Scroll down to find all the staff notes and reader reactions to the controversies over race and free speech on college campuses. (A similar debate on campus PC and mental health is here, spurred by our Sept ‘15 cover story.) Join the discussion via email.
The student activists have no concept of free debate, intellectual stimulation, or respect for differing perspectives. They, their parents, teachers, and mentors should be ashamed at their behavior. No matter how valid or invalid you think their message is, their tactics are disreputable and childish.
Another reader is more considered in his criticism:
I read “The Coddling of the American Mind” a while back, and the outrage of various microaggressions propping up around American campuses strike me as a pretty straightforward result of general breakdown in civil American discourse. As the students themselves admit, what they are looking for in college is not actually intellectual examination, but identity and community.
That desire for community strikes me as a product of those people’s inability to find comfort in the broader American community. And that inability, in return, seems like product of identity Balkanization in America, in which the notion of “being American” has broken into several different competing tribes of mutually exclusive “American” types, with different values, different notions of reality, and an increasingly existential intolerance for competing “American” identities.
This idea has been readily studied on the right, in conservative terms. The insulating effect of right-wing media, the literal separation of communities, suburbs, and gerrymandered districts into ideological camps, and a widespread literature implying cultural persecution at the hands of liberals—those phenomena have created an intolerant right, the sort that hero-worships Donald Trump or Ben Carson and has difficulty believing “facts” presented by any source they haven’t already legitimated.
I think some people—like myself, unfortunately—think of the “left” as being more progressive, tolerant, and open-minded. But all this news about colleges rightfully challenges those assumptions. What’s happening here is that left-wing ideologies are ossifying into community identities, in opposition to right-wing ones. And now that left-wing ideas such as “tolerance” are becoming less about actual ideas and more about symbols around which a community can gather, tolerance is becoming more sacred, easier to threaten, and more intolerant to perceived threats.
In other words, being liberal in the U.S. right now—like being conservative—is less about ideas and more about identity. The effects of that are showing.
Another reader notes the identity politics animating the far right at the moment:
I am so tired of the perpetual whining by conservative reader at The Atlantic regarding people of color being victims. I mean, I’ve spent the last 48 hours seeing a social media brouhaha regarding the minimalist red cup design at Starbucks being “shots fired in the war on Christmas.” I mean, as your anonymous Hispanic reader put it, “I simply don’t know what precisely will satisfy these perpetually aggrieved people.”
Emma covered the Starbucks cup brouhaha this morning.
It’s too easy, and also rash and risky, to criticize people on the basis of perhaps-out-of-context social media snippets.
So let me compliment someone! You may already have seen the video below, shot this afternoon at the University of Missouri. The drama involves a photographer who wants to take pictures of the student protestors who have wrought such change at the university, and the students and their supporters who want him to go away.
The point the photographer makes is that they’re all standing on public property, and just as they have a First Amendment right to protest, he has a First Amendment right to record what is going on. And, as he points out, to document it for history.
You see the photographer from the back at the start of this video; you’ll figure out which one he is very quickly. What struck me as the encounter intensified was his unflappable, always polite, but unrelenting insistence on his First Amendment rights, as they are insisting on theirs. You can hear the main discussion starting around time 1:20.
I’ve learned that the photographer is named Tim Tai; the site on which he displays his photography is here. He has said this evening on Twitter that he doesn’t want to be the focus of the story, which is proper and gracious. But in real time, under mounting pressure, he shows intellectual and emotional composure anyone in our business would admire. The way the students (and some professors) are dealing with him is the way I’ve seen officials in China deal with reporters, which is not a comparison that reflects well on them.
Sincere congratulations to someone who this morning had no idea he would be in the national eye. But he turned out to be, and behaved in a way that reflects credit on him and the calling of news-gathering. Update Admiration as well to Mark Schierbecker, the video journalist who recorded the entire episode. Update-update And some of Tim Tai’s earlier photographs of the protests, for ESPN, are remarkable.
For the less glorious parts of this encounter, you can start with the account in Gawker. Hint: a Mizzou journalism communications professor is among those shooing him away.
The largest point that many opposing Tim Wolfe’s resignation are missing isn’t that he is responsible for the racism on campus, but that he failed to address the racism continuing on his campus. He should have known better, especially as president of the state university of possibly the most divisive state in race relations, historically and currently.
Another reader is on the same page:
The left has been “coaching” people to see themselves as victims with no power since the 1960s and probably longer than that. This man was fired or resigned because he demonstrated that he does not have the political skills or common sense it takes to lead a public university. As president of the school, he has to represent the whole school, and if that was the best answer he could provide to these kids, no matter how irrational they were/are, then he failed to do his duties.
This reader likewise has little sympathy for Wolfe:
This is the Ferguson Effect. However, contrary to your reader, minority students have in fact been “coached up and primed” to believe that their daily victimhood is not worth protest.
They have been “coached up and primed” that when presented with the opportunity to become educated, one should simply be happy to be in school, getting an education to better self and community. To me, these students and professors at the University of Missouri have rejected this complicity in an oppressive system and are now demonstrating a new active mentality growing in the public consciousness. This is a loud signal that a climate of quiet racism will no longer be ignored as accepted background noise only heard by the few. Now it will be confronted like the issue it is—loud, frustrating, complicated, and tragic.
So this is not the story of a poor administrator being unfairly persecuted; this is a story of a pained population finally being fairly heard.
Here’s a very different view from an Asian American female reader:
Did you hear about the feminist activist going on a hunger strike until her university head resigned because he failed to stop sexual violence on campus? Of course not, because that didn’t happen. Even though violence against women by men dwarfs racial violence both on campus and in society at large, one would be hard pressed to find a feminist who thinks a university administration can take any viable action to utterly banish sexual assault, let alone misogyny in general, especially misconduct neither on campus, nor by students. Yet women continue to go to class despite an appreciable chance of sexual assault, let alone derogatory comments.
This current crop of race activists seems to think a utopian world free of all racial prejudice is in our grasp and it is some conspiracy of “white supremacy” to prevent it from becoming reality. The first thing a rational person grasps is that there are outliers in life, and it would take a dystopian authoritarianism to stop them in most cases.
I’m all for on-going fostering of a climate of kindness and pluralism on campus, but you can’t stifle free expression at a university. What I see in these activists is a combination of immature expectations coupled with authoritarian leanings. They think they can outrage their way to utopia, and it is a damning statement on our prevailing educational philosophies that they have been allowed to reach this point in life with that mentality intact.
An outsider’s view:
I am reading this from afar, being a foreign reader who has never experienced the U.S. college system first hand. Many aspects of American culture eventually filter through to us here in the UK, however, so I observe these events with no small amount of interest.
I am not sure of the causes of this strange new ultra-illiberalism amongst students, nor do I know how widespread it really is. But what I do know is that where it is encountered, it must be met with resistance rather than compromise. Appeasement has no positive effect and will only drive ever more extreme demands. Colleges find themselves on the front line in confronting this peculiar new threat to free society, and I hope they are prepared to live up to the principles of free speech, free inquiry, and personal liberty that underpin the academic tradition.
That comes from a reader slack-jawed over the escalating situation at the University of Missouri and the calls for its president to resign:
Maybe this is the real Ferguson effect: People who have been coached up and primed to believe that they are victims, who want to be a part of some kind of important historical movement, to the point that they’re seeking confrontation over essentially nothing.
A couple of people supposedly said mean things, one of them on campus and one of them not on campus, none of them backed with any kind of evidence. A group of students confront the university president, obviously looking for offense, and find it by simply misrepresenting what he says to them—something that he pretty clearly anticipated with his answer.
For this, he MUST be fired, a cause so important that one student has vowed to literally DIE before he accepts the president’s non termination, and others have pledged to take a month off from the activity that defines their actual reason for even being present on this campus. Of course, no one can really say why he is responsible for any of these incidents, why they would not occur with a different president, or for that matter, whether they even actually occurred. But he MUST go because reasons.
From a Hispanic reader:
I simply don’t know what precisely will satisfy these perpetually aggrieved people. Maybe if we put white people in cages. I don’t know. And this is coming from a person of color who is not seeing the grievous racism these professional offendees are perpetually griping about. And another career is going to be destroyed because the offender didn’t provide “the right answer.”
Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.
Louisa Muskovits appeared to be having a panic attack. It was March of 2016, and Louisa, a 33-year-old with a history of alcohol abuse, was having a regular weekly session with her chemical-dependency counselor in Tacoma, Washington.
Louisa had recently separated from her husband, Steven. When the counselor asked about her marriage, she said she wasn’t ready to talk about it. The counselor pressed, and again Louisa demurred. Eventually the conversation grew tense, and Louisa started to hyperventilate, a common symptom of a panic attack.
The counselor rushed down the hall to get Louisa’s therapist, Amy Harp. Together they moved Louisa to Harp’s office, where they felt they could better calm her. But once Louisa was there, Harp recalls, her demeanor transformed. Normally friendly and open, she started screaming and pulling out clumps of her hair. She growled and glared. Her head flailed from side to side, cocking back at odd angles. In jumbled bursts, she muttered about good and evil, God and the devil. She told the counselors that no one there could save “Louisa.”
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
The presidential aide says she didn’t know personal email wasn’t allowed, even though her father won the 2016 election by railing against Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server.
The jokes write themselves, though if you search Twitter for “but her emails,” it turns out that hundreds of people write the jokes as well.
As The Washington Post reported Monday evening, Ivanka Trump, the president’s oldest daughter and a senior White House adviser, sent hundreds of emails pertaining to government business using a personal email account in 2017, in violation of federal records laws. As the Post drily noted, “The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign.”
This would be extremely embarrassing for the Trump administration were it capable of embarrassment.
Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has done what America has asked, and the president has assured him their relationship is safe.
Today the president of the United States released a statement reaffirming his support for Saudi Arabia and its regent, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as MbS. The process of separating the substance of the document from its mortifying semiliteracy took me approximately 15 minutes, but I think I managed it without permanent damage to the Broca region of my brain. There lies the seat of the language faculty, easily the most punished neuroanatomical structure of the Trump era. Here’s what close study reveals.
We knew—we always knew—that Donald Trump would never ditch an ally who would always support him as long as he reciprocated with loyalty of his own. MbS is such an ally. Recall that Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, a curious choice for a president widely believed to hate and distrust Muslims. His love for MbS is a romance that is perpetually new, a cloudless day of picnics in the park, sweet-nothings of arms- and oil-deals, and promises of mutual defense. The affirmation of this relationship should be read not as the product of deliberation but as an exercise in apologetics: an explanation of a decision that was never in doubt, even if the explanation proved inadequate. All of Trump’s romances are like this. That is why his supporters love him; he loves them back unconditionally—whether they are racist or murderers or cretins.
California was always going to burn—but it should have happened differently.
There was no horizon in Oakland on Saturday, and the air smells dirty. It’s not like fresh smoke. It’s a staleness. If you stay outside too long you get a little headache. The newest numbers say 71 people have died, more than a thousand missing, and 12,000 buildings burned in the Camp Fire. You’d have to drive well over three hours from here, if the roads were open, to get to anything that’s still on fire, but the smoke makes it feel like it’s happening a couple towns away. The smoke, made of forests and houses and people’s bodies, sinks in.
Neighbors and coworkers are passing around lists of who has respirators in stock, collaborative scratch pads with links to donation programs for the homeless encampments, posts about how refusing to wear a mask is internalized ableism, and instructions on taping a HEPA filter to a house fan. It’s hard to know what to call this. It’s not a disaster. It’s not your house burning down and your neighbors dying. But it’s not just another November, either. It’s schools closing, reminders to stay inside, and a lot of pulmonary and cardiovascular stress that will only be understood in retrospective statistics. It’s a crisis without a moment of crisis. It’s what it looks like: a slightly caustic, minimally dramatic haze over everything.
Another big project has found that only half of studies can be repeated. And this time, the usual explanations fall flat.
Over the past few years, an international team of almost 200 psychologists has been trying to repeat a set of previously published experiments from its field, to see if it can get the same results. Despite its best efforts, the project, called Many Labs 2, has only succeeded in 14 out of 28 cases. Six years ago, that might have been shocking. Now it comes as expected (if still somewhat disturbing) news.
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong?
The writer Stewart Brand once wrote that “science is the only news.” While news headlines are dominated by politics, the economy, and gossip, it’s science and technology that underpin much of the advance of human welfare and the long-term progress of our civilization. This is reflected in an extraordinary growth in public investment in science. Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before:
On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?
The Supreme Court must decide the fate of a murderer—and whether roughly half of Oklahoma is rightfully reservation land.
Fifteen years ago, an assistant federal public defender and a defense investigator found a cross commemorating a murder beside a deserted road in eastern Oklahoma. It wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Law-enforcement records said it should have been about a mile and a quarter away. That slight discrepancy has led to a Supreme Court case slated for oral arguments on November 27. Formally at stake is the fate of a brutal murderer, Patrick Dwayne Murphy. But the Court must also decide whether that roadside crime scene is now and has always been a part of the Muscogee Creek Reservation.
Not just that scene—as much as 5,000 other square miles, including much of the city of Tulsa.
If the answer is “Yes,” there is a chance that the same will be true of historic reservations originally granted to the other “civilized tribes” that were removed to what is now Oklahoma by Andrew Jackson—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole nations—meaning that roughly half of Oklahoma might be reservation land.
At an inaugural desert festival of yogis and spirit guides like Russell Brand, an exclusive industry grapples with consumerism, addiction, and the actual meaning of wellness.
I first felt reality shift when, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, there was a line for a class called Body Blast Bootcamp, and I worried that there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone.
The draw to this explicitly not-fun undertaking, others in line told me, was that we would be glad to have done it when it was over. We all made it in, and the workout studio was a carpeted conference room where an Instagram-famous instructor with a microphone headset was waiting to give us high fives. “The hardest step is showing up!”
Once we started working out, a person walked around apparently taking Instagram videos, and people were not bothered by this. Another brought a mini tripod to get some shots of herself in action. There was shouting and a Coldplay house remix. Someone offered me a box of alkaline water, and I drank it because no neutral water was available.
A Thanksgiving story about the limits of human empathy
YELLVILLE, Ark.—It is October in the Ozarks. The grass has dried out and the trees have bronzed and browned. Deer lie glaze-eyed in the back of camouflaged pickup trucks. High-school football helmets crack every Friday night. And seven days a week, workers in processing plants are helping to kill, gut, pluck, and truss turkeys for Thanksgiving tables around the country.
Here in Yellville this cold and rainy weekend, there are turkeys everywhere—turkey shirts and turkey costumes and turkey paraphernalia. There is a raffle giving away birds for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a brisk trade in turkey legs, too, pulled out of a barrel smoker. At the bandstand, a judge announces the winner of the “Miss Drumsticks” contest, who gleams and sparkles in her pageant finery. “It’s Miss Drumsticks because they’re judging who has the best thighs,” an older woman explained to me, matter-of-fact.