Tales From The Safe Space, Part 55 – Lena Dunham And Toxic Left Wing Call-Out Culture

Lena Dunham - social justice call out culture

The Regressive Left applauds when an overwhelmingly privileged “woke” celebrity shames and reports two off-duty service employees after taking offence at their private conversation

Lena Dunham, creator and star of the execrable television series Girls – and now seemingly a full-time social justice warrior – has form when it comes to policing both the internet and the real world for any instances of conservative thoughtcrime or failure to subscribe to the new progressive orthodoxy on various social justice issues.

To summarise: Lena Dunham was walking through the arrivals hall at JFK airport in New York when she allegedly overheard two off-duty American Airlines flight attendants having a private conversation about their views on the issue of transgenderism. During the course of this conversation, the flight attendants apparently agreed with one another that transgenderism is “gross” and that they would “never accept a trans child”.

(Note: Lena Dunham also has form when it comes to telling outright falsehoods, making her account of this supposed conversation immediately questionable).

And so naturally Lena Dunham did what any self-respecting, censorious young social justice warrior with a huge social media presence is honour-bound to do – she tweeted her shock at having heard opinions expressed which contradicted her own, shamed the unknown flight attendants and demanded that American Airlines re-educate their employees to ensure that such spontaneous acts of independent thought never again occur during the course of a private conversation between off-duty employees.

Specifically, Dunham wrote in a direct message to the airline:

“I heard two female attendants walking talking about how trans kids are a trend they’d never accept a trans child and transness is gross. I think it reflects badly on uniformed employees of your company to have that kind of dialogue going on. What if a trans teen was walking behind them? Awareness starts at home but jobs can set standards of practice. Thanks for your consideration!”

First off, this is as blatant an invasion of privacy as one can imagine. While a reasonable person might expect the possibility of being overheard while having a conversation in a public place, there is no reasonable expectation that a sanctimonious “woke” celebrity would rebroadcast their conversation – which again, took place while off duty if it even happened at all – to millions of followers on social media, contact their employer to trigger an investigation and quite possibly precipitate disciplinary action including the loss of their jobs.

Assuming that Lena Dunham isn’t simply lying again, there are multiple ways that she could have handled the situation better, rather than resorting to social media shaming combined with self-aggrandisement and virtue-signalling. The simplest option would have been for Dunham herself to intervene directly and voice her disagreement with the two flight attendants. This was a public place with very little risk of a physical altercation or any of the other reasons which might discourage direct action, so there was no good reason for Dunham not to take up the issue directly with the people allegedly involved, if she was sufficiently offended.

If Dunham lacked the courage to tackle this alleged intolerance in person (which would be a bit rich given that she co-founded Lenny, a website and newsletter almost exclusively dedicated to stridently advancing social justice issues), she could also have taken the matter up with American Airlines management staff while still at JFK airport rather than airily tweeting her allegations from the comfort of home, hours later. And if she was time-pressed and unable to do so, she could still have raised the matter privately with AA and written a more considered take on the situation once the investigation had run its course rather than tweeting about it in real time.

But of course none of these options would have been remotely satisfactory for Lena Dunham, because (more than) half the point of being a social justice warrior is the thrill of wielding power over others by policing language and behaviour, and enforcing your own worldview and etiquette onto other people. Directly confronting the people with whom she had a conflict or raising the issue privately would not have given Dunham the opportunity to flaunt her right-on credentials or display her conspicuous compassion; far better to raise the issue on social media, ostensibly so that it might serve as a “teachable moment” for other corporations and service workers (but really just to maintain her SJW credentials).

Robert Tracinski of The Federalist gets to the heart of the matter:

Saying “I overheard a conversation” but giving no specifics might prompt American Airlines to send out a general notice to its employees to watch what they say while in the terminal—which is a little unsettling in itself. But giving specific information only has one purpose: to help the airline locate, identify, and punish these specific employees for holding politically incorrect views.

It’s the hashtag #acrossfromthewinebar that sent chills down my spine. Dunham is acting like an informant working for a totalitarian police state—but boastfully, in public, on social media. With a hashtag.

Undoubtedly, someone will point out that this isn’t really totalitarianism because these are all voluntary actions by private citizens and organizations, not the government. Dunham isn’t a paid stooge of the police, but a citizen acting on her own initiative. American Airlines isn’t doing this because the government told them to, but because they’re terrified of bad press. (Which they are still going to get, but from the other side.)

Yet somehow this makes it all worse, because it implies we are being trained to internalize the ethos of the police state—and to enact it voluntarily, on our own initiative, without having to be coerced. We’re building a self-enforcing police state.

Equally concerning is the fact that Lena Dunham and her SJW colleagues feel it is in any way appropriate for corporations to take it upon themselves to “train” their employees in matters outside the skills required to successfully perform the job, particularly hot-button social issues. Whereas a decade ago one could reliably find leftists railing against the power of corporations and the supposedly unfair, coercive power balance between employer and employee, now those very same leftists are screeching that big corporations are not doing enough to indoctrinate their employees with the new social justice dogma.

Of course, vesting corporations with such power is in fact highly dangerous and quite likely unconstitutional, particularly when lawsuits start to emerge where employees allege that their employer has pressured them to violate their own conscience when it comes to matters outside the workplace. Already we see this coercive behaviour taking place in some large organisations, most recently the UK’s National Trust charity and the latest scandal to envelope Google.

Conor Friedersdorf also makes this point very eloquently in The Atlantic:

I suppose it was theoretically conceivable that Dunham’s public complaint about insensitivity by low-level staffers would prompt the multinational airline to put the offending employees—or all employees—through training in “awareness” or “love and inclusivity.” But I am doubtful that it would be a good thing, on the whole, if corporations began punishing workers for what they say off-duty, or aggressively regulating or engineering not just how employees treat colleagues and customers, but their every belief. Corporations are institutions driven by profit, not moral rectitude; many often do what is good for shareholders and bad for employees or the public. Trusting them as a reliable mechanism for positive social change is short-sighted.

Not that I presume that even earnest, right-thinking corporate altruism would necessarily bear fruit. Think of your attitudes toward trans people. Would your employer be able to fundamentally change your views, whatever they are, with  compulsory education? I suspect the very people with animus of a sort that does harm would be least likely to be swayed and most likely to double down on their beliefs.

And in response to this incident, or a rising tide of working-class people being reported to corporate employers for expressing beliefs that a lurking celebrity or journalist calls out, I can imagine the imposition of new, onerous, generally applied restrictions on where uniformed flight attendants can socialize with one another in airports, or whether uniformed retail employees are allowed a quick cell-phone conversation inside the mall while on break. Asking myself who that new regime would most harm, the answer is marginalized people; pondering who would find it easiest to navigate, the answer is creative professionals like Lena Dunham and me; we attended colleges that prepared us to navigate the elite’s social norms, and we don’t wear uniforms in public that identify our corporate bosses to eavesdropping strangers.

Ultimately this speaks to the paternalistic role that the progressive Left envisage for government and anyone else in positions of authority. First, these key institutions are to be fully captured by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and then they are to be leveraged to enforce the same uniform dogma relating to sexuality, gender theory and everything else.

Rod Dreher has also sounded the alarm about this phenomenon:

I know a man who is a senior manager at a major corporation. He is also a Christian. Every year during Pride Month, for the past few years, the human resources department at the firm has been after employees to declare themselves “allies” of the LGBT cause. This man has never done so, because he would consider it a violation of his conscience. He is scrupulously fair in his dealings with his employees, both gay and straight, and would also consider it a violation of his conscience to discriminate in the workplace against his gay employees. He is afraid that the day will come when his refusal to declare himself on the LGBT issue will be viewed negatively within the corporation, and it will damage or end his career there.

This is not paranoia. McCarthyism did not end with McCarthy.

The very real danger is that within a relatively short space of time, it may become impossible for people to avoid withholding their most deeply held personal and religious beliefs from their employer, precisely because people like Lena Dunham insist that corporations act as a co-equal auxiliary parent, together with the state, to both educate their employees in the ways of progressive dogma and then to secure their active participation in advancing the agenda.

If you think that this is ridiculous conservative scaremongering, just take a quick peek inside the mind of someone who occupies a senior position in the entrepreneurial-tech world:

Fortunately, Joshua McKenty’s vision of a “directory of known misogynists and racists, used to avoid hiring or contracting” would likely fall foul of the US constitution. But you can be sure that McKenty’s fellow ideologues will push in that direction as far as the law will possibly allow, given half the chance. And what of those of us who do not live in the United States under the protection of the US Constitution? What is to stop multinational firms with offices in Britain, where there is no written constitution, from demanding positive affirmation of progressive social policies from their employees?

And so what starts as just another Twitter-based hissy fit from Lena Dunham is in fact only the tip of the iceberg. It certainly doesn’t help when “woke” celebrities abuse their vast social media platforms to shame working and middle class service workers who dare to express outdated or unfashionable opinions, but that is not the real threat.

The real danger comes when corporations and private citizens no longer have to be bullied by the likes of Lena Dunham into acting as enforcers of the social justice movement, because they choose to do so willingly.

 

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Quote For The Day

From Conor Friedersdorf’s excellent interview of writer and professor David Hillel Gelernter:

Everyone knows that we live in politically superheated times; partisanship feels more bitter and more personal than it ever has in my lifetime.

There are many reasons, but here is one: we all know that faith in the Judeo-Christian religions is dramatically weaker than it used to be. But human beings are religious animals, and most will find an alternative if the conventional choices are gone.

The readiest replacement nowadays for lost traditional religion is political ideology. But a citizen with faith in a political position, instead of rational belief, is a potential disaster for democracy. A religious believer can rarely be argued out of his faith in any ordinary conversational give-and-take. His personality is more likely to be wrapped up with his religion than with any mere political program. When a person’s religion is attacked, he’s more likely to take it personally and dislike (or even hate) the attacker than he is in the case of mere political attacks or arguments. Thus, the collapse of traditional religion within important parts of the population is one cause of our increasingly poisoned politics. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

Turn back to the generation after the Second World War. The collapse of religion is well underway, but there is another alternate religion at hand: art.

Think of the extraordinary blaze-up of art in America in the postwar years, especially the 1950s and first half of the ‘60s: painting above all; choreography in New York (Balanchine, Robbins, the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey and other regional companies); serious music, led by Bernstein’s Young Peoples Concerts broadcast  nationwide by CBS; intense interest in new American novelists; Frost; the Americanized Auden, Eliot and Delmore Schwartz; the great quartet of European masters as seen from the US: Picasso and Matisse, Giacometti and Chagall; the European film as an art form (Swedish, Italian and French––Hitchcock’s Birds, for that matter, opened in the early ‘60s at MOMA); in the architecture of the Americans Wright and Kahn and Eero Saarinen, and the Europeans Mies and Corbu and Gropius; in the design of the Eames studio, in the museum show as an event, in drama and the Actor’s Studio; art-books, magazines, posters, high-fidelity audio, Lincoln Center, the Dick van Dyke show; a situation comedy with frequent episodes about the theater, galleries, art films–and on and on.

An astonishing era.

Among much else, it helped politics go down easier. (Only a little easier; but every bit helped.)  Other things did too, of course; and art, as always, was its own reward. But we miss something if we don’t see how the religion of art took pressure off politics.

Nowadays it’s mostly gone. But it doesn’t have to be. Art itself is the reason to bring art back to center stage. But some of the merely incidental benefits might be enormous.

My emphasis in bold.

There is a bucketload of truth in this statement. As anyone who has tried to engage your average pro or anti-Trump or Brexit activist in conversation or debate about politics will attest, reasoned discussion is hard to come by, precisely because faith is now vested in political tribes rather than God. In fact, the politically neutral (or those who refuse to see Donald Trump as either Saint Ronald Reagan 2.0 or Hitler Reborn, Brexit as an unadulterated good or an unprecedented disaster) tend to have the hardest time of all – the new atheists and agnostics.

Partisans on either side are increasingly being defriended, blocked or ignored in the real world by those incapable of making the leap of empathy required to understand or forgive a vote for the opposing side. But agnostics and those in the middle face the ire of both sides, incredulous that they can neither see the self-evident worth of the “right” side or the existential danger of the “wrong” side.

It is worse now than it was a decade ago under the George W. Bush administration, and by all accounts it was worse then than it was before under Clinton, Bush senior or Reagan.

Most analysis of this phenomenon of polarisation and mutual incomprehension had focused on the impact that the internet and social media have had on our political discourse, and many of these discussions are valid. But Gelernter takes a different approach and reveals another, more sociological explanation for the current toxic atmosphere – one made all the more profound because of what it says about humanity rather than the technology we now use.

And who can deny Gelernter’s point? As religion and faith have receded, something has indeed taken its place. But it is no longer art, or that wonderful flourishing of high culture that the West saw in the 1950s and 60s. Now it is often decidedly low culture and politics which we elevate above all else – and particularly, for many people, the divisive and grievance-laden politics of identity and victimhood.

But I would add that science also helped to cushion what Gelernter calls the “collapse of religion”. Humanity was inspired by the space race and the Apollo Program – “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” – and great shared human endeavours such as these. But humanity has not lifted its gaze above low earth orbit since 1972, and while other technological breakthroughs such as the mobile computing and the internet have revolutionised our lives, they have on balance tended to fuel the individualist and consumerist aspects of our society rather than the collective and the communal, let alone the spiritual.*

What is becoming manifestly clear is that we need something – be it a new flourishing of art (as Gelernter desires) or a great scientific or technological challenge – to help us once again lift our eyes above our own selves, circumstances and identity groups. More than a few political activists together in a room tend to quickly become insufferable. A whole society comprised entirely of such activists would be so much worse, as we are now starting to discover.

We need a common challenge or faith – whether it is a rekindling of the gentle patriotism spoken of by Andrew Sullivan or a tangible project of some kind – to remind us that we are more than the sum of our political opinions. And this means we need political leaders who dare to demand something of us rather than flatter us and promise us bountiful riches for no effort.

And so this blog asks again: set us a challenge.

 

*In Britain, mindless worship of the National Health Service – as exhibited today by more than 200,000 people who marched through central London in support of the NHS, demanding that more taxpayer money be shovelled into a healthcare system they venerate and claim to be the “envy of the world” despite the awkward fact that no other country has tried to replicate the NHS and many succeed in delivering better healthcare outcomes – has become the closest we have to a national religion. And while this might certainly count as blind faith or religious fervour, it does nothing meaningful to bring us together as a society.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 28 – When Both Sides Use SJW Tactics

Safe Space University

If unchecked, identity politics and Social Justice Warrior tactics will lead to a stalemate on university campuses where everything is offensive, everyone is offended and both protest and counter-protest become impossible

Recently, this blog speculated as to what would happen if and when conservatives on university campuses finally get sick of being shouted down and censored on campus by social justice activists using the tactics of identity politics, and begin to adopt the same kind of arguments and tactics themselves as a kind of self-defence mechanism.

As I concluded at the time:

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 [conservative students] 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 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.

And an “intellectual demilitarised zone” is exactly what we are now just beginning to see, with those people and groups who were traditionally the target of social justice warrior tactics now adopting the same language of victimhood and fragility in an attempt to deflect criticism of themselves and shame their accusers into dialling back their criticism.

The context in this case is that of UC Davis and the ongoing protests on that campus to force the resignation of their Chancellor, Linda Katehi. Much of the criticism of Katehi is actually justified in this case – she came to prominence for presiding over an infamous incident in 2011 where Occupy protesters were pepper sprayed by campus police, and subsequent efforts to scrub the internet of mentions of the event in the name of “online reputation management. Some of her failings are detailed in this local press report.

But the rights and wrongs of Katehi’s actions are irrelevant for the purposes of our analysis. What is if interest here is the fact that Katehi’s defenders among the university student population, faculty and administrators are now using the same language of beleaguered and bullied “victims” in an attempt to win public sympathy as well as respite from their accusers.

Jonathan Haidt comments on this phenomenon at The Atlantic:

At UC Davis, where student activists still hope to oust Chancellor Linda Katehi, critics of their activism are using concepts like “safe space” and “hostile climate” to attack it.

The student activists had occupied a small room outside Katehi’s office, planning to stay until their chancellor resigned or was removed from her post. By the time they left 36 days later, a petition that now bears roughly 100 signatures of UC Davis students and staff were demanding that they prematurely end their occupation, criticizing their tactics, and alleging a number of grave transgressions: The signatories accused the student activists of sexism, racism, bullying, abuse, and harassment, complaining that many who used the administration building “no longer feel safe.” The student activists say that those charges are unfair.

While regarding a different protest at Ohio State University, Conor Friedersdorf notes that this is not the only time that targets of a student protest have used the language and tactics of social justice warriors to plead vulnerability and seek to escape from criticism or protest:

Insofar as campus concepts like safe spaces, microaggressions, and claims of trauma over minor altercations spread from activist culture to campus culture, the powerful will inevitably make use of them. Where sensitivity to harm and subjective discomfort are king, and denying someone “a safe space” is verboten, folks standing in groups, confrontationally shouting out demands, will not fare well. When convenient, administrators will declare them scary and unfit for the safe space, exploiting how verboten it is to challenge anyone who says they feel afraid.

In cases like this one, it won’t matter that one of the least scary experiences in the world is walking into a university administration building at 7 a.m., well-rested and ready for work, to be greeted by a bunch of exhausted 18-year-old OSU students groggily looking up from the corner where they curled up with college hoodies as pillows. After years of reporting on occupations like this one, I’ve never heard of even one case of a college staff member of administrator coming away with even a scratch. Yet in the name of preserving “safe space,” these protesters were evicted.

This emergence of competitive grievance culture is only going to grow. Only last month, this blog remarked that competition between different identity groups all using the same anti free speech tactics is currently less marked on American university campuses compared to British institutions, but already it seems that the United States has caught up.

This is what our new victimhood culture has wrought. Expect to see this same scenario repeated again and again in the coming months, as those people who are traditionally the target of leftist campus activism – conservatives, university administrators and others – realise that they can “appropriate” the language and tactics of the SJWs to portray themselves as the real victims and get themselves off the hook.

As yet, the SJWs have no response to this tactic. As we have recently seen, many students indoctrinated into the Cult of Identity Politics are so terrified of putting a foot wrong themselves by saying or doing something “offensive” that their first reaction when confronted with any identity politics claim is to freeze like a deer in the headlights and then automatically accept it as valid.

According to this mindset, if a university administrator – heck, even a university Chancellor – claims that student protests and disagreement are making them feel unsafe, then it is the duty of the identity politics adherent to withdraw in deference to the fragility of the supposed victim. Thus any debate or protest, regardless of the participants, can now potentially be shut down simply by uttering the three words “I feel unsafe”.

As Jonathan Haidt notes, by using these illiberal tactics so freely and excessively, student activists have effectively created the weapon with which campus authorities may now attempt to silence them:

The civil-rights movement, the free-speech movement, the anti-Vietnam protests, and protesters on both sides of the gun and abortion questions have all deliberately tried to make others uncomfortable, intellectually if not physically. They’ve all shouted, insulted, provoked, and tried to deny their opponents “safe spaces.”

Today’s strain of campus progressivism has a more ambiguous relationship with traditional liberal values, finding them too viewpoint neutral and rough-and-tumble.

Still, most campus protests are left-leaning. And administrators cannot help but realize that almost all of that activism is, on some level, about confrontation—that it frequently involves a lot of shouting or chanting or marching or banging on drums. Now, any time such protests challenge the interests of the administration, or make their jobs marginally harder or their lives marginally more inconvenient, they can always pinpoint some folks who are earnestly upset or unnerved by all the ruckus.

They can always undermine the activists of the moment by finding the students experiencing “trauma” from all the conflict; the staff members who feel “unsafe” around protesters, the community member who, in the new paradigm, somehow feel “silenced.”

As best I can tell, this does not worry leftist activists yet, perhaps because they mostly operate on shorter time-horizons than other campus power brokers, or perhaps because they see themselves as marginalized and mistakenly believe these standards will never be applied to them, even though it’s already happening.

Haidt concludes his own analysis:

In the end, unreformed social justice activism may destroy itself.

One gets the slight impression that Haidt, despite his sterling work drawing attention to the growing illiberalism within universities, sees this as something at least partially regrettable.

This blog would regard the collapse of social justice activism under the weight of its own sanctimony – at least for as long as it is so closely intertwined with poisonous identity politics – as a great and unexpected triumph. But a prolonged stalemate with both sides using identity politics tactics to shame the other and parade their supposed victimhood in front of authorities and the observing public – with free speech rights being continuously eroded at both ends – still seems like the more likely outcome, at least in the medium term.

In short, our new victimhood culture is not going anywhere in a hurry. Therefore, those who oppose it must find other means of fighting back besides the counter-productive instinct to play the social justice warriors at their own game.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 3 – Pittsburgh Succumbs To Milo Fever

Milo Yiannopoulos - University of Pittsburgh - Free Speech - Safe Space - Identity Politics

Don’t blame conservatives or free speech advocates for endangering student mental health; blame the modern cult of Identity Politics

Latest to fall victim to the scourge of Milo Fever is the University of Pittsburgh, where a scheduled talk by the touring Milo Yiannopoulos brought some adult student protesters to the point of tears.

The university’s own Pitt News reports:

Pitt police officer Scott DuBrosky said he and the other officers working at the event escorted about 17 people — most of them students — from the event for protesting, but that no protesters gave the Pitt police any problems.

He said Pitt police anticipated the highly tense atmosphere at the event and agreed with Pitt administrators before the event to remove those who disrupted Yiannopoulos’ speech.

Pitt police did not remove about 15 students who silently held signs saying, “My friend who was raped needs a safe space,” and, “My friend who is depressed needs a safe space,” throughout the entire event.

Some students left on their own accord — a few of them sobbing.

While the Daily Caller reports on the aftermath of Yiannopoulos’s speech:

But in the aftermath of Yiannopoulos’ visit, many liberal students found themselves struggling to come to terms with an event they deemed “unsafe” and even “violent.” Hundreds of students attended a meeting of Pitt’s student government to express their distress that the event was allowed to go forward in the first place.

“I felt I was in danger, and I felt so many people in that room were in danger,” student Marcus Robinson said of the non-violent event. “This event erased the great things we’ve done … For the first time, I’m disappointed to be at Pitt.”

Robinson faulted school officials for not providing a room next door staffed with counselors that could provide emotional support for students “traumatized” or “invalidated” by Yiannopoulos’ speech.

Many students argued Yiannopoulos had engaged in “hate speech” and therefore should never have been allowed a public platform in the first place. One even said that despite the lack of any physical attacks, the event was still “real violence” against liberal students.

“This is more than hurt feelings, this is about real violence,” said student Claire Matway. “We know that the violence against marginalized groups happens every day in this country. That so many people walked out of that [event] feeling in literal physical danger is not all right.”

There is so much ridiculous in here to unpack, not least:

1. The fact that any student – and recall, these are grown adults with the right to vote and take up arms in defence of their country – should feel in “literal physical danger” as a result of opinions expressed by a guest speaker who at no point advocated or incited discrimination, let alone violence.

2. The fact that a speaker who expresses ideas which go against the prevailing Social Justice orthodoxy can, with only their words, “erase” any of the tangible things which the students may have done in pursuit of their agenda.

3. The persistent, wheedling call for academic institutions to treat their students like an overbearing parent might treat a child, with the demand for a designated safe space room and trained counsellors on standby to treat the walking wounded – mown down in their seats by a hail of wordfire which contradicted or mocked their own values – much as one might have a field hospital behind the front lines in combat, or a Red Cross tent at a music festival.

4. The notion that anybody can be “invalidated” – essentially made to disappear in a puff of smoke, as though they never existed – by the words of another human being.

5. The hysterical and frankly insulting conflation of “violence against marginalized groups [which] happens every day in this country” with the fact that a group of privileged students chose to attend an event at which they heard ideas and opinions contrary to their own. And the supremely self-regarding notion that having one’s views challenged places one on the same spectrum of suffering and injustice as (say) Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown.

There is a real problem – manifesting mostly on American college campuses but creeping inexorably across the Atlantic to infect British universities, too – of young and impressionable students drinking so deeply from the well of Identity Politics and Social Justice that they are in genuine danger of doing themselves real, self-inflicted mental and emotional damage.

I’ve been reading and researching these phenomena for many months now, and I no longer doubt that in their minds, many of these students genuinely believe that by hearing a contrary opinion or a less-than-affirming remark about their life choices, they are incurring real, physical and mental harm.

(Though it is also plainly apparent that many of the more wily students know this Identity Politics scam and “mental safety” trope to be complete hogwash, but nonetheless embrace it as a means of exercising power over their peers and supposed academic supervisors).

But I’ll now readily concede that for many of these infantilised students who are reduced to tears by a voluntarily-attended, non-violent talk by Milo Yiannopolous, they have indeed incurred a trauma of some kind. Though it may seen completely absurd and hysterical to a normal person, to them it is profoundly real. I will accept that much. We only differ as to the cause of this sudden mass vulnerability, and the proper remedy.

They say ban speakers like Milo Yiannopolous and prohibit the things that they say from being spoken aloud on campus, essentially elevating certain people and ideas above debate and criticism. I say that they need to stop doing the thing which is making them – grown adults! – so vulnerable to speech and writing which contradicts their dogma in the first place.

And what makes them so vulnerable is the incessant and obligatory dividing up of student bodies by race and gender and sexuality, and forcibly separating this group of equal students into an artificial hierarchy of privilege and oppression which exists more in their minds than their lived experience on campus. What makes them vulnerable is the false notion that the social justice causes for which they campaign in wider society are anywhere near as prevalent or serious within their cloistered college campuses, when this is manifestly not true.

Take the example of the students of Silliman College at Yale University who were apparently seriously considering transferring away from one of the best universities in the world because they felt that their college Master was not treating them sufficiently like an overbearing parent by dictating which Halloween costumes were permissible for them to wear and which should be banned for being offensive.

As Conor Friedersdorf noted at The Atlantic, these students were blessed to be studying not only at one of the world’s premier academic institutions, but within surroundings of almost unparalleled luxury – including two Steinway grand pianos, a film editing lab and an art gallery for student use – which are utterly unimaginable for millions of people for whom the chance to study at even the lowest-rated and most ramshackle of higher education institutions is nothing but a distant dream.

That’s not to say that instances of racism, sexism, rape and assault do not take place on college campuses, and that it is terrible when they do. But today’s student activists have lost all sense of perspective. For many of them, hearing any narrative which differs in any way from the progressive Identity Politics interpretation of the world in which they marinate is now just as bad as being the victim of a physical or mental assault.

And we should no longer doubt them at their word. Anybody who is able to work themselves into a tearful tizzy at the sight and sound of Milo Yiannopoulos, perceiving themselves to be in “literal physical danger” at his presence on their university campus, clearly is acutely mentally vulnerable in some way.

But this vulnerability is utterly self-inflicted, and is entirely a consequence of the victim having delved so deep into the cult of Identity Politics now peddled on campus, and Tumblr-style Social Justice culture beyond, that any sense of perspective or capacity for rational thought is completely destroyed.

And for their own sake and ours, these fragile people need to leave their places of academic instruction and return home to their parents, because frankly, they are starting to create a very unproductive – if not yet unsafe – space indeed for those students who went to university naively expecting that they would be attending a place of learning and intellectual debate.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

Top Image: The Pitt News – “Conservatism and controversy: Milo Yiannopoulos speaks at Pitt

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