A Devil's Dictionary for College Campuses
Ambrose Bierce was a 19th century journalist known for his sarcastic Devil's Dictionary. Bierce didn't give a fig about what people thought when he wielded his satirical razor to slice into hypocrisy, pretense, or over-refinement.
I've been thinking about Bierce, as the wheel is turning on college Political Correctness. The University of Chicago launched the first salvo by advising this fall's students not to expect trigger warnings, ideological rigidity, or "coddling," the inference being that those who didn't want to grapple with difficult stuff should go elsewhere. Former Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, now the president of the University of California system, worries that campuses have eviscerated free speech, and quotes former UCal head Clark Kerr: "The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas." She also quotes Thomas Jefferson: "We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." Although she's critical of the University of Chicago's "free speech Darwinism" and frets it could invite bullying, she's more frightened that, "[W]e have moved from freedom of speech on campuses to freedom from speech."
Let's imagine Bierce's take on all of this, a Devil's Dictionary for college campuses. Spoiler alert for the overly sensitive: This is satire; please Google the word. Or skip to the end to see what I really believe.
Administrator: A surrogate helicopter parent whose job is to comfort students whenever challenged by ideas more controversial than the number of keratin-based protuberances on a unicorn's forehead. They are expected to fire (immediately!) professors exercising their own rights to free speech or expressing opinions contrary to those of students.
Ageism: Discrimination against people based upon their chronological age. This term is never used by anyone under the age of 25, nor is it applicable to discrimination against those older than 40 (who are hoarding jobs). Rumor holds that the upper range will extend to 50 within the next 10 years.
America: The source of all unfairness and woe among developing nations–except in those places where America refuses to send troops because they're engaged in places where they shouldn't be.
Differently Abled: The term for an individual or class of individuals whose physical, emotional, or mental capacities are different from those of the privilege-defined mainstream. It is used even if those for whom it applies despise the term.
Free Speech: The right of faculty to utter officially sanctioned remarks. Faculty may express themselves with adjectives and colorful phrases or their choosing–as long as those words don't cause alarm among any historically oppressed groups. (See below)
Historically Oppressed Groups: Members of the college community feeling marginalized for any reason, even if the history of their oppression dates as recently as Tuesday, like a student group dedicated to saving wood-boring beetles from habitat shrinkage to due to woodpecker breeding.
Jews: A group it's okay to dislike because Israel is so mean to Palestinians. Disliking Jews is the only form of discrimination that's okay other than America and white males.
LGTBQLSMFT: This has something to do with sexual identity, though some of the letters might be related to a defunct cigarette ad. Who can keep up? Professors must pay close attention to this, even if they couldn't care less with whom their students are sleeping, and even though there has never been a recorded case of a professor willfully refusing to address students by any damn names they choose. One does wonder, though, if all this emphasis on sex demeans students identifying as asexual.
Micro-Aggressions: A charge leveled against professors who say something that upsets someone not brave or smart enough to challenge it. It applies even if the professor is proven correct. Micro-aggressions are accumulated small disturbances in the Happiness Bubble and it doesn't matter if the professor was misunderstood and/or willfully misrepresented because micro-aggressions are passive-aggressive remarks uttered from privileged spaces. Professors learn of their sins by reading anonymous student evaluations written mostly by white children from the upper middle class.
N-Word: The only acceptable way to reference racial slurs against African Americans. Students cannot even see the actual word–not even in documents from the past written by identified racists. Scientific studies–conducted under rigorous conditions in student forums–reveal that 93.47% of all students go into anaphylactic shock if exposed to the word. One should say "N-Word" instead because, as comic Louis CK revealed, no one ponders what "N-word" stands for.
Person: Have you been living under a rock? The word "son" is embedded in this, sexist dog. Use "per," or go to hell in a specially designed container designed to carry one's possessions.
Rule of Thumb: No! Pers insist it references an old English law allowing men to beat their wives with sticks thinner than their thumbs. You can't use this, even though no such law ever existed and it comes from brewers digitally testing the mash temperature.
Social Class: A defunct analytical category rendered useless in 1990, when the last known member of the working class became middle class. All 318.9 million Americans now belong to the middle class and enjoy equal access to wealth, property, and life chances–except when race, gender, or LGTBQLSMFT statuses are involved.
Speech Codes: A list of things no one can comment upon because everyone is supposed to pretend they don't see them, like a per's appearance or what a per is wearing–even if it's a shirt that says: "HEY!!!! Look at What I'm Wearing!!!!!"
Trigger Warnings: Advising students there might be something objectionable or unsettling in the material they are about to study. They come with permission to opt out. Given that pretty much everything taught in college is challenging, some schools allow students to stay home. Diplomas are mailed upon receipt of four years' worth of tuition payments.
White Males: A synonym for privilege, wealth, and those who cause mist of the world's woes. It is assumed that all white males enjoy this hegemony because that's way easier than unveiling the identities of the 1% who actually do. Besides, there is no social class (see above).
Did some of this offend you? Good! Noam Chomsky observed, “ [Even] Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.” Got it?
What I Really Think:
1. No code can protect against incivility. Bigots are always one step ahead.
2. Codes are the refuge of those too lazy to fight for social justice.
3. Those who cannot distinguish content from context shouldn't be in college.
4. College is not a place to get comfortable. Ideas exist to unsettle, challenge, and help clarify what we really think about the world.
5. That the antidote to hate speech is free speech.
6. Before slapping a label on others, take a hard look at your own labeling.
7. Stupidity and foolishness are found across all of society. Also wisdom and kindness.
8. No one has a monopoly on oppression, or a license to oppress others in the name of one's own oppression.
9. We'd be better off if we laughed at ourselves more.
10. The National Park System has been called America's "best idea," but I think it's free speech.