A relatively innocuous retwit of third-wave feminist cartoon character Barry Deutsch caused him such butthurt that he felt compelled to ask that I not “tweet or mention him on my blog again.” This was odd in that, aside from the one retwit that came on my radar because of a Ken White twit, I had forgotten he existed.
I responded to Barry, “Sorry. That’s not how the world works, Barry. Feel free to block me, but I will mention you whenever I please.” And Barry did what has become de rigueur for the deeply sensitive male ally of feminists:
Ironically, chances were slim to none that I would have mentioned him here, or anywhere else, because he’s insignificant. It’s unsurprising, as children often need the attention of grownups, and will go to desperate lengths to gain it.*
But having made a stink about my being an asshole for not agreeing with his request to ignore him, he reminded me of how he’s become the poster boy for intellectual fragility and social justice narcissism. Even so, he wouldn’t have made it into a post but for two retwits.
What did the University of Chicago do to “drip with contempt”? The unthinkable in the bubble-world of social justice:
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
This is the first time in years that a peer institution has told its incoming freshmen that they will have to endure thought like grownups. While other schools are racing to create departments, majors, courses and mandatory training sessions about why unorthodox thought is intolerable, Chicago has done the opposite. No trigger warnings? No safe spaces? No canceling speakers because a topic doesn’t confirm their beliefs? What are they thinking?
They’re thinking that they don’t want their students to be Barry Deutsch. They’re thinking.
It’s not that Chicago has gone totally off the edge of the university cliff, as it still concerns itself with the usual trivia.
Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.
There is an inherent contradiction in there. If there is to be no fear of censorship, then the question of what constitutes “civility and mutual respect,” coupled with the “harass and threaten others,” creates some confusion. You see, one person’s “civility and mutual respect” is another’s “harass and threaten.” To those with an unduly sensitive nature, any disagreement lacks civility and mutual respect. Their concept of respect is acquiescence to their cause. Their concept of harassment is disagreement.
And if the University of Chicago was really dedicated to following through on its position of speaking without fear of censorship, then something like Barry’s twit, that I’m an asshole for not doing as he wants, would be perfectly fine. Was he allowed to say that without fear of censorship, or was he being uncivil? Nobody called him an asshole. Then again, nobody has to.
The letter from Chicago to its students is an important first step in breaking away from the childish expectations demanded by, and imposed on, students. While there is still a ways to go before they will be treated like grownups, it is significant that the university has announced, in advance, that it will not participate in the downward spiral of educational infantilization.
They will read books that mention horrible things, and no one will tell them about it beforehand and forgive them as they rush to their puppy room for a quick dose of Play -Doh. They will think thoughts about unpleasant things, like reality. They will not be forced to endure a presentation by a speaker like Milo Yiannopoulos or Christina Sommers, but they will similarly not be allowed to force the school to disinvite them because they say words that make the children cry.
The University of Chicago has done the unthinkable: they brought back a dress code to their campus. Students will be expected to wear their big boy pants. They will not be allowed to dress as Barry Deutsch does, in bubble-wrap with nothing underneath. Maybe this will be the jolt needed to get academics and administrators at other schools to do their jobs, teach their students that they are expected to join society as mature, intelligent adults rather than simpering special snowflakes, demanding that the world comport with their feelings.
Harvard? Yale? Stanford? The University of Chicago is showing you what responsible pedagogy looks like. This is not what it looks like.
*After this post, the likelihood of my mentioning Barry Deutsch again is slim to none. He’s merely one of many of wayward children seeking validation of his existence by his constant state of social justice outrage, and there are far too many other kids crying for attention. Of course, if he demands more of my attention, that may change. Here, he’s just an example of an unfortunate phenomenon. How much more of an example he wants to be is up to him.
Update: At the New Republic, Jeet Heer argues that the UChicago letter violates academic freedom.
Prior to Ellison’s letter, University of Chicago professors had the right to use trigger warnings or not use them. Now, if a professor decides to use them, he or she will face administrative opposition. Academic freedom means that professors get to design their syllabus, not administrators like Ellison. His letter is a prime example of how the outcry against “political correctness” often leads to policy changes that limit free speech.
Meh. Jeet at first argued that this was a ban, as proven by the letter tying trigger warnings to censorship. Since that wasn’t the face, and FIRE heard from UChicago explicitly that this was not a ban, Jeet added:
However, the issue of a ban (which wasn’t raised in the article) doesn’t get at the problem: the University administration is clearly making a stance on a pedagogical decision that has traditionally been left up to professors. That in itself constitutes a chilling effect and breach of academic freedom.
Still meh. It’s the duty of the administration to set school policy. They did.