How Yale University Became a Savage, Bigoted Tribe
We learned this week that Erika Christakis, a gifted scholar and teacher at Yale University, will no longer teach at that school. Now giving up a teaching spot at Yale is quite a gesture — akin to a Catholic cardinal or a British peer resigning his lifelong office. It’s the kind of decision you don’t make absent a darned good reason, or else a howling campaign of pressure. Of course, Dr. Christakis had been the victim of exactly such a campaign, after she violated every tenet of human decency … not by denying the Holocaust, or calling for “death for the infidel,” or advocating the death penalty for gay people. Had she done something like that and if she’d had an Arab name (instead of a Greek one), she might well be welcomed in the name of multiculturalism.
No, Christakis committed the crime of sending an email suggesting that thin-skinned, privileged Yalies chill out about “offensive” Halloween costumes. The response was a month-long (and still running) outburst of self-righteous hysteria, with students wailing from their fainting couches that they felt “unsafe” at a school where Christakis was teaching. This campaign, and its vulgar success, made it clear that Yale is a school that students, administrators, and faculty do not want to be a sophisticated environment for the free pursuit of truth and transmission of culture, but instead a tightly knit monochrome “community” of shared, unexamined beliefs — like a bigoted medieval village purged of Jews.
However crudely and cruelly Yale has treated Dr. Christakis, my alma mater has done the rest of this country a favor, by shedding the final veil and exposing how progressives spread their ideas, accumulate power and dominate society.
America is ruled by a political and media elite that takes as self-evident truths a long list of outrageous fallacies. Like post-hypnotic suggestions, these false beliefs linger beneath the surface of lazy minds. They wouldn’t withstand ten minutes of sustained intellectual argument. Luckily for them, they’ll never have to. These cobbled-together opinions aren’t passed on through reasoned discourse, and rarely have to make their way through the rational sieve of the mind. Instead, they travel from person to person on a transmission belt of fashionable sentiment and self-congratulation, attracting new subscribers by dangling the hope of membership in a self-selected elite of “decent” people who hold “enlightened” ideas that make them sophisticated and praiseworthy. These views lurk in bumper stickers and status updates, are transmitted in winks and nods, retweets and likes, rarely brushing against the sharp edge of opposition. When you dare to contradict such a precept, its believer won’t hunker down to engage you. He’ll roll his eyes, nod condescendingly, and silently cross your name off his “list” of respectable human beings. The dialogue ends there.
Secular progressivism is not a developed intellectual position that seeks out followers by honestly setting forth its premises and challenging rational adults to contest or accept its conclusions. Instead it’s a tribal marker, like a tattoo or feather headdress, that marks off “insiders” from “outsiders,” appealing not to the cogitative centers of the brain but the deeper, older and murkier parts. These dark places in the mind have no room for “true,” “false,” or “arguable,” but deal only in “Us” and “Them.” For all that they are the fruits of advanced rational thinking and astonishing technical achievement, both academia and social media are exquisite mechanisms for training millions of people to regress from intelligent discourse to brutal, herd-like groupthink.
Of course, no self-respecting tribe relies exclusively on rewards. There must also be floggings and raps on the snout for those who step out of line — and for those who persist in breaking taboo, a savage regime of shunning. Thus the Left in newsrooms and faculty lounges, in seminaries and corporate boardrooms, in college dining halls and “artsy” social circles, enforces dogmatic assent to its unexamined creed.
When a person of principle (like Dr. Christakis) makes the mistake of trying to argue honestly against some tenet of progressivism, she is met first with blunt, dull shock and incomprehension. “Surely there’s some mistake… you are apparently one of Us, but what you’re saying sounds as if it’s coming from one of Them. Let’s start you off with a warning.” If the honest person persists, under the illusion that she’s dealing with rational people who aim at truth, they go off and form an ad hoc committee, and attempt an “intervention,” which will warn the unlucky dissenter of the consequences if she won’t get with the program. If that fails (it usually doesn’t), the public denunciations start, and they won’t stop until the dissenter’s good name and career are on the trash heap. With the scapegoat safely destroyed, the Collective returns to normal, energized in fact by the exercise in group purification. Readers of Rene Girard will find this process drearily familiar.
And so Dr. Christakis and her family will leave New Haven quietly, to the jeers and taunts of the mob, who are safe and warm together in the mindless embrace of the herd. It’s the same herd that will, if we let it, stampede the rest of us next.