Any sensible person viewing today’s identity-based, tribe-like political activism (think recent incidents at the University of Missouri and Yale among countless others) would conclude that these antics are stupid, foolish, counter-productive, and otherwise ill-conceived or, as the Marxists would say, infantile leftist. Hard to separate reality from what appears in the satirical Onion. Why, for example, would black Dartmouth students risk a life of Riley to harass white students peacefully studying in the library by shouting “Black Lives Matter” as if their studious classmates could possibly stop police brutality? Surely these protesters must realize that their disruptions will be filmed, possibly bring expulsion and the vulgarity (“filthy white bitch” among others) will alienate potential sympathizers. Going one step further, such hissy fits at Dartmouth and elsewhere may bring the end of already tottering racial preferences in higher education.
Let me try to explain stupid political activism.
First, faced with exceedingly formidable obstacles, it is all too easy to feel exasperated and this unhappiness leads to the belief that any action, no matter how imprudent or inconsequential, outshines apathy. In the case of Dartmouth’s black students, the outburst is therapeutic self-medication whose purpose is to soothe the anxiety that comes from the distress of residing in the small, nearly all-white Hanover (88% white, 1.7% African American), NH town and, most of all, struggling academically. Similar motives no doubt drive blacks at Princeton to exorcise Woodrow Wilson versus buckling down for serious academic work. This momentary but gratifying high is, moreover, totally independent of any rational pay-off. Do protesters honestly believe that sending Wilson down the memory hole will help them pass Calculus II? Will black Yalies excel academically once they no longer have to encounter the name of the evil slave-owning John C. Calhoun on a campus residence? I doubt that the current outrage/future benefits ratio was even considered let alone calculated.
Second, given the pressing psychological pain, the activism must occur quickly, and this fast fix will outshine any possible benefits derived from a more arduous long-term agenda. In the Dartmouth example, protesters are unlikely to consider the possibility that their frustration would be best served by gradually adjusting to the pervasive whiteness. Such impulsiveness perfectly illustrates today’s attention deficit disorder driven politics. In fact, like heroin junkies driven to ever higher dosages, protesters keep issuing demands as if the longer the list, the greater the buzz. Recently, for example, black students and their allies confronted administrators at Hamilton College with a set of 39 demands, some of which were two-fold, so that actual number was closer to 80.
Third, urgency also means that the skills necessary for success can only be those already possessed–sloth-friendly activism, so to speak. Just march and shout, concoct a jumbled list of incoherent (even illegal) non-negotiable slogan-like demands (“no peace, no justice”), scribble some hand-lettered posters, and voilà, and one becomes an expert social justice warrior. By contrast, an Islamic jihadist might spend months if not years mastering encrypted communications, bomb-making, how to counterfeit documents and similar expertise. But in the world of contemporary college (and black street) activism, why bother researching alleged racism let alone what the First Amendment means? Can you imagine today’s indolent campus protester tediously learning how to launch a cyber attack on the campus e-mail system? Many warriors cannot even pull off a credible hoax. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s quip regarding socialism, achieving social justice takes too many evenings.
Fourth, 100% victories, no matter how trivial or fleeting, are always preferable to moving the needle ever so slightly on a much more consequential project. It is as if the pleasure derived from political accomplishment is fungible so any success equals any other. Thus, easily humiliating a Dartmouth Dean into acknowledging the school’s sordid racial history is more gratifying than a partially successful multi-year effort to help African American high-school students achieve minimal literacy.
Fifth, those targeted for attack must be the quickest to surrender since resistance slows down the psychological euphoria that comes from an instant victory. Just pick the most convenient cowardly flack- catcher regardless of his or her importance or even the target’s ability to satisfy the demands. An anxious university president may have zero responsibility for society’s racial climate, let along the tribulations of campus blacks but he is, nevertheless, the perfect mark for activist ire. The upshot is that the greater the availability of high-profile wimps, even if they are ideological sympathizers, the greater the political idiocy.
Such infantile behavior is hardly a university monopoly. This find-the-coward to soothe angst totally infuses today’s Black Lives Matter crusade. It hardly takes a rocket scientist to discern that drug dealing is the source of many violent encounters between African Americans and the police, so if black lives are to be saved, rid black neighborhoods of pushers. Just replace ineffectual rag-tag parades with neighborhood watch volunteers to summon police when spotting ongoing street-corner drug deals. But, this solution takes time and hard work and, most of all, this sensible approach risks reprisal from dealers. So, what is to be done? The answer, obviously, is to hold a well-televised, police-protected rally to express outrage and demand that the Mayor, Police Chief….all resign. And just to make sure that innocent kids are not killed in drug related drive-by shootings, disrupt Holiday shoppers in downtown Chicago. Brilliant.
But perhaps the greatest impetus to all the inanity is that activists seldom, if ever, face opposition to their screwball ideas. In today’s PC-infused environment, one never argues with those on the protected species list, hardly an accident since the benefits bestowed on protesters are paid with other peoples’ money. The self-designated aggrieved enjoy a monopoly in today’s marketplace of ideas (this is called creating “safe space”). If African Americans demand that more people of color are hired as professors, not even the bravest administrator will inform these dim-witted champions of diversity that such recruitment would be illegal, and besides it has always failed when attempted and these future recruits must be paid a fortune and are rarely worth the cost. Similarly, no public official would ask the Black Lives fans about how avoiding troubling encounters with the police would, overall, promote the quality of life for average blacks. Gross, embarrassing stupidity, like rabbits in Australia, will multiply unchecked if only because challenging the nonsense is almost always career-ending. Actually, sensible rebuttals are now micro-aggressions if not hate.
There is good news here, however: all things considered, politics as brainless self-medication is laudable considering the alternatives. Disrupting students in a library or marching in downtown Chicago are mere nuisances compared to violent, terrorist alternatives. Indeed, the airhead, attention-getting superficial character of this activism virtually guarantees self-imposed inconsequentiality while the behavior’s therapeutic purpose means that the quest for a sugar high will soon turn elsewhere (a pattern consistent with the faddishness in music and clothing). My guess is that within 2-3 years campus communities of color will barely remember that they were once besieged by toxic micro-aggressions, white privilege and Baskin-Robbins-like menu of white racisms. The Black Lives Matter crusade will just join “Black Power” and “Black is Beautiful” (among others) in history’s dustbin. In the final analysis, there is little to fear from an incompetent army of the disgruntled who view life through empty slogans and disdain hard work.
One might speculate that a hydraulic principle exists on today’s campuses. As administrators crack down on raucous partying, students re-direct their bottled up frustrations toward political outrage at whatever is handy, real or imagined. Hard to picture, for example, the denizens of Animal House (which, ironically was partially based on events at Dartmouth College) taking over Dean Wormer’s office to protest the lack of diversity at Farber College. It is perhaps no accident as campuses grow more puritanical, the delicate snowflakes and their thuggish allies are drawn to the battle for social justice. Perhaps college administrators should bring back toga parties.