I’ve been writing for years about the rise of toxic ideologies on America’s college campuses – totalitarian, anti-Israel, outright anti-Semitic – but still have been surprised by what has happened in these places since October 7. We need to discuss the reasons why it’s gotten so bad.
A few days ago, someone republished an essay, written in 2016, by a professor who has taught at several ‘elite’ colleges. Excerpt:
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture. It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject); they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though easy-going if crude with their peers. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically). They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting to run America and the world.
And when someone has devoted the first 18 years of their lives in large part to jumping through hoops in hopes of making a good impression on some future college admissions officers…and then, in many cases, having to get good ratings from professors whose criteria are largely subjective…that someone is unlikely to develop into a person with a strong internal gyroscope. Quite likely, they are likely to be subject to social pressures and mass movements.
Someone at X said that the Cornell student arrested for making threats against Jewish students was probably just trying too hard to fit in and win approval of his peers and took it a step too far. My view is that there’s no just about it…the desire to fit in and win approval is very often the reason why people commit evil acts. I’m reminded of something CS Lewis said: “Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”