Thursday, 2 February 2017

The UC Berkeley debacle: Down the Rabbit Hole

Days like today are when the path of the alternative leftist is not easy.  Of course, news of the disasterous riots that broke out in response to controversial speaker Milo Yiannopolous's speaking engagement at UC Berkeley is all over the internet as I write this.  According to a Fox News report:
Yiannopoulos' visit to Berkeley was sponsored by the campus Republican club. The university has stressed it did not invite him and does not endorse his ideas but is committed to free speech and rejected calls to cancel the event.
Good for them.  As you all should know, the Campus Free Speech movement of 1964-65, so beloved a chapter in the history of the New Left, had its origins right there at UC Berkeley.  Then, as things progressed:
Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators carrying signs that read "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech" had been protesting for hours before the event.
Risky terrain to venture into, declaring that speech should not be free if it is "hate speech."  Who gets to decide what is and is not hate speech?  It is a slippery slope to venture on.  But these protesters were peaceful and behaving themselves, so no harm, no foul.  But the problem inherent in the above statement became starkly manifest as a terrible drama unfolded at the birthplace of campus free speech and academic freedom:
In the evening, a small group dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts used metal barricades to break windows, threw smoke bombs and flares, used a diesel generator to start a large bonfire outside the building.
And it all went downhill from there.  Yiannopoulos was swiftly evacuated from the premise as the situation went from bad to worse, leading to widespread condemnation of "Antifa" rioters and left wing extremists.  Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin issued this rather tepid tweet in response to the debacle, only shortly after making clear where his real loyalties lie:
Using speech to silence marginalized communities and promote bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn't welcome in our community.
Even El Presidente himself, the God Emperor of humanity weighed in on the matter via twitter, suggesting that federal funds should be withheld from UC Berkeley for failing to protect Milo's right to speak at the facility.

All in all, the entire fiasco was quite a wild ride.

I'm of the opinion that the matter warrants a full scale federal investigation.  Law enforcement, while present, seemed insufficient to the task of restoring order and protecting people and property, and numerous five minute warnings to "disperse or else" were laughed at by the rioters and not followed through with by the police themselves.  It makes one wonder of possible faculty and municipal collusion with the rioters.  If this is the case, federal prosecution is definitely in order.  There's little word on arrests, if there have been any.

For starters, any students involved in this fiasco should face expulsion for severe academic misconduct, and faculty should face termination for the same, not to mention criminal charges.

But let's be honest with ourselves here.  Direct repercussions for the riots are really just the beginning.  If we really want to assess responsibility, let's take a moment to think about how deep the rabbit hole really goes here.  The shit didn't just hit the fan the day antifa took up its red/black bannars and bandanas.  What happened there on Feb 1, 2017 were decades of chickens coming home to roost. In some respects, this is a monster turning on its creator - while UC Berkeley is known for birthing the campus free speech movement, it is also synonymous with student leftism in the western world in general.  Romanticization of the events at Berkeley in the 1960s is deep at the heart of the mythology of the idealism of the baby boomer generation and the enormous social changes they ended up bringing about.  While the ideologies of the radicals of that era go back much further, it was in this time period that they sank their talons into the mainstream of western culture.

The foundations for these riots, and for academic regressive leftism more generally, were laid decades ago.  "Political correctness" was old news long before tumblr and twitter were ever anything anybody ever heard of.  You could say it goes back to the late 1980s, when authors like Harold Bloom and Dinesh D'Sousa were sounding the alarm bells over increasing leftist dogmatism on campuses in their respective books, The Closing of the American Mind and Illiberal Education.   A raft of other authors followed suit through the 1990s - Christina Hoff Sommers in Who Stole Feminism?, Roger Kimball in Tenured Radicals, among many others.  But even then, it wasn't new.  William F. Buckley expressed his resentment towards "collectivist, Keynesian and secular ideology" being "forced on students" in God and Man at Yale, published in 1951!

There was a consistent theme to the warnings they issued, and it wasn't so much about the progressive ideologies themselves as it was the epistemically closed nature of these ideologies and the kinds of scholarship and activism that grew up around them.  The lynch pin of all regressive thought, the doctrine of "prejudice plus power" was first articulated by Patricia Bidol-Padva in 1970 in her book Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level.  This is the stuff we've all heard before:
Racism is prejudice plus power. On the basis of this definition, while all people can be prejudiced, only those who have power are really racist.
Institutional power: men as a class have it, women as a class don’t.
So it wasn't censorship when campus regressives gradually gained the right to suppress ideas they didn't like and penalize people they disagreed with.  When, in some cases, expression of disagreement with feminist or critical race theory was equated with harassment or hate speech, that wasn't censorship either.  Nor was it when they acted as ideological gatekeepers, obstructing the careers of student and faculty alike unless they towed the ideological line.  It was perfectly understandable that women's studies, black studies, latino studies, Queer studies and the like should be permitted to become echo chambers wherein groupthink in the name of empathy and solidarity in the face of the omnipotent oppressor should trump scholarship and critical thinking.  It was needed for "marginalized groups" to develop and articulate their own consciousness free from the outside world, which was, by definition, oppressive.

Compound that with cherry picked bastardizations of Marxist theory (stripped of their economic materialism), Frankfurt School critical theory and postmodern philosophy, which suggested that there was no real such thing as objective reality, and that even such fundamental axioms of thought such as basic logic and the scientific method were socially constructed, ostensibly for the benefit of "powerful" and at the expense of "marginalized" groups and you had, by the end of the 20th century, a perfect storm whose wind filled the sails of regressive leftism.

If the deans and boards of governors of many prestigious colleges, and the faculty as a whole had any disagreements with the above lines of reasoning, they weren't forthcoming in expressing them.  Neither were the fields that students taught in these institutions graduated into throughout the 1980s, 90s and 2000s.  This ideology became the basis of regressive leftism, and the backbone of its repressive policies, such as the manner in which harassment and hate speech laws ended up being devised and implemented.

It wasn't even new then.  We have Herbert Marcuse's infamous doctrine of "repressive tolerance" - the idea that repression was okay if it targeted reactionary ideas.  But before even that, Soviet era propaganda handwaved western concerns about human rights violations behind the iron curtain with the rationale that "oppression was the means by which one class exploits another.  As such, the USSR cannot be oppressive because it is a socialist state run by the workers, which by definition has done away with class exploitation."

The regressive left has truly elevated rationalizing sophistry into a high art form.  So should it really surprise us that the Berkeley protests went down the way they did?

The warnings issued by Buckley, Bloom, D'Sousa, Hoff-Sommers etc. were easy to dismiss.  For progressives, criticism was simply reaction.  "Angry white dudes" who would not accept women, minorities and gays as equals.  Indeed, such opposition to political correctness as there was gradually snowballed into full blown moral panic on the left, made worse by the willingness to exploit it for political purposes displayed by the Democratic Party machine in the US and its Labour and Liberal counterparts elsewhere.  Just add social media, and the SJW was born.

Conservatives, for their part, seemed altogether oblivious to it.  While he was president, George H.W Bush echoed similar concerns to those of Trump today.  But conservatives have been no friends of free speech historically, and have proven it an unimportant issue to them in any event.  It's not cutting taxes, after all.  It's not global power projection to protect petrodollar interests or curtailing abortion, so the conservative establishment could really care less.

The antics of SJWs and the absurdities of academic political correctness are, at most, ridiculed by conservatives, and usually dismissed in their own ideological terms.  Never is a chance passed up to mention the democrats specifically and by name.  The persons of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were long cited as being directly and personally responsible for any and all leftist excesses, to the point of asserting that Hillary was even paying protesters directly.  Now that the democrats are out of office, they're on George Soros's payroll now.  In the 1980s, the Republicans were termed the party of ideas.  Until Trump, they didn't come up with any ideas since the 1980s.  I'm quite surprised that tax cuts are not being touted in GOP strongholds as the solution to violent protest.

Resistance to all of this has thusfar been restricted to more cultural libertarian pseudo-conservatives of the Milo Yiannopoulos sort, and segments of the online skeptic community, especially on YouTube - think The Amazing Atheist, Sargon of Akkad and their ilk.  While these types had been fairly successful against the religious right, they've recently been expressing doubts about whether they can similarly triumph against the regressive left.  And I wonder too.  They are long on criticism and ridicule, quite short on strategy.  Milo Yiannopoulos has more than made his point.  Campus leftists are wacko.  I don't have to go far to see this: any of the countless anti SJW social media pages and YouTube channels have made it pretty damn clear now.  I get it.

But what's been absent is any real strategy for actually dealing with this.  Over the years I've heard nothing.  A lot of wondering when it will be that these crazy leftists will come to their senses and start behaving themselves?  When will colleges show some backbone?  Sure, the occasional initiative does show itself: Jonathan Haidt's "heterodox academy" or Campus Reform.  Particularly bold is Arizona's move to abolish social justice courses and events at schools.  This takes it a bit far, maybe?

What's needed now are ideas.  We all know now how flaky the whole social justice and regressive left thing is.  But it's gone beyond merely being silly and ridiculous now.  What happened at UC Berkeley and in DC during Trump's inauguration should be making it apparent that this isn't a game any more.  People are being injured and property damaged.  Fatalities, the way things are going, are a matter if if, not when.  Is martial law or some other form of government crack-down drawing nearer?  Or will the radical leftists somehow get real power, and be able to impose their will they way they did in Russia in the 1930s or China in the 1960s?  We should all fear these possibilities.  We've been shaking our heads at these buffoons for decades now.  They're getting worse, not better, and it's not going to fix itself.

We need ideas.  We need action.


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