September 14, 2015
By Rory Touhig
So here’s a fun story - Christian students are refusing to read a book set by their university because it is pornographic and full of the gay. I don’t blame them, and it looks boring as all hell. It’s an interesting case though, because it shows that they’re learning. Campus conservatives have begun to take up identity politics, and they are working straight out of the Social Justice 101 playbook:
“The Bechdel book is bad, so let’s refuse to read it.”
We can phrase the issue a couple of different ways.
If you’re in favour of it - the students may be triggered by the themes involved, reading the book may make them feel threatened and cause them harm.
If you’re not in favour of it - the students are closing their minds to opposing points of view, creating a cosseted bubble to hide from the real world and defeating the moral purpose of education.
The object level issue here, students refusing to read a particular book they disagree with, can thus be generalised - should students be forced to expose themselves to viewpoints which challenge their Weltanschauung?
We may expect those arguing either side of the argument to apply their point of view generally. This doesn’t seem to be the case though. Most of those on the Left criticising the Christian students elsewhere defend no platforming, demand trigger warnings, and scare cowardly professors away from addressing contentious subjects in class. Likewise, most of the conservatives opposed to asking students to read Leftist propaganda seem to oppose these moves towards sensitivity in other areas.
The broader principle on all sides, therefore, looks an awful lot like ‘everyone else should have to engage with my views but I shouldn’t be forced to engage with theirs’. Alternatively ‘the other tribe are morally corrupt, harmful to society and need to be stopped’ or simply ‘outgroup = bad’. It is a bait and switch designed for public respectability. Nobody actually cares about the questions of free speech and public debate. It’s just a culture war.
Mainstream liberals complaining that kids today are too sensitive are a very long way from the mark. Trigger warnings aren’t about mental health; they’re a gang tag. This is brutal power politics and they’re kicking your ass. How on earth will these gender studies students who spent the last 4 years learning to manipulate each other for status and control adapt to the corporate world?
Perhaps because across society both religions are currently pretty well matched, neither Christians nor progressives have the power to use the force of the state on the other, and so these aren’t traditional freedom of expression questions. Instead they follow the doctrine of xkcd 1357. Everyone thinks everyone else is an asshole and wants to show them the door.
The equilibrium that settles is everyone shunning the other side, and talking only among their own kind. This affects what we can consider a marketplace of ideas. There isn’t necessarily a general threat to certain viewpoints, but they are not expressed in a shared forum. Think instead of a ‘collection of shops scattered around the outside of a piazza’ of ideas.
Even GamerGate, for all its participants claims to represent robust public debate in the face of the SJW menace, were ultimately endorsing this disintegration of combined space. Video games for many low status young men were a way of retreating from the world, but as they became a more and more lucrative business, others moved into the territory. This led to the sort of criticism, feminist or otherwise, that occurs in any public forum. The gamers didn’t like this, wanting a return to the old days when their space was theirs alone. Just like any other war, it was ultimately about territory, only territory controlled by a memeplex rather than by any particular ruler.
To apply these concepts even more generally, we can look at the question of immigration. Though ‘multiculturalism’ has become synonymous with ethnic diversity, we can instead contrast it to policies designed to promote integration. Should different groups of people sharing the same space keep themselves to themselves, and maintain their own customs and culture; or should we endorse more of a melting pot, with many cultures integrating with the dominant one, contributing new memes and practices through cultural appropriation?
Nobody currently has the answer for how we should deal with these issues on university campuses, the nearest thing we have to an intellectually diverse public forum in WEIRD society. I’ve given some proposals, but the Left shouldn’t be surprised when their bait and switch tactics are used against them. It’s almost as if your object level political views have meta level consequences for social norms.