‘Bye, Christakises, Said The Greengrocer
I read in Conor Friedersdorf’s post that controversial Yale academic couple Nicholas and Erika Christakis have stepped down from their roles as faculty-in-residence at Silliman College within the university. Mrs. Christakis has already resigned her academic position at Yale; her husband will stay on faculty. All this as the final result of those privileged crybaby students, supported by some faculty, throwing a vicious fit because Erika Christakis suggested in an e-mail that maybe the Yale administration shouldn’t be telling students what kind of costumes they shouldn’t wear on Halloween.
Read Conor’s post for the full recap of those disgraceful events of last fall. Here’s some additional reflection by him:
At Yale, I encountered students and faculty members who supported the Christakises but refused to say so on the record, and others who criticized them, but only anonymously. On both sides, people with perfectly mainstream opinions shared them with a journalist but declined to put their name behind them due to a campus climate where anyone could conceivably be the next object of ire and public shaming. Insufficient tolerance for disagreement is undermining campus discourse.
Off campus, many pundits published misrepresentations of Christakis’s email in the press. Without extraordinary support from colleagues or a change of heart among activists, some of whom vilified the couple out of solidarity rather than conviction, staying in residential life—which they could have chosen to do—would have assured ongoing conflict, further efforts to force their resignation, and more distractions from their scholarship. “At Silliman College’s graduation ceremony,” the Yale Daily News reported, “some students refused to accept their diplomas from Nicholas Christakis.” Why put yourself through treatment like that?
On the other hand, their resignations all but assure that others at Yale will regard surviving a speech controversy as less viable and curtail their intellectual engagement.
When Yale’s history is written, they should be regarded as collateral damage harmed by people who abstracted away their humanity. Yale activists felt failed by their institution and took out their frustration on two undeserving scapegoats who had only recently arrived there. Students who profess a belief in the importance of feeling safe at home marched on their house, scrawled angry messages in chalk beneath their bedroom window, hurled shouted insults and epithets, called for their jobs, and refused to shake their hands even months later, all over one email. And the couple’s ultimate resignation does nothing to improve campus climate.
What a waste.
I don’t blame the Christakises. I would have shaken the dust off my feet and left such a disgraced university. When an institution of Yale’s stature capitulates and allows immature radicalized students to treat its faculty and staff this way, and to drive them out of campus, it shames itself, and creates a demoralizing atmosphere for faculty and students who want to get an actual education unhampered by Two-Minute Hates staged by Social Justice Warriors.
In his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless,” then-dissident Vaclav Havel captured Yale’s mentality in his character of the greengrocer under communism:
The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.
Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?
Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe.
I think Yale — and every other university that capitulated, and threw its honor at the mob to appease it — behaved the way it did not because it had to, but because it felt compelled to disgrace itself to live up to the campus left ideology it believes in, or pretends to believe in.
“It’s certainly true that a lot of law firms will not now hire people who worked on cases defending those on the traditional marriage side. It’s going to close some professional doors. I certainly wouldn’t write about this stuff in my work, not if I wanted to have a chance at tenure. There’s a question among Christian law professors right now: do you write about these issues and risk tenure? This really does distort your scholarship. Christianity could make a distinct contribution to legal discussions, but it’s simply too risky to say what you really think.”
The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.
“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”
“What happened to Brendan Eich” — the tech giant who was driven out of Mozilla for having made a small donation years earlier to the Prop 8 campaign — “is going to start happening to a lot of people, and Christians had better be ready for it. The question I keep thinking about is, why would we want to do that to people? But that’s where we are now.”
What the Christakises did to offend the SJWs had nothing to do with Christianity. But the mentality that causes a professor to live in the closet as a Christian is the same one that drove out the Christakises. A week or so ago I reached out to a college professor to ask him a perfectly ordinary science question — not social science; science — related to his work, but that touched on homosexuality and culture. He declined, saying that he doesn’t dare say a thing about race or sex or gender, because he has a family to support. That floored me. The question I asked was anodyne, but he was afraid to say anything not required of him on the subject, because the risk that even an innocent statement could blow up into a career-destroying debacle.
The whole thing is so demoralizing. But then, that’s exactly what the SJWs want to happen. Shoot two Christakises, teach a thousand. Sooner or later, though, faculty members are going to start taking stands for truth, quit kowtowing to this crap, and demanding that their employers find a spine. One of these days, some campus leader at a major university is going to refuse to hang the sign in his window to avoid trouble. That day is probably far off, but it cannot come soon enough.