A spring saunter through a campus as pretty as the University of Kansas is inordinately charming—tulips, apple blossoms, amorous robins—you know, the whole glorious array. The hundreds of tiny white flags fluttering in ragged rows seemed therefore appropriate, even vaguely comforting, like a patriotic memorial or perhaps a wedding in the offing.
The flags, though, weren’t part of a nostalgic swoon or public fête. What they heralded instead was a calculated scare campaign. Written in the sidewalk in chalk was “3,192,” which was said to be “the number of sexual assault survivors on campus.” To emphasize the point, each flag was emblazoned “1 in 4” because, according to the campus Sexual Assault Prevention Education Center, “Annually 1 in 4 college women (cis) is sexually assaulted. Each flag you see represents a KU student-survivor.”
Identity and political power have allied themselves in the modern academy in troubling ways. Exemplifying this is the new “personal pronoun” overture. I recently had to attend a seminar, as a part of my doctoral studies, on “microaggressions and diversity,” and a discussion leader greeted us with: “Hello, my name is Simon, and my personal pronouns are ‘He, Him, His.’”
This strange, preemptive declaration of one’s preferred gender identity is apparently intended to ward off “microaggressions” from potentially confused colleagues.
I was recently invited to speak about ranching to a group of students at Dartmouth, offering them the kind of curve ball Jeffersonian agrarian pitch needed to keep them on their toes. It’s a decidedly left-leaning school (as they all are), so it’s hardly surprising that the talk was, to put it charitably, ‘provocative.’ The students were enthusiastic and well informed, rising ardently to my challenge to their worldview.
Leaving their passions aside, what shocked me most was how deeply entrenched the myth has become for them that government stands in benign counterpoise to private enterprise.
Perhaps I’ve been away too long. But as I tentatively grope my way back into the hallowed gloom of the Ivory Tower (pursuing a doctorate in history), I see that I have picked up a jaded impatience with the effete posturing of the professoriate. Not scholars, mind you, but rather that class which is busily employed in self-aggrandizing instead of innovative inquiry, job security instead of meaningful synthesis.
Granted, this may be unfair. Coming back to academic study after an interlude of national service and entrepreneurship—honing a capitalist worldview in the blazing light of the real world—I may have become insensitive to historical-political nuance. Perhaps further study will reveal that history as a profession is producing magnificent, valuable work that I am still too blinded to see. I doubt it, though.
It appears that history is a profession in crisis, a victim of its own brand of 1960s vintage radicalism.
When the “in” crowd wrests the levers of power from the “out” crowd, be ready to duck. Trendy slogans may well become administrative fiat.
Authoritarian fashion-sense often relies on poor reasoning and an even poorer respect for individual autonomy. For a case in point, look no further than the intensifying push for genetically modified labeling in Colorado (pending state motto: “We’re Cooler than California”).
Genetically modified foods are definitely “out” for Colorado’s granola ’n arugula crowd, and they want the state to help make their case. Proposition 105, like California’s failed Prop 37, asks Colorado voters whether it ought to be mandatory to include labels on all products containing genetically modified ingredients. The Coloradans might just outdo those Pacific-fronting pikers on this one, as happened with marijuana. Weed is hip, even good for you. Genetically modifying food? “Um, that’s just not cool, man . . . ”