Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Bizarroworld of College Campus Life and Vaclav Havel

Last year, New York City Police commissioner Ray Kelly cancelled a scheduled talk at Brown University. Students opposed to the city's "stop and frisk" procedures successfully disrupted the event through protest.  According to The Daily Beast this was one of several events halted by the actions of small, but well organized student groups.  Brown University claims to prize " the intellectual exchange that is sparked by a diversity of views and experiences" but caves into left wing rage.

The article goes on to explain how liberals who "accept basic norms of fair play" have been shoved aside by hate filled leftists who see the world as totalitarian and aim to impose those values on campuses.  Its author explained how, as a staunch left wing student, he wanted to see a Marxist reviewer savage Dinesh D'Souza's accounts of campus tyranny.  Instead he was shocked by the reviewer's agreement with the conservative thinker.  American liberals and conservatives disagree on much, but they do generally agree with the principles expressed in the Bill of Rights.

Angry campus leftists, however, loathe experiencing speech that is not their own.  But instead of avoiding it, they work as hard as possible to prevent it.

This happens also at the student level.  National Review this morning posted a piece on "microaggression."  Dr. Derald Sue, Columbia University psychologist, explains that it is speech or actions perpetuated by a majority against a minority individual in everyday life.  This includes slights, discomfort, and anything else that may make the recipient feel "socially marginalized."  Last November, according to the article, a group of students filed a complaint against a professor.  He committed "microaggression" by correcting a capitalization error.

Fordham University has actively moved on this issue, training faculty on how to avoid microaggression and encouraging students to describe instances of abuse.

When asked, Sue said that microaggression lay in the eye of the recipient.  If a person feels slighted, they are, in other words.

Colleges and universities were established for two purposes, to expand the mind and train for useful occupations.  Campus speech policies, giving into hateful protesters and cancelling speeches, giving credibility to silliness like microaggression will close the student mind, not expand it.

Vaclav Havel in the late 1970s penned "The Power of the Powerless."  The Czech dissenter and playwright looked to describe to a westerner the reality of life behind the Iron Curtain.  He said that this was not the classical dictatorship of an individual or a small clique.  Eastern Europe suffered from the dictatorship of bureaucracy.  Although few were slaughtered in the same way as in Stalin's time, innumerable small punishments could be wielded.  Each could drastically affect employment, social position, education, or something else important to the person.  No one would risk offending the system, which he described as "post-totalitarian."

Havel said that in such a situation "the social phenomenon of self-preservation is subordinated to something higher, to a kind of blind automatism which drives the system."  Those caught in it are not regarded as individually worthy, simply a collective reason for the institution to exist.

The most basic revolt against the numbing of this system is what Havel calls "living within the truth."  One ignores orthodoxy and ideology, "rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game." The consequences of living within the truth? "The bill is not long in coming. He will be relieved of his post . . . his pay will be reduced . . .his superiors will harass him . . . his fellow workers will wonder about him."

Within most colleges, those who break the rules of the game could go before the social justice Star Chamber.  Guilt or innocence decided by a stacked committee, very little right of true due process or appeal.

Willingness to let people live within the truth means that someone's sensibilities may be offended.  Better they learn in college that the real world doesn't and shouldn't care about offending you.  Better that real and perceived slights be ignored, confronted, or forgiven depending on the situation.  Better than individuals, especially on campus, experience an atmosphere of free speech and inquiry, rather than help perpetuate an intellectual environment with the placidity and quiet of a graveyard.

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