Political Correctness

Baby Boomers Share Blame for Today's Censorship-Happy Students

The students of today aren't super-coddled, they're just following the logic of censorship that earlier liberals either helped to set in motion or shrugged their shoulders at.


Steve Rhodes/Flickr

It's fun and important to mock the jumped-up Joe Stalins who have seized power in student associations across the West and who are banning songshats, newspapers, and people that piss them off. But it isn't enough. Too often we treat this scourge of student censorship as a sudden, almost malarial hysteria infecting campuses—the fault of a uniquely intolerant generation corrupting a hitherto healthy academy with their demands to be Safe-Spaced from hairy ideas. But this is wrong. These ban-happy brats are actually the bastard offspring of… well, of some of the people now criticizing them. They are Complacency's Children, the angry logical conclusion to liberals' failure over the past 30 years to kick back against a creeping culture of intolerance.

The good news: Over the past year, everyone from Barack Obama to sensible feminists have taken to calling out the censoriousness of students. And they definitely deserve called out. Consider recent examples of student-union tyranny in Britain:

  • The students' union at Warwick University banned Maryam Namazie, an Iranian secularist and critic of Islamism, on the basis that her comments would "intimidate" Muslim students. (Following a media storm, it backtracked.)
  • Last week, Manchester University's students' union, lacking even a smidgen of self-awareness, banned a debate on free speech on the basis that it might harm students because one of the speakers was Julie Bindel, a feminist who has committed various politically correct speech crimes.
  • The students' union at the University of East Anglia prevented students from wearing sombreros on "cultural appropriation" grounds. 

Other students' unions in Britain have banned the Robin Thicke song "Blurred Lines," men's magazines like Zoo and Nuts (they contain images of scantily-clad women, which is a big no-no for the weirdly prudish radicals of the 21st century), and the making of "sexual noises." Then there are all the countless folks who have been "No Platformed" by Britain's student-union terrors, including members of far-right political parties, Zionists, and alleged "Islamophobes."

Last year I was prevented from speaking about abortion at Oxford (I was due to make the pro-choice case) on the basis that I don't have a uterus. Such is the knee-jerk prejudice of student leaders that they think nothing of banning speakers not only because of what they say, but even because of their biological make-up.

All these cases expose how utterly contemptuous of the student body today's student leaders are. The idea that Muslim students can be easily "intimidated" by words, and that female students must be protected from saucy pop songs, is shot through with a retro neo-colonialism and Victorian-style fear for dainty women's mental safety. 

Student leaders commit what Frederick Douglass called censorship's double-wrong: "It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." They silence those who provoke, and infantilize those whose very purpose in life is to be provoked, to have their minds rattled during their time at university.

Such paternalism can be seen in the U.S. too. From the demand for warnings on classic works of literature that mention rape to the idea that controversial speakers might threaten students' mental safety, policers of student life suck the soul out of the academy when they treat words as violence.

Yet as we criticize the illiberal turn on campus, we must also ask where these banners and buzz-killers came from. To follow the growing media and political backlash against P.C., you'd be forgiven for thinking these students emerged from nowhere, zombie-like, overrunning the academy with their deathly miserabilism. The largely forty- and fifty-something observers wringing their hands over the spread of the P.C. blob present this as a generational conflict, pitching switched-on older people against muddled youth who've lost the love of liberty.

This is too simplistic. It brings to mind the grey-haired guardians of the academy in the 1960s, who wondered how spoiled, long-haired students were managing to overthrow curricula and introduce relativism into university life without ever once stopping to wonder if perhaps their own complacency towards enlightenment values might have acted as a green light to these "pinkos." Now liberals rather than traditionalists are throwing their hands up in horror at a new generation while failing to ask if their own complacency might have midwifed it.

This is clearest in the U.K. Here, the student-union policy of No Platform has existed since 1974. In the 1970s and 80s it was used largely against the far-right. Then it spread to Zionists. In the 1990s it was used against Islamist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, on the basis that they were homophobic and menacing. Then in 2001 it spread to Eminem, because… well, he's homophobic too, right?

How did British liberals respond to these bans? Not well. They either turned a blind eye to them, or supported them. Indeed, in a February letter to The Guardian decrying the new No Platforming of radical feminists, various academics said No Platforming was supposed to be "a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust deniers." So even as they bemoan the No Platforming of radfems, they green-light the No Platforming of right-wingers.

This sums up the problem with the middle-aged backlash against P.C: It's too late, and it still isn't consistently challenging censorship. Its main concern is that "people like us" are now falling victim to P.C. student intolerance.

In the U.S., too, many liberals seem to have become concerned with P.C. only when their friends fell victim to it. When Jonathan Chait, in his New York essay in January, said P.C. "has returned," you had to wonder where he'd been for the past 20 years. From the Brown University students who stormed their newspaper's offices after it published a piece criticizing reparations for slavery, to the Dartmouth students who burnt their newspaper after they thought it had made light of date rape, throughout the 2000s this attitude had been running riot on campus, following on from its explosion in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps liberals didn't notice because its main targets back then were right-wingers, Christian evangelists, and Israel supporters, rather than liberals.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, too many liberals failed to stand up to the censorship of scoundrels. And as H.L. Mencken said: "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."

Liberals' complacency in the face of a 30-year tide of intolerance, fuelled by identity politics, the therapeutic culture, and the politics of victimhood, allowed P.C. to take root among a new generation. I mean, if an Islamist can be banned for being homophobic, why not Eminem? And if a neo-fascist can be banned because his ideas "harm" ethnic minorities, why not a radfem whose ideas "harm" trans people? The students of today aren't super-weird, they're just following the logic of censorship that earlier liberals either helped to set in motion or shrugged their shoulders at.

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  1. Last year I was prevented from speaking about abortion at Oxford (I was due to make the pro-choice case) on the basis that I don’t have a uterus

    You should have bought one of these


    Uterus in a jar, They also have ovaries in a jar.

    1. And even if he was permitted to speak, his opinions probably would’ve been dismissed as “mansplaining”.

    2. I absolutely love what the STUPID youth of today are doing to their future. They want to shred the constitution, embrace socialism/communism, censorship, give up their guns, let them!

      Being a Baby Boomer I have to admit I had a GREAT life under capitalism; traveled the world, had dozens of exotic lovers, sport cars and motorcycles, a house in Thailand and two in the states. Now that I’m in my 60s and out of the work force, not paying any taxes, fuck yeah, give me all of the free stuff you got, it’s not costing me a damn thing. I was wise enough not to procreate so I couldn’t care less that these idiotic, immature children want to commit financial suicide, ruin their lives and live the lifestyle of the Russians of the 1950s. FUCK THEM!

      America had a GREAT run, It’ll be over with within the next 20 years, I’ll be close to death, what’s the problem?

      IT’S ALL OVER FOLKS! And the socialists won.

      1. you sound like a pretty cool guy! next time, you can just post a picture of your penis next to a copy of your W2 & we will figure out what youre trying to say.

        1. Oh Jay, I’m pretty sure you already know what my penis looks like; the exact opposite of yours. That’s right, it’s huge, just like most black men’s.

          And if you can’t figure out what I’m saying, you really need to go back to first grade. Now do you want to talk about anything else besides my penis or is that the only subject you’re concerned about?

          From this and past comments by you I get the impression you’re a racist. Can you verify that for us?

  2. I blame tuition subsidies. Higher education is not for the academically minded but instead the 13th grade of high school. Intellectually curious young adults don’t make up the majority; coddled and stunted children do, or risk being seen as truant.

    1. ^This^

      What’s struck me a number of times is how few of the social justice cadres have majors that are anything beyond getting a degree just to say you have a degree. Because they’re subsidized, mommy and daddy send them off to college for no real purpose other than “that’s what you do”. And joining the lynch mob is way to pass five years.

    2. Exactly. A college degree used to be a marker of academic excellence and rigor, but nowadays it just shows that you slogged through a mush-headed curriculum only marginally more advanced than high school. Turning college into an egalitarian exercise, run almost entirely by crypto-commies and make-work jobs for low-value head cases and affirmative action hires, has basically turned college into an intellectually inbred open-air insane asylum.

      1. And it’s also becoming a way to suck the few dollars we have out of the rest of us. Want to work? You need a degree for most of those jobs out there (even though the skills really don’t need a college foundation). Can’t afford college? Well, here’s a student loan that you’ll be paying well into retirement. Oh yeah, and those courses require textbooks that cost $500 each.

        If nothing’s done about this by the fall of 2022, I’m financially fucked. O_O

    3. the 13th grade of high school

      I find the history of how this came about interesting. College used to be a real marker of prestige that was only pursued by a small fraction of the population. When we were a largely agrarian society most people just needed basic literacy and arithmetic skills. When we began to industrialize a high school education became important and sufficient.

      But with the rise of the high tech skilled economy people needed more education than high school could offer. College seemed like a natural choice. The rising wealth of the middle class put it within reach and the historical prestige made it very attractive for students and their families alike.

      But of course, once college became popular the prestige wore off. And the institutional model of college isn’t necessarily the best way to educate the masses. Government subsidies and credentialism stifle competition and innovation that could provide the necessary skills more efficiently. So here we are.

      1. The irony of all this is that most of these degrees do not provide those high tech skills people need. We are awash in psychology, sociology, history, english, recreational management, women’s studies, native american studies, and a host of other degrees that provide not a shred of the needed skills.

        In a society where robots need installed and repaired, equipment of every sort needs serviced, and everything we touch needs programmed, we graduate a majority with degrees that provide none of the skills needed.

        We loan students money to obtain (can’t bring myself to say then earn them as many of them are attendance awards without academic rigor) degrees that there is no market demand for, and correspondingly no prospect of earning the funds to repay the loans.

        1. Of course, we use H1 visas to import hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to drive compensation down for technical workers even as 70% of STEM graduates go into other fields.

          In short, we have created a poisonous government sponsored network of incentives where we reduce the supply of technically skilled people we need by diverting them into nonsense education, reduce the incentive to obtain a more difficult STEM education by driving compensation down, and pay for the folly with hundreds of billions in borrowed dollars that we plan to pass on as debt the same poorly educated students.

          To add to this, we encourage students with no aptitude for academics to go to college instead of learning trades we need, and that pay well. So we fill the shortage of carpenters, electricians, welders, fitters, and a host of others with low skilled (crappy work but at least they will try to do the work) immigrants. Productivity would be better with our native workforce, IF they hadn’t already gotten a degree in “Eastern Cultural Studies” that they expected would yield them a highly paid office job.

          WHAT. A. MESS.

          1. Very well summed up. I don’t know the answer to the STEM problem, although micro degrees might be a good start.
            But for the trades I think we need to emphasize trade schools. I’m not a union guy, but I know the apprentice, journeyman, master route is great training and money.
            The problem with that, now, is that it can be hard to find decent paying work because the immigrants are bringing down the wages. They also make up the majority of crews, and getting construction work requires just as much networking as any other work.

            1. In fact, the only way to make money is to get a GC and then, you guessed it, hire a bunch of Mexicans to work for you, and there’s only so many bosses needed.

              1. But it can be lucrative 🙂

      2. “God, what a mess on the ladder of success.” – The Replacements

  3. “This sums up the problem with the middle-aged backlash against P.C: It’s too late, and it still isn’t consistently challenging censorship. Its main concern is that “people like us” are now falling victim to P.C. student intolerance.”

    Indeed. But it’s not liberal complacency. They wanted and actively promoted the ascendancy of this kind of policing and favoritism. It’s just unfortunate for them, that some principles and inconsistencies they employed can turn against them. Go ahead an repress based on relative privilege (similarly: favor based on being “historically disadvantaged”) and this redistribution of speech rights eventually discovers that some liberals have privileges and are less historically disadvantaged than others. The scope of things gets dramatically broadened by considering association a good to be redistributed. That compels association in an extreme (consistent) application of Brown’s “badge of inferiority” idea, and subjects everyone to said redistribution of speech rights — after all now every protected group is in the audience, everywhere. To sum up, the problem is the totalitarian application of equality/redistribution rights, a simple, natural outcome of the doctrine of equality.

  4. And they definitely deserve called out.

    West Virginia/Ohio grammatical construction.

    1. You poachin’ in Nikki’s forest?

      1. If so, wash with bleach and ammonia. Probably mixed..

  5. The students of today aren’t super-weird, they’re just following the logic of censorship that earlier liberals either helped to set in motion or shrugged their shoulders at.

    I suspect that, like their parents, they’re going to shocked and appalled at where the logic of censorship winds up leading in due time. The screw, as they say, has a habit of turning. Right now, it’s those icky people who aren’t sufficiently loyal to the dictates of social justice. What happens when, since the middle has been hollowed out, power falls to the hands of their actual enemies? What moral principle will they invoke in their defense?

    1. What happens when, since the middle has been hollowed out, power falls to the hands of their actual enemies? What moral principle will they invoke in their defense?

      This^^. And remind them that elections have consequences. Do they want to see the Donald making use of executive actions? Do they want to see the Heffalumps get rid of the filibuster?

  6. I’ve come to the conclusion and of the opinion it’s not ‘liberal complacency’. I think we believe this because we don’t want to accept or believe liberals – once upon a time the source of our Enlightenment – could have slipped so far into the eyes of tyranny. But they have largely thanks to they being hijacked or accepting progressive thought in their midst.

    Since the early 20th century, liberalism lost its way and we’ve seen nothing but its flesh roaming around with progressivism in its soul.

    And what we’ve come to learn and witness is that progressive are an intolerant and malignant group with shallow views on history and culture. It’s not complacency. It’s sheer ignorance.

    It’s in their intellectual DNA to be this way.

    1. progressive (s).

    2. /cue “The Walking Dead” intro song

    3. I read someone remark recently that western civilization may have actually entered a new Dark Ages starting in 1914 with World War 1. The analogy obviously isn’t perfect, given the advances in population, healthcare, and technology that have taken place in the last 100 years, but when you look at the sheer level of destruction that’s occurred, and the west’s apparent determination to commit cultural suicide, it’s easy to see where this person was coming from.

      1. This idea of cultural suicide is something I’ve thought about lately and have to agree. It’s as if liberalism wants to erase any semblance of cultural identity and be rid of the cultural traits that made the west so successful.

        1. They’re nihilists.

  7. Mencken

    +1 curmudgeon

  8. “sensible feminists”

    I had a good laugh.

  9. The enemy of censors used to be bad words, blasphemy against the dominant religion, any alternative lifestyles, and exposed skin because “God hates it”.

    Now the enemy is “hate speech”, blasphemy against ANY religion, the Christian lifestyle, and exposed skin because “ZOMG SEX TRAFFICKINGZ!”

    1. Shoulda said “exposed skin and sex-for-money”.

  10. ‘The students of today aren’t super-weird, they’re just following the logic of censorship that earlier liberals either helped to set in motion or shrugged their shoulders at.’

    They are still super-weird, and there is no logic behind the censorship that liberals helped set in motion.

  11. I attended college in the late 60s, early 70s. I saw firsthand the creation of the PC culture, creeping slowly at first, then galloping full-speed to the silliness of today. Today’s crop of SJWs would have been laughed at and scorned in my day. My only consolation is watching these little sissies go all wide-eyed and dumb-struck when the real world smacks them in the face.

  12. Censorship is for dolts. It is for those who lack the intellectual capacity to think for themselves. It has become yet another way for liberals to pander to the weak and the na?ve.

  13. I was blaming helicopter parenting for students wanting to extend the ultra-safe parental cocoon to university, but you may be onto something. Regardless, I guess my generation has to accept some blame for creating these permanent babies. Then again, what happened to rebelling against the parents, and other authority figures?

  14. In the penultimate paragraph, Brendan O’Neill quotes H. L. Mencken: “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

    It’s a great line, but I’ve never been able to locate the source. Does anyone know the name of the newspaper article or book where this quotation originally appeared?

  15. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.buzznews99.com

  16. Baby Boomers Share Blame for Today’s Censorship-Happy Students

    This is unpossible. The boomers are the children of the Greatest Generation. Ergo, the must have been raised the greatest way, so they couldn’t have been a generation of statists.

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