Are universities and colleges turning out the kind of fragile snowflakes that some students claim themselves to be, or are more hard-nosed than they admit? Peggy Noonan delightfully skewers what she calls the “trigger-happy generation,” but makes one fundamental error. She takes them at their word:
Life gives you potentials for freedom, creativity, achievement, love, all sorts of beautiful things, but none of us are “safe.” And you are especially not safe in an atmosphere of true freedom. People will say and do things that are wrong, stupid, unkind, meant to injure. They’ll bring up subjects you find upsetting. It’s uncomfortable. But isn’t that the price we pay for freedom of speech?
You can ask for courtesy, sensitivity and dignity. You can show others those things, too, as a way of encouraging them. But if you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy? …
Do you wish to be known as the first generation that comes with its own fainting couch? Did first- and second-wave feminists march to the barricades so their daughters and granddaughters could act like Victorians with the vapors?
Everyone in America gets triggered every day. Many of us experience the news as a daily microaggression. Who can we sue, silence or censor to feel better?
Finally, social justice warriors always portray themselves—and seem to experience themselves—as actively suffering victims who need protection. Is that perhaps an invalid self-image? Are you perhaps less needy than demanding? You seem to be demanding a safety no one else in the world gets. If you were so vulnerable, intimidated and weak, you wouldn’t really be able to attack and criticize your professors, administrators and fellow students so ably and successfully, would you?
These are all great questions, all designed to shame someone who legitimately claims victim status by speech alone, especially speech not directed specifically and personally at them. Noonan poses questions to these activists in such as way as to emphasize their self-imposed infantilization. They’re the kind of questions a parent might use to challenge a preadolescent into properly putting stupid criticism and name-calling into proper perspective. An older generation would have chanted Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never microaggress me, or something to that effect.
If these activists were on the level, Noonan’s column would be a lovely antidote for their childish hyperanxiety. However, these are not honest brokers. The fainting couch is just a feint. Their intent isn’t to be allowed to continue as fragile snowflakes, but rather to use guilt and oversensitivity to argue for speech control, and even thought control. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago for The Fiscal Times:
The more fundamental question and danger is this: Who would get to decide what constitutes “provocative” speech that cannot be exercised? Who decides which opinions are “hate” and cannot bear the light of day?
The answer appears to be the cultural elite who keep getting free speech wrong – and not just in the media. We have seen political correctness expand into stultifying speech codes on college campuses, pushed by progressive groups and enabled by administrators that have made a mockery out of higher education. That cone of silence has begun to extend into politics in general, ironically as more and more activists demand “conversations” on controversial topics but then demand that the opposing side be silenced or forced into byzantine processes to avoid “triggers.”
All of this amounts to an attempt to control the political sphere by either silencing dissent or demonizing it as “bullying,” “bigoted,” and worse. …
Those demanding not tolerance but surrender and forced participation may think they are the Enlightenment, but in reality, they are becoming cut-rate Robespierres. They act[as Damon Linker wrote] “more than a little like bullies distressingly eager to treat millions of their fellow citizens like heretics — and to use government power to force them to conform, at least in public, to the dogmas of a contrary, and in some ways incompatible, faith.”
Given the broad and consistent response to the Garland event, and even to an extent the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it’s impossible to believe that it’s simply benign ignorance of the breadth and necessity of First Amendment protections. The most pernicious problem isn’t that the elites in the media and academia don’t bother to inform themselves on issues of free speech and religious liberty, or even that they’re misinforming us on them. It’s that they’re not interested in preserving the values of individual liberty, and want to control the culture rather than inform and educate it.
It’s a mistake to credit these passive-aggressive pretenders with sincerity. That forces us to argue against their claimed victimhood instead of starting with their intention to victimize the rest of us with their demand to be the speech police, and from there the thought police. They aren’t victims — they are malefactors, hoping to use the language of victimhood to wring sympathy from what had been a society that valued liberty in order to gag it. And unfortunately, they seem to be succeeding.