Friday, November 13, 2015

A Lack of Authoritarianism

So, it looks like the college students are finally losing their minds.

The recent campus shenanigans happening at Yale, Mizzou, and now Ithaca seem to be spreading everywhere else. Leftists, who have been very hit-and-miss about political correctness, look stumped by the progressive narrative taken to - ahem - its natural conclusion. They've started wringing hands about freedom of expression and individual rights, which in the past they have only haltingly accepted are not compatible with critical theory solutions to "oppression".

Over at the American Conservative - which is practically centrist to the point of left leaning on all topics besides Rod Dreher's excellent work on the Benedict Option - the words "will to power" are commonplace enough to give this Nietzschean a smile from time to time. Right-wingers just generally feel that its a matter of spoiled kids screaming for more, but their arguments to support the idea boil down to "well, just LOOK at them!"

Hey, true story. It's ugly. Given that this is the most comfortable generation ever and complaints are almost entirely on an abstract level - racial disharmony marked more by unkind words than violence, college tuition costs, job insecurity, hurt feelings in general - its hard to parse a substantive complaint among all the whining.

But also, everyone wants the kids to be happy and feel good, and without completely abandoning the assumption of compassionate good faith from the academic world - which would be clearly ridiculous - no one is really capable of expressing either what's wrong or what went wrong. It's not enough to tell the kids it could be worse. There is no objective line in the sand between true injustice and the breaks of life. That problem is at the core of all this. Justice is what they want it to be, and pointing towards the less fortunate in other societies and saying "dude, chill" is the kind of thing campuses have told the students is demeaning oppression just a few days ago.

This post isn't going to be a total breakdown. I'm at work and I have shit to do, and besides, I've complained about this before. I'm not really here to complain, especially since campus life is in my rear-view. But I can link in some interesting things, especially the obvious loathing of the institutional media to take responsibility for any of this. They seem to be moving towards blaming a mix of social media and general cultural change without giving any serious inquiry into the basic cultural narrative they, the media themselves, have been promoting for decades.

I made a post elsewhere about this a couple of days ago, and it says most of what I think is relevant in the larger scheme of things:

...I've always found it extremely obvious that the ideal of intellectual compassion for the individual based on their subjective reactions and experiences can - and definitely WILL - be exploited. It creates incentives for everyone to blow the intensity of their feelings out of proportion. The more tragic the experiences, the more moral leverage you gain, so you make things out to be horrifying in your mind even when they aren't. The mind adapts.
The only reason this ever LOOKED like it could work is because most societies in the past have encouraged people to suppress their feelings, at least a little, particularly in public. Being around a reasonably stoic and controlled people in a well-ordered society, it's easy to believe they can gain greater welfare by loosening up. But it totally warps the expectations to turn that into a categorical moral ideal. Old societies demanded mental adaptability to be used by the individual in adapting to the society, instead of demanding the society adapt to the mental state of the individual. Turn that around, and suddenly you've made social order fundamentally impossible, because everyone can convince themselves so easily that the intensity of their feelings justifies demanding others give in to their demands unconditionally. They can even convince themselves that such a demand is appropriate and necessary, even heroic, according to "reason". If it empowers them, they will do it.
At some point, academia will have to admit that using subjective feelings as a yardstick for objective social behavior standards is ridiculous, that it was stupid and childishly self-indulgent to try it, and it should be stopped in favor of what we've had for most of human history: objective behavioral standards created by institutions for the sake of promoting efficient social order. And the individual should have to adapt to it. This will be impossible until authority figures are actually empowered, when they are feared by their charges instead of fearing them, instead of being made so vulnerable to these children.
And that's where I am. It's an Alasdair McIntyre-type of perspective, I know, which makes it a bit pretentious to most people, but it's also certainly true. While right-wing thinkers can lament the loss of the Western canon when they see an anchorless culture, they haven't answered the questions that killed the Western canon in the first place.

What I can add is simply to state that which others aren't willing to say: this is deeply connected to a lack of legitimate hierarchy in this culture. No one is qualified to say "this is the standard". No one can tell them that this is the line in the sand. And the reason is because the people who made that determination in the past have always been a power class that were willing to use coercion and even a little fear to establish it. Right now, we need that coercion, especially since the malcontents are, quite frankly, too young and worthless to be a problem if you hammer them down.

American society is suffering from a lack of authoritarianism.

The West was wrong to assume that showing empathy got you empathy in return as a matter of karmic machinery. There is no such thing. Authorities in society already hold the keys to the kids' entire lives, to their education and their material welfare and their sense of safety. Instead of holding any sense of gratitude or love, they see the weakness and they now want society to take control of their sense of acceptance as well, so that they know it will never be at risk. Since we can see so easily where this is going, I have no problem saying that we should avoid it and start taking things away instead of giving them more, creating an incentive to handle grievances without official channels again, preferably by moving on and letting the bullshit slide.

Wait a while, then when the teachers are good and terrified, eliminate the Pell Grant program. Call the National Guard if you have to. That should get their attention. Anything else is just setting up the next crisis.

There is a balance to be cut between trust and good faith on one end of the scale and command and control on the other. You can't run shit without that balance. The solution for anomie has always been power itself. The kids will calm down when you start using the phrase "or else". Until then, they have every reason to keep complaining.

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