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Campus Totalitarianism Driven By The Rise Of Reset Culture

What’s driving the rise of a totalitarian attitude toward campus life? A generation that has absorbed the lessons of Reset Culture.


What is the name for the particular variety of totalitarian madness that has come over these young Millennial college students at Missouri, Yale, and elsewhere?

Steve Hayward summarizes the silliness and the push to “stop instigating more debate.” Rob Tracinski wrote yesterday that Mizzou and Yale show why it’s time to burn universities to the ground. Today, Joy Pullmann argues that the cause could be in part due to the modern Mommy Wars, and the inability of kids to learn the need to self-regulate. Jonathan Chait makes the case that no, this is not just the typical “college students saying dumb things” scenario. Kevin Williamson says that Yale didn’t turn these children into idiots – their families did.

Whatever the case in these specific instances, the overall story from these and other institutions over the course of the past several years provides plenty of examples of what happens when a half century of monolithic progressive leadership for institutions metastasizes, creating a level of thought policing more invasive than ever, encroaching on every action and aspect of student life.

There is no place for academic freedom in such a place: there is only the constant tug of war over safe spaces, speech codes, thought crimes, infringement, victimhood, and privilege. The students at the University of Missouri the other day were singing “We shall overcome” and chanting calls for “revolution”. Robby Soave offers the best description of what these students are demanding: a substitute parent.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about these students’ censorious actions is how profoundly conservative they are. By communicating an expectation that their master or president protect them from unsightly Halloween costumes, or promise them no more hurtful words will be said at their expense, students are essentially calling for a return to campus life under in loco parentis. They reject not merely a free and open campus dialogue, but adulthood itself.

And what a revolution that is.

Getting Through Adversity, Or Eliminating It

In the grand scheme of things, the normal rebelliousness of youth is to be expected, and can be all fine and good. But that stops when they start demanding people be the next up against the wall. And that’s what they did in this case, forcing the University of Missouri system president to resign, for no particular reason and not because he did anything particularly egregious: “Not everyone was pleased with the resignations. W. Dudley McCarter, a former president of the university’s alumni group, said alumni, in calls and emails on Monday, had expressed disappointment in Mr. Wolfe’s decision. “They feel like he was backed into a corner and was made a scapegoat for things he didn’t do,” Mr. McCarter said.” As David French notes, the idea that President Tim Wolfe was the problem doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And unfortunately for Mizzou, the blood of the scapegoat shows little sign of satisfying the mob – it never really does.

The key mistake these Millennials are making is falling into the trap of thinking that freedom from a thing does not amount to overcoming that thing, or having the mental strength and health – just as you have physical or spiritual strength and health – to get through it and past it. It’s the belief that freedom from a troublesome thing means the forced elimination of that thing from your life and your view.

It’s simple: as soon as you demand the right to not have your mental space afflicted by the thoughts/words/actions of others, you’re actually demanding the power to control the thoughts, words, and actions of others. If WrongThoughts and WrongWords hurt your feelings, then obviously the only solution is to just ban WrongThoughts and WrongWords, not learn to deal with how they make you feel.

Don’t Like How Things Are Going? Hit Reset.

At the root of this is the total dominance of Reset Culture.

No, this isn’t the fault of video games. But the general lesson of the reset button is that as soon as things get difficult, you can choose to shoulder through if you want, but you don’t have to. You can hit reset, load your last save, ragequit, or whatever – typically without consequence.

You hit a button, and adversity disappears – a clean slate, on-demand. And that’s essentially what these students are demanding – a button that lets them wipe away anything that violates their headspace with ideas and concepts they deem threatening.

Coaches across a wide variety of youth sports use a similar argument to explain the downfall of participation we’ve seen in recent years. An inability to deal with adversity, to get through it, to learn from it, and to profit and grow in the wake of it is a tendency that is far too widespread in this generation and is too often inculcated by parents, educational institutions, and society as a whole.

As for the current outrage expressed by students seeking not academic freedom, not intellectual debate, but a safe space where their desire to not be photographed is not infringed, this passage from Richard Curt Kraus’ “The Cultural Revolution: A Very Short Introduction” seems apt:

“In 1973 Zhang Tiesheng, a former high school student looking for a way out of the countryside after five years of unwanted peasant work, applied to attend university in Liaoning province. During an examination in which he was doing poorly, Zhang notoriously abandoned the official questions and turned in an essay denouncing ‘bookworms’ who did nothing useful while he had labored in the fields …. [I]n the late Cultural Revolution, Zhang became a leftist hero for daring to swim against the elitist tide, and he enjoyed a brief but stellar political career.”

Congratulations to Zhang Tiesheng, who hit reset before it was cool.