You have options, you know. You don’t have to let teachers’ unions and politicians use your kids as markers in high-stakes contests for money and political dominance. You can walk away from all of those presumptuous tax-suckers who think you owe them something and make your own decisions.
The latest Gallup/Knight Foundation survey is being cited in certain circles as evidence that there’s no problem in terms of respect for open discussion and free speech on college campuses. That’s pretty remarkable given the actual findings of the survey. Matthew Yglesias of Vox, for instance, somehow managed the other day to reference the 2016 survey, without mentioning the deterioration in findings in the now-available 2017 survey.
What sort of deterioration? Glad you asked. According to the 2017 Knight survey, “Sixty-one percent of students, up from 54% in the prior survey, strongly agree or agree that the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”
That’s the students themselves saying that it’s becoming more difficult to voice unpopular opinions on campus.
The survey is by no means a complete horror show. For example, only a small minority (10 percent) endorse using violence against speakers whose views they dislike. So there’s that. A larger minority of 37 percent thinks shouting down opposing views is acceptable. It’s not, in case I have to make that clear.
By and large, the survey seems to reveal support for free speech as a generic ideal, but much less tolerance for views that many college students actually dislike.
The survey conclusion reads, in part:
College students generally endorse First Amendment ideals in the abstract. The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump’s candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is “always acceptable.”
Why does this matter? Because college students graduate and become adults. If they bring into the adult world an intolerance for dissenting views, that’s something with which we’ll all have to grapple.
I have a favor to ask. Since you’re ending your relationship with the National Rifle Association, could you add my name to the list of companies, organizations, and individuals with which you won’t do business? You see, any objections you could have to the NRA apply to me many times over, and it’s only fair that you put the same distance between us.
If you’re going to refuse to do business with the NRA because of its support of an area of individual freedom, it’s only fair that you extend me the same courtesy. I’m a political columnist who has long and loudly opposed government restrictions on any area of liberty, including self-defense rights. I long stayed independent of the NRA not because I found it too radical in this area, but because I found it too compromising on the issue, often hostile to other liberties, including free speech and freedom from unreasonable search-and-seizure, and too supportive of law enforcement. That is, your qualms about doing business with the NRA should be even stronger with regard to me, since I am a less compromising advocate of individual liberty. I offer as evidence my column recommending that people carry guns without seeking government permission: “Carry a Gun—Without a Permit”.
Also, since you are apparently cutting ties with organizations that oppose government infringement of individual rights, I suggest that you consider taking a similar public stance against other pro-liberty groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fully Informed Jury Association, and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, among others. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be inconsistent.
In recent months, violent alt-righters and their militant counterparts on the antifa left have tried to push Americans to choose a side. They pretend that their intra-familial rivalry is the only game in town, and that anybody disdaining them both is refusing to take a stance. That’s a favorite game of violent thugs, and I addressed it in my latest column: “Choose Sides? You Bet. But Antifa and Fascism Are the Same Side.”
We do have to pick a side. But we already have one. Despite our many differences over specific policies, most Americans have traditionally supported the side of liberty, tolerance, free speech, and peaceful political change, within broad parameters. That side is in opposition to the violent, authoritarian thugs of the right and of the left. If we regain our faith in what we already have, there’s no reason to choose between rival siblings competing to rule over the ruins of everything that’s worthwhile on behalf of their illiberal family.
My responses since then, from both alt-righters and antifa lefties, have been a flood arguments about why their violence is good and necessary. Below is a sample, along with my rebuttal.
In your article about Antifa for Reason, you include a paragraph that seems somewhat out of place in the flow of your argument: “‘Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain,’ notes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic.”
I found the inclusion of this basic fact, and the lack of any analysis of it, interesting because in the rest of your piece you insist that you should not have to choose between fascists and those fighting them. It seems by that including that line, you are implying that if you were around in the 1920s and 30s you would have held the same, neutral position. Is that the case?
If it is, you should really take a close look at your moral values and take a stand to actively and forcefully oppose naziism.
To which I responded:
You’re doing exactly what I pointed out in my column, which is pretending that the only two sides are those of the dysfunctional totalitarian siblings, and that everybody must choose one or the other. It’s an effort to build support by pretending that other stances don’t exist. But the militant leftist and Nazi brands of illiberal scumbaggery are both evil. There’s nothing to choose between them. That’s especially true if you have any faith in the liberal tradition of tolerance, limited government, free speech, and peaceful political discourse. Then you already have a better side and there’s no reason to abandon it. If more Europeans had stuck with the right side rather than picking one or another rival factions of the same illiberal side, the horrors of the 20th century might have been avoided.
I’m sure that anybody who has examined their moral values could see the truth of that point.
I guess it’s not surprising that you use the cloak of “illiberalism” to cover both naziism and those who fight against it. For all the faith I have in free speech and tolerance, I have no confidence that our government, nor fence sitters like you, will do anything effective to stop the rise of political movements that would send me to my death without hesitation.
It’s nice to say that if only people had been different, we could have avoided bad things. But in the past of the reality we live in there were many chances to stop the rise of fascism, but those chances were missed. And of course were aided and abetted by those who claimed to support conservative values. I hope that every time white supremacists come out to protest they are vastly outnumbered by forceful opposition and that they go home embarrassed, jobless, and in tears. I doubt that I’ll see you on the streets, I’m sure you’ll be safely at home, writing about horseshoe theory, knowing that no matter what happens you’ll be fine.
The rest of us choose to say never again.
To which I replied:
And again, you pretend that the only choices are between two tribes of thugs, and there’s no liberal side to oppose both. You emphasize the deadly toll taken by one of the illiberal tribes, and conveniently ignore that inflicted by the other. Your argument is simply dishonest.
Choose between Auschwitz and the Gulag? Never again.
The crimes of Nazis and communists alike have been amply documented, but what about anarchists, who antifa often claim make up the core of their participants? Let’s take a peek at a review in the The New Republic of Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, a book that attempts to document the toll of Spain’s bloody civil war.
The most violent political force in the Republican zone were the anarchists, who fought against Franco but also opposed the Republic. Beyond the reach of the government, and bountifully armed, they were all but impossible to control. They ran the most murderous of the checas, including one squad that decorated their murder van with skulls and their uniforms with death’s heads. They burned corpses to avoid investigation and identification; they burned churches and convents on principle.
To be clear, Spain’s anarchists of the period were “anarchists” for some value of the word–they were awfully state-like in their actions. And not a very nice state, at that.
By the way, my correspondent above reached me by email, which is not a public forum, so I’ll do him the courtesy of keeping his identity confidential. I will reveal, however, that he’s a PhD candidate in history at a respected university. Yet he obviously has a self-image of himself and his friends reenacting the Spanish Civil War in the role of the anarchist anti-fascists, without realizing that the people he emulates in that war were as despicable as the fascists they opposed, and the communists who they fought alongside, and against whom they often battled. The good guys in that war were the beleaguered supporters of liberty and democracy who let themselves be sidelined by rival totalitarians who bathed their country in blood.
Really, stay clear of totalitarians. They have only terror and death to offer.
A majority of Republicans and Americans leaning Republican now think that colleges and universities are a negative influence on the country. Yes, that’s a big change–no matter the decades-old sniping by conservatives toward academia and institutions of higher learning. And before anybody starts chuckling, the shift has big implication all right–but more for the relevance of colleges and universities than for the fates of right-leaners.
As recently as two years ago, most Republicans and Republican leaners held a positive view of the role of colleges and universities. In September 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country; 37% rated their impact negatively.
By 2016, Republicans’ ratings of colleges and universities were mixed (43% positive, 45% negative). Today, for the first time on a question asked since 2010, a majority (58%) of Republicans say colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, while 36% say they have a positive effect.
Writing for Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle notes that “Conservatives in the media have been complaining about liberals in academia for a very long time — just about as long, in fact, as academia has been trending liberal.” But since then, she points out, much of academia has gone from sharply leaning toward one ideology to explicitly condemning the legitimacy of opposing views. Ejection of speakers from campus, violent confrontations, and efforts to shut down dissenters and free speech advocates on college campuses have become a regular feature of coverage of campus doings in recent years–and the results have been swift.
“Over the past two years, the share of Republicans and Republican leaners who view the impact of colleges and universities positively has declined 18 percentage points (from 54% to 36%),” says Pew. That’s an important shift, and a fast one.
Now, why should anybody other than those on the right (and those concerned about actual inquiry in an intellectually diverse environment) care if conservatives choose not to avail themselves of higher education in years to come? If Republican offspring choose to confine themselves to a blue collar future, so much the better for bien pensants who will have a clearer path to management gigs, right?
First, let’s not dismiss non-college track jobs. Starting a business and entering a trade remain great paths through life that don’t require an entry charge equivalent to a mortgage. Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, points out that “You have right now about 3 million jobs in transportation, commerce, and trades that can’t be filled” and that pushing college as the only route to the good life is stupid.
That said, there’s no guarantee that the colleges and universities openly rejecting people who adhere to an assortment of mainstream political views will retain their gatekeeper role to plum jobs. Colleges gain wide respect so long as they are seen as educational institutions that open the doors to opportunity. If, instead, they’re perceived more as ideological institutions that can no longer guarantee opportunity, they’ll lose their cachet very quickly.
In the past two years, high-profile companies including Ernst & Young, Penguin Random House, and PriceWaterhouse Coopers have publicly deemphasized college degrees in their hiring processes. E&Y “found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.” The other companies made similar announcements. They won’t discriminate against degree-holders, they say. But they’ll happily hire those who haven’t bothered with the time and expense of college, and train them in-house.
How many other companies are making the same changes quietly?
Even today, some professions remain open to non-degree applicants. You can still become a lawyer in a handful of states without ever attending law school. You have to study under the guidance of a practicing attorney before sitting for the bar–basically, an apprenticeship. That practice could easily revive and spread if attending a school comes to be seen as an expensive distraction rather than a boon.
Actually, I think that developing a variety of alternative routes to jobs, careers, and adult life is a good thing of its own accord. If colleges and universities continue their transformation into monasteries of true believers, alienating half the population in the process, those alternatives will be not just good, but necessary.
A buddy of mine, Paul Fuhr, has a weekly podcast in which he interviews interesting people at length about what makes them tick. A few weeks ago, he included me in the category of people he considered worthy of a chat for his Fuhrious Podcast. I’ll let his summary speak for itself (note that I was managing editor of Reason.com, while the excellent Katherine Mangu-Ward was and remains managing editor of the print magazine):
Jerry Tuccille called in from his home near Sedona, Arizona to discuss Libertarianism, the publishing world, the election, what inspires him, hiking the Desert Southwest, family art heists, trying not to die while camping, buying John Cusack a beer, and the challenges of homeschooling. Tuccille is a political writer for Reason, the foremost libertarian magazine in the U.S., where he was its managing editor. His articles have appeared everywhere from Salon to the Washington Times, covering government overreach, civil liberties, and free markets. (Intro Song: “Don’t Wanna Know If You’re Lonely,” Husker Du)
Over the weekend, I received a slightly frantic message from an old friend beside herself over the Trump phenomenon that has dominated this year’s political cycle–and looks poised to turn the Republican Party into a smoking pile of wreckage. Her note contained horror not just at Trumpkins, but Republicans in general, who she characterized as “PRO violence, bigotry, racism, lies, hot air and nonsense…”
She’s a Bernie Sanders supporter, herself, and somewhat enamored of socialism.
She went on to explain how she advised a daughter who lives in New Zealand to never move back to the U.S.
I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that I share her dismay over the rise of Trump’s cult of personality. But my diagnosis is rather different. I think the rot goes deeper and has spread more widely. Below is my reply to her.
I appreciate your sentiments. This campaign season is bringing out strong feelings, often for good reason. But some of those feelings–the more vitriolic ones–are part of the problem.
Photo by: Michael Vadon
Keep in mind that both major political parties are in crisis. The Democratic Party would be perceived as a basket case, if the Republican Party weren’t so obviously on the brink of disintegration and in the process of being hijacked by a populist thug. As Britain’s The Economistnotes, “The state of the Republicans is particularly parlous. But the contradictions among Democrats, though less obvious, also run deep.” Trump, a political centrist of the populist variety (really) could have easily run under either party’s banner, but he chose the more hollow and direction-less one for convenience’s sake. That’s because the Republican establishment (some individuals excepted) have spent years ignoring ideas and stirring up opposition for the sake of opposition so that they could avoid taking tough positions on important issues like entitlement reform, spending choices, and corporate welfare. Having handed out pitchforks to the mob, they now find themselves on the receiving end.
But the Democrats are not only deeply divided, they’re also increasingly authoritarian, having abandoned their civil libertarian ideals and interest in foreign policy restraint. That’s how we get a primary race between an openly corrupt party hack and an economically illiterate socialist who praises totalitarian regimes.
That would be a disaster for the Democrats — if somebody who acts like Mussolini wasn’t about to run away with the Republican nomination. As another British commentator notes, “The violence seen in Chicago is part of a long-term crisis: the nihilism of the Right, the authoritarianism of the Left and the weakening of republican institutions.”
As that quote implies, the rot goes deeper than the political parties. A big chunk of our population is embracing populism, nativism, and authoritarianism. Trump is attracting the white blue collar vote across ideological divides. Chunks of the electorate are changing party affiliation to support him, especially in the East and rust belt (Pennsylvania, Massachusetts). Given that he happily operates outside the norms of liberal democracy, this is extraordinarily troubling.
It’s also something that won’t be resolved by the destruction and replacement of the GOP, since the populist mob will still be out there and available for the next leader.
I don’t think Trump will win the election; his negatives are prohibitively high and his divisiveness puts a ceiling on support. But I think our political system is actually sicker than just his candidacy would indicate.
Feel free to share the above, if you like. For what it’s worth, New Zealand–and Australia–look to be in better shape than the U.S. or continental Europe [just hours after I wrote this the state election returns came in from Germany, reporting the success of the Trump-esque AfD]. Both, by the way, are not just politically stable, but less socialist overall (despite rhetoric) than the U.S.
Karl Popper, the author of the rightly revered The Open Society and Its Enemies, didn’t believe in “the rule of the people” which he dismissed as a “completely impractical ideology.” Oh, he supported democratic systems of government all right–he just thought it was nonsense to pretend that they represented some sort of popular will. “But, of course, nowhere do the people actually rule,” he wrote for The Economist in 1988. “It is governments that rule (and, unfortunately, also bureaucrats, our civil servants—or our uncivil masters, as Winston Churchill called them—whom it is difficult, if not impossible, to make accountable for their actions).”
Instead, Popper favored democracy as an effective means by which “bad rulers can be got rid of without bloodshed, without violence.” His endorsement of elections was pragmatic.
I would go one step further. Democracy represents not just a relatively peaceful means of disposing of bad rulers, it also represents a suspension of (violent) hostilities between opposing factions within a political system. Ultimately, democracy is an unspoken truce among various peoples suffering under the rule of the government in question. They’re bound together by the assumption that the outcome of elections and legislative debates will be less terrible, on balance, than the political consequences of going at it in the streets hammer and tongs.
That we keep coming back to variations of democracy and that even profoundly unrepresentative (and unresponsive) regimes feel obliged to pretend that they represent the outcome of popular deliberation is testimony to the system’s perceived success in this realm.
But having dispensed with the civic religious trappings surrounding elections and recognizing that their value lies in disposing of the malicious and incompetent, and buffering factional disputes, it’s apparent that democracy’s value continues only so long as the vast majority of people agree that its outcomes can generally be expected to be less bad than the possible results of open conflict. If that perception changes, then all bets are off.
This, I think, is one of the better pragmatic arguments for limited and decentralized government in addition to democracy. By reducing the chances that the various factions that compose a society (and which evolve, disappear, and are replaced over time) will have unacceptable outcomes thrust upon them, you increase the likelihood that working within the democratic process will continue to be perceived as preferable to taking a chance on the alternative. Limited government lowers the stakes by putting some areas of life off-limits to political decision-making. Decentralized government (including federalism in the U.S. context) means that factions can implement political preferences in geographic areas where they’re concentrated while leaving largely untouched those areas where people who would find such policies objectionable are dominant. People caught “behind enemy lines” can (and do) move elsewhere to find a regime more to their liking.
Imperfect, no doubt, but a generally workable and peaceful way of allowing people with important differences to live within the same political system.
So, if you really want to break the truce and make conflict-solution outside the system seem more appealing, raise the stakes. Centralize the political system and increase the reach of whoever is currently in power so that people come to believe that they can’t really afford to lose too many political battles. And then raise tensions by making it difficult to change the people running the political machine.
Looking at the dumpster fire that is political debate and the presidential campaign in 2016 America, I can’t help but thinking that the democratic system is broken across the board. In a world in which political parties usually appear and disappear with regularity, the Republican and Democratic parties have been unassailable for a century and a half, as have most of their leaders, making the system appear (rightly) largely unresponsive in turning out politicians that large segments of the population want to see removed from power (Another Bush? Another Clinton? McConnell? Pelosi?). Resentment at the situation has erupted in the populist candidacies of the economically ignorant but crowd-pleasing Bernie Sanders, and the wildly narcissistic but equally crowd-pleasing Donald Trump. And all levels of government have reached ever-further into people’s lives even as decision-making has been concentrated in Washington, D.C., meaning that there’s no way for people to escape from intrusive policy decisions to which they object.
A few months ago, I wrote about the UK offices of giant accounting firms Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouse Coopers deemphasizing college credentials in their hiring processes. At a time when college costs are soaring and campuses appear to have degenerated into madhouses, E&Y “found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.”
So E&Y essentially announced that their was no hiring advantage to be had in laying out a mint for tuition and suffering four years of hypersensitivity, and it wasn’t alone.
Now enlist Penguin Random House to the that-college-degree-isn’t-worth-a-damn brigade. “Random House human resources director Neil Morrison said that growing evidence shows there is no simple correlation between having a degree and future professional success,” reportsThe Guardian. As a consequence, the international publishing company “will no longer require candidates for new jobs to have a university degree.”
As far as these companies are concerned, if you want to go to college, that’s your choice, but it won’t necessarily help you when you apply for a job.
So… When will people begin to decide, en masse, that there’s little attraction to be found in paying out tens of thousands of dollars per year to be immersed in a quasi-totalitarian environment that’s increasingly divorced from real life? We can’t be too many hiring policy announcements away from that point.
The round of college campus protests currently turning institutions of higher education into very expensive places in which to squeeze in a class or two in between sit-ins and overwrought expressions of outrage started, more or less, as reactions to perceptions of residual racism. In response, much of the population outside the academic bubble seems to have embraced the idea that retiring monuments to slavery advocates might be a reasonable thing to do in a world where some students are descended from people who suffered as slaves.
But the rest of the complaints are maybe not receiving such an enthusiastic reception from people who find it hard to believe that students admitted to elite universities are the put-upon victims of a culture of bigotry poisoning college campuses, of all places. Are there racists attending the University of Missouri, Wesleyan, Princeton, and Yale? Probably. Are those racists rare voices of irrelevant stupidity speckled through bastions of racial tolerance? Almost certainly–at least in the experience of the hard-working people who have to dwell in the reality of the world outside, decades after equality before the law became a done deal, even if the criminal justice system hasn’t fully digested the fact.
So, mocked and snubbed for finding offense in the least offensive places to be found in this imperfect world, and at risk of stripping the epithet “racist” of its sting through excessive use, college protesters seem to be detouring into demands for…free stuff. And ponies. Well, the ponies might be more sensible.
From the very lengthy document posted yesterday by the vanguards of the revolution at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Our aspirations are untainted: free tuition via a University open to all, abolition of the police and prisons, free and collectivized housing and food, and more.
A lot more, it turns out, none of which would help to reduce the costs of the free (to students) stuff that would be shouldered by taxpayers.
We DEMAND that University cafeterias, gym memberships, libraries, and class registration be free to all residents of North Carolina regardless of admittance into the institution…
We DEMAND a University and hospital-wide minimum wage of at least $25.00/hour…
We DEMAND that free childcare and afterschool care is provided to all staff, students, and faculty at UNC and UNC-Hospitals. We DEMAND transportation from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to afterschool programs at UNC…
We DEMAND that student-athletes are recognized as University employees, paid a base salary $25.00/hour with benefits, and, further, compensated in accordance with the level of revenue that they bring to the University…
We DEMAND that all workers receive free monthly GO Passes and free parking through employment with UNC or UNC-Hospitals…
There’s a lot more, including denunciations of capitalism and something called the “athletics-industrial complex.” But that just highlights the obvious fact that economics education is sadly lacking at UNC-Chapel Hill. Frankly, a demand for a pony for each protester would be rather more affordable than the laundry list of goodies actually proffered. I’m not entirely sure who the students think is going to pay for all that free stuff, though I suppose it’s the sinister, mustache-twirling one-percenters who, so I’m told, have pots of gold hidden under the stairs.
Or leprechauns. Maybe they have it in for leprechauns.
But don’t fear. The UNC protesters are troubled by badthink, too. They’re not going to let go of that risible aspect of this year’s live-action staging of the movie PCU.
We DEMAND that the University incorporate mandatory programming for all University constituents (students, faculty, staff, administrators, deans, chairs, etc.) that teaches the historical racial violence of this University and town as well as a historical and contemporary look at the ways in which racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and cisheteropatriarchy structure our world.
I’d call it totalitarian except that it’s so over-the-top that it parodies itself. They want to teach us the evils (as they see them) of our world–including “cisheteropatriarchy” which I leave to readers to parse for meaning, if it has any. And when people inevitably convulse with laughter and openly mock their earnest reeducation efforts?
Oh, we’ll have none of that. At least, Princeton’s Destiny Crockett finds that prospect entirely unamusing. In a piece for The Daily Princetonian she wrote (in part):
[I]f your freedom of thought means that I, a Black student, do not have the luxury of feeling safe on a campus that I have worked my entire life to get to, it should have no place in universities or any other beloved institution.
Oh, Destiny. We’re supposed to figure out what makes you “feel” safe or unsafe and adjust our speech and behavior accordingly? I think you and your friends went beyond jumping the shark and backflipped over a whole school of them. In response, all I can say is that I think you need…a holiday in Cambodia.