When I started at MIT in 1969, there were two student movements. The larger one was motivated mostly by opposition to the Vietnam War and fear of being drafted into it. A smaller but noisier group actually supported Communism, cheered dictators, and sometimes engaged in violence. In MIT’s Building 10 lobby (under the Great Dome), one of them punched me in the nose hard enough that I bled. Near Harvard Square, where I was involved in a pro-freedom demonstration, an attacker used an improvised incendiary device to set fire to a 13-star US flag we carried, and the fire spread to my sweater. (I wasn’t hurt, and the assailant was later convicted.)
Today we have a different kind of student lunacy, with people assaulting Trump supporters, calling for muscle against journalists, but mostly whining that everything is traumatic to them. They suffer feelings of intense distress over chalked political slogans, independent news coverage, and even grades.
The anti-freedom movement of the “sixties” (which extended into the early seventies) wasn’t admirable in any way, but at least it was an enemy worth opposing. They envisioned a world in which “people’s” revolutions would take over one country after another, seizing private property and imprisoning or killing those who stood in their way. They loved mass murderers like Che Guevara and Mao Zedong.
Today’s movement is about trigger warnings and fear that they might hear something uncomfortable, about having “safe spaces” where they’re safe from dissenting views and controversy. This attitude has even spread to spread to science fiction conventions and one filk convention, where speech codes prohibit saying anything derogatory about anyone.
If the anti-freedom student movement of the sixties was Darth Vader, today’s movement is Kylo Ren.
Today academics teach students that conformity of thought is mandatory. The president of Emory University expressed horror at hearing “about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” My most satirical filk songs have never topped that for irony. Nicholas Kristof has published a followup to his earlier piece on progressive intolerance (which he grants the undeserved title of “liberal” intolerance) in which he learned that many academic progressives regard people who disagree with them as “idiots” who are guilty of “hateful, hateful bigotry.” I’m now convinced that the obsession with physiological diversity is a desperate attempt to keep themselves from realizing that they want nothing but orthodoxy and conformity.
It’s almost enough to make me long for the good old days of wearing a burning sweater.