Student mobs function as performance art and nothing else
The noted scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, a sharp and welcome critic of modern feminism and broken campus culture, was recently treated to a double helping of student mob mentality at Lewis & Clark Law School when, showing up as an invited guest of the campus’s Federalist Society, she was besieged by a crowd of protesters who attempted to shut down her speech. Students chanted and sang—those desperate mainstays of every wannabe-1960s student protest—and waved various signs. Doubtlessly there was some sort of hashtag associated with the whole thing. Ho-hum.
In a subtly hilarious twist of irony, a large group of students accused Sommers of perpetuating “fascism,” but, when asked, refused to provide any evidence to that effect. There is something so existentially perfect about this whole affair: A useless, meaningless demonstration against a relatively moderate and reasonable speaker, with wild accusations hurled around like dinner rolls at a food fight—and yet, when called upon to substantiate those accusations, the accusers can’t even be bothered. Can you think of a more potent example of the hollowness of activist academia, which relies largely on emotion at the expense of reason and fact?
Here are the brute facts of the matter: This type of campus activism is fundamentally an empty affair. There are many times when protests and activist movements have both tangible, realistic goals and practical effects outside of show theater; the modern campus protest movement has no such qualities. One gathers that the point is largely histrionic: Gather a bunch of people together, have them shout down a “fascist,” hold up some signs, go home. It serves no purpose outside of its own shallow performative ends: Protesters can watch themselves on recorded iPhone clips later and feel as if they were in an inspiring Disney movie. Nobody actually believes that Christina Hoff Sommers is a fascist, and nobody believes it is necessary to protest her as some sort of half-cocked show of civil disobedience. The point is far more self-congratulatory than that.
With any luck most of these protesters and activists will grow embarrassed with this kind of silliness and move on from it. But as we can see, they can do a great deal of damage to intellectual and intelligent discourse before then. There is a word for this kind of empty-headed authoritarian tribalism—what was it again?