I wish, however, that Gay would’ve explained why they shouldn’t resign or apologize, if she believes that student activists are mistaken on that point.
What is the root of their mistake? She doesn’t say.
As I see it, their core error is not one particular to Yale activists, or participants in the nationwide protest movement about race on campus, but is shared by one faction of the left, diverse in race, gender, and cause of choice, that relies too heavily on stigma and too little on persuasion.
Greg Lukianoff, a leading critic of intolerance for dissent on campus, says Yale’s protests have lately taken a good turn. “Students and administrators are engaging in a variety of productive discussions and demonstrations regarding race on campus,” he writes. “There’s been a lot of discussion about how the issues at Yale are much bigger than Erika and Nicholas Christakis, and that’s certainly the opinion of many students. This week, Yale students refocused the narrative and engaged in a thoughtful, powerful demonstration of student activism through a ‘March of Resilience’ to express solidarity for students of color, and a forum to discuss race and diversity on campus. Both brought together over 1,000 students, faculty, and administrators.”
I’m glad that prominent critics of Yale activists are crediting areas of common ground. But I sense reluctance on behalf of many left-leaning intellectuals who support the students to be as forthright about their activism’s weaknesses as its strengths.
This does no one any favors.
Early in my career, I spent a lot of time lamenting a similar trend in the conservative movement, where intellectuals in sympathy with the grievances and ends of the activist base went out of their way to avoid criticizing even their least defensible notions, focusing exclusively on rebutting the least fair criticism of their allies. They reasoned that the media was unfair, so piling on would be disloyal and harmful, as if the presence of unfair criticism somehow makes sound criticism less useful. The effect was a populist base that believed all of its critics were disingenuous and dismissible. This has not worked out well for movement conservatism.
Although sympathetic to the anti-racist ends of the Yale activists, I am not a social-justice progressive. Criticism from me is therefore relatively easily dismissed. But whether they wish to hear it or not, the most serious mistake these activists are making is intolerance.
Gay mentions my criticism in her piece, but seems to disagree:
Conor Friedersdorf took offense to some of the people involved in the protest, labeling them intolerant. “They’re behaving more like Reddit parodies of ‘social-justice warriors’ than coherent activists, and I suspect they will look back on their behavior with chagrin,” he wrote, espousing the curious notion that protest should be a polite and demure endeavor that pleases everyone.
This misrepresents my argument.