The illiberal reality of social justice

By Derek Danneker
February 23, 2017

I shuffle into the auditorium following the great mass of students led in lines and by groups. It is orientation day at Lock Haven University and we sit down as an acting trio, two men and a woman, prepare their skits. The event laid before us is one where the troupe introduces a scene, then various moments throughout they will freeze and open the floor for the audience to ask what the individuals on stage think or why they acted in a certain way, the troupe responds in character.

The subjects would surprise no one; drinking, consent in sex, tolerance… the usual. However, in the course of the discourse it had been revealed that the female character was a lesbian. Shocked by the discovery, one of the men on stage shouts out “so what? Do you mean you’re a lesbian!?” only to have the other man on stage lean forward and correct the pronouncement with bewildered enthusiasm “lesbian-born!” as if he could not understand the previous correlation.

I blinked. “A difference without a distinction, right?” I questioned to myself. I looked around the auditorium to perhaps catch the eye of someone else confounded by the correction, I found no one.

I won’t begrudge the minuteness of this quandary, however, this speaks to a larger and underlying theme with veins running more strongly through traditionally left leaning colleges whose students claim that they have to right to not be offended, and aggressively react to protect their fragile minds.

Recently, University of California, Berkeley responded to a lecture by Milo Yiannopoulos by inciting a riot, replete with fires, shattered glass and men running around in masks. Naturally, the lecture was canceled. Yiannopoulos is a flamboyantly gay, Catholic conservative, who strongly supported Trump through the last election, and looks and acts like a troll the majority of the time. A wave of outcry typically follows him, though rarely in riot form.

I tell you this, reader, because it does not matter. He has the same right of free speech as any other despite how it may make anyone else feel. As Jefferson said “…let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.”

In the West we’ve come to equate liberals with the left but this is a mistake. Liberals respect free speech and independent thought. This is the illiberal left.

Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have written an article titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” for The Atlantic in which they address the concerns of the emergence of the politically correct Marxist-esque censorship culture.

In this article, they attribute some of the blame to the changes in raising children. With the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, children were “free range” or let to their own devices in the 50s and 60s. But in the 70s and early 90s, there was a crime wave but only a few high profile child abductions.

However, they were so heavily covered by news media that the Baby Boomer and Generation Xers were much more protective of their children. This safety concern reached its way into the school by installing anti-bullying campaigns and taking out dangerous playground equipment. Naturally, as those who grew up in this environment enter college under an increasingly polar political climate and echo-chambers of social media create what is effectively an outrage machine.

At many colleges, professors have to walk on eggshells to avoid flaring up a social media storm. The university students who were once thought able to handle the most extreme thought now seemingly need trigger warnings and protected from microaggressions, effectively stymying education.

Hadt uses a metaphor of equating the illiberal politically correct culture to a new religion of social justice where “the most sacred thing in the world is the victim” and  “inclusiveness is a sacred value and if any of the seven marginalized groups (women, African Americans, LGBTQ, Native Americans, Latinos, disabled or mentally ill and Muslims) feels excluded, that trumps everything else.” Included also are “blasphemy laws,” for example if anyone dares to question affirmative action, they are a bigot or racist. There is also is the tenant of privilege, “there are good people and bad people, bad people are all white people, all men etc.” This is egalitarianism taken to extreme. Like Maoist China, if you belong to those classes, you should be demonized according to the faith.

There are few people who strictly follow this religion, but the danger is that it is infecting the rest of the left because it is career damning to be called a bigot or racist regardless if the name is warranted. In order to thwart this then, Haidt and Lukianoff recommend universities teaching students how to practice cognitive behavioral therapy and training sessions to combat cognitive distortions.

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