Reading in Breitbart Report about conservative deep thinker Ben Shapiro turning up at Cal State University in Los Angeles on February 23 to lecture students and faculty on the latest restrictions on the academic free speech made me think that it’s truly “déjà vu all over again.” Shapiro was reprising the role of those 1960s freedom riders, who would be caught (hardly by accident) on camera demonstrating against segregation in cities in the Deep South. With some luck, these demonstrators, who were already celebrities, would be arrested as disturbers of the peace and then after being shown on TV with handcuffs in the presence of an overweight Southern cop, would be sent back home, where they would bask in the righteous glory.
Shapiro’s efforts to reprise this cushy role in slightly altered circumstances reminds me of Marx’s aphorism about how history repeats itself as farce. During his widely publicized visit to Cal State, Ben was hardly in danger of being assaulted by a mob, since he was surrounded by police officers. That he persisted in going through with a lecture (sponsored by the YAF) after the university administration canceled it hardly shows that he was a hero. Ben simply refused to allow his opportunity for “conservative” adulation to be disturbed by anything as trivial as the decision of an administration to cancel an event that might have led to nasty confrontations. Whatever happened in LA, Ben didn’t want to spoil his opportunities for heroic pics and for being invited on to movement conservative yap-yap programs after. And Ben is a serious young man, as reflected in his most recent tweet to his bud John Podhoretz, in which he drops this observation: “The anti-Semites are out in force for Trump.” Undoubtedly the Donald, whose daughter is married to an Orthodox Jew, has worked hard to drum up Nazi support.
Mind you, I’ve no doubt that the complaints raised by Shapiro, for example, against the use of micro-aggression babble to silence whatever little remains of free speech on American campuses, is entirely true. But telling us this is like reporting that the range of intellectual dissent in a Soviet gulag was not very wide. Why should we applaud people for telling us the obvious, especially when they’re doing very well by calling attention to this practice? And then there’s the ostentatious display of phony scars exhibited by those who “dare” to speak at unfriendly universities. This would apply particularly to establishment Republicans like George Will and Condi Rice, whose speeches have been predictably interrupted by hecklers. My son asked in wonder when he heard that an address about to be given at some university by “conservative” George Will was suspended: “Why would anyone even care?” It is hard to imagine a more banal defender of the D.C. establishment than the sententious Will. My own suspicion is that he paid off some very needy students to demonstrate against him.
Of course, there are ways of dealing with academic intolerance, but these are not the ways that neocon scribblers and establishment Republicans would consider. Rather they are how crusty reactionaries in our state legislatures (whom I habitually vote for) would address academic lunacies, for example, when such curmudgeons call for cutting state subsidies to what is mistakenly described as “higher education.” Not only should we stop lavishing these direct subsidies, but even more useful would be the immediate suspension of those misbegotten student loans that our national parties keep increasing while searching for votes. Such bribes to voters have contributed to spiking college tuitions, which continue to rise as more and more money is thrown at the kiddies. But my own concern goes beyond the wasted tax money. I’m against funding an academic enterprise, namely universities, which have ceased to deserve public support. If their funding were cut, then the managers and residents of these nut houses would have less opportunity to “act out” and might even be forced to restrict themselves to doing something productive, like providing their customers with cheaply priced professional training.
Allow me to offer another suggestion: let’s put an end to the frenzied promotion of Political Correctness through the Justice Department and Department of Education. The accelerating war against “prejudice” being fueled by the government is an ongoing invitation to campus activists and administrators to punish those who may or may not be engaging in some illicit form of discrimination. In a well-documented brief, George Leef of the Pope Center demonstrates how the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has become extra-legally involved in regulating disciplinary actions in American universities regarding sexual assaults and sexual harassment. Until recently the OCR was only authorized to explain or clarify procedures in such matters. It has now arbitrarily increased its power to set up new, more strenuous guidelines that take away the remaining rights of male students.
This, of course, is nothing new. The power grab described by Leef has been going since at least the 1960s when the government began regulating behavior in universities in the name of fighting “discrimination.” If we can reduce the role of government at the federal and state levels in inciting and supporting campus inquisitions, it’s hard to imagine they’ll continue at their present level of intensity. If only it were possible to push the state entirely out of the business of combatting discrimination on campuses, I doubt the climate that Shapiro deplores would be even half as repressive.
My problem with “conservative” personalities, as opposed to genuine rightists or genuine libertarians, is they won’t be honest about what they’re complaining about. They are dealing with spoiled government-wards, and the activities of these hell-raisers are fomented by a state the powers of which Ben and others of his ilk have absolutely no interest in reining in. When Ben was asked on Fox-news what makes the academic world so intolerant, he began mumbling something about “fascists.” As an expert on this subject let me assure Ben that he met no “fascists” at Cal State. He met recipients of government handouts, who refuse to become civilized adults. There are ways of dealing with such overgrown adolescents and with their adult enablers; and although these methods may not solve deeper cultural and social problems, if ruthlessly applied they could make the situation more tolerable. As preliminary steps, we might think of taking away the goodies bestowed on universities and their customers together with the incentives provided by the state for campus witch hunts.