On Campus: Minority Priorities
by Douglas Murray
April 4, 2017
The free speech wars on North American campuses appear to have arrived at their inevitable endpoint. For years, American and Canadian students have played around with a new form of morality in education. It is based not on a traditional concept of searching for truth or investigating and analysing ideas, but rather on the concept that the veracity of an opinion can be discerned by the person uttering it.
In this way, a considerable number of people have apparently decided that a variety of “privileges” exist that make some speakers vital to listen to and others unnecessary, unless they agree to mouth a set of pre-ordained platitudes.
This concept, coupled with the idea that minorities require special protection from speech, have now finally delivered the moral breakdown that was always waiting for it. The warning signs have been there for years.
In 2010, the former editor of the left-wing magazine The New Republic, Martin Peretz, arrived to speak at Harvard University. There he was greeted by a group of around a hundred students and others who decided to shout at him as he arrived at their campus. They decided to greet him with chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Marty Peretz has got to go.” And so, a generation of American students who can have had little, if any, knowledge of Peretz’s career or left-wing interests, chose to name him a racist and be done with him.
Being Jewish, a minority group, certainly did not offer any protection, and may indeed have harmed his cause; it already seemed that there were ordering-systems at work in the business of minority priorities.
By the time, then, that the British-born Milo Yiannopoulos was touring American campuses in 2016–17, protest movements were busily trying to work out precisely what orders of persecuted minorities should exist. As Yiannopoulos is openly gay, there was a slight queasiness about shutting him down — at first. People who are members of at least one minority group have a certain protected status, and as such a certain inevitably about ranking develops. But just as you can be marked up, you can be marked down. Yiannopoulos may be gay, but he has been rude about aspects of transsexualism. That view at least evened things out. However, his tendency to criticise Islam and Muslims moved him lower — indeed right down to the lowest level, that of white heterosexual male.
Activist and writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who is gay but has been rude about aspects of transsexualism, was supposed to speak at the University of California, Berkeley on February 1. That evening, a mob of 150 people, who opposed to Yiannopoulos’ presence, proceeded to riot, smash and set fire to the campus, causing more than $100,000 of damage. (Image source: RT video screenshot)
As though to prove that it was not just “provocateurs” who now incur the wrath of the Stepford students, this year, the distinguished sociologist Charles Murray (no relation) was due to speak at Middlebury College. The college authorities had warned students that while protests would be allowed, any attempts to disrupt the lecture would be looked at in a very different light.
Murray was due to address the themes of his 2012 book, Coming Apart, a seminal analysis of the social bifurcation and sense of being “left behind” that led to last year’s election results in America.
Students at a liberal college could ordinarily do with hearing someone explain the social forces that are pulling them and the rest of the country apart from each other.
But the students of Middlebury evidently decided that they did not need to hear this. Instead of simply staying away from the lecture, they chose to embed those divisions. Dozens of the students at Middlebury decided, it seems, that Murray was a racist. They had also decided, for reasons which nobody even bothered to explain, that he was “anti-gay”.
So, before and during Murray’s thwarted attempt to give a lecture, they bawled and chanted, among other things, a variant of the national anthem of modern North American campuses: “Hey hey, ho ho, Charles Murray has got to go.”