Rather than painting student activists as censors — trying to dictate who has the right to say what and when — we should instead see them as trapped in a corporate architecture of managing offense. Have you ever been to corporate sexual harassment training? If you have, you may have been struck by how little such events have to do with preventing sexual harassment as a matter of moral necessity and how much they have to do with protecting whatever institution is mandating it. Of course, sexual harassment is a real and vexing problem, not merely on campus but in all kinds of organizations, and the urge to oppose it through policy is a noble one. But corporate entities serve corporate interests, not those of the individuals within them, and so these efforts are often designed to spare the institutions from legal liability rather than protect the individuals who would be harmed by sexual harassment. Indeed, this is the very lifeblood of corporatism: creating systems and procedures that sacrifice the needs of humans to the needs of institutions.
This article was a good read — not because I agreed with everything in it, but rather because it challenged me to think about campus culture through a different lens. That challenging of assumptions is at the core of what has historically made the academy great.
I especially like how Fredrik doesn't vilify campus activists, which is all too often the overall tenor within most articles about campus protests of controversial speakers, safe spaces, trigger warnings, et al. All of the players on campus are influenced by the stage itself, and this point…
Every day, there are fewer who remember what campus once was, or would want to fight for it. The colleges themselves, motivated by only the desire to please their alumni and their boards by advancing in the relentless competition up the rankings, cannot conceive of a world beyond the viewbook.
…really resonates in a world hyperaware of our images on social media.
Critics have rightfully criticized the economic meme, popular with many on the right, of running a nation-state as a business or (even worse) a family. What if the academy finds itself in a similar quagmire? What if running a university as though it were a social media brand or a multinational corporation is also the wrong approach?
As someone who secretly spent a fair amount of time on 4chan and similar transgressive spaces a decade ago, I can tell you that part of what motivates reactionary responses, trolling, and intentional provocation is the anodyne environment in which we live: a world where we all “agree to disagree” rather than debating our positions and presenting our evidence, a panopticon where Big Brother never even needed to exist because we're all watching each other on social media and waiting to call out the failings of our fellow netizens. Many of our behaviors are the result of the culture in which we find ourselves along with the ideologies that reinforce it. These ideologies have both effects and side-effects — often very unpredictable ones. Ultimately, Batman calls the Joker into existence, or as John Kennedy preferred to say it: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Pepe memes and Twitter call-out culture are side-effects of the same ideological forces, and unfortunately, those forces have also defanged activism on campus at a time when we could genuinely use the radical energy.
Why We Should Fear University, Inc. by Fredrik deBoer