It was disappointing to find out that Northeastern prof Laura Kipnis, who has become a spokesperson for free speech after being taken to the woodshed repeatedly for violating the orthodoxy of her tribe, has learned only a tiny slice of a lesson. She proclaimed that she would still “spread the gospel of social justice.” Not equality. Not feminism. Not love or tolerance. Social justice.
Meet Michael Schill, president of the University of Oregon, who gave in to the cries of warriors when one of his professors put on blackface for a Halloween costume to honor Dr. Damon Tweedy.
It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It doesn’t matter if it was protected by the First Amendment.
Blackface is patently offensive. It is overtly racist. It is wildly inappropriate. It reflects a profound lack of judgment. There is no excuse.
Did he think he had pacified the angry little darlings? If so, he learned otherwise.
This month, a handful of student protesters at the University of Oregon blocked me from delivering my state-of-the-university speech, one of my jobs as president. I had planned to announce a $50 million gift that would fund several new programs. I ended up posting a recorded version of the speech online.
Armed with a megaphone and raised fists, the protesters shouted about the university’s rising tuition, a perceived corporatization of public higher education and my support for free speech on campus — a stance they said perpetuated “fascism and white supremacy.”
Did he figure out that you can’t buy peace? Did he learn that they would find social justice fault with everything, even his very existence? Did he finally come to the realization that this is just the flip side of fascism?
Fundamentally, fascism is about the smothering of dissent. Every university in the country has history classes that dig into fascist political movements and examine them along very clear-eyed lines. Fascist regimes rose to power by attacking free speech, threatening violence against those who opposed them, and using fear and the threat of retaliation to intimidate dissenters.
Framing the goals in lofty ideals like equality and tolerance sounds nice, but for the details behind them. As Michael Schill learned, or should have learned, social justice wasn’t about lofty goals, but was the methodology to achieve them. His angry little darlings didn’t turn on him because he was any different than he was before, because he had done something to become a “white supremacist,” but because they were fascists, using the methods of fascism to silence and intimidate those who didn’t want to be burned at the stake of social justice.
Why was this not obvious before? Because they were the good fascists. The ends were sufficiently lofty that any means of achieving them was acceptable. Until they weren’t.
In an effort to create a rubric so that the ideals of social justice would appear to the insipid to make sense, a hierarchy of marginalization was created. Whoever was deemed most vulnerable would be the “most equal,” even if that shifted from person to person, moment to moment. Sometimes the calculus would be easy, as with progressive stacking. But with intersectionalism, it became untenable. In the competition for who gets to dictate the winner, awarding victim points became a mess.
I support feminism. I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I support LGBTQ+ rights. I support a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine. I support equality. I think that each of these movements is incredibly important, but I don’t think that they should be connected.
Although intersectionality is prevalent in each of these movements, feminism is the one that pertains most to me. It is where my largest grievances lie, and I’ve identified as a feminist since learning what it was because it made sense to me. I am a woman and I want equal opportunity and treatment, so of course I am a feminist. However, I’m starting to doubt my role in the movement because my Zionist beliefs are not supported in the community. I will always stand up against any gender-based discrimination, but can I really do that under the label of a feminist? I say this because I’m not sure that feminism has a place for me anymore.
This is the budding understanding of Harvard student Jocelyn A. Tolpin ’21. She still has much to learn, as reflected in her use of “feminism,” “Black Lives Matter” and “LGBTQ+ rights.” These are vagaries that fail to show what she actually supports, just random words that mean whatever anyone wants them to mean.
But what Tolpin managed to figure out is that there is no place for her in feminism when she doesn’t hate Israel. She also notes another “feminist” who is pro-life, and thus a pariah to feminists. They use words, like feminism, but fail to grasp that they don’t mean what she wants them to mean. Even the slightly-less-vague “gender-based discrimination” fails to inform as to what she’s actually talking about.
You know what you think it means. I know what I think it means. Neither of us knows what
she they thinks it means, and the best we can do is project our understanding onto her xer. That’s a useless endeavor.
With lofty ideals in a constant state of vague flux, sufficiently warm and fuzzy as to be the good goals rather than the horrible goals of the other tribe, the well-intended, like Kipnis, believe they are spreading the gospel of goodness, and believe they can tweak the means by which these ideals are spread. But as Schill may have learned, it’s just another flavor of fascism, of eliminating speech, and thence thought, and imposing by force and intimidation the orthodoxy of social justice, which ultimately has nothing to do with equality, tolerance or justice.
Who will explain this to Tolpin, the Harvard student who is just beginning to learn that there is no tolerance for her beliefs? If Laura Kipnis is still a social justice warrior, albeit one who would allow free speech before reaching the invariable truth that social justice was the one true god nonetheless, can Michael Schill be the mature voice?
We in academia have a lot of big issues to tackle. One such topic — what to do about speech that offends vulnerable populations and how to protect speech and safety at the same time — presents a difficult challenge, but that makes the issue that much more important.
As with any important discussion, emotions can run high. But the only way to create change is to grapple with difficult issues. Nothing can be gained by shutting them out.
No, he can’t. This Halloween, Schill will dress as Neville Chamberlain, still trying to appease the angry little darlings. Even though he recognizes they’re fascists, they’re the “good” fascists.