In 1949, the British novelist George Orwell wrote 1984, a mythical vision of totalitarianism based upon the Soviet Union and employing the continuous use of “thought police.” It has turned into reality.
The recent American college campus has been overcome by a sociological “attack” that threatens to reverse the traditional character of a “school,” from an “academy” of learning and scholarship to an “institution” of cultural rules and regulations. This has been a recent, completely unprecedented, phenomenon that attempts to remake in its entirety the American social character in revolutionary and transformative ways. Indeed, the movement has taken on the aspects of a cultural civil war that may well remake the very core and political/social fabric of what the term “American” has come to mean. In its fullest extent, the objective of the “revolutionaries” would, at the least, transform the word itself from an admirable and uplifting iconic noun to a damaging and regretful adjective symbolic of “institutional” vice, oppression, and degradation.
“Attack” is an appropriate term, meaning “to begin hostilities against; start an offensive against.” It can have both a military and a social context; either will do, as the aim is to overwhelm or defeat. In this case, the concept is fully sociological but can overwhelm just as surely as a battle defeat or a military occupation. “Occupation” is also appropriate, since the objective is both comprehensive and final: no retreat, “total” war.
Leaders of this “attack” are few and generally “far between,” but enforcing a revolution in behavior makes them, in effect, the “thought police” of the system. Nor does it take mobs to start revolutions. In 1765, only a handful of Americans wanted separation from England. In 1903, Lenin and his Bolsheviks could fit within a Swiss hotel room. In World War I, Corporal Adolf Hitler was a messenger boy in the Kaiser’s army. When he came to power, there were 800 other Nazis in his regime, in a population of 80 million!
Examples of this brand-new transformation abound, both within the American scholastic system and “allies” throughout the culture, especially the media, political class, and “public intellectuals.” The movement began primarily in the “academy” and is, thus, “academic” to the larger population, which seems blissfully ignorant. But, as in education generally, elites eventually define the manner in which generations view their own cultural past, present, and future. Indeed, the “attack” is fast-determining all three dimensions of public life.
In history, the American past is being “reframed” against the collective wisdom. Statues, relics, place-names, paintings, etc. are torn down according to current ideologies. The New York Times (allied by the Washington Post) has declared “Project 1619” to highlight slavery (the year of the first slave ship) as the “definitive” definition of America, against 1776 (do not be shocked if the Statue of Liberty undergoes a name-change). “Identity” politics target favored and “repressed” populations. People “of color” are declared “marginalized” and are provided “safe” havens on campus. White “supremacy” and “privilege” are defined as “oppressors,” and campus administrators have declared “zero tolerance” against any vestiges of European ancestry in the Halls of Academe.
The rush to meet the new “standards” has poured millions of dollars and thousands of administrators to the nation’s schools, from the Ivy League to the California system. To cite only a few examples of the nationwide shift in campus priorities: UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has a staff of over one hundred and a salary of $400,000. A similar position at UCal Berkeley has a staff of 150. Yale has spent $50 million, Brown $100 million for new faculty and diversity departments, while Princeton has pledged 20 new faculty for the same reason. Rather than a “trend,” the race toward identity culture has become an “epidemic.” Core curricula now emphasize the same: racial theories, gender and women’s studies, LGBTQ. History, Biology, Philosophy, and other scholastic majors have given way to the new sociology. Dormitories have been segregated by race, as have graduation exercises.
Two metaphors, one a book title, express what has been occurring in the American academy. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Senator, Professor, Diplomat has called it “the leakage of reality from American life,” while Alan Bloom, Professor, entitled his seminal book The Closing of the American Mind (1987). “Transgressions” on campus are closely guarded, with the result that “microaggressions” are punishable as are “misgender” ID’s and any and all speech idioms that can be labeled “racist.” “Safe” havens are deliberately sought out by “victims” of any “politically incorrect” behavior.
Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute has noted that, in the California system, tenured professors had grown 25% in ten years, while diversity administrators had grown 125% in the same time frame. Her book, The Diversity Delusion (2018) notes that typical examples of “insensitive” speech on campus would be, “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job,” and “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.” She also describes the new administrators who supervise this revolution in thought and manner as “determined to preserve in many of their students the thin skin and solipsism of adolescence.”
Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation (1998) chronicled Americans who survived the Great Depression and history’s greatest world war. Then, the unemployment line or years in a Nazi POW camp might be an “unsafe” environment. Now, “unsafe” would be the campus green at Yale.
The origins of this movement would take several essays, but, briefly, it is both deep and long. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights “revolution” are often cited, but Marxist ideologies, especially “cultural” Marxism have come to dominate campus curriculums. Popular but critical texts on American history, such as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (1980) have also served to influence opinion.
Orwell’s novel, 1984, remains a classic. He was prophetic, but his timing was a bit off.