Today’s identity politics has another interesting feature: it teaches students to think in a way antithetical to what a liberal arts education should do. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.
Here is how one young queer activist described the cult. The essay is titled “‘Everything is Problematic’: My journey into the center of a dark political world, and how I escaped.” The author identifies four features of the culture: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. Of greatest relevance to our exploration of tribalism, he writes: “Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup—believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. . . . Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare.”
Can you imagine a culture that is more antithetical to the mission of a university? Can you believe that many universities offer dozens of courses that promote this way of thinking? Some are even requiring that all students take such a course.