WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9, 2022
Alleged groupthink at UVa: Yesterday, we posted Emma Camp's advice concerning racist family and friends when eating Thanksgiving dinner.
On balance, we wouldn't agree with her advice, but that's neither here nor there. Once again, here's part of what she said:
CAMP (11/18/20): [T]his holiday season, white progressives need to remain consistent with their supposed commitment to social justice—they need to stand up to their racist loved ones.
While the results of the election spurred celebration across the country, white progressives must not be complacent. Yes, a proto-fascist leader has been defeated, but the hateful rhetoric, conspiratorial thinking and virulent racism, xenophobia and sexism he espoused during his tenure remain deeply entrenched in American political discourse...
This holiday season, white progressives should not continue to favor their own comfort and familial peace over the tangible suffering of vulnerable people. In failing to stand up to their families and friends—whether their statements are “meant well” or not—white liberals show a distinct complacency with white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia and the countless other ways in which bigotry rears its ugly head.
Camp was a junior at UVa when she voiced that view. As Thanksgiving approached, she offered that advice to her fellow Wahoos in an opinion column in The Cavalier Daily.
Personally, we wouldn't recommend that approach, but Camp was, and still is, entitled to her views. Except, it seems, at UVa, where she says free expression is being curtailed through the practice of self-censorship.
What are things like at UVa? We have no idea. This morning, Camp's guest essay on that topic appears in print editions of the New York Times.
She's now a senior at UVa. She says that she and her fellow Cavaliers are inclined to stifle themselves in class. We haven't been there to see for ourselves, but here's one striking example:
CAMP (3/9/21): When a class discussion goes poorly for me, I can tell. During a feminist theory class in my sophomore year, I said that non-Indian women can criticize suttee, a historical practice of ritual suicide by Indian widows. This idea seems acceptable for academic discussion, but to many of my classmates, it was objectionable.
The room felt tense. I saw people shift in their seats. Someone got angry, and then everyone seemed to get angry. After the professor tried to move the discussion along, I still felt uneasy. I became a little less likely to speak up again and a little less trusting of my own thoughts.
I was shaken, but also determined to not silence myself. Still, the disdain of my fellow students stuck with me. I was a welcome member of the group—and then I wasn’t.
Throughout that semester, I saw similar reactions in response to other students’ ideas. I heard fewer classmates speak up. Eventually, our discussions became monotonous echo chambers. Absent rich debate and rigor, we became mired in socially safe ideas.
Did some such incident really occur? We weren't there to see for ourselves, but we're prepared to assume that it certainly could have. We'd offer these reactions:
Is it acceptable for non-Indian women to criticize an historical practice of ritual suicide by Indian women? Especially within the context of worldwide practices which may seem misogynistic, it seems to us that it pretty much is!
That said, we're struck by the narrow defense Camp brings to her conduct.
According to Camp, it "seems acceptable" to offer such thoughts as part of an "academic discussion." (Though perhaps not anywhere else?)
Also, it seems OK for non-Indian women to offer some such thoughts. (Not so for non-Indian men?)
As a college sophomore, Camp thought it was OK to voice some sort of criticism of this particular practice. Stating the obvious, other students should have felt free to state a different view—but Camp describes a reaction which went well beyond that.
Camp describes a reaction in which she was subjected to group anger and disdain. She says the professor "tried to move the discussion along," but it sounds like the professor may not have completely succeeded.
In her essay, Camp says that progressive and conservative students alike are subject to disdainful group attacks when they state unpopular views. We're able to believe that's true, in part because of the silly tsunami we discussed in yesterday's post.
As of yesterday, Camp's guest essay for the Times had already appeared online. In response to this post by Kevin Drum, a mob of braindead "liberal" readers issued a wave of dumb attacks on the ridiculous horrible Camp. (A few body parts were mentioned.)
Amazingly, the commenters had widely concluded that Camp must be a crackpot right-winger. Their reason? Some of the things she had said in her guest essay seemed to offer criticism of our own infallible tribe.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our tribe can be very dumb. We get dumber and angrier all the time—and yes, The Others can see us.
We can't say what actually happened in Camp's feminist theory class. We will offer this:
By the end of her essay, Camp is suggesting that the adult authorities at UVa haven't done enough to create a world in which it's assumed that everyone won't always agree on every single point. She suggests they haven't done enough to create this basic understanding:
People won't always agree with your views. Except in the most egregious cases, you need to show such people a bit of basic respect.
More and more, then more and more, our own infallible liberal tribe has drifted away from such understandings. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and—like every human tribe at a time of ideological war—we are, more and more, more and more hopelessly dumb.
Go ahead! Read the dozens of angry comments to Drum's post, in many of which the commenters assume that Camp is a right-wing crackpot.
The angry commenters who swarmed in that mob hail from our own progressive / liberal tribe. Their comments were dumb, and also this:
They had behaved in exactly the way Camp's guest essay described!