolated moment. The great organization FIRE has documented many such cases. And the response today is usually the same -- some combination of increasingly partisan outrage and counter-response, and some tut-tutting about "kids today." Both responses entirely miss the issue.
Your blogger is vastly more worried about the strong authoritarian impulse that seems to beat within the heart of today's undergraduates, at least at elite universities. Their first response when confronted with something they don't like is to appeal to authority. In doing so, they demand that the authorities impose a punishment on the target of their ire calculated not only to redress the particular perceived offense, but to intimidate third parties. In the linked case, they are demanding the termination of two professors because one of them voiced objections to a university policy, and the other one defended his wife. Seriously?
The term we would have used back in the day to describe these impulses -- and that is what they seem to be -- is fascistic.
The common response of my generation is "these delicate flowers are in for a real shock when they enter the real world."
I am more worried the effect this generation of students will have on the real world. We are breeding a generation whose first impulse is to appeal to power, and to demand that "the Man" crush people that the local majority finds offensive, or out of step, or in some undifferentiated way non-conforming in their ideas.
What are we going to do when these very bright and hard-working elite students become our judges, regulators, prosecutors, and politicians? Do we actually believe they are going to change in this fundamental respect? Highly unlikely. In the absence of a transforming catastrophe, like a world war, our basic generational sensibilities and impulses do not seem to change very much.
We have a lot to atone for, and if we live long enough, most of us with the inclination to express our opinions will feel the lash of this new authoritarian generation. The fascist impulse is back.