Mean-spirited, self-absorbed, holier-than-God attitudes are definitively with us. They did not arise out of nothing but out of modes of askew child rearing, cultural degeneration and too many postmodernist, leftist professors preaching what should never be practiced.
Charles Murray, someone who makes his living by thinking and appreciates its grandeur as a guiding force, recently had a firsthand encounter with a mob of college students insisting instead that fury should rule the day.
I am tempted to generalize about a sickeningly spoiled, intellectually betrayed younger generation out to announce its moral superiority by way of moral thuggery. That goes too far. We’re talking about 100 people. But they symbolized more than themselves. Something significant is indeed going on. And it is pathetic.
The setting for this story is Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Murray, a libertarian author and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, had been invited to speak at the school by libertarian students, and no wonder.
A few years back, he had written an amazing book that as much as predicted what we witnessed in the 2016 presidential election. It was called “Coming Apart” and was about an upper-middle class more and more separated from a white working class letting go of self-reliance, industriousness, marriage and religion. A nation once unified in its norms was no more, and the result was gated communities over here and increased poverty, crime and family dissolution over there.
You could read the book and not be persuaded by every sentence while nevertheless feeling that, yes, it is crucial to restore the exceptionalism of earlier days. Worry about all of this grew in 2016 when we witnessed so much talk about the “establishment” — masses growling at the elites who in turn looked down on the deplorables. Donald Trump then made vulgarity his calling card as he rose mightily against political correctness.
It was legitimate to do so. Political correctness can be incorrect to the point of pulling a professor’s hair, hurting her neck, making her fear for her life and sending her to a hospital. This was what happened to a woman who was on the scene to debate Murray after his talk. To its credit, the administration did its best to maintain peace and sanity, and the professor was there to assure another side got told. But the protesters were not about to permit something as civilized as an exchange of views.
So the students unleashed obscenities in chants and signs, pushed, threatened, banged on a car, roughed up the professor and left one thinking of what else we have seen lately: the violence, speech oppression and vandalism at Berkeley, still other frenetic, mindless protests, silly university speech codes, safe zones, microaggressions, trigger warnings and no-sombrero rules.
Look around and it’s clear mean-spirited, self-absorbed, holier-than-God attitudes are definitively with us. They did not arise out of nothing but out of modes of askew child rearing, cultural degeneration and too many postmodernist, leftist professors preaching what should never be practiced. To what extent could our future be shaped by those caught up in such a self-satisfied la la land of absurdist rationalizations and desires for collectivist control?
It is hard to say, but I am not just indulging ad hominem displeasure here. The main thing is the assault on free speech. Without it, there is no democracy. Truth becomes harder and harder to find. We do not grow. We do not learn. Without free speech, life shrinks, goodness shrinks, meaningfulness shrinks.
A few incidents do not give us the end of the American creed but they do point to ways in which it is being subverted. An incident in which a powerful, creative thinker is shut up is all the more frightening because it tells us how much we would be hurt if the villains of this tale were to grow as much as they would like in their power and influence.
What’s needed is much ado about something very scary.