Author: Dr. Evans
BA in History from Northwestern State, MA in English from Northwestern State, and PhD in Rhetoric from Texas Woman's University. Big into comic books and visual rhetoric. Assistant Professor of English at Claflin University, Orangeburg, SC.
Conversations with Charlie (11/23/2021)
Charlie’s Tuesday’s podcast had him talking with Donald Cohen, Charlie’s own cousin, executive director of the In The Public Interest (ITPI), writer and contributor at Writer and Main, and co-author of a new book The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back, (Nov. 23, 2021).
Charlie and Donald’s conversation begins with a recounting of the connection they share as cousins who have spent most of their adult lives on opposite ends of the political spectrum, even estranged. However, in 2016 they came back together and reconnected. Love cousin-talk here, really beautiful.
After they reconnected, Donald and Charlie sought to find where on the Venn Diagram they could find that they agreed. Where were the things they agreed on vs. disagreed on? Found out that they had a LOT more agreement exists than initially believed but they only found it by seeking it out.
I’d like to point out just how important that step here that Charlie and Donald too was. It is something we should all be doing, taking the actual time to figure out where were agree vs. disagree because I think most Americans have more common ground than we allow ourselves (and others allow us to think about) to believe.
Charlie pinpoints that sometime after 2010 the polarization in politics reached an acceleration towards the political extremes made him feel uncertain about political beliefs he had held up till that point. Something about the dogmatic extremes emerging gave Charlie doubt, and as Peter Abelard observed in the 12th century C.E., “by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at truth.”
Then came the revelation, one I personally appreciate and want to embrace more myself, is that conversations and debates, particularly with those in disagreement, became less about scoring points in order to win but to just have a conversation, to learn from each other, and find common ground.
General Round-Up and Discussion
This, strangely, takes Charlie and Donald to topic of former New Jersey governor and current “savior” of the Republican party, Chris Christie.
Charlie notes his appearance on Fox News. Sure enough, he’s sliding back in the Trump world
Goes on Laura Ingraham and makes the claim that he would never NOT support Donald Trump if he was denominator on the ticket. He even says, “The line for supporting Donald Trump starts behind me,” so nothing has changed, he is still a sycophant.
Getting to something more substantive, in the aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, Charlie believes that there is room in one’s mind to keep TWO ideas at the same time. You can, A, believe and agree with the decision of Rittenhouse’s acquittal, while also, B, believing that what he did was ridiculously stupid.
I do not personally agree with the Rittenhouse acquittal but I do agree that one can hold TWO ideas in one’s mind at the same time. It does not have to come down to some simple black and white, either/or, binary conception. The world is complex.
As it regards to that notion of what Rittenhouse did being stupid, which is the point on the Venn Diagram where I could meet someone who agreed with his acquittal, there is very likely to add to the mix an agreement about the seeming glorification of Rittenhouse as some form of hero. It’s kind of like a symbolic obscenity.
I have said my peace on Rittenhouse and the trial in general, outside of willingness to debate about it more I am done in terms of making opinioned pronouncements.
However, with regards to discussions of models, I am more than willing to keep talking.
There are too many avatars of violence being promoted in our society today. There are elements of the media who appear willing to vilify Rittenhouse and there are other elements, mainly on the right, who appear just as willing make him a role models for others to emulate. He is being held up as a model for how others his age and older should act, not how he acts now in particular, but what he did in Kenosha that eventually got him put on trial: bringing a gun to a protest/riot, using it, and then claiming self-defense if it is used to wound or kill someone.
Interestingly, during Rittenhouse’s current publicity tour he was on Tucker Carlson, who apparently has been working with him on a documentary about his trial, where during a back and forth slammed a former attorney of his named Lin Wood. This guy is a character unto himself, but he is prominently identified with the conspiracy QAnon and Stop-the-Steal rallies after the 2020 Election.
Rittenhouse goes after Wood for raising money to get him out on bail but actually pushing to keep the money and convince Rittenhouse to stay in prison. He seems to understand something that appears very common in the far-right realms of conspiracy and Trumpworld affiliation: grifting. You know, the practice of making money off someone else, to swindle another.
Charlie to Kyle Rittenhouse: “Welcome to the grift.”
Donald Cohen’s book: The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back
It boils down to a dispute over the privatization of public services and where the issues that exist in those decision.Donald is a firm believer that democratic societies need a strong public sector and this leads him to a strong dislike for over privatization.
What is wrong with privatizing certain sources that some might argue could be done better privately than publicly?
Is the private sector less trustworthy than the public?
Donald responds that he does not feel that private organizations are less trustworthy than public, it’s a more nuanced answer than a simple yes or no. He notes that his book is not an anti-business read. His issues can be boiled down to the way contracts are created between cities and private organizations from the turnover services.
The objection is turning over public services and public decision-making to a private organization without full consideration of short and long-term impacts, especially with some contracts being signed for decade plus terms.
In 2009–10, Chicago announced a deal where they received $1.1 billion upfront to turn over control of parking meters to a private consortium for a term of 75 years. This was a dumb investment. After the decision was made the reality was that despite the large sum of money city received they actually got hosed in the long-term by giving away future decision-making input over employment, pay of works, and control of street parking all for ready cash and a short-term solution to a financial crunch.
To elaborate, Donald points out that if the city ever wanted to make modifications or get rid of certain parking meters spots for a bus lane, or to close office section, or to put a bike lane, they have to buy it back in order to make those modifactiona. They have lost control of that function. Future urban planning, transit, etc. are now constrained by that contract.
Recent increase of college campuses of private dorms. Colleges and universities wanted to reduce pollution in housing to meet health regulations, but if the dorm is private, can they? The university could not enforce, legally due to the contract, any protocols for reducing population that would have made things safer. Public health decisions are now impeded by private concerns and contracts. This is what Donald means by privatization, it is the interference of long-term contracts that prevents public institutions from acting in the publica good and in good policy because they are constrained by the contract with a private organization.
What about efficiency?
It is often considered that private industry is more efficient.
It’s not that public institutions or services like the DMV, and he references California because he lives in LA, cannot be made more efficient because they can. California is a case in point where a public instituation can be and has been made more efficient.
The efficiency of the private industry is a bit of a myth because it’s not as true as people believe it to be. Often times after private organization signs a contracts there can be something new that comes up and they’ll come back and ask for more money from the public government. It can end up being a bit like extortion.
Efficiency is essentially doing more and spending less. How is this possible if upper management compensation in certain private organizations is massive or drive is to pay out shareholder divadends?
There is of course government waste too, especially in the military, there can be featherbedding of costs. Privatization is often still held up as a way to get away from this and supposed public cost. The reality is that it is a fallacy to assume that all public services are less efficient and private services are efficient. It is not that binary.
Donald says it’s not just government or private thing, it’s about competence. There are still people who make the argument that: “Government should be run like a business.” No, it should be run at its most efficient. Public service providers need to know what you are doing when they contract with private organizations. Contracting is difficult, the public sector needs skilled people to look at the whole issue before signing it. Governments need more people to monitor contracts. It’s not an either/or but a need to do things well.
This moves to further examples:
Negative- Private Prisons
Donald notes that this is a strong area where his critique really hits the pavement. Efficiency in private prisons tends to result in high turnover, lower pay, and corruption. It becomes something that should not be privately contracted at all. There are two big companies in this market. When they do financial disclosures each year they note the risks in their investment. One of the listed “risks” is “reduced crime” or things like the “legalization of weed.” They are “risks” because they are not good for the company’s bottom line. They have deals with bed rates that leads states to actually pay these companies to keep more people in jail. These companies pay big time to influence policies and keep the flow of criminals coming to them to maintain profit.
Positive- Garbage Collection
Government sanitation works are now privatized organizations in many places. Feels like a positive example of privatization that has brought down costs and not affected efficiency through the contracting.
When you contract for things, you have to do it right. There needs to be a clear picture of the motivations of the private sector contractor to not simply gut things in search of profit.
There are people motivated by service as much as any kind of profit motive. People do have legitimate fears about concentrating power in the hands of government. The real need is to not simply swing the pendulum one way or the other, but realize that all power, public or private, needs oversight. Public sector is more responsible to public pressures and can be better tempered by good oversight while contracting with efficient and responsible private partners to eliminate waste where it exists in the public sector.
All for now.
J C Evans
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
The Bulwark Podcast: “Donald Cohen: The Privatization of Everything”
Conversation with Charlie (11/22/2021)
Charlie’s Monday’s podcast had him talking with Bill Kristol, fellow Bulwark founder and contributor (Nov. 22, 2021).
They talk about the tragedy that occurred in Waukesha, Wisconsin this past weekend when someone drove their SUV into a Christmas parade, killing 5 and leaving 48 injured based on recent reporting. Rather than jumping on the issue and speculation, Charlie notes that we should hold off, wait for more information, before discussing the matter. This is good hygiene for pundits in media. It may not be flashy or feed the instant gratification many in modern media consumers expect, but it is much healthier for all of us. It is a tragedy, but not enough is yet known to begin to more deeply probe it.
As for probing discussions, Charlie and Bill are speaking on November 22, 2021, which marks the 58th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, TX.
Charlie notes that for all the events in American history that permanently appear to stand out and become touchstones in American life, it is Dec. 7 (1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that got us into WWII), Nov. 22 (1963 JFK assassination), and September 11 (2001 terrorist attacks on World Trade Centers and Pentagon) that really seem to stick with us.
This tangent leads Charlie and Bill to discussions of that great game we all play, whether with history national or personal, of “what if?”
How would things have been different is Kennedy had lived? What might have been different?
Interestingly, seeing as how both Charlie and Bill lived through it, just how dangerous the 1960s in America felt compared to life today.
This is one of those things that history has kind of not quite painted over as much as obscured a bit as society has distanced itself. The effects are not omnipresent, but the trauma of much of the 1960s still influences America today.
Not only did the 60s see the assassination of President Kennedy, but also Civil Rights leaders such as Malcolm X (1965) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), Kennedy’s brother Bobby Kennedy while he was running for president in 1968 too. Not to mention race riots in Detroit, Newark, and Watts. There was a lot of violence, all while America itself was escalating and then becoming entrenched in a quagmire of a war in Vietnam.
Bill puts out the idea that “at least we made it through” but that living through those times it was not always as certain. The same situation to a degree is going on now. Things feel like they are getting bad, and we want to believe it will work out and we will get through it, but that’s not always a guarantee. People have to act to make it happen.
One salient point is the hypothesis Charlie and Bill discuss about the ways that our modern society does not appreciate how dangerous the 60s were, as well as given the sense of subsequent generations after may not appreciate how lucky America was to make it out. The feelings of our better times since the 1960s have made us complacent to dangers.
As Charlie points out that there were some things that broke in the 60s that never got fixed, and as I would phrase it now, there are some traumas still haunting America now, weighing us down and undermining our potential.
JFK’s assassination was a shattering point, a pivot point in history, what Hamlet in Shakespeare, though referring to death, called “the undiscovered country,” into which we have journeyed. There is no return though. Something was lost, some youthfulness or hopefulness that can never be gotten back.
Charlie reads a flyer, handed out by some hardline conservative elements who were on the fringe, printed on November 22, 1963, the day of Kennedy’s assassination. The language of the flyer is unhinged in its conspiratorial bombastic and wild accusations against Kennedy and the Democrats. The sad thing is that listening to it being read, and Charlie and Bill agree, it sounds a lot like something former President Donald Trump would Tweet today.
The fringe and crazy has come to the mainstream of our political discourse.
In that fringe language is the promise of violence.
America is nation obsessed with its guns and a gun culture, add to that a lack of political leadership and lessening of personal responsibility via excuses and loopholes, and the mixture is a waiting powder keg.
Where America is now, in the aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, elements in the far right are becoming emboldened and toying more and more with their idealization of violence and a fetishization of vigilantism that Rittenhouse is seen by them to model.
Charlie’s analysis is that the situation has reversed some since the 1960s. Now it is the far right that is actively toying with ideas of violence and fetishizing violence. They want to play dress up in camo and military fatigues, strap on their assault rifle and parade in public spaces. Why? Because they can. It is all performative. To Charlie, who mentions he has long been a supporter of the 2nd Amendment and gun rights and the NRA, this is absolutely ludicrous. It is absurd. No responsibility is needed, no licensing, no permits. Just a wild wild west waiting to go off.
To me personally, it is just people bored and wanting to LARP (Live Action Role Play) their fictional self from Call of Duty. What makes it dangerous is that some of these same people actively and casually talk about murdering/killing their opponents as well.
Where does the rhetoric of violence end before it becomes action?
Where are the leaders who should be taming this?
Absent. No one wants to stop it because no one wants to call it out as a problem.
Charlie specifically rants about wanting to know where the NRA is in all of this. The NRA, who used to be the guardians and purveyors of responsible gun ownership spend their time now fetishizing gun culture and gun rights as an absolute freedom. They praise Rittenhouse for his vigilantism.
How is any of this responsible?
It’s not. It has devolved into another culture war issue. Everything serious is issue gets shoveled into the furnace of the culture wars now where it will never be discussed or tried be solved but simply live to divide us up.
Charlie puts forth two ideas he thinks are completely nuts when it comes to the fetishization of gun violence and how it has override decent common-sense thinking.
1. The idea that it is acceptable for anyone, as long as they don’t have a criminal record, to be out and about with a gun with no concealed carry permit, license, or firearm training is just dumb and dangerous.
2. The idea that open carry of an assault rifle, particularly someone who is quite young, pretending to play dress up with weapon of war parading in public is normal in completely unhinged.
Bill points out that this is part of a larger radicalization in the nation that has been growing steadily over the last 30 years. In particular, this radicalization has been most potent and destructive inside the Republican party.
What has been really destructive is that it is not just guns that have become fetishized, but gun rights as well. The right to carry guns as a freedom that no one should impose on.
To this end, right wing media is glorifying Kyle Rittenhouse, trying to make him into a hero. This is not what should be the takeaway. This is a course that can lead to further violence, not less.
I gave my two cents on the matter last week, before the verdict came out and I stand by it.
The article I quoted at the beginning of my post comes from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Opinion piece from Nov. 17, 2021, written by David Haynes. I found a lot of the weight given by this author comes from that older position of responsible gun ownership that many who are fetishizing guns and gun ownership rights appear to be neglecting if not abandoning.
Charlie and Bill move on to discuss the resignation of two long time FOX News contributors, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes over Tucker Carlson’s three-part propaganda documentary whitewashing the events of the January 6thInsurrection broadcasting on FOX News streaming service FOX Nation called Patriot Purge. The New York Timesreporting notes that this was just “simply part of the new right’s mopping up operation in the corners of conservative institutions that still house pockets of resistance to Donald J. Trump’s control of the Republican Party.” Not always a fan of the NYT in some respects, but this one hits it on head. I say that because, whether official or not, there were people posting memes on Twitter that appeared to have Carlson’s approval basically emasculating Goldberg for quitting and mocking him for what some see as a principled stand.
It is just a further tilt and submergence of FOX News into the quagmire of Trumpism, the guiding light of the Republican party.
Charlie asks the question:
What are and where are the red lines at FOX News?
The network has been casual and even supportive at undermining its news division and prioritizing its opinion section. Its helped spread and/or condoning anti-vaccination, anti-democratic, and a whole host of other issues to its audiences that are making America unsafe and weaker.
Charlie took the opportunity to “re-up” his previous letter to fellow Wisconsinite and former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who is now serving on the FOX News board of directors. Where is the responsible leadership anymore? MIA.
FOX News appears to be ruled over by the likes of Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity (to a lesser extent). These primetime infotainment/opinion start exalt in the exit of men like Goldberg and Hayes. They revel in this new Trumpism right. If you didn’t already know who Ingraham and Carlson were underneath, this brazen behavior should tell you all you really need to know.
On the domestic front, Democrats continue to suck at messaging and really being on top of things most Americans care about. Stop trying to tell them what to think and listen more or you will let the Republicans, who are not right in the head, back into power.
The country is ready and able to handle some realism. Be realistic and straight up with people. Democratic politicians need to be talking about defeating COVID for finally, we are close, and addressing the real concerns people have about inflation. Don’t blow it off or ignore it. This can be done while at the same time emphasizing the positive fact that we are turning a corner and moving forward.
If anyone has ever heard, in a viral video, the soundbite of “don’t be suspicious”, play that in your head as you read the following: “Don’t be dismissive. Don’t be dismissive. Now, don’t be dismissive.”
There is more, but once again, you need to wake up Democrats and listen, stop with the arrogance before you end up leaving us at the mercy of ant-democratic nutjobs in the Republican party.
All for now.
J C Evans
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
The Bulwark Podcast: “Bill Kristol: Fetishizing Political Violence”
Conversations with Charlie (11/19/21)
Charlie’s Friday’s podcast had him talking with Greg Lukianoff, co-author of the 2015 Atlantic article and 2018 book of the same name The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure along with Jonathan Haidt and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) (Nov. 19, 2021).
Before going any further, I’d like to take a moment to communicate by bias and stance on this matter. I know I have colleagues and friends who would disagree with the things that Lukianoff, through his foundation and book with Jonathan Haidt, has to say on matters of free speech and approaches to it.
I, however, for whatever small qualms I may have agree on 90-95% of what Lukianoff and Haidt had to say in their 2015 article, which I regularly use with my own college students, and the subsequent book.
Disagreements are good.
Agreement is good.
Too much either is bad. Balance is needed and the reality of the world, how one prepares people to face and deal with it quintessential to what college and higher education is meant to expose you to and should.
As a people and as a nation, we need to be able to disagree and NOT turn it into new issues and conflicts that obscure the nuances of reality by reductionism to pathos and “I believe.”
Back to our regularly scheduled conversation and examination:
The main topic, though broad, under discussion between Charlie and Greg centered on Higher Education and the perveance of what is commonly called “cancel culture.”
To mention cancel culture, to dig into it, is quite a thorny issue. It clearly exists on both the right and the left, it is not singular to one side. It boils down to the idea of forbidding discussions and speaking, particularly things that make someone or some group of people uncomfortable. It tends to shut down any nuance debate.
That is a net negative for everyone whether they know it or not.
There is a simple solution to the problem of “if you don’t want to hear something or an opinion” and that is walk away, turn it off, or spend more time talking with yourself (Charlie’s take).
Charlie notes that he has been pushing back against similar issues like this, particularly free speech in higher education, for decades. He has been on the issue since the 1980s and 90s. What Charlie found annoying was the pervasive attitude of people getting indignant with someone over an opinion they didn’t like or a point of view they thought or felt to be offensive. The response was to shut down or lash out rather than take the opportunity to use the disagreement as a launch pad for constructive debate.
The entire purpose and point of modern universities is to expose people to new ideas, to learn, and some of those ideas and beliefs may make someone uncomfortable, but honestly, this is a good thing. You need that exposure to help you work out your own greater sense of self.
Dynamics over the past forty years have seen changes in how freedom of speech and freedom of expression are enforced. It began, and in some places it still is controlled, through speech codes. It began with the institutions dictating to students what could be said.
As Charlie points out, this was mirrored in the way that it was conservatives in the 80s and 90s who were incredibly critical of higher education. They still are in many ways. The issue is that has changed is that that criticism has penetrated to effect people who are considered moderates and even liberals.
Wanting to make it clear, because as noted earlier this is a thorny issue many people don’t take the time to engage with the complex details, Greg wants the audience to know that he is not some acolyte of the alt-right or so forth who is “gunning” for higher education. In fact, he states he is a Democrat.
The problem though, driven by the lack of critical examination, that there is such resistance to dealing with the problem in a nontribal fashion that the same moderate and liberal critics are all being lumped in with those who are on the right. Who is doing that? People who don’t like their criticism, don’t like what they have to say.
Despite the fact that speech codes were defeated legally in the mid-1990s, research has shown that in 2008 almost 70+% of all universities in the country had some kind of speech code on campus.
They are still here and this begs the question:
How big is the problem really? What is the actual weight and impact of these speech codes?
There are new factions emerging in response to the issue. On one side you have intellectual figures who, believing the whole system of higher education has lost its way, are striking out on their own to form their own institution like the University of Austin being formed in Austin, TX. Right now it is only online and in the works.
“Its founders say it is dedicated ‘to the fearless pursuit of truth’”. One of the founders, Panos Kanelos’s opening announcement declares that “Our democracy is faltering, in significant part, because our educational system has become illiberal and is producing citizens and leaders who are incapable and unwilling to participate in the core activity of democratic governance.”
This is not necessarily unreasonable, Greg even wishes them well in the endeavor, but whether it will take form and hold is another story.
There are other avenues, internal ones that might also be taken on too.
However, there is another party that looks at the system of higher education right now and sees nothing wrong at all.
Speaking as someone who is working in higher education, there is plenty wrong. I just am not one who is willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater yet. There are ways that good can be done within the existing system.
The basics is that there are real problems and Greg’s organization FIRE has recently turned to documenting much of the situation. They have been around since 2001, but only recently have become large enough to not have to dedicate all their time to putting out fires as part of their primary mission to defend the rights of students and faculty in regards to their free speech.
What most people know about the issues of free speech on university campuses stems from those extreme cases that have “broken out” into the mainstream media. However, the vast amount of cease are far less politically fraught ones and as a result are less frequently discussed in the media as a whole. Media is exponentially more interested in extreme controversies because that is what their audience is into. Shock value, strong emotional responses. That’s the hit of dopamine one wants.
Greg tells Charlies that one of the things FIRE has been trying to document is how often a professor is targeted for something he or she says. They published a report in 2020, statically the worst year for free speech on campus that they have recorded, in it found over 120 professors targeted for being fired.
The number may seem insignificant in a large-scale view, but Greg really thought that this should be put in perspective because there are those who don’t think there’s a problem at all, who are using this as justification for blowing it off is no big deal rather than a problem to be addressed.
The majority of complaints are only coming from the larger universities like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, etc. And there’s an issues currently playing itself out at Yale law school that Greg points out to Charlie.
It started as a jokey email, written by a gay Native American student, which was sent out inviting students to a party. The email used the term “Traphouse” in its description and this is apparently a slang for a place that sells drugs. Keep in mind this was a joke email and it was written to be such, but apparently the joke didn’t land with some people.
It ended up being portrayed as racially insensitive against African American student, some of whom apparently took offense and thought they were targeted as a result.
This is making news now, but for people at FIRE this is just every day.
Another example is the Dorian Abbott case.
Abbott came under fire for writing an opinion a letter, he’s a scientist University of Chicago, stating that he thought the efforts for multi-cultural diversity being implemented were being misused and circumventing the need for merit admissions. It was an opinion, based in his scientific field of knowledge, and designed to bring attention to a problem. It rather caused a problem. As a consequence Abbott was disinvited from speaking at MIT. The disinvite was done because of what he said in the article and had nothing to do with what he was being asked to come speak about.
That’s what’s making news, but the reality is that it’s happening quite a lot at other institutions as well.
Dorian Abbott sin wasn’t a scree on Facebook or using a racial slur, but expressing an opinion about the scientific merits of admission to science programs. That was his sin.
Greg does not think that to simply label this an example of the negative impact of “wokism” but to understand that there is much more complexity going on here all together. In the book, Lukianoff and Haidt point to SIX threads or factors that have brought us to the situation we are in:
1. Increasing political polarization since the 1980s
2. Rise in rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among American adolescents
3. Emergence and intensification of safetysim among parents since the 1980s.
4. A decline in unsupervised free play in children since the 1980s.
5. Bureaucratic expansion and corporatization of the education system, particularly at eth college level.
6. A shift in how social justice is conceptualized, from a focus on equity and proportionality and the promotion of equal opportunity, to focus on equality of outcome.
It is the first issue Greg wants to talk more on, the spiraling expansion of political divide.
Part of the problem is that university disparity in political views has gotten incredibly wide. In the 1980s and 90s it was like 2:1 liberals to conservatives, which has increased to being closer to 10:1 in many places.
The problem is not political bias but lack of diversity in viewpoints that can lead to an imbalance leading to groupthink and tribalism.
This is only increased thanks to the hyper-hierarchical nature of universities and the overreach and sometimes micromanagement by the administration.
Greg points out that the overwhelming amount of cases FIRE deals with are not malicious ones but are made up of nice students and nice professors saying something that they did not realize was going to trigger a negative response or interpretation in someone else. This made up 1500 incidents in 2020 alone.
The other factor involved is realizing that roughly 400 schools in this country educate about 50% of the higher education student population. It’s a factor of concentration that, again, is a nuance not discussed enough.
Produced now in higher education, with its concentration and hierarchical structures running into hypersensitive student bodies, are students who are sometimes looking to get offended. Not only that, but they are then going to use that offense as a cudgel against someone else. It is incredibly unhealthy for people emotionally and for participation in an institute of higher learning.
Have people become more hypersensitive?
Yes, but that the same time there is more occurring…the nuance.
There are cynical cases where someone targets a professor because they don’t like them, but there is also a real and dangerous phenomenon of students coming to college with the belief that words can hurt them.
Yes, words can hurt. They hurt more if you let them. You have a choice though, to perceive those words as hurtful and let that define you or to build up a stronger internal system, to be more resilient. Greg is a bit fuzzy here, but there is more that can be investigated.
Getting back to the origins of things on campuses, Greg notes that before 2014 it was mainly administrations who were guilty of speech codes and creating student fragility on campus.
However, around 2014 there was something like a lightning bolt that struck. Greg and others now noticed that it was the students, who had been the most vocal defenders of freedom of speech, became activists in favor of speech codes and safe spaces.
It was this flip that Greg and Jonathan Haidt were trying to find the underlying cause of in their Atlantic article in 2015 that became the book of the same name in 2018: The Coddling of the American Mind.
Greg and Jonathan saw that students were already arriving on campuses believing what they called “the three great untruths.”
1. The untruth of fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
2. The untruth of emotional reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
3. The untruth of Us versus Them: Life is a battle between good and evil people.
In a lot of ways, social media has sped up a lot of these issues and the shifts in students is perhaps related. Of course, social media, like with everything, didn’t create the trends, but just injected the adrenaline. This in turn collided with changes that Charlie had been noting in education in general since the 1980s and 90s trickling up into higher education.
Education is becoming a larger and larger battlefield in our current culture wars, as has been discussed much before here, but it is not simply a partisan issue. Instead, there is now a pincer movement underway against education from illiberal elements on the far right and left.
The impact on free speech overall is that idioms in this country like “it’s a free country” have fallen by the wayside and “You’re free to say what you want” has been replace with “Speech is violence.” That is not progress, which is regression.
The danger to free speech and discourse comes from that conception of speech as a form of violence.
There must be a distinction a distinction between what is protected speech, what is protected by the first amendment, and what is not.
None of this is really new though. Speech and violence have been locked in a continuum for a long time. It needs to be said that yes, speech can lead to violence, something one says in the past could lead to someone being in a duel or getting their head chopped off.
It is our choice, as a culture to make the strong and difficult decisions here to preserve the difference.
Speech can be violence. If someone is actually threatening you, that is NOT protected speech, that crosses a line. Sexual and racial harassment are NOT protected speech. The nuance and distinctions are important. The mistake people make is that they are unable to discern that the speech they think is violence is NOT protected under the first amendment.
If we succumb to the quick emotional responses, misconceptions and distortions are leading us to perceive violence where it is not and undermines our ability to have meaningful discourse.
The problem here is that if one believes speech is violence then applying it towards other means they can apply it back at you. It cuts both ways. It can create a downward spiral of violence.
Such a spiral has been increasing over the last 10 years.
The underlying issue to all of it, again, is that potent and nuanced argument is part and parcel of what is needed in a democracy. Democracy calls us to settle with words what we used to settle on fields of battle with weapons. The halls of government are meant to battlefields of words, not weapon.
Institutions of higher education need to be places open to all and to all forms of expression, a place to debate those ideas. Instead, campuses are becoming perfect rhetorical fortresses (PDF) as Greg calls them. If you are conservative, they are efficient rhetorical fortresses.
What this means is that in the perfect or efficient, one has immediate permission to end any line of discourse or discussion, to not hear the other side. It justifies the layer upon layer use of ad hominem attacks to be launched by academics at any disruption in order to avoid a substantive argument one deems as “uncomfortable” to them.
There are layers to it too.
On level one, someone can simply make a dismissal on th grounds of political disagreement. On level two, one can dismiss the discourse on grounds of identity. It is all layered as to never get to the heart of the real problem by giving those involved a myriad of avenues to excuse themselves from participation.
As a result, our current political rhetoric it is not there to persuade anyone but simply to signal, to mark out tribal identification.
If you do argue at all, the PRF is designed to be a cut one off through t personal attacks rather than substantive debate.
Higher education needs openness and it needs to be open itself to experimentation to improve it as an institution.
The provocative question is this: Aare there any ideas that should be prohibited in higher education?
Generally, the ideal would be for everyone to remember the notion of academic detachment, of being able to enter a counterfactual mindset that allows one to see the whole picture from all sides. This is a return to being able serve as a devil’s advocate in order to get deeper into issues rather than explore or avoid them based on identity or political preference.
So, where is all of this heading?
Greg is afraid it will get worse before it gets better.
No one is yet stepping up to say this is going too far yet and that’s a bad sign.
All for now.
J C Evans
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
The Bulwark Podcast: “Greg Lukianoff: We Are Creating a Culture of Student Fragility”
Conversations with Charlie (11/18/2021)
Charlie’s Thursday’s podcast had him talking with Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and member of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee (Nov. 18, 2021).
A major point of discussion later in the conversation covered the mistakes that had been made with the Mueller Report and Russia investigation, but the bulk of the conversation centered on Schiff’s new book Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.
The conversation opens with Schiff’s emotional closing argument from Trump’s first impeachment trial.
This sets the stage for Charlie’s feeling that that speech was a warning that to let Trump escape responsibility was an invitation for Trump to do something like he had done or worse again. He did just that, hence his second impeachment. Escaping responsibility emboldens Trump.
Charlie asks Adam if he has regrets for the ways the Democrats handled the investigation and impeachment of Trump because every time they failed Trump took it as permission to keep going and do more he shouldn’t rather than be chastened.
Adam says he does not because what let Trump escape consequences was the fact that the Republicans let him off the hook.
Adam is quick to admit that he is obviously not objective on the matter. The reality was that since nothing Trump did was going to ever cause the Republican senators (in particular) come to hold him to account, to impeach him, there were serious constraints on what Democrats could ever really accomplish.
The real problem was that there was a growing problem, a ballooning issue that developed from each attempt to hold Trump accountable making him feel more powerful and more willing to see just how far he could go or just how much he could get away with.
From the Mueller Report on Russia, which Schiff noted that AG Bill Barr really hamstringed in its delivery to the public as to mislead its conclusions to the public, to Ukraine and the first impeachment to the January 6 insurrection, each time Trump got away with it.
Each escape made Trump more willing, embolden to do whatever he wanted and act as if he was above the law. In a more layman terms, this is what happens with a spoiled child who is not punished and simply gets away with more and more. The difference of course is that the child in question here is specifically a 70 something-year-old pampered brat from Queens.
Charlie and Adam turn to talking about the book, in particular how Adam has come to feel, based largely on the situation with Trump mainly, that many of his colleagues in the Republican party continue to roll over and surrender of their principles and beliefs in the service of one man.
Even when presented with clear evidence and knowing what Trump was guilty of doing, they let him walk away with no real consequences.
This of course begs the question as Charlie puts it to Adam, from his view: What happened to the Republican party? What specifically is his view on this from being in Congress and serving with many of them.
Adam says that those questions, particularly the first one, is what inspired him to write his book because he wanted to know, to explore and understand what would make these people, the Republicans in Congress, turn their backs on their own values, their own beliefs, to pay homage and give service to demagogue.
How did this happen?
The answer, according to Adam, is that it happens one day at a time and one concession at a time. It does not happen all at once and that is why many don’t see it happening until its happened. It’s like that cautionary story of the frog boiling in a pot, never really realizing the danger as the water slowly cooks them. In this case, it cooks their integrity.
It starts out with small concessions that grow over time, you swallow a small lie and then you swallow bigger lies, each time you let it go someone like Trump will come back and ask you accept bigger compromises and bigger lies. Inch by inch each concession and lie peels a part of one’s integrity and principles with it.
Adam laments that he has witnessed people he had a lot of admiration for on the Republican side of the isle give what they believed and stood for away in the name of Trump.
“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.”Robert Carroll