Today’s undergraduates probably know little, if anything, about the cataclysmic movement in China known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It began in 1966 before all of them (and even a great number of their professors) were born. This massive national crusade, instigated by Chairman Mao Zedong, was intended to create a pure communist man and woman, devoid of the constraints of materialism and personal ambition.
It started with the closing of the schools and the re-education of intellectuals and the bourgeoisie and ended up with years of incredible violence, taking millions of lives. The actual statistics are still a state secret, but a recent biography of Mao states “at least 3 million people died violent deaths and post-Mao leaders acknowledged that 100 million people, one-ninth of the entire population, suffered in one way or another.”
I got a personal look at the remnants of the Cultural Revolution in 1979 when on an “activist’s” tour of China. The country was still extraordinarily impoverished and primitive. Propagandistic thought control was everywhere, broadcast on loudspeakers and splayed out on ubiquitous billboards urging the masses to “Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius” (Lin Biao was a former ally, then competitor, of Mao’s who died in a mysterious plane crash) or “Smash the Gang of Four,” one of whom was Mao’s wife, then in disrepute. Whenever you asked a question of your interpreters, even a bland one, you got a rote response. Everyone was too timid to say anything the slightest bit controversial. Newspeak reigned. It was like living in Orwell’s 1984 five years early.
So you will excuse me if, from the outset, when I heard how our college campuses were being overtaken with these new-fangled “trigger warnings” and “microagressions,” perfect Maoist terminology for our computerized times, it immediately gave me the heebie-jeebies. Thought control, via political correctness, had come to America in the very spot it had begun in China — the schools.
Recent events at the University of Missouri and Yale (where I attended graduate school), plus now other institutions, have only increased my apprehension. It’s not at the level of the Cultural Revolution — professors haven’t been asked to wear dunce caps yet and no one (to my knowledge) has been killed — but the portents are not reassuring.
Mob rule, not anything close to democracy, is at play. The so-called SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) seem to be functioning as early avatars of the infamous Red Guard, bullying and then threatening violence to anyone whose thoughts run outside what is deemed to be correct.
College professors and administrators quiver in their path. In the case of Mizzou, the president resigned before any concrete evidence of racism was made manifest. It still hasn’t been days later. At dear old Yale, it’s even more bizarre because there were no imputations of racism in the first place, only that there might have been or might be. Forget Bull Connor and the KKK, inappropriate Halloween costumes were the new danger. It was all about having a “safe space” so feelings wouldn’t be hurt, as if the world could be perfect and the human species remade for an extraordinarily fragile generation of coddled students.
Some people ridicule these students as “snowflakes” unable to stand up to the slightest discomfiting words or images. But it is far worse than that. These so-called “snowflakes” are the potential shock troops of the aforementioned Red Guard, American style. There is a fine line between the extreme entitlement that demands to be warned before reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses (as happened recently at Columbia) and a kind of narcissistic rage acting out against any presumed enemy in its path. How do you think the CR actually happened in China? Yes, the country was significantly poorer, but the psychological evolution was strikingly similar.
So think twice if you don’t think it could happen here. Who would have thought the president of one of our great public universities would lose his job in part because someone said he saw a swastika written in feces on one of the bathroom walls, which now, suddenly, no one can find and might have been a photograph in the first place, if it ever existed?
As we say in Hollywood, it’s “The Crucible Meets Animal Farm,” the Salem witch trials meets four legs good, two legs bad. But the professors who teach those anti-fascist masterworks aren’t doing anything to defend against it. Lobotomized by political correctness they attempt to be even-handed, in the way many did with Mao and Stalin. The same results await them.
And we citizens sit outside our great universities and watch the conflagration. It’s only just begun.