Thursday, May 26, 2016

The New Yorker on coddle culture; campus activism

The New Yorker has a lengthy feature on the current state of campus activism, particularly at liberal arts colleges. (The focus is on Oberlin, which is sort of ground zero for this kind of thing.) The whole thing is worth losing an afternoon for  but there are a few points I need to make:
Whatever job they’re doing, they appear to do it diligently. “In class, sometimes I say, ‘Is your identity a kind of knowledge?’ ” James O’Leary, an assistant professor of musicology at the Oberlin Conservatory, told me. “The answer, for forever, has been no.” But his current students often vigorously disagree. In the post-Foucaultian tradition, it’s thought to be impossible to isolate accepted “knowledge” from power structures, and sometimes that principle is turned backward, to link personal discomfort with larger abuses of power. “Students believe that their gender, their ethnicity, their race, whatever, gives them a sort of privileged knowledge—a community-based knowledge—that other groups don’t have,” O’Leary went on. The trouble comes when their perspectives clash.
One of the most dangerous products of an identitarian, post-structuralist, whatever-you-want-to-call-it culture is the exchange of intellectual honest for identity. Lived experience is important, but it shouldn't be the sole qualification of whether someone's opinion has merit. Which brings me to my next point:
“It’s just a massive catastrophe,” Eosphoros reported of the microaggressions he encountered even in his work-study life. “You get your supervisor monologuing about how everyone is just here for ‘pocket money,’ and you’re sitting there going, ‘You cancelled the shift on Sunday, and, because of that, I can’t pay my rent.’ ” He feels that he’s been drawn into a theatre of tokenism. “It’s always disappointing to be proof of concept for other people,” he told me.
But it's all part of the same system that got you there. When we're nothing but a collection of "identities" tokenism happens.
“Students are coming to campuses today with mental-health challenges that in some instances have been diagnosed and in some instances have not. Maybe, in previous eras, those students would not have been coming to college.”
No, a lot of them still would have gone to college. They would have gone undiagnosed. Maybe for another decade. Maybe some of them would have dropped out, but it's hard to guess the rates of mental illness among undergrads when in past decades, things that now are considered pathological would have been dismissed as bad behavior. Those of us who collected our diagnoses in adult have had to walk back a lot of adolescent and post-adolescent crazy to determine what was disorder and what was just... adolescent crazy. And it's still hard to determine.

Okay, this just sounds like the Onion:
I literally am so tired of learning about Marx, when he did not include race in his discussion of the market!” She shrugs incredulously.
But old people still don't get it:
Hyman started college in the eighties. Her generation, she said, protested against Tipper Gore for wanting to put warning labels on records. “My students want warning labels on class content, and I feel—I don’t even know how to articulate it,” she said. “Part of me feels that my leftist students are doing the right wing’s job for it.”
This has been one of the hardest things to swallow for us “olds” who grew up with a concept of censorship that was decidedly right-wing. Yes, Tipper Gore is part of the tribe, technically, but the PMRC was still viewed as “conservative" to leftists in the 80s. (We had punk rock on our side, damn it!)

I do think a lot of this is generational, but with the added development of social media as a tool for activists. PC existed when I was in college, but it was routinely mocked, and often by the people it was supposed to help. There was no Facebook, no Twitter. When you couple that with liberals fear of being seen as anything less than tolerant, a free exchange of ideas seems a little less free.