July 5, 2017 by John Bruce Leonard
ONE IS WELL served in the contemporary world by having a mind like an amoeba, which indiscriminately swallows everything it comes across—and has done with it as quickly. One really has to suspect that the daily consumers of the press—not to speak of the journalists themselves—are sprinters of such impossible stamina and speed, that beside them poor Peidippides seems but a short-winded tyro. Never have so many people spent so much time dwelling on the mere moribund facts of the day; and for this, it is safe to say, never has so much of human life been so ephemeral and so death-bound.
These sluggish reflections aside—for I fear my long-legged reader has already far surpassed them, and is racing on well ahead—I would like today to proceed at least halfway in their spirit, by considering a “news item” which “broke” better than a month ago, and which has thus been lain to rest for almost as long. I return to it for the simple reason that nothing more has been heard of it—meaning that the state of affairs of the first days of June have not changed sufficiently to catch the restless eternally roving eye of our journalists. And since it is in itself a species of “news” that such a ludicrous situation could protract itself so long, then— But really, must we justify ourselves ever by the standards of the moment?
The events to which I allude are by-now well familiar to many: namely, the “Day of Absence” and the subsequent protests which fell upon Evergreen State College toward the end of May of this year. (A useful overview of the debacle can be found here.) Summed in briefest terms: the students of this college decided, in the unfolding of a “tradition” which I will not bother to explain, that the white people of their “community” should subtract themselves from campus on the day in question, in order to demonstrate their solidarity with the “minorities” of the college. One professor, Bret Weinstein—an individual, incidentally, with a long history of “fighting racism”—refused to comply, on the very legitimate grounds that excluding individuals from campus on the grounds of their racial traits is the very epitome of racism. But of course, good Professor Weinstein forgot that “racism” in our day has been redefined: most conveniently for progressive liberals, it happens that only whites can in principle be racist. (No doubt it is an integral part of our white privilege.)
But returning to our tale—Bret Weinstein dared to refuse this “invitation” to leave campus, but, after sending in an advisory note to the administration, held his class as usual. Or should have done so, had it not been for the angry mob which appeared at his door to interrupt his teaching, and to upbraid him in the harshest possible terms, and something less than civility. The President of Evergreen, no doubt following his native sagacity, ordered campus security not to intervene, effectively leaving Professor Weinstein stranded amidst the wolves. And despite my disagreements with the good professor, and despite the fact that I believe he is only harvesting that which he himself has long had his hand in disseminating, nonetheless I freely admit that he comported himself with dignity, courage, and admirable self-control in an extremely volatile and hostile situation.
Enough—I have no will to rehash all the nonsense that followed. The campus descended into chaos for a number of days, as the student mob took control and began roving about with baseball bats in hand. At some point or other they browbeat the college President into acquiescing to a number of absurd and humiliating “demands” (insofar as one can speak of browbeating a man who appears to be as spiritually boneless as a jellyfish). There have since been protests and counter-protests, and a few scenes such as to make one giddy with the awareness of how truly comical our “culture” has become. Bret Weinstein and his wife (herself a professor at this “institution for higher learning”) were forced off campus for some weeks, as their security could not be vouched for, and so far as I know anything about it they have yet to return.
Now what is startling in all of this is the total lack of accountability of all persons involved. No apology has been issued to Professor Weinstein for anything that happened. Only a single professor in the entire staff has volunteered his open support for Professor Weinstein, and one doubts he has been well repaid for it by the administration or the student body. Indeed, a flurry of demands have come from the student body, requesting, nay, commanding, the firing of Professor Weinstein. He has been accused, incredibly, of inciting violence against minority groups. Even if he maintains his position—which, given his brave comportment in late days, I would not put past him—I do not expect he will be among the more popular professors on campus.
I said above that these events “fell upon Evergreen.” Yet it is quite inadequate to say that they “fell upon” that college; better say, they were incubated within it. And in the same way it seems to me that they have been incubating within our very educational system, not to say our society at large. It is easy to dismiss Evergreen as but an extreme example of certain unhappy tendencies in the “liberal arts,” but what is really remarkable is how little extreme it really is. Related events have been occurring with increasing frequency. I name only Berkeley, Middlebury, and Yale as examples of a trend. One might respond that these events are still relatively few and far between, that they do not represent the norm—but anyone who has been to college will recognize that they are far from being alien to the proclivities of contemporary academia. The contrary: they occur with a constancy and a consistency which alone can explain the silence surrounding them; for the most part, the only difference between what happened at Evergreen, and what happens with tolerable constancy on college campuses around the country, is that in general there is simply not any Bret Weinstein to put a wrench in the gears, and to cast these absurdities into the spotlight.
It is difficult to imagine indeed that this kind of fiasco will do anything but grow more frequent and more bitter in coming years, for the simple reason that it is the direct child of our ways of thinking and living. In particular, it is the product of the dogmatic belief in “human equality”—“human equality” understood not as a juridical principle, but, as it were, as a moral and metaphysical principle, a basic and most fundamental feature of human beings by which societies must be ordered and governments arranged. The originating “equality before the law” upon which our liberal nations are founded, in its original sense has little or nothing to do with the establishment of “Equity Councels” dedicated to providing special services, special rules, special exceptions to special groups; it has nothing to do with attempting to eradicate the differences in circumstance standing between this or that “human group.” It cannot have anything to do with these attempts, for the very simple reason that in and of itself it is a repudiation of the entire idea of legal recognition of different human groups as groups. But “equality before the law” is never long for this world. Democratic man is much too short on attention to get so far as the fourth word of this neat little formulation—and he interprets his society accordingly.
Our poor conservatives, unprepared as always to confront the crisis of modernity even so far as its third or fourth layer, object to all of this rather limply by insisting that it goes against freedom of speech. As if this meant anything any longer to the liberals of the progressive stamp—as if “freedom” were not to them merely a function of equality, a principle whose time can come only when “equality” has been perfected—which is to say, of course, “after the revolution,” at some unspecified future date, when our “progressive work” is finally accomplished and the last “Social Justice Warrior” has lain the last “inequity” to its eternal rest. Or, to speak more plainly and honestly, never.