George Leef on how the protests at Middlebury College in Vermont against Charles Murray show just how thin the veneer of civilization has become at America’s institutes of higher learning:
The reason why, I think, is explained by the intellectual tribalism that grips much of America.
I mean that many people label others as either being in their tribe (consisting of people who are righteous and always correct) and the opposing tribe (consisting of people who are evil, stupid, and wrong on everything). Real scholars never impart such ideas because they know that reasonable and moral people can disagree on almost everything. They also know that the only way for civilized people to counter error is through debate; they know that people cannot be persuaded with violence.
Unfortunately, intellectual tribalism is spreading like the Black Death among so-called progressives. Anyone who disagrees with progressive policies is likely to be labeled an enemy, much as Karl Marx labeled everyone who rejected his beliefs a “class enemy.” The more influential such a person is, the more vehement the attacks and hatred against him. Murray, for example, is called a “racist” and “white supremacist” even though he is neither.
(Try this thought experiment. What would have happened if one of the good, liberal students had piped up and asked, “But shouldn’t we find out if this guy really is a white supremacist before we shout him down?”)
And turning to the toxic effects of this indoctrination, one is the growing idea that the enemy tribe must be fought by any means necessary. Not only do evil people like Murray not deserve to be heard, they deserve to be punched.
Professor Michael Munger of Duke University recently commented on this disturbing phenomenon after he discovered a flier on campus. The flier, he wrote, “encouraged students to ‘bash the fash!’ meaning physically assault fascists. The definition of ‘fascist,’ conveniently, appears to be anyone who disagrees with the smothering leftist orthodoxy that the flier-istas embrace.” Just smear your opponents with a nasty name and it’s easy to whip up hatred and violence.
In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother’s regime utilized the Two Minute Hate against an imaginary villain to maintain support among the people. At Middlebury, it was more like two hours, and the “villain” perfectly real, but the effect was the same. The leftist zealots “won” by preventing discussion and forcing “bad” people to flee in fear.
The veneer of civilization is thin enough under the best of circumstances. Education ought to strengthen it by making people more willing to listen respectfully to others, disagree rationally, and peacefully walk away from intractable disputes. The behavior of the Middlebury mob shows that for a significant number of students, education has taken them away from civilization, putting them back into the mindset of primitive tribalism.