Sahil Handa is a student at Harvard. At National Review, she tells conservatives they’ve got it wrong.
Much of the debate about campus culture would have you believe that the average college student is hellbent on tearing down the patriarchy. One wakes up in the morning, wallows in grievance, and proceeds to spend the day railing against the evils of privilege.
So, is the description accurate? In my experience, not particularly. I’d say it describes roughly 5 percent of the undergraduate population — a few hundred or so social-justice warriors who consider their mere survival on Harvard’s campus to be a form of triumphalist activism. These woke icons are overwhelmingly middle class, incredibly entitled, and extraordinarily outspoken.
Handa considers herself conservative, and her point is that the campus isn’t awash in SJWs. Whether the percentage is 5, or more, or less, isn’t particularly important. What’s important is that they are a tiny minority. The vast majority, she asserts, are pretty much like college students have always been.
But most students do not subscribe to the madness. Contrarian conservatives repudiate it and find sanctuary in the Republican Club. Others are too focused on studying and partying to care. The majority stay silent and air their concerns in private, so that they won’t be forced to bear the inevitable social cost.
Maybe the Overton Window has shifted sufficiently left that she can’t see what she writes, or misinterprets her personal observations for lack of context as to what it means to be beyond that mad 5%. The majority stay silent? Forced to bear the inevitable social cost?
Assuming her 5% activist estimate to be remotely accurate, does she not see how they are so powerful as to silence the majority and impose inevitable social costs? The issue isn’t their numbers, but their ability to dictate the norms by which the campus is run.
At best, the “silent majority,” to coin a phrase, has allowed the handful of activists to seize control of their world, their lives. At worst, the 5% are the leaders while the rest of the student body are impotent followers, unable to use their vastly superior numbers to control the social norms that determine who bears the social cost. In law, we use the phrase “the tail doesn’t wag the dog.” At Harvard, the tail is the master of the dog. That’s not much of a dog.
The problem on campus is not a generation of inept, incapable students, but a small number of coddled ideologues who set the limits for campus debate. One might liken this to the actual prevalence of white supremacy across the country: Snowflakery and supremacy exist, but both are pushed by a small number of fundamentalists.
Handa fails to recognize that both coddled idealogues and a generation of inept, incapable students are not mutually exclusive. If they’re just a small number, then why are they beating the crap out of the majority of the students. The numbers of white supremacists are minute, but useful to the SJWs as examples of why they are entitled to, must, employ extreme and authoritarian measures to eradicate these fascists.
But these Naxos carry no sway. When they hold a march, they are dwarfed by the numbers of people who turn out to reject their repugnant views. Indeed, they are so insignificant that people who were considered bleeding-heart liberals a few years ago are now called fascists and supremacists for supporting free speech and due process.
In fairness, and contrast, to Handa’s observation is the fact that this isn’t just a campus problem, even if what’s happened, and happening, on campus tends to be both a leading indicator and singular concern as these young people are the future of America. The New York Times, as much of a paper of record as this nation has, proffered an editorial ironically entitled “America the Beautiful.”
America in 2019 is a nation that locks up migrant children after separating them from their families. And yet it is also a nation that gives sanctuary and charity to tired, poor people as they seek to join this community, built by immigrants.
Is that the America of the 95%? It’s not to say that what’s happening with migrant children isn’t terrible, but is that all there is? There are American children starving, but the welfare of Americans is subsumed by our obsession over immigrants. At the same time, is there nothing good happening in America or is it all misery?
If anything reflects the absurdity of misdirected focus, it’s the reference to the USA women’s soccer team. If people don’t want to watch women’s soccer as much as men’s soccer, will the 5% pass a law requiring them to do so or be beaten by used tampons?
I don’t doubt Handa is right, even if her estimate might be low. It’s not that there aren’t many problems, on campus and in America, that are worthy of our attention and in need of redress. There always have been and, presumably, always will be. But there has been a shift from the majority telling the extreme crazies to calm down to the crazies screaming at the majority that they’re all racists and sexists, and the majority compliantly bowing their heads in shame, fearful of the “social costs.”
There could be a protest today at Harvard Yard where the silent majority finds its voice and tells its 5% activist scolds to get lost, its administrators and enabling profs to return the campus to the school they thought they were going to instead of renaming housemasters to deans because the sound of a word made some claim to feel unsafe.
Then again, those of us who were and remain died-in-the-wool lefty liberals, now called racists and sexists by the shrieking scolds, whose memories of campus life are well in the distance can tell the NYT that America is beautiful, even if they can’t see it through their social justice tears. The only way the voice of the 5% prevails is when the 95% remain silent. Harvard too.