Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Painting With A Broad Brush

The media loves alarmist articles, as we will click on them, watch them, and read them.   But are broad generalities necessarily true?  And are things as bad as they seem?  Maybe today's cultural sensitivities are a sign that things are improving?

In a previous article about "Millenials" I mentioned a conversation I had with a co-worker over the Kent State shootings:

I mentioned before a friend of mine who was at Kent State during the shootings.   Coming from a family of wishy-washy liberals and siblings who all smoked pot and wore their hair long, I was intrigued.  "What was it like?" I asked.
"Actually, I read about it in the paper the next day.   I was studying Engineering and didn't have time for protesting," he replied.   It turns out that despite the media coverage, most of the Kent State campus was not protesting, at the time.   Many students went to classes and weren't even aware something was going on.
And a lot of people of the "hippie generation" were the same way.   In fact, it is safe to say that most were likely not hippies.    But to hear the media present it, everyone in 1969 was smoking dope and had the same social values and interests.   It wasn't so then, it wasn't so today.
 It was an interesting experience, and I started to realize that not everyone in college in the 1960's and early 1970's was a protesting hippie.    In fact, probably only a vocal minority were.   Why do I say this?   Well, not much later on in the decade, Ronald Reagan was elected President, and a lot of people in the "baby boomer" generation voted for him.    Did they suddenly switch alliances from far-left to far-right (as Jerry Rubin did?) or were they pretty conservative people all along.

The answer is a little of both, but more of the latter.   There were a lot of protesters, to be sure, and when they fill the Mall in Washington, DC, that looks pretty impressive (and makes it seem like everyone has the same social values).   And when the fill a farm in Woodstock, NY, maybe that seems like a lot of people as well.

But bear in mind that the Experimental Aircraft Association has far more visitors to its "Woodstock" in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, ever single year.   And yet no one would make the sweeping generalization that all Americans are building airplanes in their garage.

Today, we are told that college campuses are hotbeds of far-left liberalism.   Well, to some extent, they always have been.   But what is alarming today (to the older generation) is this new type of touchy-feely wacky liberalism that is so far out as to be wacky conservatism.

The media tells us that all college students are protesting racism.   They tell us that all college students are demanding "safe spaces" where no one can even say things that might upset them.   The media tells us that all college students are demanding that "Triggers" be removed from curriculum - or students excused from class - if anything upsetting is to be taught.   It all sounds like an episode of Porlandia taken to extremes.

(The trigger thing is interesting.  Students claim they might be triggered by certain words or subjects which would bring up past traumas.   But at age 18, how many past traumas can one have?   You have to experience life first, in order to be traumatized by it later).

Is any of this true?   Does it represent mainstream thinking on college campuses across the country?

The answer to the first question is, yes, unfortunately, some of this is indeed true, particularly at liberal arts colleges and in liberal arts curriculum at some universities.   And like an example of teenage hysteria, it has spread to a number of campuses across the country, seemingly all at once.

But once again, I think we are being sold a story by the media - who loves the eye-candy of a protest, and also loves a ridiculous story that people will click on, just to be outraged by it all.  As I noted in my Baiting article, the same was true (or is true) about Howard Stern (remember him?):
In Howard Stern's movie "Private Parts" there is a line that illustrates how this works. The station manager is reading the latest A.C. Nielsen ratings and says :

"50% of listeners LOVE Howard Stern and listen for an average of 1.5 hours. Reason given? They want to hear what he'll say next!"

"50% of listeners HATE Howard Stern and listen for an average of 2.5 hours. Reason given? They want to hear what he'll say next!"

Whether [or not] this survey was actually true, it illustrates the twisted genius of Stern and other "shock jock" and talk show hosts, as well as television programmers. Their goal is to get you to listen or watch, so they can sell you, like a pimp sells a whore, to advertisers.
In other words, the media knows that older people will click - in alarm - on an article about whatever wacky things "the kids these days" are doing on college campuses.  Probably swallowing goldfish, too! 
23-Skidoo!  Oh, you kid!

So, in a way, we are being baited by all this nonsense.   And no, I don't think "safe spaces" has staying power, any more than the other nonsense spouted by college kids throughout the years has any sort of staying power.   The hippie communes pretty much all fell apart by the mid-1970's, when kids grew up and realized that human beings are they way they are and wishing it to be different simply doesn't work.

While the kids are protesting over at the liberal arts college, take a walk over to the Physics building, the Engineering Building, the Chemistry Building, the Math Building, and so forth - and see if students are protesting there.   Chances are, they are studying, as these are hard subjects which require real work not just sitting around bullshitting, as is the case in many college "majors" today.

And yes, a lot of this nonsense is real, and it goes back a number of years.   When I was in law school, we had a visiting professor for Criminal Law.   He was far-left liberal and one day after class, he pulled me aside and said I should not raise my hand so much in class as I was "intimidating" the female students.   I was kind of shocked at this, and sort of lost interest in the class at that point.

(Fortunately, as a visiting professor, his performance was graded by, among other things, the students, and he received such poor ratings that he was asked not to return.  So much for PC prof!).

And sadly, life is not like law school.  A lawyer should expect harsh treatment from a Judge and the opposing counsel.  No one creates a "safe space" in a courtroom for your hurty feelings.   You either have to put up or shut up.   Teaching students that they are entitled  to some sort of special treatment will backfire in the real world.

And I doubt any of the women in class were really very concerned.   By the time I graduated, more than half the students in law school were women - nationwide - and the field is now very well populated with female attorneys.   They don't need training wheels anymore - if they ever did.   But of course, that doesn't play well to the victimization scenario.

Does this current load of horse-hockey have any staying power?  I don't think so, and there are a number of reasons why.

First of all, kids graduate.  That is the one secret every college dean has in his back pocket.   When I was a "student leader" at university, we had a very vocal President of the black student union.   He was sort of a prototype of today's PC leaders in that he would find offense in anything whatsoever.   If the school served black-eyed peas in the cafeteria, he said that was racist - that sort of thing.   Eventually he got so ridiculous about it that he lost a lot of support, even from his own followers.

I was talking to one of the college deans (and at a big university there are dozens of them) and I asked him, candidly, if this guy wasn't just a big pain-in-the-ass to them, what with his lists of "demands" and constant accusations of racism.

"Well, Mr. Bell," he replied, "He graduates next year.   Everyone does, eventually.  And that way, these sort of problems solve themselves.  Oh, and his application for graduate school has been denied."

In other words, you can wait out the most obnoxious college protester, if you can just wait four years.  And in terms of the life of a college, that is not a long time to wait.   They've learned from the 1960's.  No need to panic or get upset.   Just appear to go along with whatever nonsense du jour is being spouted this year and eventually it will go away.   23-Skidoo!

So this nonsense, like any hysteria has a pattern.  It rises, it peaks, and then it falls away.   It is a fad, not a trend.

The other half of the equation is that a lot of what is being proposed on college campuses is patently illegal.   You cannot suppress speech or tell people how to think.  What works on a college campus doesn't work in real life.   Once they graduate, these kids will find out the hard way that there are no "safe spaces" in the real world.

And there will be a backlash - if there isn't already one.   And I suspect any day now, some school or college will make a point of going against all of this - declaring themselves a "free thought zone."  A conservative school like the George Mason Law School would probably be the first to do this.

And eventually, I think college professors might strike back - go out on strike and demand their own rights.   It has been brewing for some time, now that "adjunct professors" are the norm and tenure is a sad joke.   Someone should be allowed to teach without fear of reprisal.

So these things even out over time.   I am not too worried about it.

But I feel sorry for these students today.  I think they have been lead down a path and told a lot of things that are not true.   Get a college degree and you will make money and get a good job!   Maybe that is true for some degrees, but many degrees offered today are utterly worthless.

But there is another side of the story.   Is this, in a perverse sort of way, a sign of progress?  As I noted in an earlier posting, we have made great strides in terms of equality in this country - for all sorts of minorities.   Is our country perfect?  No.  Are there still bigots out there?  Yea, and there will be, so long as the run rises in the East.

But the increasingly incremental advances and increasing triviality of complaints illustrates that indeed, progress has been made and if more people are aware of discrimination and want to change things, well, maybe that isn't entirely such a bad thing.   If we've raised a generation of young people who have cultural awareness, maybe we should be happy about that.

For us "old timers" of course, it may seem a little ridiculous at times.   When I moved to Washington DC, for example, gay men were being beaten into a coma - or to death - with baseball bats by bored suburban youth.  In many cases, the Police were reluctant to investigate.  That was in the 1980's.   In the 1960's, they would do little but haul your body to the morgue.  The ending sequence of Brokeback Mountain was reality for gay men in the 1950's.

And I saw this firsthand.   As I related in an earlier posting, while at University I once took an ill-advised shortcut through the park on the way to a friend's house.   He told me he took it all the time, but I was not so sure it was a good idea.   A car load of young black men stopped and got out and chased us, the lead one with an 18" long lead pipe.   I don't think they were the welcome wagon.

I told my friend to run, and he froze.  I almost had to carry him.   We finally got to his apartment (after these youth chased us down a city street in front of dozens of people, no less!) and called the Police.   For some reason, they sent an "undercover" cop, who listened to our story, wrote nothing down, and after I described the car (a 1962 Oldsmobile) said, "Oh, I know those guys, they were just having fun with you!"

The lesson I learned there was if you are an unsympathetic victim, the Police will do nothing to help you.   And blacks know this all too well.  If you are gunned down on the street in the ghetto, no one is going to risk so much as a broken fingernail to investigate your murder.   And as the staggering number of untested rape kits being found around the country attests to, if you are raped, don't expect much sympathy from the Police, who may insinuate you "had it coming" or you "lead him on".

Again, I am not beating up on the cops here, only being realistic.  They can only do so much to enforce the laws, and most crimes are unsolved - something they never mention on the cop shows that populate our television. 

But a lot has changed since those days.   Maybe some things are still the same, but in terms of cultural awareness, we have come a long way.   Today we complain about "safe spaces" whereas in the past we complained about lynchings.   And bear in mind that in the not-too-distant past, lynchings were not something performed by a few hooded Klansmen on a dark night, but events that the whole town would turn out for - as if it were a picnic - in broad daylight.   People literally would bring picnic lunches and brings the kids - and take pictures for their scrapbooks.   No one worried about getting caught or prosecuted or sent to jail.

Similarly, until about 30 years ago, you could go beat up a gay man and maybe even kill him, and likely get away with it.   Cops just didn't want to investigate, and courts didn't want to convict.   Even if caught, all the perpetrator had to do is say, "He tried to come on to me, the pervert!" and a jury of Baptists would aquit.

This is not to say that horrific things are not still happening.   A bored suburban teen Mississippi intentionally set out to find Black men to terrorize and ran over and killed someone with his pickup truck.   It is sickening.   And while a lot of the "racially charged incidents" involving Police and young black men are a little (or a lot) overstated, in a few of these incidents, excessive deadly force was clearly unwarranted.  We have come a long way, but have a longer way to go, yet.

These are horrific things that should be addressed.   Having someone invade your "safe space" on the other hand, is a little ridiculous.   But then again, we are talking about college kids here.   My brother did similar things, during the Vietnam era, protesting a war he was well-insulated from, due to his college deferment.   Even if drafted after college (highly unlikely) he would have been shunted off to some non-combat role, since he had a college education.   They protested the Vietnam war, but likely knew few real combat vets, who were all drafted from the lower classes.   And when those vets returned, some protested them, and yes, spat on them in a few celebrated instances.

The same is true today.  Rich pampered college kids are suddenly becoming culturally aware, and at times, it is a bit embarrassing - such as the incident where a bunch of white kids, after taking a course in "whiteness studies" or some such bullshit, decide to put on an anti-racism rally, without actually asking any black people first.

Yea, it is pretty embarrassing and pretty silly stuff.   But it illustrates that perhaps their hearts are in the right place, and maybe we should celebrate this as a good thing (while at the same time, reining in their more stupid impulses, such as suppressing free speech).   Because down the road, they will look back and shudder at how idiotic they were in college, and that's OK, too.