Stephen Hicks. The Battle for the Soul of the University

Universities are political places, but there’s good politics and bad. Some students, however, are always protesting.

First point: The protesting students are neither “snowflakes” who can’t take the heat nor “delicate flowers” whose feelings have been bruised. University students have seen movie violence, broken up with boyfriends and girlfriends, read ugly things on the internet, viewed porn clips, lost grandparents, and heard distressing news from around the world. And they have survived.

We also learn from the protesters’ own vocabulary that many of them have a rich capacity for swearing, insults, and other crudities. Yet from childhood all have learned from their teachers, mom and dad, and Disney movies when and when not to say “Fuck you” and “Your type disgusts me.”
They may be angry, but they are adults who know what they are doing. “Cry-bullies” is half-right, as the tears are a tactic.

Second point: Most of the many grievances are not meant to be resolved. They are meant to fester and be used in the service of a power-politics strategy.

We have all experienced the same dynamic in personal relationships. Once you’ve decided you dislike someone, you can always find something about him or her that’s irritating. The same point holds generally: once you’ve decided to attack an enemy, there’s always an issue available to “justify” your actions.

Accordingly, the fact that the students’ complaints are often overwrought or semi-informed is a feature, not a bug. David Burge notes, wryly, that “Campuses today are a theatrical mashup of 1984 and Lord of the Flies, performed by people who don’t understand these references.”

Amusingly true, but that does not mean that the thuggish behavior is stupid and uncalculated.
The protesters’ strategy is to make unreasonable demands, and their goal is to see how much they can get away with.

Third point: The student protesters have had expert guidance. Students are young adults with their own minds and initiatives, but they are still in development and can be shaped by prevailing orthodoxies. We see it in art and theater students who are cultivating creative identities and experimenting dramatically with their personal styles. We see it in science students who are passionately developing their capacities to make objective judgments about complexity in nature. In both cases, there is some self-selection, as students find some university disciplines more attractive than others, but in both cases there is also expert training by the discipline’s leaders – the professors who encourage, instil, and exemplify the mindset and character that is to be emulated.

So what we see in the protesting students, most of whom come from a handful of humanities and social studies departments, is the result of an academic sub-culture dedicated to a set of adversarial values, drawn from a bottomless well of curdled resentments.

Fourth point: Note that the progressive, postmodern, and other strands of the New Left thinking have been running the universities for two generations now. And they dominate the public school system as well. Yet we are to believe and understand that sexism, racism, and a host of other pathologies have taken over our culture. Either the intellectual and educational establishments have been grossly incompetent in teaching American youth – or they have succeeded in moulding a significant portion of them according to their precepts. We should be open to both arguments.
Yet when the same tactics (i.e., the desire to mould others into their fold) are used by the students themselves at many campuses, that’s not necessarily evidence of a conspiracy but rather of a shared set of ideas being leveraged.

Fifth point: One of those core ideas is evident from the pattern of the grievances. Feel sorry for us – or else. They are bullies good at playing victims.

Most of us have a natural benevolence that leads us to be helpful to those who are struggling with life’s challenges – such as the sick, the elderly, pregnant women, and the poor.

Yet that benevolence can be captured by the moral philosophy of altruism and transformed into the view that that the rich, the powerful, and the strong have a fundamental obligation to sacrifice for the poor, the powerless, and the weak.

Often that altruism, in turn, can be combined with the view that it is the fault of the rich that the poor are poor, the fault of the powerful that the powerless are powerless, and the fault of the strong that the weak are weak. (Sometimes, of course, that is true.)

But, finally, if we combine all of the above with the view that the world is divided into conflicting groups – men versus women, whites versus browns versus yellows versus blacks, rich versus middling versus poor, Jews versus Muslims versus Christians versus atheists, and more – then we generate within ourselves a deep identification with any group that is failing and an equally a deep outrage against any group that is successful.

The result is an anger at all social inequality – justified or otherwise – and a feeling of moral empowerment to do anything for the cause of the weak. If, therefore, the strong are not voluntarily sacrificing for the weak – and if they are not atoning for causing the problems of the weak in the first place – then they ought to be punished and forced to undertake their obligations.

The weapons-grade altruism now being deployed is thus a consequence of the view that anything is legitimate on behalf of the weak. Psychologically, it is one form of “pathological altruism,” to borrow Professor Barbara Oakley’s apt phrase. And in its activist expression, it is a version of what André Glucksmann warned us about, namely “how easy it was to pursue a passion for justice and revolution using obscene measures.”

Sixth and last point: Philosophy is practical. What we are experiencing on campus is applied philosophy. The theory is delivered to the students from their professors – on hundreds of issues in dozens of courses. The theory is then put into practice, and universities in effect function as laboratory experiments for philosophy.

That has always been the case in the history of the university, as the actual functioning of universities has modeled the prevailing philosophical framework of the time. In the late medieval era, universities were institutionalizations of traditional authority, top-down instruction, and regurgitation. Over the centuries they evolved toward the humanistic model of liberal education, with its emphasis upon critical thinking, free speech, and the meritocracy of let-the-best-argument-prevail, no matter who makes it. And we are now seeing a shift to postmodern anti-rationalism and group-conflict power politics, as in one generation Speak truth to power has devolved into Fuck truth and grab power.

The French postmodernist Jacques Derrida warned us not to be among those who “turn their eyes away when faced by the as yet unnameable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the non-species, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity.”

The battle for the soul of the university is raging, and the principals have made their principles explicit and clear.

Dr. Stephen Hicks is on a speaking tour this March in Australia via True Arrow Events.

This essay was first published under the title “Campus Power Politics – It’s Calculated Strategy” in Every Joe dot com.

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14 Responses to Stephen Hicks. The Battle for the Soul of the University

  1. Bruce of Newcastle

    Universities have always been a hotbed of leftism. The Cambridge Five come to mind.

    What has changed is that leftism has become utterly intolerant of other views. I suspect this has been driven by the new leftist millenialism – only they can save the world from the CO2 apocalypse. When you have people who believe (without scientific basis) that they are the saviours and that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, you have a religious institution not a liberal education establishment.

  2. Win

    “Make unreasonable demands and see how much they can get away with. “
    Straight out of the ACTU manual for dealing with ,the now defunct manufacturing industries.

  3. Tel

    There is no “altruism” in the “Progressive” left whatsoever. They talk about it, but that’s because lies are convenient and if they give away other people’s money, calling this “altruism” gives a bit of cover.

    You have to remember, these people are always hypocrites and never, never believe that the rules they espouse would happen to also apply to themselves. They have been caught out so many times it’s just not funny anymore.

    As for identity politics, it’s simple divide and conquer… divisiveness is good for the grievance business. Does not require any deep analysis because everything is narrative designed to reinforce the divisiveness and the grievance. Fill in any background story you like, but the outcome always leads to the same place.

  4. Ian6333

    Very instructive. Is there a point by point counter to these tactics?

  5. Confused Old Misfit

    Those who can, do.
    Those who cannot, teach; badly, with malice.

  6. First point: The protesting students are neither “snowflakes” who can’t take the heat nor “delicate flowers” whose feelings have been bruised.

    This statement is patently false. Students who demand and make use of ‘safe spaces’ for example, are indeed snowflakes whose feelings have been bruised. How else can one explain safe spaces?

    University students have seen movie violence,

    Yes, and they have demanded these movies (and music) be banned because they hurt their feels (trigger them). Baby it’s cold outside eh?

    broken up with boyfriends and girlfriends,

    Yes, and then proceeded to dox them, bad mouthed them on tinder and even accused them of sexual assault in some cases etc etc.

    read ugly things on the internet,

    Yes, and red flagged the posts they’ve read and had them banned or demonetised.

    They may be angry, but they are adults who know what they are doing.

    Students are young adults with their own minds and initiatives,

    Just because the law recognises a person as an adult (18+) doesn’t make them so. There would be millions of 12,13 and 14 year olds around the World who’ve “had to grow up in a hurry” who are more adult than these immature, spoiled brats we recognise as “adults”.
    You are NOT an adult until such time as you can carry your own weight. Hardly any of these snowflakes carry their own weight and don’t appear like they will any time soon. Adults my ass.

    Fourth point: Note that the progressive, postmodern, and other strands of the New Left thinking have been running the universities for two generations now.

    There is the crux of it. Previous generations had some snowflakes, but nothing to the degree of the millennials. That’s why their marxist post-modernist perfesers can brainwash them so easily. BECAUSE THEY ARE SNOWFLAKES.
    Receiving trophies for losing, given self esteem unearned, never having to own up, not made to carry their own weight at any age level has caused a generation of snowflakes easily manipulated.

    I thought Hicks was an intelligent dude. Here he seems to be pandering to the snowflakes.
    For a doctor he is eh?

  7. Bruce of Newcastle

    Very instructive. Is there a point by point counter to these tactics?

    Encourage your kids to do a trade, or start a business.

  8. thefrollickingmole

    This piece is also relevant and well written.

    https://quillette.com/2019/02/10/public-educations-dirty-secret/

    RTWT

    heres the conclusion.

    Why should millions of perfectly normal adolescents, not all of them ghettoized, resist being educated? The reason is that they know deep down that due to the color of their skin, less is expected of them. This they deeply resent. How could they not resent being seen as less capable? It makes perfect psychological sense. Being very young, however, they cannot articulate their resentment, or understand the reasons for it, especially since the adults in charge hide the truth. So they take out their rage on the only ones they can: themselves and their teachers.

    They also take revenge on a fraudulent system that pretends to educate them. The authorities cover up their own incompetence, and when that fails, blame the parents and teachers, or lack of funding, or “poverty,” “racism,” and so on. The media follow suit. Starting with our lawmakers, the whole country swallows the lie.

    Why do precious few adults admit the truth out loud? Because in America the taboo against questioning the current orthodoxy on race is too strong and the price is too high. What is failing our most vulnerable populations is the lack of political will to acknowledge and solve the real problems. The first step is to change the ”anti-discrimination” laws that breed anti-social behavior. Disruptive students must be removed from the classroom, not to punish them but to protect the majority of students who want to learn.

  9. Tel

    How else can one explain safe spaces?

    Nice little private clubhouse paid for by someone else?

    Convenient way to organize political activity while pretending to be victims?

    Proving that you can force others to kowtow to your ideology?

    Yes, and then proceeded to dox them, bad mouthed them on tinder and even accused them of sexual assault in some cases etc etc.

    Which would support the theory that this is about power … not about anyone trying to get along with others out of a genuine belief in non-violence.

  10. Tezza

    Has Derrida ever written anything intelligible?

  11. Behind Enemy Lines

    Stephen Hicks: The Battle for the Soul of the University
    Posted on 11:01 am, February 13, 2019 by Rafe Champion

    …The battle for the soul of the university is raging, and the principals have made their principles explicit and clear.

    Nonsense. The battle for the soul of the university was lost decades ago. If you don’t believe me now, wait another five to ten years. Even in STEM faculties the few remaining conservatives will either retire, be driven out, or silenced with threats. No more will be hired.

    Real Australians with school-aged children had better start looking for alternatives.

  12. NuThink

    @Confused Old Misfit

    Those who can, do.
    Those who cannot, teach; badly, with malice.

    And those that can do neither become administrators (with the emphasis on tra(i)tor). Or politicians,

  13. cohenite

    Great essay.

    All this shit happens because of as the essay says, a small coterie of malcontents; who never suffer consequences.

    When is the last time a left wing uni lecturer has been fired.

    Conservatives’ sense and principles of fair play have allowed this to happen.

    To beat the left you have to act like them while protecting your standards. Only Trump has managed this.

  14. John A

    Very late to all this, so sorry if I repeat what others have covered

    The result is an anger at all social inequality – justified or otherwise – and a feeling of moral empowerment to do anything for the cause of the weak. If, therefore, the strong are not voluntarily sacrificing for the weak – and if they are not atoning for causing the problems of the weak in the first place – then they ought to be punished and forced to undertake their obligations.

    And it is at this point that the whole philosophical edifice fails. Since the prevailing paradigm is evolutionary/big bang/philosophical materialism – we are all here as a result of a long chain of cosmic accidents – then meaning and purpose are excluded. Thus ideas such as “ought” and “voluntary sacrifice” which imply the idea of a purpose to see the “weak” grow to be “strong” are built on sand and utterly futile.

    And in that case, as we saw with atheistic communism based on pure materialism, the end result will be a collapse of the university, along with the whole leftist, elitist movement.

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