At Reason, Watch Students Tell Yale to Fire a Staffer Who Upset Their Safe Space. The ‘staffer’ in question is Nicholas Christakis, a scientist whose work I’m mildly familiar with actually. The whole affair was kicked off by Christakis’ wife sending this email, where she said perhaps it was not the university’s job to patrol costume choices (for Halloween).
All this emerged in the context of the rumored white girls allowed only frat party at Yale. I say rumored because I don’t believe that it happened (which is pretty obvious from the link if you read it, despite trying to give accusations of racism the benefit of the doubt). The issue is that the sort of people who get accepted into Yale know exactly what to say in regards to issues relating to diversity to maintain appropriate optics. They would never be so crudely racist, even if the reality is that most men in that particular frat would prefer white girls attend their parties. As I noted on Twitter, all the of the men Taylor Swift dates are white (unless you count part-Native Americans Taylor Lautner and Joe Jonas as not), and that’s not a big deal. But if she said in public that she only dates white men, like her ex John Mayer admitted about women, she would become public enemy #1.
It strikes me that in our American culture right now what matters is less what you do, but what you say and signal. Erika Christakis dissented ever so slightly from the regnant norms in her elite university milieu, and now she’s paying for it. But the reality is that people like Erika Christakis live lives of cosseted privilege and insulation from the difficulties of the world, but that’s not worth comment. Rather, what matters is that she follow the appropriate norms and symbolic gesturing which we take for granted in our society.
This is not entirely unreasonable. Manners and decorum, even ritual that might not be heartfelt, tie societies together. By the public performance of words and actions, even if they are belied by revealed day to day preferences, we outline the moral fabric which we aspire to. But at some point it becomes a farce. By the end of the Communist period in the Soviet Union everyone was going through the motions, with no sincere belief. That explains partly why the system collapsed and reconfigured itself so rapidly; it was not robust, but brittle. Some level of hypocrisy is inevitable in any society which aspires to virtue, but when the chasm between words and deeds, between external signalling and internal sentiment, become too large then the system is ripe for overturning.
Though your guess is as good as mine about what might come next.