If college’s so scary, why not join the army?

brave-new-world-bookHow did Orwell and Huxley not predict this dystopian commonplace of Late Empire America – a generation of highly gifted, hypersensitive students in higher education who jolt into Viet Nam vet flashback mode at the mere mirroring in fiction of a situation that once traumatized them? We’re talking situations as insignificant as garden variety bullying, students who police speech the way the KGB policed Solzhenitsyn.

It’s gotten so bad Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld won’t play college campuses anymore.

It only takes two generations. The progeny of grandparents who heaved across the Pacific in malodorous, un-air-conditioned steerage take grand mal umbrage if you assume they’re good at math. According to Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “a student group at UCLA staged a sit-in” during a class of an education professor and “read a letter aloud ‘expressing their concerns about the campus’s hostility toward students of color’” because the professor “had noted that a student had wrongly capitalized the first letter of the word indigenous” and “[l]owercasing the capital I was an insult to the student and her ideology.”

140206_dx_wellesleynudestatue-crop-promo-mediumlarge-2I wrote about one instance of this hypersensitivity last February [The Delicate, Censorious Damsels of Wellesley] after reading that outraged students had gotten up a petition to remove a statue that they found offensive (a pasty, slightly overweight bald man sleepwalking in his briefs) because of its “triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many[1] members of our campus community.” The key word here is triggering – you see the statue, it flips on a memory of a sexual assault you suffered, so your personal trauma demands that public artwork be censored.

Nagasaki c. 1946

Nagasaki c. 1946

Okay, I’ll go ahead and admit my prejudice. My old man was a tough guy. He was stationed at Nagasaki right after the bomb blast when he was 17. He didn’t talk about it at all, but he did tell me one story when I was in college and he was drunk [trigger warning: depravity] involving a prostitute, a chest of drawers, and a baby’s corpse. I suspect this incident didn’t contribute to the mental health of a seventeen year old, but it didn’t prevent him from watching WW2 movies nor did he demand the world make accommodations for that mischance.

On the other hand, I don’t disagree with Kate Manne’s contention in her Times’ editorial that a voluntary “heads-up” to students on potentially shocking content makes sense — it seems like good manners to me. On the other hand, mandatory warnings on novels like The Great Gatsby are worthy of Swiftean scorn. The reactionary Scots-Irish-English mongrel me says, “If college’s so scary, why not join the army?”

Wallace Steven wrote in “A High-Toned All Christian Woman,” “This will make widows wince. But fictive things/Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.”[2]

Nowadays, it’s the most elite of the younger generation doing the wincing. Doesn’t bode well. A wave of fresh immigrants just might do us a world of good.


[1] 7, 15, 38, 161, 323?

[2] By “this” he means highly imaginative art

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