Can College Cultivate Habits of a Free Mind?
Tenure is meaningless. Academia has been captured by ideology. Teenagers are unwell. Is there any hope?
At the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), we monitor online contagions of all kinds, including extremism like Q-Anon, Antifa, and antisemitism. More recently, however, we reported on a contagion of self-harm among teens, mostly girls, and probably on the younger side. Our report prompted articles in the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. The report contains graphic images of knife and razor blade injuries posted by troubled teens, accelerated by Twitter, and resulting in a “community” of self-harmers and predators who give positive encouragement to young women and girls for cutting themselves more and more deeply.
Our conclusion: Twitter is not an appropriate platform for anyone under 18.
Bridget Phetasy’s recent essay “I Regret Being a Slut” speaks to another kind of malaise young women today feel:
“It makes sense to me that the generation of young women who have experienced and borne witness to some of the worst side-effects of unyoking sex from consequence and love… would take a look around and decide: I’d rather be a man. Or more accurately, I’d rather not be a woman. … Today’s youth are being fed an even more dangerous lie than the one that I was fed about loveless sex. I was told sex doesn’t matter. They’re being told biology doesn’t matter.”
Young people are lost. And when they get to college, they often have a hard time finding opportunities to develop the habits of mind necessary for contributing to and thriving in a pluralist, liberal democracy. (Speaking of which, my class at Johns Hopkins begins this week. I look forward to finding out what my students think about all this…)
As I write in the current issue of Sapir, university presidents and trustees “have a unique opportunity to remake their institutions as bastions of civic rather than tribal norms, curiosity rather than certitude, and the authentic affection of friends rather than the conditional solidarity of allies.”
Meanwhile, tenure is supposed to protect academic freedom. But by firing tenured professor Joshua Katz, Princeton has put faculty at every institution, even tenured professors, on notice. As I write in my recent article for Reality’s Last Stand, “Today’s dominant moral culture delights in relitigating any past transgression viewed as having been too leniently addressed, and it revels in interpreting past words and behaviors through a present, and unforgiving, moral lens.”
And then there’s the truculent criticism of a recent article by James H. Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association. He warned against the temptation to use that same “presentist” lens in historical scholarship; interpreting history “through the prism of contemporary social justice issues—race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism.” Predictably, Twitter exploded with calls for him to resign and criticism on the order of “Why not just say you don't like when black and brown people don't bow down to white supremacist methodologies?” (Yes, that was an actual response.)
Equally predictably, Sweet capitulated. The AHA tweeted his apology for what he called the “damage I have caused” (though as with all these scenarios, exactly what damage he caused is unclear). His apology also appears as an editorial note above his article.
As Bret Stephens writes in his column today, this is the other way that history ends.
More to come…
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Good luck with your class at JH! Great talking points here. A lot to ponder. Come on my podcast to discuss further.