Marvel Comics is caught in a dilemma. The company, which went from near-bankruptcy in 1996 to one of the most successful movie studios in the world, first became well known in the 1960s for its depiction of superheroes who had human problems. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men the Fantastic Four and others didn’t fight their battles in the fantasy world of Gotham or Metropolis, but in New York City. They dealt not only with super-villains but with racism, self-doubt, adolescence, illness, and poverty. As a new book out from Taschen, The Marvel Age of Comics 1961-1978, shows, these characters were as much a part of the 1960s as the space race, antiwar college protests, and John F. Kennedy.
A friend of mine, an academic researcher in what at least 99.9 per cent of the population would find an arcane area of human knowledge, recently brought to my attention the form he was obliged to sign in order for a particular learned journal (owned by a publishing conglomerate) to agree to publish a review article that he had written.
It was an extraordinary form, six pages long, and so one-sided in the contractual obligations it imposed, or tried to impose, that I wondered whether any court would enforce it.
Does this graduation season bring any good news from the American campus—any deviation from higher ed’s slide into politically correct incivility and closed-mindedness? A few cheering, or at least not thoroughly disheartening, signs are visible. The president of Bethune-Cookman University, joined by the school’s faculty, took a stand against protesters’ rudeness last week, when the U.S. Secretary of Education tried to address the Class of 2017 amid booing, back-turning, and catcalls at the Florida school. President Edison O. Jackson told the disruptors: “If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go,” reports…
The object of political correctness is to make the obvious unsayable, or at least sayable only under the threat of a torrent of criticism or abuse. This does violence to the mind and spirit: those who refrain from objecting to the false pieties of political correctness (which are intoned within organizations as regularly as in public) come to despise themselves.
Identity and political power have allied themselves in the modern academy in troubling ways. Exemplifying this is the new “personal pronoun” overture. I recently had to attend a seminar, as a part of my doctoral studies, on “microaggressions and diversity,” and a discussion leader greeted us with: “Hello, my name is Simon, and my personal pronouns are ‘He, Him, His.’”
This strange, preemptive declaration of one’s preferred gender identity is apparently intended to ward off “microaggressions” from potentially confused colleagues.
Liberals mystified by the election of Donald Trump might look to the Middlebury assault—in which Charles Murray was shouted down and physically pursued as he left campus while the professor escorting him was attacked and put in a neck brace—for a slice of the explanation. The answer may lie less in the grotesque conduct of college students awash in—wait for it, wait for it—privilege than in what the impassioned youth never said.
When I asked my young patients what their best qualities were, they would almost invariably reply: “I am tolerant and non-judgmental.”
“If you don’t judge people,” I would ask, “how can you be tolerant?”
Donald Trump has happily announced that his administration will be dedicated to deregulation. And one very important place to deregulate is higher education. Not only will discarding regulations make education less expensive but it will help temper political correctness. Higher educational bureaucrats, not professors, are the worst offenders when it comes to forging the manacles for impressionable minds. And bureaucrats are hired and empowered in so no small part by federal regulations.
The volume of regulation in higher education is truly astonishing. It is not only conservatives who object. Here is a 2015 summary by the bipartisan task force on higher education:
Focusing solely on requirements involving the Department of Education, the HEA contains roughly 1,000 pages of statutory language; the associated rules in the Code of Federal Regulations add another 1,000 pages. Institutions are also subject to thousands of pages of additional requirements in the form of sub-regulatory guidance issued by the Department. . . . In 2012 alone, the Department released approximately 270 “Dear Colleague” letters and other electronic announcements—this means that more than one new directive or clarification was issued every working day of the year.
But classical liberal and conservatives have particular reason to object to these regulations.
The recent violence at Trump rallies has been the work of protesters, not of his supporters. I am no fan of Trump, but he has as much right to speak without disruption as any citizen. Indeed, it is even more important to afford him that right than ordinary citizens, because he is the presumptive nominee of one of our two major parties. Violence distracts from the debating his ideas, such as they are, and will create greater political polarization at the expense of deliberation.
Sadly, there is a connection between this violence and the enforcement of political correctness in our educational institutions today. The disruptive protesters at Trump rallies are almost all young—recent products of our educational system. They are thus steeped in the unreformed religion that dominates our schools—one where error has no rights.
Indeed, when Trump 2016 was chalked on the sidewalk of Emory University, the administration began an investigation into who wrote it. More generally, college administrators have permitted events to be cancelled because of the threat of disorder without speaking out against such cancellations.
This article in the Atlantic discusses the current situation at Yale regarding the Halloween costume controversy. The main event, of course, was the verbal assault of then Master of Silliman College, Nicholas Christakis, by student Jerelyn Luther. The entire article is well worth reading. The ultimate result of the incident is that Nicholas Christakis is no long serving as Master. His wife, Erika Christakis, who shared in the job’s duties and whose email sparked the controversy, resigned her position teaching at Yale. (Ms. Chistakais has recently published a significant book on child-rearing.) It is not entirely clear from the article why the Christakis couple are no longer occupying their positions. It may be due to pressure from Yale or the Yale community or it may be their own decision. But whatever the cause, the message is clear: Don’t mess with the Political Correctness Mob. By contrast, the student, Jerelyn Luther, appears to have graduated without any type of reprimand.
This is a sad story, and one that has been written about at length. Here I just want to note that this type of issue is hardly new, at Yale or in other places. I remember my time at Yale Law School, which exhibited the 1980s version of this intolerance. It was known as hissing. When people voiced comments that the liberal mob disliked, they would collectively hiss.
I can still remember a Federalist Society member, whose has since gone on to become an important academic, announcing an event prior to my tax class taught by Michael Graetz. The mob hissed him.