By Kevin D. Williamson at National Review
Really, Yale — you shouldn’t have! All this for little ol’ me?
It wasn’t really for little ol’ me, in fact. On Friday, I was honored to be a guest of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, where I participated in a panel on freedom of speech with the wonderful writer Harry Stein and professor Bradley A. Smith, a noted law scholar. The Yale kids did their screaming best to prevent us from having a conversation about free speech — the Yale kids are utterly immune to irony — but the event went much as planned. Coming and going, we were chanted at by idiot children screaming, “Genocide is not a joke!”
Of course it isn’t. Yale kids, on the other hand …
For the first several years of my life, I thought that “Yale man” was a synonym for “caveman,” because the only references to Yale I’d ever heard were from Thurston Howell III, who greeted displays of barbarism with “Heavens! A Yale man!” I thought of that when the police officer was obliged to carry the shrieking protester out of the venue where he’d come to put a stop to our free-speech discussion.
If you’re wondering about the genocide thing, so were we. Turns out it’s a fairly typical college story — which is to say, a fairly stupid story — the short version of which is that Yale’s sensitivity babysitter sent out a pre-Halloween email reminding all the smart Ivy League kids not to dress up like Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer”; professor Erika Christakis offered a reply bemoaning that college campuses have become “places of censure and prohibition”; a few students consequently went bonkers because their safe spaces were being invaded; and — here’s where we come in — Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of our panelists, remarked that these hysterical ninnies were acting like professor Christakis had burned down an Indian village.
Which is to say: The idiot children were screaming about Lukianoff because he said they were overreacting to Christakis’s criticism that they tend to scream and overreact.
Well played, idiot children.
Of course, these idiot children aren’t children. These are young adults who can serve in the military, get married, buy firearms, drink alcohol, etc. They are at the beginning years of adult life, but they are entirely unprepared for adult life. It’s fashionable to blame Yale and other elite institutions for this sorry state of affairs, but, while the colleges certainly do their share of damage, the truth is that these children are maladjusted buffoons when they show up in New Haven. Yale doesn’t make them into hysterical ninnies — their families do.
There is a certain strain of upper-middle-class American culture that cultivates an excess of self-importance that grows cancerous when it isn’t counteracted by a deep understanding that the world is full of things that are much more important than you are: God, country, the rest of the human race. That American striver culture has many invaluable aspects — it is the culture that produces the high-achieving students who go to Yale and other elite institutions — but in the absence of transcendent values it turns everybody into a miniature Donald Trump. If your concerns in life are limited to personal economic advancement and status whoring, then everything — literally — is about you. That’s when you see things like Lena Dunham’s dopey political advertisements, which reduce citizenship to another shallow channel of self-satisfaction: Never mind patriotism, never mind history, never mind anything else — what does your vote say about you? How do it make you feel?
I understand why the idiot children at Yale are so sensitive. Really, I do. I sometimes list in my mind all of the poor, suffering people who get a raw deal in this life, and Yale students are always right at the top, with the Bangladeshi orphans and women traded by sex traffickers in Vietnam. Yale isn’t a safe space, Congo isn’t a safe space — it all makes sense, as long as you don’t expect it to make sense.
No, genocide isn’t a joke. I’m sure that the women and children being raped to death by Boko Haram appreciate that the idiot children at Yale are making stern faces and pumping their fists. As for me, I think that they’re clowns, and worse than that, really: They’re bad citizens, and defective people from defective families. They aren’t motivated by good will, but by fear: of the dawning realization that they, as people, aren’t really all that important, despite having been told all their lives how important they are.
We’re all real sorry about your safe spaces and your pacifier and your stuffed puppy, Caitlyn. Really we are. Yet the perpetual revolution of configured stars continues in its indifference, and the lot of man is ceaseless labor, and though you may find the thought terrifying — and thinking itself terrifying — it may turn out to be the case that the screaming in the dark you do on campus is more or less the same screaming in the dark you did in the crib, the same howl for the same reason.