Home/Rod Dreher/Balkanized America

Balkanized America

A reader comments on the thread about the SJWs trying to get their KU Professor fired for crimethink in class:

I find myself turning more and more inward — toward my home, family, church — and less and less on public discourse.

Of course. Me too. This is the America that the Social Justice Warriors and their allies in the Establishment (especially media and academia) have created: a Balkanized polity where nobody trusts anybody who is not like them.

You would have to be an absolute fool, or in a position not to care, to be a white person who voiced a non-left opinion about race, sex, gender, or homosexuality these days. Last month, I communicated with a nationally prominent liberal professor who teaches at a prestigious institution, who said that he is extremely careful what he dares to say in class and anywhere on campus, for fear that some student, somewhere, will consider it a microaggression, and file charges against him. Even groundless charges that are ultimately dismissed can consume a professor’s life, and severely damage his career. In a flash this fall, we have seen university after university taken over by fanatics who despise freedom of speech and thought — the core of a university education — and who have learned that the power elite within those communities are paper tigers who can be intimidated into giving them whatever they demand, or close to it.

It has not yet occurred to these weak and unprincipled leaders that the protesters possess the dead-end politics of Ta-Nehisi Coates: construing the problem in such a way as to deny the possibility of any kind of solution. As I pointed out in my blog post on the book, Coates holds that the only reasonable path for black people in America is to quit believing in Dr. King’s vision (“The changes have awarded me a rapture that comes only when you can no longer be lied to, when you have rejected the Dream”). Actually, I’m probably wrong about that: they almost certainly agree with Coates’s politics. Coates just won the National Book Award, a sure sign that his views have been embraced by the Establishment. What the events of this autumn are teaching the rest of us is that universities are ceasing to be places of open debate, and “safe spaces” for anybody who holds the “wrong” beliefs, especially if one is white, male, and/or heterosexual.

I want to draw your attention to this passage from the “open letter” the KU grad students wrote to demand the firing of their teacher:

The response that more dialogue is needed to resolve this problem is insufficient to redress our claim that the space of dialogue is coded through terror and hostility. The belief that democratic deliberation is neutral is wrong and dangerous. We appreciate the IOA’s commitment to “students’ ability to file complaints and have their voice heard without fear of retaliation.” What is needed now is action upon those complaints. Do not allow the guise of free speech to be invoked and crowd out our demand — legal precedent indicates that Dr. Quenette’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

Free speech, democratic deliberation — none of it matters, because it is a potential obstacle to the radicalized students getting what they demand. Understand what’s at stake here: nothing less than the destruction of university education.

When I went to college in the 1980s, I found it thrilling to have my beliefs challenged in class, and outside of class. I learned how to analyze and to argue. This is a core part of education! And yet, these left-wing militants want to destroy the ability of all students to have that kind of opportunity, by driving any faculty who disagree out of the university, or silencing them. The poison of cultural leftism is destroying universities. It’s bad enough that this happens at any university, but for it to happen at public universities, like Mizzou and KU — that’s even more disturbing, and telling.

What these students and their supporters on faculties and university administrations are doing is destroying the possibility of a public, of the common good. To them, there is no such thing as the common good; there is only power. And so far, they have met no resistance.  This movement and the mentality behind it is exacerbating the fractures that exist in America today, driving people apart and into private life as the only reliable “safe space” available to them. When a professor faces career ruin because of some mildly controversial things she said in class, it is reasonable to wonder if the public university is safe for free expression and free inquiry. If the faculty of KU had any sense, it would threaten a campus-wide strike in support of Prof. Quenette; their own academic freedom requires it. But they may end up doing what Quenette’s own department is doing: endorsing the radicals’ demands, either because they agree with them, or because they are too afraid of their own children to object.

And when the radicals come for them next year, there will be nobody left to speak out for them.

Here is a comment that someone left on the first KU thread on this blog:

I’m an alumnus of the graduate program in question. I’ve been in touch this past week with graduate students in the department and have tried to get some info from my professors, but the latter are maintaining a pretty strict radio silence (understandably). From what I can tell, no one expects Dr. Quenette to survive this. The campus radicals have been calling for the chancellor to resign (a black woman, by the way) because of some perceived failure to combat the usual litany of problems (real and otherwise).

I was in the department when Dr. Quenette was hired, and she is a wonderful and kind person. Her kids are adorable. She’s a good presence in the building. It’s incredible that she may be fired for using a racial slur in a discussion about racial slurs and racial incidents. I don’t know any of the students who wrote that shallow and vile letter, but if they cannot distinguish between hateful language and a discussion about hateful language, then I’m embarrassed to have been admitted to the same program as them.

The Coms program at KU is among the nation’s oldest and probably among the five most highly regarded in the country. And that is precisely why she will probably be fired. If she isn’t, it will decimate an already underfunded department (like many places, KU is shifting virtually every resource into engineering and medicine). What graduate students will come to the place that kept a “racist” professor? What prospective faculty members will want to join? What grant funding would come our way if this woman is not ejected from the “safe, inclusive environment”?

The most disgusting and deplorable part of this entire story is that the precious students demanded Dr. Quenette read aloud in class the letter calling for her own termination. Have these students never read about the Soviet show trials? The forced guillotine-platform confessions?

There is a new kind of intellectual tyranny spreading on campuses, and any of us who care about traditional conservatism need to care about it. The idea starts on campus but will spread through society. Things that we hold dear — tradition, faith, community — will be denounced as racist, bigoted, irrational, and so on, and will be deemed unworthy of expression and thus prohibited. When Rod says “they are coming for us,” he is not being hyperbolic. As an academic, I can vouch for this. They are not just coming; they are here. You can say, “Oh, I’m not a professor, this doesn’t affect me.” I promise you that if you are a believer, a traditionalist, or even just slightly skeptical of the Willed-Self project, then they are coming for you next. “Silence is Violence” is their mantra. If you do not declare fealty to them, they will destroy your career, your reputation, and, eventually, intellectual freedom.

We will see if conservatives and (more importantly) traditional liberals have the courage and foresight to fight back. The thing that most concerns me is that campus radicals are operating from premises that are already accepted within the liberal Establishment; they are just taking them one or two steps further.

Take the discipline situation at Los Angeles public schools, as reported by the L.A. Times. It’s a relatively small example, but a consequential one:

It’s another day of disruption on this campus in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has been nationally hailed by the White House and others for its leadership in promoting more progressive school-discipline policies. The nation’s second-largest school system was the first in California to ban suspensions for defiance and announced plans to roll out an alternative known as restorative justice, which seeks to resolve conflicts through talking circles and other methods to build trust.

The shift has brought dramatic changes: Suspensions districtwide plummeted to 0.55% last school year compared with 8% in 2007-08, and days lost to suspension also plunged, to 5,024 from 75,000 during that same period, according to the most recent data.

The district moved to ban suspensions amid national concern that they imperil academic achievement and disproportionately affect minorities, particularly African Americans.

But many teachers say their classrooms are reeling from unruly students who are escaping consequences for their actions.



“My teachers are at their breaking point,” Art Lopez, the school’s union representative, wrote to union official Colleen Schwab in a letter obtained by The Times. “Everyone working here is highly aware of how the lack of consequences has affected the site. Teachers with a high number of students with discipline issues are walking a fine line between extreme stress and a emotional meltdown.”

Lopez wrote that many teachers felt that administrators were pushing the burden of discipline onto instructors because they can no longer suspend unruly students and lack the staff to handle them outside the classroom. Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which represents principals and others, declined to comment.

Michael Lam, an eighth-grade math teacher, said he has seen an increase in student belligerence under new discipline policies.

“Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?” he said, speaking at a recent forum held as part of the process to select the next superintendent of schools. “I’m afraid our standards are getting lower and lower.”

In Los Angeles, because a significant number of black students cannot control themselves in class, teachers are made to suffer, and so are all the students — black, white, Asian, whatever — who are there to get an education. Naturally, the liberal backers of this scheme tell the Times that there’s nothing wrong with it that more bureaucracy won’t fix. In the meantime, those parents that can afford to withdraw their kids from public schools in Los Angeles, either by putting them in private education or by moving to a different school district, will do so, because they can plainly see that the institution does not have the vision or the courage to defend itself against those who would tear it down.

So people withdraw into the private sphere for education, as they will withdraw ever more into the private sphere across the board. Again and again, MacIntyre saw it all coming. A society where people lack core shared convictions cannot hold together. In the last decade, the liberal Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam discovered an inconvenient truth: that diversity is not always our strength, but in some ways our weakness. From a Boston Globe essay about it:

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

“The extent of the effect is shocking,” says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.

The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm large-scale immigration causes to the nation’s social fabric. But with demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling social changes that Putnam’s research predicts.

“We can’t ignore the findings,” says Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “The big question we have to ask ourselves is, what do we do about it; what are the next steps?”

Putnam says he tried to re-examine the data from all sides, because he didn’t want to accept the conclusion:

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes.

In documenting that hunkering down, Putnam challenged the two dominant schools of thought on ethnic and racial diversity, the “contact” theory and the “conflict” theory. Under the contact theory, more time spent with those of other backgrounds leads to greater understanding and harmony between groups. Under the conflict theory, that proximity produces tension and discord.

Putnam’s findings reject both theories. In more diverse communities, he says, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group.

“Diversity, at least in the short run,” he writes, “seems to bring out the turtle in all of us.”

Sure it does, because diversity forces us to confront difference constantly, and that makes all of us anxious, no matter what our tribe is. The way to ameliorate that natural anxiety is to move within a social framework that allows people to express differences of opinion without opening themselves up to strong attack. That requires grace on both sides: people who express a particular opinion have to allow for the fact that they might be wrong, and must be willing and able to have their mind changed; people who hear that opinion expressed must be willing and able to allow the Other to express that opinion without being denounced as a heretic, and having to fear for his own safety or security.

In my life, and in my travels, I have greatly benefited from being around people who are not like me — people who have challenged my way of thinking and seeing and moving in the world, and changed my mind. In every single case, my mind has been changed by people different from me who gave me the benefit of the doubt, assuming that I had a good heart, and was willing to listen. And I opened up to them because I assumed that they too had good hearts, and were willing to listen to me, with respect. “Diverse” friends like that have been a blessing to me.

But when “diversity” is seen as a threat, everything changes. On campuses, we see that holding opinions that diverge from SJW dogma is considered by SJWs to be a threat that must be extinguished by force. SJWs have shown that liberal authorities have no courage to stand up to their bullying. I have every expectation that the spinelessness shown by university administrators finds its analogue in corporate America.

It’s not likely to get better anytime soon. Look at the results of a new Pew survey measuring attitudes towards free speech, as reported in the WaPo. Says the Post:

Pew asked various groups of people whether or not it was appropriate for the government to intervene to censor offensive comments about minority groups. In the United States, no two groups were more sympathetic to letting the government do so than millennials (defined here as those aged 18 to 34) and non-whites.

Now do you see where the SJWs at KU are coming from with their claim that “democratic deliberation” is a sham, and that “free speech” should not be allowed to stand in the way of satisfying their demands?

Will the unwinding be arrested? Will conservatives and traditional liberals find it within themselves to stand up to this tyranny of the cultural left? I hope so, but I’m pessimistic. I could be wrong, but my sense now is that the best conservatives and traditionalists can hope for is for our political leaders and judges to protect under law the private realm. That is why it is important to vote for politicians who believe in the private realm — and why the most sensible thing for traditional conservatives to do in most cases may be to vote libertarian. But this does nothing to bolster the public realm or the sense of the common good.

To be fair to the SJWs, if what they believe constitutes a just political and moral order is true, then there is no place for people like me in it. I do not share — and in fact reject — some principles they see as non-negotiable. Similarly, if what I believe is true, then they have no place at the table, because they do not share the basic beliefs necessary to form a cohesive society, as I see it. Note well that this is not a dispute over the interpretation of shared beliefs, but a confrontation between fundamentally irreconcilable beliefs. At the most basic level, we are not part of the same society, but rather are people who happen to dwell in the same polity. They have and are gaining power now in most of the key institutions of this society. I hope there is an equal and opposite reaction that restores order to these institutions. I am pessimistic about that, but hope to be proven wrong. The authority of those institutions (versus their power) is dissolving. As Philip Rieff said, when institutions cease to be able to transmit their core values to the next generation, they decline. By caving in to the SJWs, universities are failing to defend, much less transmit, their core values to young people. Ideas have consequences.

In any case, this is one reason why we need the Benedict Option: we traditional Christians have to be able to remember who we are in a time of mass forgetting, and to be able to band together to support each other through what’s to come. People like us will, I fear, be cast out of universities. Where will they go? What will they do? Who will help you when they come for you, or deny you the right to work?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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