The Conservatism of College Campuses

So, September’s cover story for The Atlantic here is about essentially the “coddling” of American college students because of trigger warnings, creating safe spaces and the fear of offending anyone. I’d highly recommend anyone with a good thirty minutes to spare to read it. It won’t disappoint.

I had a few thoughts and questions that came about from my reading of it…

As the title indicates and I’m certainly not even remotely close to being the first person to propose this “insight,” but I’m definitely of the belief that progressives are social conservatives, but with better branding than…actual social conservatives. This whole article is littered with examples of left-leaning administrators and students wanting to shut out ideas that are offensive to them or in any way confront their preciously held beliefs. It’s frustrating. And certainly, there’s left-leaning professors and the like that are pushing back against those within their ideology, but I’m not sure if they are winning.

Just as the article says, there’s a problem when you demonize people you disagree with; you’re engendering this notion that there’s nothing to be gained from your ideological counterparts, which is always silly.

Furthermore, the whole purpose of school is along the Socratic method: teaching you how to think, rather than what to think. Once you learn how to think, there’s endless possibilities before you. School, however, and again, I would argue the “why” of this, are the antithesis to critical thinking. They do exactly the opposite of the Socratic method and teach you what to think through rote memorization and standardized testing that often, unfortunately, leaves many students behind and worse, uninterested in learning because learning is seen as regimented.

All the meditations and inclusions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the article are utterly fascinating to me and at the end, they provide a list of things people often do where they think negatively rather than positively or shift blame to others for their problems. Or they utilize a self-fulfilling prophecy to create negative outcomes or they care too much what others think.

Now, I agree with the counterbalance to trigger warnings, i.e., along the lines of CBT, it’s counterproductive to shield people from those instances which give them anxiety. Instead, it’s better to gradually expose them to the thing which gives them anxiety so you condition them out of it. They use the example of someone afraid of an elevator and over time, you make them realize that the elevator is not dangerous. But, my question is, how does that work with say, someone that’s been sexually assaulted? As that’s one of the arguments for trigger warnings on books that may cause problems for a victim of sexual assault. How do you that Pavlov exposure therapy work with a sexual assault victim?

Finally, one of the more fascinating things to me that I hadn’t really thought too much on is that my generation is the post-Columbine and post-9/11 generation. Meaning, along with the previous decades of ever-growing political correctness and identity politics, we got this compounding of zero-tolerance in schools (so, for instance, now you see elementary-aged children getting arrested for minor infractions) and the general atmosphere of fear created after 9/11. Moreover, thanks to cable news and the 24-hour cycle in the 1980s and 1990s, parents are more afraid than ever to let their children off their figurative leash. So much so that “free range parenting” has actually become a thing to describe letting your children be children.

All of which, mind you, is taking place in the backdrop of the least violent generation in human history.

As The Atlantic authors argue, we need to reclaim higher education. It’s supposed to be the bastion of free thought, free speech and free expression, where you go to have your ideas challenged and developed by people from all over the world and professors that know their shit. Instead, we’ve created an atmosphere that is quite the opposite all with well-intentioned inclusive and identity politics.

One thought

  1. This was a really interesting article, with lots of ridiculous examples. Still, a few examples does not a trend make – what is the actual trend in the US? Is this happening more and more everywhere, or is it just statistics at work and with millions of university students across hundreds/thousands of schools, there’s going to be some crazy. After all, I’m sure there are shootings in schools as well, but those are mostly ignored and not really seen as a trend or reason to act.

    This is not as serious, and really, how common is it? I would love to see an actual survey of this phenomenon.

    I did like the description of the cognitive distortions – I’ve seen that in a lot of people I know, and when I go through, I see the ones that I deliberately avoid and the ones I hadn’t considered.

    Very interesting article for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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