Wesleyan and the Black Lives Matter blasphemer

‘There is more than one way to burn a book’, wrote Ray Bradbury. Well, Wesleyan University’s ideological enforcers couldn’t possibly burn wrong-thinking publications (one must be an eco-friendly authoritarian, after all), so they found a green alternative: recycle them!

This is the news that students and administrators at the Connecticut university are ‘boycotting’ the Wesleyan Argus student newspaper for publishing an op-ed that was mildly critical of some aspects of the anti-police-brutality group Black Lives Matter (BLM). Their petition reads: ‘This boycott includes recycling the Argus and demanding [its] funds… be revoked.’ According to the op-ed’s author, Bryan Stascavage, hundreds of papers have already been stolen, some possibly burned or shredded.

To paraphrase a favourite movie of mine: You keep using that word, ‘boycott’. I do not think it means what you think it means.

So this looks bad. Really bad. But reason has not completely left college campuses yet. Stascavage has previously praised professors and students at Wesleyan for being open and challenging his conservative views: ‘[R]ather than trying to protect the ideological bubble around their classrooms, the professors are ecstatic when a view is brought up that is diametrically opposed to standard liberal beliefs.’

Most students on college campuses are open to opposing views and welcome ideological battle. And, despite the flurry of campus censorship of late, the forces of sanity have begun to break through. President Obama has spoken out (albeit hypocritically) about campus coddling, and reason prevailed at the University of Warwick this week when the students’ union lifted its ban on anti-Islamist campaigner Maryam Namazie.

Alas, the censorious still seem to drown out the sane. At Wesleyan and elsewhere, students (and sometimes administrators and faculty) cry ‘blasphemy!’ and demand the heads of unbelievers.

Two things stick out here. First, as noted, the methods being used at Wesleyan are downright scary. Protesting views you disagree with is acceptable. But trying to stop yourselves and others from encountering views you disagree with undermines the purpose of a college education, and the battle of ideas that is so crucial to democracy. What’s more, arguing with views you disagree with makes you a sharper thinker; those boycotting the newspaper are mostly hurting themselves.

Demanding the withdrawal of a newspaper’s funding for airing a contrary opinion in an op-ed is despicable. But stealing and confiscating newspapers so others can’t read them is downright authoritarian. If that wasn’t enough, the petition called for ‘social justice/diversity training for all publications’ once a semester. This is mandatory ideological cleansing of the student press. It’s just plain wrong.

Second, going on Stascavage’s statements, he is clearly a moderate, even conciliatory, individual. In his article, he expresses support for BLM generally, asking merely whether different strategies and rhetoric might better advance its goals. He writes of BLM: ‘There is a reason why so many have shown up to protests across the country: there is clearly something wrong, and wrong enough to motivate them to exit their homes and express their frustration publicly. That is no small effort. The system is clearly failing many.’

Stascavage did not call BLM a terrorist group, or racist against whites, or a supporter of cop-killing. So why the venomous reaction?

My take is that this type of uproar is a symptom of cult politics. In a secular age, students channel the religious impulse into political causes. With zeal, students purge heretics, punish blasphemers and demand genuflection to their idols.

The campus left is a mirror image of the censorious religious right, but it derives its intolerance not from gospel, but postmodernism, critical theory, environmentalism and so-called anti-racism. The new orthodoxy is as fanatical as the old.

Alex Kasnetz is a law student at Duke University.

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