‘The hunger for identity is what fuels the mob-ready grievance culture’
Nathan Harden, former editor of The College Fix, author of “Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and Good Education Gone Bad,” and currently education editor for RealClearPolitics, has a new piece in Academic Questions that takes on his alma mater and ponders whether its current president has the backbone to save the once great institution from its current crisis.
Today, it’s a campus filled with the “anguished cries of our national grievance culture,” a place where an “ununpopular political opinion is liable to launch a campus-wide protest,” and an institution at which openly professed “religious belief is liable to provoke mass meltdown.”
“Today, Yale is not so much a university as it is a safe space with a $27 billion endowment,” Harden writes. “Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But not by much.”
While the piece chronicles some of Yale’s most embarrassing moments, it also touches on why identity politics-based meltdowns are seen there and at nearly every other campus in the nation.
First, it’s important to note there’s largely two lines of thought on the root of the rise of the victimhood culture. One, it’s a psychological problem borne out of helicopter parenting, the “The Coddling of the American Mind,” and the promises of safe spaces.
Others argue young people are taught to wield their alleged oppression as a cudgel. These hysterical young people are not melting snowflakes, quite the opposite, as evidenced by their aggressive cry-bullying — it’s a power play to control the narrative that Western culture is evil and must fall.
But Harden goes into a third explanation on why things are the way they are. He cites Mary Eberstadt’s 2017 essay “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics,” saying it might be the most important political essay written in the last ten years, then adds a twist of his own:
“Identity politics,” [Eberstadt] writes, “cannot be understood apart from the preceding and concomitant social fact of the family implosion.” With the rise of single-parent households, and serial coupling and uncoupling, the disintegration of family and community has left a giant void of identity, which this generation is desperate to fill. Fewer than 65 percent of American children live with both biological parents, she points out.
Now, it is true that out-of-wedlock births and divorce rates are generally lower for the students who overwhelmingly populate elite universities. But those statistics mask other forms of relational brokenness, including abortion, and, especially, the long-term serial coupling and uncoupling that defines the lives of so many among the marriage-deferring, career focused, elite class. Divorce is hardly the only measure of family breakdown.
Moreover, if politics is a proxy for family these days, it may function even more so as a proxy for religion. The decline of religious belief Eberstadt doesn’t discuss. But Eberstadt has put her finger on the core of the problem: young people are desperately craving identity—a purposeful narrative for their lives—and they often turn to a political tribe to fill the void. The present day obsessive focus on racial, gender, and political identity, Eberstadt suggests, is properly understood as a cry for help.
Harden later adds:
In the absence of a strong family identity, young people look for meaning and belonging. It may be a feminist, a socialist, or a Democrat tribe. The only requirement is that the tribe define itself in some way as a victim of the predominantly white, western culture and its institutions. Thus, if you challenge such a person’s tribal identity—perhaps by declaring that “there is only one race, the human race” or “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”—it is perceived as a threat to his existence. You threaten his life’s meaning. It’s much harder to practice tolerance if you think a challenge to your ideas is a challenge to your significance. It’s a recipe for endless division. The hunger for identity is what fuels the mob-ready grievance culture …
Too many students are stuck in a bottomless pit of social media posturing, where there is nothing more meaningful to do than to find the “bad guy” who thinks differently, line up for a cellphone video, and chant your way to a feeling of righteousness.
What is the purpose of life, then, for these young people, if they have no identity in their family and/or their creator?
As Harden writes, “the hunger for identity is what fuels the mob-ready grievance culture.” This drive has in effect become the de facto religion for young people whose lives have been destroyed by broken homes coupled with a lack or loss of faith in God.
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