Tales From The Safe Space, Part 36 – Michael Bloomberg’s University Of Michigan Commencement Address

Michael Bloomberg delivers a college commencement speech worth hearing

While it is true that a generation of university students – the product of our therapeutic culture and “you can’t say that” attitude to political debate – is now being indoctrinated into the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics with alarmingly little resistance from the educational establishment, there is at least one graduating class which has been sent out into the world with a rather more inspiring (and small-L liberal) message ringing in their ears.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was invited to address the University of Michigan’s graduating class of 2016, and from the first word of his speech he tore into the culture of safe spaces, trigger warnings and all of the other illiberal symptoms of this new orthodoxy.

From Bloomberg’s speech:

The most useful knowledge that you leave here with today has nothing to do with your major. It’s about how to study, cooperate, listen carefully, think critically and resolve conflicts through reason. Those are the most important skills in the working world, and it’s why colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas.

The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through “safe spaces,” “code words” and “trigger warnings” is, in my view, a terrible mistake.

The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them. A microaggression is exactly that: micro. And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.

We can’t do this, and we shouldn’t try — not in politics or in the workplace. In the global economy, and in a democratic society, an open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess.

Think about the global economy. For the first time in human history, the majority of people in the developed world are being asked to make a living with their minds, rather than their muscles. For 3,000 years, humankind had an economy based on farming: Till the soil, plant the seed, harvest the crop. It was hard to do, but fairly easy to learn. Then, for 300 years, we had an economy based on industry: Mold the parts, turn the crank, assemble the product. This was hard to do, but also fairly easy to learn.

Now, we have an economy based on information: Acquire the knowledge, apply the analytics and use your creativity. This is hard to do and hard to learn, and even once you’ve mastered it, you have to start learning all over again, pretty much every day.

Keeping an open mind to new ideas is essential to your professional success — just as it’s crucial to our collective future as a democratic society.

Note the loud booing quickly drowned out by cheering when Bloomberg talks about the inherent intellectual and academic danger of a “safe space” – while his remarks were warmly received, there is clearly a very vocal group of students who did not want to hear this message, and who will step forth from the University of Michigan with very warped views about how political debate (and even ordinary interpersonal relationships) should be conducted.

Bloomberg then turns his attention to the presidential race and the state of American democracy in general:

Democracy in action can actually produce a lot of inaction, which we see every day in Washington and other levels of government, too. When governments fail to address the needs of the people, voters in both parties get angry and some politicians exploit that anger by offering scapegoats instead of solutions.

If we want to stop demagogues, we have to start governing again, and that requires us to be more civil, to support politicians who have the courage to take risks, and to reward those who reach across the aisle in search of compromise.

Here, Bloomberg is almost channelling Andrew Sullivan, who makes his incredibly welcome and sorely needed return to political commentary in the New York magazine with these words:

An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.

(I’ll be blogging a response to Andrew Sullivan’s piece separately in due course).

Bloomberg closes with this warning:

Think about this: In 1960, only 4 to 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they would be upset if a member of their family married someone from the opposing party. In 2010, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans said they would disapprove of such a marriage. In 1960, most people would never have believed that interparty marriage would attract such resistance, while interracial and same-sex marriage would gain such acceptance.

For all the progress we have made on cultural tolerance, when it comes to political tolerance, we are moving in the wrong direction — at campaign rallies that turn violent, on social media threads that turn vitriolic, and on college campuses, where students and faculty have attempted to censor political opponents.

As durable as the American system of government has been, democracy is fragile — and demagogues are always lurking. Stopping them starts with placing a premium on open minds, voting, and demanding that politicians offer practical solutions, not scapegoats or pie-in-the-sky promises.

This is a message which many students will not want to hear, but which needs to be transmitted nonetheless – and not only by commencement speakers, refreshing though it is to hear the likes of Bloomberg take up the cause.

University administrators and professors must also absorb and embrace this message and change the way they approach issues of free speech and academic freedom, for while they are not entirely responsible for the censorious and emotionally fragile nature of new students entering their institutions, they do represent the last and best hope of turning those students into robust and resilient young citizens by the time they graduate.

Michael Bloomberg delivering a crowd-riling, viral-ready commencement speech just as students are about to graduate cannot be our only firewall against the onslaught of this new illiberal movement. We must erect meaningful defences and interventions much earlier in the learning process – rather than simply bowing to the excessive demands and exaggerated sensibilities of perpetually offended students – if we wish to prevent our workplaces and government from going the same way as our university campuses.


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Yoga Banned: Cultural Appropriation Zealots Are Creating A New Apartheid

Cultural Appropriation - Can I Wear A Bindi

Today’s virtue-signalling, totalitarian student activists will stop at nothing to let everyone know just how enlightened and considerate they think they are, and how backward and oppressive they consider the rest of us to be

If you haven’t heard the term “cultural appropriation” before, you can expect to hear it a lot over the next few years. And if you have the misfortune of living anywhere near a university campus, you may even hear it shouted in your face by a raucous student protester, high on their own self-importance.

In fact, even if you’re not committing the modern day sin of cultural appropriation right now, you are almost certainly guilty of doing it at some point over the past twenty-four hours. Go and do your penance now. I’ll wait.

Cultural appropriation is the latest verbal weapon used by virtue-signalling lefty student activists – snivelling Millennial egotists who arrived at university only to find the worst oppression and discrimination already vanquished by previous generations, and who are now desperately casting around for a new cause to justify their Chinese-manufactured Che Guevara t-shirts.

Let’s put it like this: are you a white person who likes rap music, or who (heaven forfend) listens to music by white rappers from Eminem to Iggy Azelea? Then you’re a white supremacist cultural appropriator. By appreciating or assimilating something from outside of your own ethnic community, you have plundered the culture of your downtrodden minority friends and neighbours, making light of their most sacred and noble traditions for your own carefree amusement. Didn’t realise that’s what you were doing? Doesn’t matter, you’re still guilty.

Or maybe you really fell in love with Thai cuisine when you were on that round-the-world trip, and now you love to cook Thai-inspired meals at home, with your non-Thai hands, in your non-Thai kitchen, for your non-Thai friends. That’s cultural appropriation too. Shame on you. If you are a white American you should subsist entirely on cheeseburgers, barbecue and other culturally appropriate fare. God help you if you’re a Cockney but not mad for jellied eels.

Stay away from that lasagne if you’re from Idaho or Utah – can’t you see how eating pasta belittles and marginalises Italian Americans? And as for ordering Kung Pao chicken from your favourite Chinese takeout, why don’t you just start reading aloud from Mein Kampf in the town square, you nasty little fascist? Clearly you have no feeling for the mental safety of Asian Americans, who might feel mocked and excluded by your thoughtless foodcrime.

You get the idea. Before doing anything, first get out your Hierarchy of Privilege and remind yourself exactly where you fit on the Spectrum of Oppression. White and male? Tough luck, you can sample only from those other white, male cultural pursuits. Black, disabled and of undefined gender and sexuality? Then the world is your oyster – at least in the surreal world of academia.

Cultural Appropriation - Fourth Wave Feminism.jpg


And now the Stepford Students are coming to take away your Yoga classes, because chances are you aren’t from India – and therefore you are guilty of the cultural appropriation of Indian culture.

From Brendan O’Neill’s weary report in The Spectator:

Just when you thought uptight, fun-dodging, thought-policing millennials couldn’t get any worse, they go and brand yoga as racist. Apparently, when white people bend themselves bonkers while humming or thinking happy-clappy thoughts, they’re not only being self-punishing saps: they are also ‘culturally appropriating’ a practice that has ‘roots in Indian culture’.

That’s according to student leaders at the University of Ottawa, who put pressure on a yoga teacher at the uni’s Centre for Students with Disabilities to call off her yoga classes. She was told ‘there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice’. In these people’s minds, in which the Offence-Seeking Antenna is forever turned to High, a white person doing yoga is not that different to a white person donning blackface and singing ‘Mammy’.

O’Neill goes on to point out:

The PC rage against cultural appropriation is ultimately a demand for cultural segregation, for black people, white people, Latinos, gay people, women and every other racial, gender or sexual group to stick with their own culture and people and not allow themselves to be diluted by outsiders.

Gay men have been condemned by the National Union of Students for ‘appropriating black female culture’. Barmy NUS officials think it’s the height of racism for a gay guy to talk about having an ‘inner black woman’. The irony being that it’s hard to think of anything more racist, or at least racially divisive, than the ideology of cultural appropriation: its obsession with cultural purity echoes some of the darkest political movements of the twentieth century.

It’s easy to dismiss these incidents as merely a case of a few activists getting a bit too carried away, or going a bit too far. But incidents such as these are happening more  and more often, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Whether it is British students shutting down a debate about abortion and trying to get Germaine Greer banned from campus, or pampered Yale students insisting that the point of university is not to learn but rather to feel warm and snuggly, these stories are becoming more extreme, more frequent and ever more ludicrous to the uninitiated.

This is in large part because the authorities – university chancellors, society presidents and anyone else called upon to be an auxiliary parent to these toddlers-with-diplomas – too often reward this hysterical behaviour by apologising for offending the Stepford Students and giving in to every one of their tyrannical demands. Which then encourages the next crop of baby-faced tyrants to make even more outrageous demands in the name of creating a “safe space”.

With their accusations of “cultural appropriation” and unquestioning embrace of the politics of identity, these student activists are starting to create a New Apartheid – on their university campuses and in their hermetically sealed social circles of likeminded social justice warriors. Their overriding concern with protecting the “purity” of various minority cultures resembles nothing so much as the anti-miscegenation laws of the last century. And all of this they do without a hint of irony.

These students are nothing so much as High Priests of the Politics of Identity. Like other clergy before them, they derive their power from claiming the exclusive ability to speak on behalf of their secular god and telling the rest of us what we must believe and say. But in place of stoning or crucifixion being the penalty for blasphemy we now have new, modern shamings carried out on social media.

In a famous scene from Aaron Sorkin’s show The Newsroom, the lead character described the American Tea Party – with their intolerance of dissent and insistence on ideological purity – as being like an American Taliban. But I wonder if the real progressive Taliban can’t actually be found on our university campuses, in our student union bars and in the front row of your nearest anti-austerity rally, shouting “Tory Scum!” at terrified old ladies.

If we let these fragile young tyrants win, we will eventually all be ghettoised, forced to keep strictly to our own “communities” (community being defined strictly by racial or religious criteria) and only allowed to engage with other people in the controlled environment of “safe spaces“, where our speech and behaviour is micromanaged to ensure that we do not “trigger” anybody else with the problematic “microaggression” of our mere presence.

Yes, there is a dangerous radicalisation process taking place on our university campuses today. But deluded young radicals are not only rallying to the black flag of ISIS – we should also mark those who drink so deep from the well of Social Justice that they would make us all slaves to their cause.


Yoga - Cultural Appropriation

Top Image: Northmont Surge

Middle Image: 4th Wave Feminism

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