The Unhinging of the Campus Left Means We Can’t Mock The “Both Sides Do It” Narrative Anymore

Whatever the causes, whether it’s that the online generation has sought out only the kind of information they are comfortable with online, or whether their parents were overly protective (obviously, I think, the answer is all of the above) there appears to be a chasm opening on the left. It’s interesting that so many of the “Netroots” bloggers of the 2000s defend this behavior; they created the liberal hugbox on the Internet in response to a perception that the media was too Bush friendly. At the time, they were proud of being “the reality based community.”

Much like the Tea Party/Country Club Republican split, the differences are often more of style than substance, though there are important substantive differences. The main objection from my generation of liberals appears to be that speech and debate is being stifled. Jonathan Chait points out that through this behavior, they essentially inoculate actual racists by letting them whine about the PC police.

I think it goes further than that, because I don’t agree that this is simply a case of a group of passionate youth rejecting certain things like racism out of hand. This is because they actually use hate speech and hateful speech. They do hold biased and prejudiced views. But their cultural logic permits this as long as the target is a political enemy. Even if we stipulate that a few stray heated and frustrated comments against white male elites are ok, they are still made. They are not taboo. But lumping together people and attacking them on the basis of perceived qualities pervades their dialogue, whether it’s the police, or even politically incorrect minorities, like Jews.

So, to be clear: it’s not about suppressing “hate speech” or speech that is hurtful or harassing a particular group on the basis of their group characteristics. It’s about policing speech according to a political logic that permits “hate speech” against some and not against others. And by “hate speech” we mean, according to the protesters themselves, anything that hurts their feelings. They define it. They get to legislate for everyone individually.

At the University of Missouri, an unconfirmed photo (one that appeared online 11 months ago) of an Indian-style, not Nazi-style, swastika was taken as a threat to black students, not to the Jewish students who were the chief victims of Nazism. But that’s not the issue here, the issue here is that this was consciously chosen as the causus belli for these students.

The graduate student who was formerly on hunger strike for reasons related to health care benefits had his cause “appropriated” and when the football team threatened to go along with it, the scalp of the university president was offered on a plate like Imam Husayn’s to the Caliph.

What’s ironic is that in all of this discussion of privilege and institutions, no one seems to point out that this is the privileged class. Yale more so, but Mizzou, Wesleyan, etc. are nothing to sneeze at. These folks may not end up in the 1%, but they are at least headed for the middle class. Their deepest concerns are offensive halloween costumes?

Maybe they’re frustrated. Maybe they expect things to be different in 2015, as John Oliver keeps reminding us. But as a person with some experience in politics they have only managed to push their cause back years by alienating allies and kicking up an opposition by blowback.

I would also point out that the intellectually disdainful way that the left has looked at the non-left over the last 20 years, as if the right was nothing more than a sociological petri dish of Hofstaeder’s paranoid style, or the way guys like Paul Krugman lampooned centrist “both sides do it types” basically loses it’s justification with behavior like this. The left has turned into a paranoid style reflection of the right, by creating its own media on the Internet, which reflect the right creating its own media in response to the perception that the mainstream media had a liberal bias. Campuses have become islands of leftist correctness in response to the perceived fascism of the rest of the world.

Probably due to the Internet, but perhaps due to some of the childhood factors people have suggested, it appears that the tribalism of our politics is making us all forget why we joined the tribe in the first place, what our values really are. I suspect this is going on on both sides. I suspect there many folks who lean Republican because they’ve had trouble with a bizarre regulation on their business that have been pumped so full of the tribalism and conspiratorialism of modern politics that they think the only way to solve their problems is to go along with the flat earth society that dominates the right.

Likewise, I bet there are quite a few liberals who know that the economy is so biased towards the rich that they are willing to tolerate fellow travelers who have buried economic issues in favor of New Left Totalitarianism.

Remember what you really value. I bet you value a good justice system, a clean environment, equality under the law, fair economic opportunities, strong families, good schools, and, though we don’t want it to trump all, we want security too.

No one should be so confident of their politics that they can guarantee all of those things without criticism. Sure, much political criticism these days is made in bad faith. That’s the price of a free society. Free societies are inefficient. The bad faith criticism can shut down a lot of progress. But only a total snot would look back at even the last 10 years and say that massive progress hasn’t been made. Marriage equality is a reality. We have a vehicle for providing universal health coverage. We avoided a massive depression. If that’s not enough fast enough, then consider what the other side might do if they could move so fast. It was happening in the first Bush term. It was scary.

I’m a liberal, at least in my own mind, because I believe in a certain fundamental fairness and because I think government has a role to play in providing that fairness and I have disdain for bias on the basis of inborn qualities that no one can help, both because it makes for a moribund society and because it seems morally wrong.

I try not to forget that even if it means sometimes that I think other liberals and Democrats have completely lost their grip on reality.