You cursed brats, look what you’ve done! Or, why does the Wall Street Journal hate America?

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is at it again this weekend.  Hilariously, the ed board and many of its readers honestly believe that the fate of the republic rests on a few undergraduate students at Berkeley, UCLA, Middlebury and Wellesley Colleges just shutting up.

In a column putatively against the “soft totalitarianism” of “student thuggery against non-leftist viewpoints,” Heather Mac Donald drops the veil of her allegedly principled stand against “campus intolerance” by–wait for it!–complaining that students published articles in campus newspapers and made comments on Facebook that she doesn’t like.

Go ahead:  read that again.   And tell me who is it who’s really the special snowflake here:  the woman with WSJ editorial page real estate, or the writers for college newspapers?  This is a woman who is monitoring and complaining about the Facebook pages of undergraduate students whose politics she dislikes.  No member of the East German Stasi or Cultural Revolutionary could outdo comrade Mac Donald for her dedication to eradicating decadence and ideological impurities among our young people.

Here’s a catalog of MacDonald’s hatred of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in her own words.  She’s clearly hostile to the expression of any ideas on any college campus anywhere with which she disagrees:

  • “At UC Berkeley, the Division of Equity and Inclusion has hung banners throughout campus. . . One depicts a black woman and a Hispanic man urging fellow students to ‘create an environment where people other than yourself can exist.'”
  • “After the February riots at Berkeley against Mr. Yiannopoulos, a columnist in the student newspaper justified his participation in the anarchy: ‘I can only fight tooth and nail for the right to exist.’ Another opined that physical attacks against supporters of Mr. Yiannopoulos and President Trump were ‘not acts of violence. They were acts of self-defense.'”
  • “An editorial in the Wellesley College student newspaper last week defended ‘shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others.’”
  • “In November 2015, a Columbia sophomore announced on Facebook that his ‘health and life’ were threatened by a Core Curriculum course taught by a white professor.   The comment thread exploded with sympathetic rage.”  Yes. How dare college students think they can discuss their educations on Facebook?
  • Another sophomore fulminated: ‘Many of these texts INSPIRED THE RACISM THAT I’M FORCED TO LIVE WITH DAILY, and to expect, or even suggest, that that doesn’t matter, is [obscenity] belittling, insulting, and WAY OUT OF [obscenity] LINE.’ Those ‘racist’ texts include works by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Rousseau and Mill.”  (Mac Donald implies here that it’s a thought crime to criticize these writers, who are in her view off-limits for any kind of critical inquiry.  That seems to me to be inimical not just to liberty of speech and of the press, but also inimical to education itself.)
  • “A December 2016 report on policing from the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services includes a section on ‘intersectionality.'”

All of the above bullet points are about campus speech, not about student violence, intimidation, or misbehavior.  That’s the “student thuggery” Mac Donald actually describes–thought crimes.  (What’s the word for regimes that behave as though opinions they dislike are equivalent to violence against the state?  I think it begins with an F, but I can’t quite recall. . . )

And now for the punchline:  Mac Donald concludes:

Faculty and campus administrators must start defending the Enlightenment legacy of reason and civil debate. But even if dissenting thought were welcome on college campuses, the ideology of victimhood would still wreak havoc on American society and civil harmony. The silencing of speech is a massive problem, but it is a symptom of an even more profound distortion of reality.

Yes, the writer who complains that students express opinions she dislikes in campus newspapers and on Facebook is our great champion of “reason and civil debate” and against the “silencing of speech.”  If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Mac Donald was overheating a bit, her crystals beginning to melt, her snowflakiness melting, melting away.

But the readers of the WSJ clearly have a limitless appetite for this kind of hyperventilation about the kids these days.  With an eye towards ironic mischief in a section of the letters to the editor headlined “Saying ‘Shut Up’ Isn’t Helping Free Speech,” three letter-writers from San Diego, Sacramento, and Basalt, Colorado worry themselves about what’s happening at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.  Once again, their target is the students’ temerity in publishing an editorial in their own student newspaper.  The letter writers compare Wellesley students to 1) Chairman Mao, 2) call them “fascists” and “cowards,” because like the Wall Street Journal, they publish unsigned editorials, and 3) complain that students need to “realize that learning is the work of a lifetime,” so apparently they have no right to publish a student newspaper until said lifetime runs its course.

In other words, the students should just shut up!  SHUT UP ALREADY!  STFU! 

I can only shake my head in wonder at the astonishing illiberal, anti-intellectual hypocrisy of it all.

14 thoughts on “You cursed brats, look what you’ve done! Or, why does the Wall Street Journal hate America?

  1. Free speech for me but not for thee. What you say about injustice makes me feel uncomfortable, so you better shut up or else liberal fascism. College kids today, amirite.

    /s The writer calls herself Heather Mac Donald, however, not Heather MacDonald.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. The Right-Wing side of the blogosphere has been SO MAD at students who dare to speak out, or worse hold protests. Partly they’re upset about what the students are speaking out against (against racism, or against misogyny, or homo/transphobia), which is often revealing; but partly, I think, they’re just angry that the students are daring to speak at all.

    You remember that Oklahoma Congressman who shouted at his constituents in the townhall meeting because they dared to ask questions that weren’t “nice” questions? He was furious that they weren’t treating him with the proper respect. That’s what’s going here for people on the Right, I think. They believe that students need to be respectful, and for them that means sitting quietly and listening, and not asking disagreeable questions, or at least if they ask them, to ask them very nicely and politely.

    All that shouting! All that swearing! All that daring to challenge authority! For those on the Right, I believe they can’t even begin to hear anything the students are saying. They’re too upset and furious by the manner in which it is being said.

    And it is far worse, from what I can tell, when those students who speak out are black or brown or women. Women talking like that! Shouting like that! Black students shouting at(older!) white men like that!

    For many of those on the Right, this seems truly to signal a collapse of civilization.


    • You are right–conservativism is about social order, but where’s the outrage directed at the conservative students who hold Affirmative Action bake sales or confront openly those they see as leftist professors? They praise those students, fund organs like the Dartmouth Review that offer reliable right-wing views, and then put the best writers from these organizations on the right-wing think-tank/foundation dole. (Like Heather Mac Donald, who is at the Manhattan Institute!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. /*pokes head cautiously above battlements, like a snail in a thunderstorm*/

    There are opinions I think we really never should have to listen to again. Like anything Richard Spencer has to say. He should be limited to the air around his bar stool. People with that to say should have no way to broadcast at all, including blogs.

    That’s kind of what people are getting at with the “let’s punch Nazis” meme. To me, that’s the completely wrong reaction. If we can punch people for saying the wrong thing, then *they* can start punching *us* and nobody would have a life. That’s not a solution.

    But the idea behind it: I shouldn’t have to ever hear this crap, that’s right.

    That’s pretty much what the Germans promote with their anti-hate speech laws. How do they deal with it ? How do they enforce it?

    Hate speech really shouldn’t be covered under free speech laws because it’s point is to hurt, not to communicate. It’s like pretending knives are covered by free speech because somebody says they communicate by throwing knives.

    Yes, I know the problem is how do you define it. And who gets to do the defining. I realize Mac Donald (what’s up with that, by the way? She’s too special to be MacDonald?) would call students protesting Milo hate speakers. So, yes, I know, I know, it’s an awful can of worms. But really, now that every goon in the universe can broadcast 24/7/365 we’re really going to have to get a handle on this. Old Mac Donald notwithstanding.

    /*ducks back below the stonework*/

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is one I’ve been struggling with myself.

      The First Amendment is meant to protect free speech under the belief that in a society of free and educated adults, the Marketplace of Ideas — the Agora — will sort out the good ideas from the bad ideas: that we don’t need some governmental parent standing between us and the ideas, deciding which we should hear and which are too dangerous or too wrong for us to listen to and consider.

      Okay, so far, so good, and I find this worldview interesting and would like to subscribe its newsletter.

      As the game plays out, however, what we find in the actual Marketplace of Ideas — the American Agora — is that ideas that have already been thoroughly discredited (Richard Spencer’s White Nationalist notions about just when genocide of the inferior races becomes necessary and how one should go about implementing that genocide, for instance, or Milo’s vile ideas about gay and trans people) continue to be propagated and championed, despite the fact that they have been refuted endlessly.

      This leads to people who could be discussing better ideas, more interesting ideas, more useful ideas, spending endless amounts of time refuting Spencer, Milo, Charles Murray, Mac Donald, even though their ideas have *already* been refuted. Bad ideas drive out good ideas in the American Marketplace, in other words.

      What is the solution? Are we to keep spending our time refuting the already refuted? For many — such as Milo — this is only what they want. They aren’t in this to find the truth, or the best idea. They only want attention. They only want to use up our oxygen. But we ignore them at our peril, since their ideas, false as they are, have proven attractive to many.

      I did enjoy the spectacle of Richard Spencer getting punched. But I can’t think that’s a viable solution in the long run.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was just discussing with my students some of the longue duree intellectual trends in conservativism vs. liberalism over the past 300-400 years. In short, conservatives doubt the perfectability of humankind, which is why they’re so invested in authority and clear, bright lines and rules. Liberals believe in the perfectability of humankind, which means that they think everyone will eventually agree with them and end up on their side.

        Liberals, we need to get over this idea, and soon. There will always be authoritarians and troglodytes who will promulgate racist, sexist, and elitist ideas to serve themselves, and these ideas will appeal to a significant portion of our population. The issues change but the basic tendency does not. I have come to believe that the existence of conservativism is built into people’s psychology. The fearful will always be among us. And in our two-party political system, the opposition will never vanish, never give up, and sometimes will be drawn to extreme articulations of their revanchism.

        BUT, we don’t need to refute ideas that are stupid, bad, and just plain wrong. We don’t have to relitigate The Bell Curve, Sociology for the South, or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We can just note that these ideas have been continuously and repeatedly disproven, and point to the shameful genealogy of these ideas which stem from slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. And then we can move on to make arguments that are more productive and relevant to today’s challenges.

        But the struggle will never end. Individuals can learn, grow, and change, but the psychological tendency to fear and defensiveness mean that some portion of the population will always be vulnerable to manipulation by the dark side.

        Liked by 1 person

      • (I hope this appears below Historiann’s comment, since it’s what I’m thinking after reading both.)

        I’m about as pointyheaded as they come, but I’m not so sure about perfectability. People seem to have pretty much the same motivations going right back to the Paleolithic.

        What changes are the rules. Adam Gopnik had a brilliant piece about this a while back. The awful truth about how dispensable we are. The gist is that he’s been making super-special waffles for his family every Saturday morning. One time he’s away, and when he comes back

        on Saturday morning bravely put on my 1960s-sitcom-dad face and called out: “Anyone in the mood for waffles?”

        Silence. Real silence. And there is no silence as silent as the silence produced by a 15-year-old American girl, not even the tapping of her fingers on her smartphone. My daughter’s was not merely an empty silence, but a pointed silence, warping the space around her in a very Einsteinian way. You could almost see it taking on shape and danger.

        “It’s okay Dad,” she said at last. “Mom and I will make them later.”

        “Mom doesn’t know how to make waffles, ” I cried. “She’s never made waffles in her life.”

        “She does now,” Olivia answered calmly. And then she quietly added these killer words: “While you were away, we read the instructions on the side of the box.”

        And it goes on from there, as only Gopnik can, talking about what we can do with rules. The useful ones, anyway.

        So I guess what I’m saying is that humans may not be perfectable (in less than geological time), but rules can be improved.

        And the real problem with our current rules on free speech is that they ignore two aspects of (unchangeable) human nature: our attention is limited by time, if not intelligence, and our minds work in such a way that forming an opinion takes much less energy than rethinking it.

        So if people hear a lot of discredited BS, it *matters*. Refuting it and moving on is only good enough for the people who already see it. Ignoring that has landed us with the Dump. It *matters*.

        As for what one does about it, I wish I knew. One thing is clear: we do NOT want governments or corporations or some kind of experts deciding what’s okay and what is not. (Like, say, Mac Donald.) But then who? And how?


      • quixote, you may be interested in this column posted at the NYT today by Ulrich Baer at The Stone. Sample:

        The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

        In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public. In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.

        The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to underestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

        And it goes on from there. Very good food for thought. (Emphases in these paragraphs mine.)


      • (Again, hoping this appears below Historiann’s last comment.)

        Thanks for that link to Baer’s article. That’s indeed right in the vein of what I was trying to say. Off to read it now.


    • My extremely important contribution to this debate is to note that there is a gap between Mac Domhnall in the Scottish Gaelic. It’s a bit odd to see it in the anglicised Scots version MacDonald, but I’m guessing that this has just been the way it was translated at some point in the US.

      Liked by 1 person

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