Despite writing several articles on it and observing it on social media and countless YouTube videos, I often feel no closer to understanding the bizarre new lexicon and array of stifling slander and censorship tactics employed by modern campus “social justice” movements. Everything about them seems at odds with what I understand to be the purpose of education: to prepare you for a life of cognitive and discursive challenges rather than shield you from them. Furthermore, what kind of world are they trying to create? If you have also considered this question, I submit that you need look no further than Twitter for a virtual model of their Utopian society.
There has been much theoretical chatter about the ways in which our interactions with technology and particularly social media are “re-wiring” our brains but we haven’t been able to witness the effects on a scale of whole generations yet. But the more I look around at the proliferation of the politics of emotion over facts, sound-bites over evidence and the practice of collective recreational offence-taking, the more I feel like we are starting to live through its long-term societal repercussions.
The practice of collective recreational offence-taking…
Student protest movements these days seem to epitomise the old adage that you can “dish it out but can’t take it”. These are people who will happily cultivate a media storm sufficiently loud and turbulent to get deans and professors in residence fired for sometimes totally imagined infractions, but insist on being able to retreat into their safe spaces whenever challenged (this is how they got the amusing nickname “cry-bullies”). After giving this some thought I realised this is essentially a 3-dimensional model of the Twitter echo-chambers these people inhabit; they create a hashtag which quickly becomes a gravity-well of self-righteous indignation and fury over something nonsensical like Halloween costumes and, when they are challenged, resort to one of three tactics: emote very loudly and aggressively with no reference to fact or evidence, cry harassment or ‘block’ the detractor in order to maintain the hermetic sterility of the echo-chamber. This is, as far as I can tell, very synonymous with how safe spaces work.
If you listen to whines of protesting students at Yale or Missouri campus, they bear a striking similarity with the deranged and “listen and believe” ravings of Anita Sarkeesian in her quest to ensure the internet is censored and curated by the social justice movement. Yet in the 3-dimensional world, there is no block function as such, so when a safe space is penetrated by someone of a different opinion, they frequently resort to violence and/or intimidation, all the while clinging to the privilege of victimhood status. Examples include, Melissa Click, a former faculty member at Missouri who called for “some muscle” to eject a student reporter from a public area that Missouri’s safe space militia, Concerned Student 1950, had commandeered. This also animates the revival of the no-platform tactic, the closest thing in campus life to a real-world block function. The reactionary dogmatism of no-platformers seems to know no bounds and they will happily resort to violence and intimidation if a speaker is invited who makes them feel (with no hint of irony) “unsafe”.
Above: Melissa Click
A particularly chilling episode of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian tech-horror series, Black Mirror, imagines a world with such a block function exported to our 3-dimensional existence, where individuals can be blocked for life, doomed to wander the streets invisible and unheard. Whether prophetic or not, I can’t help thinking that many of these students would be happy to live in such a world.
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