Student Activism Destabilizes Society

The latest issue of the Harvard Graduate School of Education magazine focuses on “student activism.”  This activism rubric is a euphemism for student disturbance, student malaise, student ingratitude, student impulsivity, distracted student hypermoralism, and acting out of their unconscious death wish and free-floating libidinous unrest.  Abusing the constitutional right of freedom of assembly, students step far outside the boundaries of their experience and competencies to demonstrate, threaten, condemn, and sometimes destroy the social order as well as the dreams and property of others. Freedom to disagree and publicly express said disagreement becomes an excuse for screaming, foul language, hysterical episodes, making ugly faces, and feverish gesticulations, and in many ways acting like deranged morons.  Moreover, it is increasingly common for conservative speakers not to be allowed on campuses or to be met with raucous demonstrations when they are allowed to appear.  The line between freedom of assembly/peaceful protests and campus “demonstrations,” antifa mayhem, and Ferguson or Baltimore riots and looting is still somewhat intact, but that line is increasingly frayed, tattered, and diluted. 

The capstone article in the magazine is entitled, “Student Activism 2.0.”  Like Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History of the United States, which is a widely used textbook in college American History courses, or such progressive tomes for high schools as The Americans (1360 pages), published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this article focuses on activism (sic) as the quintessence of American democracy.  Activism to its left-wing supporters reveals the flaws not only of U.S. history but of contemporary patriotism which is deemed by the activists to be too resistant to seeing the massive flaws of American culture, and has mistakenly brought the USA to the point of even thinking of itself as exceptional.  Their main thought is that we are so deeply flawed that we barely deserve to exist, let alone consider ourselves to be moral or just. 

Further, these student activists, immature, unstable, and easily manipulated, see themselves as advocates for “the people.”  “The people” for them are all those on the well-known progressive list:  homosexuals, people of color but especially blacks and Hispanics as opposed to Asians, workers, the elderly, transgenders, women, students, people who are HIV positive, native Americans, illegal immigrants, high school dropouts, incarcerated felons, and drug addicts.  For the progressive activists, these are not only people with needs to be addressed, but these groups are “the people” who have been dispossessed by our selfish society. They are victimized groups and support for them is a natural extension of the populism that began with the farmers in the 19th century as well as with women in the suffragette movement.  To their ahistorical minds nurtured on progressive propaganda, populism extended through progressivism through the New Deal up to the present.  Thus, they consider themselves the true populists.   For this reason, they are doubly enraged that they are now facing a conservative backlash that claims to be the “new populism.”  They are incensed. They ask: weren’t we the ones originally against the robber barons, the capitalist moguls of the 19th century who were ripping off Americans and destroying society while claiming to build it?  Are we not the ones who, in that same tradition, descry the top 1% or .1% who are the contemporary heirs of the robber barons?

However, a new populism is emerging, and it makes their blood boil.  It is a populism that realizes that Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and other scions -- despite their limitations and biases -- did in fact build this country into the mega-economic superpower it is. The new populism identifies with workers who, despite certain areas of mistreatment, had found a measure of economic security and opportunity in America that they never knew in the entire history of post-industrial growth.  But those workers who had risen to new levels of economic security and opportunities have seen themselves over recent decades as increasingly dispossessed in the name of a progressive, elitist globalism.  The old populism/progressivism has morphed into a system for dispossessing the workers and telling them to shut up, get into a job retraining program or move to a more prosperous area of the country.  The students thus have become pawns in the leftist/globalist challenge to American prosperity.  Their rage is being stoked as they are persuaded to think that they are the true voices of “the people,” but in fact they are against the interests of the people.

The workers are now the new populists who do not identify with the ruthless and immature outbursts of student indignation with its leftist/progressive face.  Thus, ironically, the socialist New Deal forgotten man referred to by President Franklin D. Roosevelt is now the forgotten man referred to by President Donald Trump in our present political and economic renaissance. Further, there is a vast middle class which, despite the extreme bias of the textbooks often being used in our high schools and colleges, is mainstream. It is composed of small business owners, managers, stockholders, pension fund managers, white collar workers, independent professionals, and creative thinkers and writers who are immersed in a spirit of gratitude for the USA, and not in a spirit of wounded victimization.  Real grievances of course must be addressed, but is it constructive or even decent to spend one’s life picking at the scabs of so-called injustice and reopening wounds?

The author of the Harvard article revels in reviewing the history of student protests.  To him, student protests are where the rubber meets the road.  Young people are finding a voice to express their concerns about significant social issues, and their voices point the way to a better future for all.  He completely avoids any reference to the excessive hostility that has emerged in these protests, especially since the 1960s.  He avoids asking the extent to which student protests are manipulated events by political zealots in the Democratic Party or other organizations that have an interest in destabilizing our society.  He fails to consider the psychology of these protests and the extent to which they mask inner student helplessness and fear of the future.  He fails to consider the sense of individual isolation that is bred by the student generation’s engrossment in virtual reality leading to collective expression and its attendant excesses.  The sense of alienation and anomie described so beautifully by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney in their book The Lonely Crowd published in 1950 is so much deeper and more far-reaching today than it was then.  The social isolates of the 1950s would be borderline deranged today. 

In short, idolization of protests and public expressions of outrage are outrageously devoid of perspective.  Perspective is necessary for balanced thinking and balanced living.  And balance is necessary for maturity and wisdom to flourish.  These in turn produce real problem solving at the highest level.

E. Jeffrey Ludwig has taught at Harvard, Penn State, Juniata College, City University of New York, and Boston State College, and was selected numerous times for inclusion in Who’s Who Among America’s High School Teachers.  He is author of The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools, and is a born again Christian.

The latest issue of the Harvard Graduate School of Education magazine focuses on “student activism.”  This activism rubric is a euphemism for student disturbance, student malaise, student ingratitude, student impulsivity, distracted student hypermoralism, and acting out of their unconscious death wish and free-floating libidinous unrest.  Abusing the constitutional right of freedom of assembly, students step far outside the boundaries of their experience and competencies to demonstrate, threaten, condemn, and sometimes destroy the social order as well as the dreams and property of others. Freedom to disagree and publicly express said disagreement becomes an excuse for screaming, foul language, hysterical episodes, making ugly faces, and feverish gesticulations, and in many ways acting like deranged morons.  Moreover, it is increasingly common for conservative speakers not to be allowed on campuses or to be met with raucous demonstrations when they are allowed to appear.  The line between freedom of assembly/peaceful protests and campus “demonstrations,” antifa mayhem, and Ferguson or Baltimore riots and looting is still somewhat intact, but that line is increasingly frayed, tattered, and diluted. 

The capstone article in the magazine is entitled, “Student Activism 2.0.”  Like Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History of the United States, which is a widely used textbook in college American History courses, or such progressive tomes for high schools as The Americans (1360 pages), published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this article focuses on activism (sic) as the quintessence of American democracy.  Activism to its left-wing supporters reveals the flaws not only of U.S. history but of contemporary patriotism which is deemed by the activists to be too resistant to seeing the massive flaws of American culture, and has mistakenly brought the USA to the point of even thinking of itself as exceptional.  Their main thought is that we are so deeply flawed that we barely deserve to exist, let alone consider ourselves to be moral or just. 

Further, these student activists, immature, unstable, and easily manipulated, see themselves as advocates for “the people.”  “The people” for them are all those on the well-known progressive list:  homosexuals, people of color but especially blacks and Hispanics as opposed to Asians, workers, the elderly, transgenders, women, students, people who are HIV positive, native Americans, illegal immigrants, high school dropouts, incarcerated felons, and drug addicts.  For the progressive activists, these are not only people with needs to be addressed, but these groups are “the people” who have been dispossessed by our selfish society. They are victimized groups and support for them is a natural extension of the populism that began with the farmers in the 19th century as well as with women in the suffragette movement.  To their ahistorical minds nurtured on progressive propaganda, populism extended through progressivism through the New Deal up to the present.  Thus, they consider themselves the true populists.   For this reason, they are doubly enraged that they are now facing a conservative backlash that claims to be the “new populism.”  They are incensed. They ask: weren’t we the ones originally against the robber barons, the capitalist moguls of the 19th century who were ripping off Americans and destroying society while claiming to build it?  Are we not the ones who, in that same tradition, descry the top 1% or .1% who are the contemporary heirs of the robber barons?

However, a new populism is emerging, and it makes their blood boil.  It is a populism that realizes that Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and other scions -- despite their limitations and biases -- did in fact build this country into the mega-economic superpower it is. The new populism identifies with workers who, despite certain areas of mistreatment, had found a measure of economic security and opportunity in America that they never knew in the entire history of post-industrial growth.  But those workers who had risen to new levels of economic security and opportunities have seen themselves over recent decades as increasingly dispossessed in the name of a progressive, elitist globalism.  The old populism/progressivism has morphed into a system for dispossessing the workers and telling them to shut up, get into a job retraining program or move to a more prosperous area of the country.  The students thus have become pawns in the leftist/globalist challenge to American prosperity.  Their rage is being stoked as they are persuaded to think that they are the true voices of “the people,” but in fact they are against the interests of the people.

The workers are now the new populists who do not identify with the ruthless and immature outbursts of student indignation with its leftist/progressive face.  Thus, ironically, the socialist New Deal forgotten man referred to by President Franklin D. Roosevelt is now the forgotten man referred to by President Donald Trump in our present political and economic renaissance. Further, there is a vast middle class which, despite the extreme bias of the textbooks often being used in our high schools and colleges, is mainstream. It is composed of small business owners, managers, stockholders, pension fund managers, white collar workers, independent professionals, and creative thinkers and writers who are immersed in a spirit of gratitude for the USA, and not in a spirit of wounded victimization.  Real grievances of course must be addressed, but is it constructive or even decent to spend one’s life picking at the scabs of so-called injustice and reopening wounds?

The author of the Harvard article revels in reviewing the history of student protests.  To him, student protests are where the rubber meets the road.  Young people are finding a voice to express their concerns about significant social issues, and their voices point the way to a better future for all.  He completely avoids any reference to the excessive hostility that has emerged in these protests, especially since the 1960s.  He avoids asking the extent to which student protests are manipulated events by political zealots in the Democratic Party or other organizations that have an interest in destabilizing our society.  He fails to consider the psychology of these protests and the extent to which they mask inner student helplessness and fear of the future.  He fails to consider the sense of individual isolation that is bred by the student generation’s engrossment in virtual reality leading to collective expression and its attendant excesses.  The sense of alienation and anomie described so beautifully by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney in their book The Lonely Crowd published in 1950 is so much deeper and more far-reaching today than it was then.  The social isolates of the 1950s would be borderline deranged today. 

In short, idolization of protests and public expressions of outrage are outrageously devoid of perspective.  Perspective is necessary for balanced thinking and balanced living.  And balance is necessary for maturity and wisdom to flourish.  These in turn produce real problem solving at the highest level.

E. Jeffrey Ludwig has taught at Harvard, Penn State, Juniata College, City University of New York, and Boston State College, and was selected numerous times for inclusion in Who’s Who Among America’s High School Teachers.  He is author of The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools, and is a born again Christian.