University Social Justice Warriors, with their victimhood culture and authoritarian tactics, are in danger of creating an equally illiberal conservative backlash
In a recent piece, Rod Dreher speculated as to what might happen if and when the usual targets of social justice warrior bullying come out of their defensive crouch and begin to fight back, playing the SJWs at their own game.
(The upshot: while an entirely understandable reaction, nothing good can from it; free speech will then be under assault from both ends of the political spectrum).
This comes in the context of Donald Trump-supporting students having their free speech right to advocate for Trump’s candidacy treated by snarling left-wing activists and cowed university administrations like some kind of grave assault on the safety of the campus community.
One likes to think that most students have enough residual dignity to restrain themselves from behaving like bully-babies.
What if that changes? What if students — whites, males, and other out-groups — decide that they’re going to fight fire with fire, and adopt Trumpian methods on campus, challenging the sacred victim status of the SJWs, and claim the mantle of victimhood for themselves, and intimidating university authorities until they get what they want? Trump has shown what you can do to acquire power if you just don’t give a rat’s rear end what people think of you. That is, if your own belief in yourself and your righteousness is so absolute that you are not susceptible to believing that it is undignified or dishonorable to present yourself in the public square as a victim. Trump’s genius is to present himself as both victim and victor, and that kind of thing is not going to work on campus. But sooner or later, the tactics of the SJWs are going to be taken up by their opponents, because that’s the only way they will save themselves from being entirely disempowered on campus, and in time, in the workplace. Trump has shown that establishments are weaker than people think, and can be pushed over. So have the SJWs. All that campuses need now are counterprotesters to the SJWs, making similar uncompromising demands from administrators, driven by nothing but their feelings of grievance. Then we can have a proper war of all against all.
Unfortunately, this counterprotest is already coming to pass, with some American conservative students now adopting the same language of fragility and victimhood used by their leftist tormentors.
The College Fix reports:
The College Republicans at Ohio University say they are under siege by peers for painting a message on the campus free speech wall defending the First Amendment.
In a barrage of cyber harassment over the last day, they have been called racists, described as Klansmen, and accused of literally threatening the campus — all over a painted message that read “Trigger warning: there are no safe spaces in real life! You can’t wall off the 1st Amendment.”
“It got so much hate, I just don’t know if I have ever received so much hate in my life,” David Parkhill, 19, president of the Ohio University College Republicans, said Thursday in an interview with The College Fix.
“Granted, I knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t think it would be that much hate,” he said. “We are basically a minority on this campus. Our opinion is so put down and so crushed, it’s almost like we don’t have a say.”
While the Ohio University College Republicans doubtless have a point – one can imagine campus life not being much fun for anyone with openly conservative convictions in the current climate – what is depressing here is the way in which David Parkhill, president of the OU Republicans, uses the same whining language of victimhood and oppression to elicit sympathy for his own embattled minority.
Nobody likes a pity party, but that is exactly what will get if conservative and liberal students face off against each other not as they should, through lively debate, but rather through constant, tear-stained appeals for the university authorities to intercede on behalf of their respective sides.
And in a sense, one cannot blame the Ohio University College Republicans for behaving in this way. They have watched for months and years while identity politics-wielding left-wing students get every little thing that they demand from spineless university administrations, and shame into submission anybody who stands in their way.
It is not therefore an illogical leap when other students conclude that this is the best and most effective way of advancing one’s own agenda. If the Social Justice Warriors can mobilise support and win concessions by emphasising (and frankly, grossly exaggerating) their supposed victimhood and oppression, why should conservatives not do the same?
But this can lead nowhere good. For a start, the SJWs have much more practice at wielding identity politics as a weapon. It is their bread and butter, they do it every day. Every linguistic trick and campaigning tactic to elicit the last drop of sympathy and support from sympathetic university authorities is already known to them, while as the Ohio University example demonstrates, conservative students are still taking their first baby steps at playing the victim.
Therefore, in the short term, conservatives will not only continue to be outgunned by the SJWs, they will squander whatever sympathy and respect they otherwise deserve by lowering themselves to the same tactic of appealing to their weakness and minority status as a valid reason to clamp down on the freedom of others (SJWs) to organise and protest.
And in the longer term, if through repeated practice young students become adept at flaunting their fragility and exalting in their helplessness, both sides will fight to a bloody draw, with nobody able to say or do anything on campus without immediately triggering a protest and counter-protest. University will truly no longer be a place for the discussion of ideas, but a sheltered place of “comfort and home” for weak-minded adult babies, an intellectual demilitarised zone protected by a field of verbal landmines laid by every competing minority group over the academic and political discourse.
In other words, this is not the anti-SJW backlash that we have been waiting for. While it is unsurprising to see Ohio University College Republicans seeking to fight back in the way they believe will make the most difference in the short term, while they still have to live on campus, their adoption of the SJW’s own weapons and tactics will do nothing to halt the longer-term slide into authoritarianism, infantilisation and ever-more restrictive behavioural codes.
All of which makes it even more vital that the adults in the room – professors and university administrators – stop being so darn terrified of their own student populations, and actually start push back against any student or advocacy group which attempts to use their supposed fragility as a reason to shut down free speech for others.
As this blog has argued, students alone cannot halt the growth of safe spaces and censorship on their college campuses. Though liberty-minded students will have to be the foot soldiers in any such fightback, they can only succeed if they are given sufficient air cover by those in positions of authority and moral leadership – and on too many campuses, this has been pointedly lacking.
Some universities – like Mizzou – are starting to pay a high price for attempting to appease the mob rule of the SJWs.
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