The Culture of Coddling
Here’s a good interview with Jonathan Haidt, the NYU social psychologist who co-founded the great Heterodox Academy website to combat bias in higher education. Haidt, as you may know, is a secular liberal, but he objects strongly to the prejudices within the academy against religious believers and conservatives. I found this Haidt comment stunning:
I would not want to lead a conversation on this topic [political correctness] with students here at NYU. Not because NYU is more PC than other top schools—it’s not. But professors are much safer these days speaking at other campuses than on their own because it’s only on your own campus that students are going to file harassment charges and drag you before the Equal Opportunity Commission if you say one word that offends someone. So I must heavily self-censor when I speak on my home campus. I can be more provocative and honest when I’m speaking at other schools.
So one of the best-known professors on the NYU campus cannot speak his mind out of fear that his students will drag him before a federal agency. That is terrifying. More:
If you try to reach students when they get to college it’s already too late. . . . As we say in the essay, childhood changed in 80s and 90s, there was much more protectiveness, there were new zero tolerance policies on bullying, which was fine when bullying was linked to physical aggression and to repeated actions. But bullying has gotten defined down over the last twenty years. There’s no longer a connection to physical violence, it no longer requires repetition, and it no longer requires intent. If someone feels excluded or marginalized by a single event, they have been bullied, and there’s zero tolerance for that. So that’s the way kids are socialized by the time they arrive in college. . .[Emphasis mine — RD]
For years I’ve been saying that this is exactly the strategy that GLSEN, the gay rights group, has pursued in schools: taking the laudable and necessary cause of anti-bullying, and using it as a wedge to silence perspectives contrary to their own — all in the name of “safety.” Because words are like weapons.
One more excerpt from the interview:
Worse. It’s going to get much, much worse over the next couple years and at that point some universities may start changing policies. By that point, many or maybe most American parents won’t want to send their children to the top universities, and there will be an enormous market opportunity for second-level universities that offer a much less coddled campus culture.
I think colleges and universities that market themselves as places where there is no coddling, and where they treat college like college, not a left-liberal Romper Room for aggrieved man-children, are going to find surprising success. After the things we’ve seen in the past few weeks, there’s no way I would send my children to some of these schools, no matter how good their reputation is. I don’t want my kids to be socialized into silence and intellectual incuriosity out of fear of the politically correct, and faculties and administrations who lack the courage and the integrity to stand up to them.
Along those lines, Jane Clark Scharl says that this is very far from a “college kids just being college kids” problem, but has far-reaching consequences — and it derives from a deep crisis about the nature of reality and the human person. Excerpt:
“Safe spaces” attempt to reduce public discourse to self-admiring yes-fests that ban disagreement or critiques that could potentially hurt someone’s feelings. It’s hard to take them seriously because of their obvious ideological discrimination, but take them seriously we must, for what is accepted on the university campus tends to become accepted by society as a whole.
Lest anyone think this is an overly dramatic assessment of the situation, consider the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive (ETD), which would allow business owners to be sued by anyone who feels discriminated against. Ever worse is that “the burden of proof must shift back to the [accused] when evidence of such discrimination is brought.” The ETD document does not define “discrimination” but implies that having one’s feelings hurt counts. So if a business owner hurts someone’s feelings, he is guilty of discrimination until proven innocent. Essentially the ETD would make the entire EU a “safe space.” It is just one nation’s approval away from being enacted as law in all twenty-eight EU states (Germany has expressed concerns about its economic ramifications).
But why are people so sensitive? Why do college students flee from anything that doesn’t affirm what they already believe, and why does the EU’s proposed discrimination laws start with an assumption of guilt? The problem is more than educational or political—it’s metaphysical. “Safe spaces” reveal a seismic shift in our understanding of the West’s foundational idea: ironically, the dignity of the individual human being.
Read the whole thing to see her case. I tell you, what this kind of thing does is make it far, far less likely that people will take the risk of befriending, or hiring, someone who is different from themselves. When the Sacred Victim™ has the power to destroy your business or career because of something he feels about you, trust is impossible. Who can afford to be open to diversity when it puts you at risk of personal or professional destruction?