Culture

Campus Activists Are More Radical—and Troubled—than You Think

(Kiosea39/Dreamstime)
When only victimhood confers moral authority, ‘victims’ rule the roost, often violently.

Americans have become accustomed to student activism. Progressive Boomer parents and grandparents fondly remember their days in the quad, protesting the Vietnam War. My generation’s liberal activists built their anti-apartheid shantytowns and rallied for more faculty diversity. Hollywood and mainstream historians have whitewashed these movements, emphasizing their idealism, overlooking their violence and oppression, and proclaiming student protest as a virtual rite of passage for the good American citizen.

The whitewashing continues to this day. Leftist riots are excused and often even celebrated, victim status grants moral authority — regardless of the “victim’s” ideas or tactics — and conservative speech (no matter how peaceful or reasoned) is deemed suspect at best and “violent” at worst. But the whitewashing has to stop.

Campus radicals hold a shared vision that has the potential to rip this nation to shreds. It’s a vision instigated by people with impossible demands who combine towering self-righteousness, mental instability, and bizarre utopianism to create a recipe for endless conflict. Indeed, their vision is not only immune to reason, it rejects reason entirely.

The New Yorker has published an extended piece by Nathan Heller that outlines the ideas of Millennial progressive campus activists better than any other piece I’ve read. It’s effective in large part because it’s sympathetic. The activists opened up to the writer, told him their life stories, and explained their ideas. And their ideas are startling indeed.

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At the heart of much campus activism is the notion of “intersectionality,” a theory that Heller identifies as “originating in black feminism, that sees identity-based oppression operating in crosshatching ways.” As Heller notes, “The theory is often used to support experiential authority, because, well, who knows what it means to live at an intersection better than the person there?”

No one can question the demands of the ‘marginalized.’ They can only be granted, or there is no justice.

When combined with “allyship” — a term that allows privileged whites to join campus social movements, provided that they (to paraphrase Heller) defer to the experience of the marginalized, learn from their accounts, and aid in their struggle — the result is a movement that combines group solidarity with an irrefutable presumption of oppression. No one can question the demands of the ‘marginalized.’ They can only be granted, or there is no justice.

And who has the moral authority to make these demands? Heller profiles students such as Eosphoros, a suicidal, physically disabled transgender man with ADHD and bipolar disorder. This is a person who labeled microaggressions a “massive catastrophe” and singled out an incident in which a work supervisor assumed that employees were working for “pocket money” and not rent money.

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Then there’s Jasmine Adams, a black student activist who talked about crying and being “ready to self-harm” after allegedly hearing the N-word. Or there’s Zakiya Acey, a man who doesn’t care about the law: “The argument was ‘Oh, so students ask for this, but it’s not legal. . . . But it’s what I need. And it’s what this country needs, and it’s my country. That’s the whole point.” (Emphasis added.)

#share#In other words, the more mentally unstable the person and the more unrealistic his demands, the more moral authority he has. And the very act of attempting to rebut their assertions — especially if that rebuttal comes from a white male — is an act of oppression. To deny their demands is an act of oppression. To fail to grasp their subjective emotional need of the moment — even when those needs aren’t communicated — is an act of oppression.

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This isn’t a philosophy, it’s a temper tantrum — but one that is connected with a raw will to power that renders the movement exceedingly dangerous. These “delicate” activists have proven that they can quickly convert their hurt feelings into civil unrest, and the attempt to impose law and order itself becomes yet another act of oppression.

#related#When political activism is so intimately connected to subjective, moment-by-moment psychological well-being, conflict is eternal. There is literally nothing that anyone can do to permanently remove human pain, especially the pain of people who are already mentally troubled. So their only solution is to run the place, to take charge. But not even that will ease their psychic trauma. The ascension to power will inevitably be accompanied by the quest to root out dissent until everyone — everywhere — knows exactly what will keep Jasmine Adams from crying.

Administrators or government officials who believe they can control or appropriate this movement are sadly mistaken. Intersectionality grants the most authority to the most troubled students. Allyship gives them a ready army of angry activists. A gullible progressive media magnifies their power. America, beware: Eosphoros cannot be appeased.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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