Lighthouses of reason, or beacons of folly? Which more readily applies to some modern universities? If you have been happy enough to read a New Statesman piece recently, there would be little hesitation in opting for the latter. The column discussed that only-in-a-university puffball of a controversy over The Vagina Monologues. The VM, for those fortunate enough not to have heard of it, is an Eve Ensler opus/art project that offers soliloquizing genitals as an avenue to feminist empowerment, a concept kitten-cute in all its daring and originality. Not surprisingly, it’s been a huge hit on all sorts of enlightened campuses, its combination of vulgarity and Spice Girls feminism being a sure winner with those wishing to storm the barricades of privilege from a front-row seat.
The New Statesman piece contained this jewel of progressive reporting: “A U.S. women’s college recently announced it would be discontinuing its annual performance of The Vagina Monologues: it’s exclusionary to talk about vaginas when some women do not have one.”
The “women” in question were, by all the ancient indications we have so sturdily relied upon until the blaze of reason started to flicker and dim, men. But the men — on whose behalf students at the all-women university in question, Mount Holyoke, were protesting — were identifying (this is the term of art) as women, but had not yet “transitioned.” They were still, as it were, biologically on the other side of the fence. As was explained by the theatre board that cancelled Ms. Ensler’s vaginal ventriloquism:
“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman … Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.”
And there you have it. Biological and anatomical distinctions are described by the highly progressive as offering “extremely” narrow perspectives on what it means to be a man or a woman. And they make some people “uncomfortable.” If you were fortunate enough right now to be standing over George Orwell’s grave in the sweet garden of the churchyard at Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, you would hear, piercing the roar of his revolving corpse, a plaintive, despairing voice crying out: “Bury me deeper. Now. Please.”
Literally, you could multiply the instances of silly thinking and foolish actions by the hundredfold that now burden universities across the West, as the institutions that have carried the light of intellect from the earliest days of Athens, through the Renaissance, right to our present day, have surrendered to every passing fad and fancy of ever-more trivial and mentally bankrupt causes. Such as the Occupy the Syllabus farce at the University of California at Berkeley, which lamented the presence of such feeble intellects as Socrates, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke and Hegel in a course, they being that terrible triune of white, dead and male.
What is more dismal than the modern campus, with its litany of “safe spaces,” its protection from offence, its bleats about micro-aggressions, the chatter of white privilege and the spate of hysteria over the “rape culture?” The new model of the university risks becoming a cocoon of self-indulgence and actual anti-intellectualism. Administrators, in particular, take a craven posture before any challenge that might land them in the minefields of identity or gender politics.
The universities are running a risky race.
The universities, under the banner of hollow diversity and the even more hollow and self-contradictory banner of tolerance, are mutating into thought-suppressing machines. Any flag raised in the name of identity or marginalization has them prostrate in anxiety and fear. The idea of undergraduate life as a rooting out of intellectual predispositions, of history as anything but a huge case file of oppression, of testing minds as opposed to flattering feelings, is lost.
The universities are running a risky race. The more they quiver before the onslaught of the cause-mongers, refuse to take clear and bold stands against protest intimidation tactics, the more they lose their centuries-old prestige. It is a situation that should concern everybody.
The ability to think clearly, and the absorption of the best that has been thought and said, have given the world all the moral and scientific progress — real progress — it has ever known. As universities become more and more the willing hostages of the anti-thought brigades, the more they will diminish in both esteem and worth.