The new book from Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott is crucial reading
Thanks for the insights, the fear explanation really rings true.
I live in Israel and am experiencing now, together with the whole country, the shock and fear from last weeks attacks. I'd agree with you that much of our fear is based on being afraid of the world's fear to stand up for what they know to be true, particularly younger folks who never knew the pre-2014 world. Social media in the wake of the attack is filled with slogans, slurs, and platitudes - the stuff of fear and shame - and so little genuine questioning and answering.
In my Substack, The Healthy Jew, I'm doing my little part of the solution by writing now how non-combatants can find a healthy and balanced response - emotional and spiritual - to the unfolding tragedy.
In wars against terrorists, everyone is a warrior. Our primary enemies are fear, shock, and tension. Terror teaches that the world is a bad place, that life is more pain than joy. Terror also distracts minds and hearts from life. Instead of tending to ourselves, our families, and communities, the addictive drama pulls seeks to pull us away from today’s reality, constantly firing questions that we can’t possible answer, and bombarding us with emotions that we can’t begin to face. It's social media times a thousand.
We win the war when we don’t stop life every five minutes to check the news, when we smile at strangers who have fear all over their faces, when we play with our scared children, when we go out for a refreshing run, and when we get a good night’s sleep.
There’s no more important time to take good care of our physical and emotional health: not only to make living possible, but because that’s where all good choices begin.
The mentality of the typical banner-waving campus 'Progressive' is not even really about a concern for the Palestinian people or any other 'oppressed' people. The real driver is to signal that their privileged narcissistic little wonderful selves are an ever-virtuous elect. 'Oppression' is a shallow abstraction that serves to inflate their personal vanity as 'social justice' warriors. This poisonous vanity has been pouring out of Western academia for decades. I still remember the drug-addled anti-Zionist 'sit-in' at my UK university in 1973. They have not conquered the citizenry with bombs but with another kind of violence; they’ve hypnotised them with ex-cathedra incantations of pseudo-values so absurd that – only a few years ago – would have seemed like they must be just kidding. They have been groomed, at the West’s most prestigious schools and universities, to such pitch-perfect self-righteousness that it would never even occur to them that they might be imposing their ‘pseudo-values’ on a public with little realistic means of democratic resistance. https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/invasion-of-the-virtue-signallers.
I worked at Oregon State University until earlier this year when I was fired for Vax mandate. I do not miss the quarterly training on the 'values' of the university. These were thinly veiled propaganda videos targeting a woke value. I evaluated the applications of student appealing their rejection from a university program. In my two years on this committee I never read a student appeal to their virtue or ability. Instead they'd cite their membership in an approved marginalized group. The groupthink was tangible. Modern academics have a preternatural ability to quickly meet at right-think consensus. It is unnerving to one trained in independent thought!
It seems that a lot of people in tech who have been vocally against cancel culture over the last few years became extremely eager this past week to cancel anyone who didn't share their opinion towards the Israel/Palestine conflict. Seeing those reactions -- many of which were cast against people on the same side as them over minor nuances in what was said -- I can understand why leaders have been hesitant to make such statements.
University should commit to neutrality but you want them to comment now? If you want them to commit to neutrality, it has to start somewhere. And it makes no sense to pressure colleges to choose a side or make a statement about every event all around the world and no one seems to be pressuring them about a lot of bad events like the Azerbaijan one. It seems to me that the "Canceling of the American Mind" is exactly why there was backlash and pressure for Universities to pick a side and it's no different from other forms of coerced speech and cancel culture with donors pulling out because no statement were made or the statement were not good enough or CEO demanding students be expelled and blacklisted. This seems even severe than most cases of Cancel Culture.
Harvard released statements and speech condemning it and still people didn't think it was enough. And literally called for leaders to step down, student be punished and blacklisted. This seems exactly the same as cancel culture using threat of social ostracization and career prospects (and donations in Harvard's case) to coerce speech. And worst of all, this call is coming from famously anti cancel culture and pro free speech crowd.
Asking them to condemn every bad thing that happens all around the world makes no sense and them not releasing statements shouldn't signal their support or opposition of that event or any of the involved party. This seems like a case of guilty until proven innocent. And punishing them for a group of their students espousing views you hate and find abhorrent makes no sense either, they aren't charged with controlling the students moral views and opinions.
At an evening of sketches, long ago at university (1965 Cambridge) I recall an undergrad (to become a famous comedian) standing up at a stage podium during a 'smoker' to deliver, in cod-German accent, a speech about what "is now being done about people who'd served in the Nazi regime"; how the courts were working under new "focused legislation" to track down "these people" who are "everywhere"; how kindergartens, schools, colleges and universities were at last refining their recruitment and personnel policies to assist the state in recognising the "traits", often well-hidden, of "so-called" ex-Nazis; how businesses and local authorities and the media were winkling out "the guilty" at every level, working "fearlessly with discipline and efficient intelligence", to identify "the foulness in our midst...these people who infect our new Germany" with their "diseased sub-human thoughts". As the sketch continued the actor's initially sober voice grew heated. His words came faster, adjectives amplified and given deeper emphasis with rigid hand and then arm gestures. The sympathetic and virtuous figure who'd begun the speech had slowly transformed, growing grimmer, glistening, reddening, and in a grand finale, showing a face contorted into a mask of enthusiastic - almost joyful - rage; flecks of spittle reaching the front row of the audience; even a little foam at the mouth - near apoplexy, rage and hate personified "there will at last be a final solution to this problem!". The silence before the applause was deafening.
for an example of what I consider exactly the right approach to the complexity of Israel/Gaza, see the statement from the Stanford Administration:
I don't understand. Isn't calling upon Harvard as an institution to condemn one-side in a controversy (those who blame Israel) a clear violation of the Chicago Principles? Aren't such denunciations precisely what constitutes Cancel Culture?
I personally detest both anti-Semitism and terrorism. Isn't it my responsibility to debate, rather than silence, those who disagree with me?
Isn’t it progress for university presidents to recognize that weighing in on social issues is not their place? Neutrality should be the norm if we are trying to restore diversity of opinion and break away from authority figures declaring what is the “acceptable” view.
It’s fine to disagree with Israel/Hamas being the issue where they all of a sudden flip and embrace nuance, but either way it seems like a win against the soft censorship that has been prevalent.
Reading the first couple paragraphs of the Jeffrey Flier piece linked in your footnote (it's all that is available before the paywall) I can't help noting that he refers to the Hamas terrorists as "fighters from Gaza." At least he acknowledges that they "slaughtered" Israeli civilians. But why can he not just call them what they are? "Fighters" in the context of the barbarism they perpetrated is just too vanilla. Especially since terror was precisely their purpose.
I’m puzzled by the argument that universities have become safetyist, wokeness factories that should shut the hell up and focus on educating students but if they’re not going to shut the hell up then we need a statement in support of Israel.
Honest to goodness, if we all just petitioned our school boards to require a few classes in informal logic for all public schools it would be a whole lot harder to do all this. Do you think even a dozen high school kids in America know what is wrong with an ad hominem or a tu quoque? Most college kids would think both are just dandy Critical Theory if they even knew what they were!
You are making an informed guess here about their response (or lack thereof) to the specific events in Israel and Gaza, and although there's a good chance you are right based on the broader landscape, this feels like a disappointingly speculative basis for making your own point.
Do university leaders make a practice of issuing public statements about tragic world events? Did they issue statements about the Russian invasion of Ukraine? About racially-motivated mass shootings? About natural disasters? I don't recall anything they might have said publicly, but I don't travel in academic circles. In short, compared to their response to other things, are they being silent about Israel/Gaza?
What I have been hearing and reading, mostly, are intelligent nuanced takes: The actions by Hamas were inexcusable. Intentionally killing civilians is abhorrent. However, this did not come out of nowhere, and the world has too long ignored the suffering of the Palestinians and excused atrocities committed by Israel. Not only excused, but supported, at least in effect. The second point does not erase the first. Both things are true.
Everyone has their stories. We all have our fears and frustrations surrounding all of this going down. Everyone has a question something like, What can I do about it that won’t cost me too heavy of a loss? Do I really want to end up alienated from my children and grandchildren? Don’t I have bigger fish to fry? I decided the direct route, to gently and carefully and kindly ask some questions. Is it OK if we disagree on some things? Can you tell me how you came to believe what you do? Do you ever doubt what you’re believing? I also try to personalize things some, by sharing my own struggle with one thing or another. People who fall into unhealthy ideological mindsets and obsession with other people’s problems, are often troubled by deep and painful problems in their own lives. Try to find out how they’re doing personally, emotionally, practically. If they call you names, ignore them, and see what you can do to help. Love them the best you know how.
My university professor, whom I like and respect very much, did issue a statement, in which he used a world such as "brutal", "terrorist", or etc. (I forget what) to describe the attacks. He did not make any similar characterization of the Israeli killing of Gazan civilians. That is inappropriate. Israel always kills more Palestinians than vice versa, sometimes as in this case far more, every single calendar year. No need for university presidents to point that out, since that would entail taking a side. But what you seem to be calling for is similarly for them to take the other side. I admire everything you do, Jonathan, and especially the graciousness with. which you go about it, and on this you are off-base.
Why do we expect university presidents to offer a comment on the Hamas attack? Maybe many of them didn't comment because they lack expertise on and experience in the region. Maybe they think comment is best left to diplomats, political leaders, and people on the ground who have an active stake in the issue. University presidents didn't speak up much about the brutal US supported regimes in Central America in the 80s or about Iran-Contra, which was a blatant attack Constitutional rule. Nor did they say much about the Iraq War, an unmitigated violation of international law and the "rules-based" order, with a body count significantly higher than the Israel/Palestine war. Are they morally obligated to speak out on this? Or any particular atrocities? Which ones? Is there a threshold civilian fatality rate? If so, the Israelis crossed it a long time ago. Or is it because Hamas slaughtered so many people in a couple of days instead of spreading it over weeks or months?