The grievance entrepreneurs


Northwestern University, situated in a bosky North Shore suburb of Chicago, has, or used to have, anyway, a particularly pampered, spoiled customer base — sometimes referred to as the ‘student body’ — mostly drawn from other similar suburbs. I would have said it was the Nordstrom’s of higher education; but this may be a poorly calibrated comparison. I invite better-informed suggestions.

Laura Kipnis, a very engaging writer, has the mixed good and bad fortune of being a tenured professor there. She has recently found herself in hot water because she has written a couple of sprightly and entertaining articles in the Chronicle Of Higher Education — now, unfortunately, paywalled — about the demented excesses of thought- and speech-policing on American college campuses these days. Summing it up, she has found herself the subject of Title IX sex-discrimination complaints because she wrote an essay in the aforementioned Chronicle; and she subsequently wrote an account, alternately horrifying and hilarious, about the hugger-mugger Star Chamber proceedings to which she was subsequently subjected by her employers.

This shitstorm of campus imbecility around trigger warnings, harassment, discrimination, comfort, safety and what not, like all social phenomena, is overdetermined. Partly the Unis have brought it on themselves with their ambition to be totalizing environments, where every aspect of the customer’s experience is carefully controlled, and nothing unpleasant is permitted to intrude. Disney World is the obvious prototype.

Then too there’s just good old-fashioned entrepreneurship, in this case grievance entrepreneurship. The kids who are making all this noise are, I suspect, a not very numerous part of the customer base, but they seek opportunities for self-aggrandizement and an influence on events. Of course in the contemporary US there is no better lever for such self-promotion than a grievance. The ‘Nineleven Families’ might be cited as the locus classicus here, though at the same time it must be admitted that they suffered an actual harm, unlike these twaddling embryo Inquisitors at Northwestern.

The noisy minority, however, does have a way of bringing a larger penumbra of camp-followers with it. At the last college graduation I attended, about half the credentialees had taped the numerals ‘IX’ on top of their mortarboards. I gather this was meant to communicate that rape was a Bad Thing.

The cost-free advantages of a gesture like this are fairly obvious. It feels ever so mildly, though safely, always safely, transgressive, and yet it’s in aid of an eminently uncontroversial proposition. Win/win!

I like to think the kids are alright, as I may have said before, so I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about how coddled they are or how aggressive and entitled they are, as some other old-fart observers of this collective mania have done. I think the institutions are mostly to blame.

At any rate, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it. As the man said.

11 thoughts on “The grievance entrepreneurs

  1. This looks more like a case of (trying to) shut someone up for telling the truth rather than grievance complaint. Libeling Kipnis as a rape-denier for challenging a key mechanism for instilling fear.

  2. Our military is always ready to help someone somewhere else with its grievances. Those bad people, the way they treat women & Yazidis! See how easy that is? can i have Susan Rice’s job now? (sorry, Soul, i need a job! oh wait, i’m a dude. can we still say dude? humanitarian intervention prefers a female face, so i guess i’m out.)

    some of these grievance machines are undoubtedly practicing for a future career in front of the camera. but a uni campus is one of the safest places on earth, is it not? americans are incessantly bombarded with stuff they are supposed to worry about (identity theft, that ping in the car engine, bad vlad, erections lasting more than 4 hrs, red meat, illegals stealing our jobs, etc., etc.) so when these kids get some time to think, maybe they project a lot of ingrained fear back into the world & try to make the uni like a safe room (or whatever you call those impenetrable rooms)?

  3. “nothing matters if we aren’t safe”-marco rubio (found at the site of that guy who used to be know as IOZ.) “we need a president who will keep us safe, not coddle & sympathize with our enemies.” lindsay graham. the kids are nothing if not zeitgeisty, the DHS of campus diction.

  4. Where did the neat image come from?
    Ah, the memories… both sides, potentially. Pro: Over half a century ago, sheltered youth at a late night class, asked by the professor to stay later, correcting papers, offer of a drive home, hey would you like me to pick up a six pack, sure Prof. (oh boy, I must be a man) … a remote parking spot, and kaboom! prof’s had groping sheltered youth’s crotch. “This gives me a great deal of pleasure.” “Not me.” “Don’t tell anyone.” Scared-shitless youth drops out of college. Tell anyone? Ha ha. Later, youth learned that prof routinely passed out A’s to both genders who co-operated. Tell in those days? (I won’t go into the current contradictions, not to say paradoxes, but can recommend Anthony Burgess’s prophetic satire The Wanting Seed.)
    Con: And now the other extreme, scarier yet. Anecdotes: a.) 40 years ago, a student objecting to, refusing to read, assigned book, Ulysses — “dirty.” And I as the professor, gosh, what do I do? b.) my (non-American) son enrolled 25 years ago (yes, it has been with us since then, snowballing) in top rated, posh American college, co-habitational dormitories, showers, etc. (an awful idea), Non-American son playfully pins G-rated cartoons to co-ed’s door, she runs to dean, object of sexual harassment. Son called on carpet, bewildered… suspect, disgusted, tells college to get fucked, left, and never stopped abhorring American academia. c.) even outside USA; my wife at a national post office on university campus in a linguistic dialect “sub-nation region” spoke to a student in the perfectly intelligible national official language. He filed a complaint because she did not speak in the regional dialect. She was interrogated by a lawyer on behalf of the university; fortunately she was a smarter lawyer and cited the articles linking her position to the national language. Well, then, would she engage in conciliation and talk to the firebrand in his chosen dialect? Like Kipnis, she said “no.” Plain and simple. Dadgum, this silliness struggles to emerge even outside your beloved/detested (choose one) USA… but I gathered from Kipnis’s recent publications that the absurdity there is at Nth degree. Thanks for bringing this depressing news to my attention. American politicians & university administrators: Whadabunchalosers.

    • O.K. M’n’T, let’s be fair. Not only American, but politicians universally and administrators in general, are bought & sold, whether arrogant in ephemeral power or running dogs.

  5. nobody mentioned David Brooks’ June 2 column, “the campus crusaders”? you can imagine where it goes…moral philosophy…the story is ludicrous.

    i upset a couple of FB friends who were opining with breathless insight into “islam’s need for [their brand of] feminism” to stop all the “gender violence” by my suggestion that they work to shut down the murder & rape factory known as the DOD. much easier to worry about other people’s beliefs & their need not to use The Prohibited Words.

  6. SMBIVA, help! KV Heuvel’s email pushing Alterman’s latest trash heap says “The Nation saw de Blasio’s national potential before almost anyone.”

    Again: Help! This multi-layered ultra-shite simply MUST receive a SMBIVA post or two!

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