I suggest, as a corollary to Orwell's prescient observation that (I'm paraphrasing) some things are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them.
Should you seek stupidity in depth and a full lock on all mental development, enrol in a prestige high-fee North American liberal university. Further, I hold that whatever debates may be underway about the targets of Orwell's dystopian Nineteen Eighty Four, the modern university is the only institution that has taken that noble work for use as a manual.
For where else are words turned quite upside down, flipped over to stand on their bruised heads and told to dance to the rigorous tunes of fanatics? For it is only on a university campus that simple, basic words are made by violence to take on their exact and opposite meanings: up is down, right is wrong, day is night, and anti-fascism is fascism.
A couple of nights ago the Twitter-banished, Trump supporter, Internet gadfly and author Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a talk at the (hilariously regarded) home of the Free Speech movement of the 1960s, Berkeley campus in Oceania, sorry, in California. If I were to characterize Yiannopoulos I'd put him down as a right-wing, more sophisticated version of Jon Stewart. He is certainly more clever. There is a relaxed quality to his goading of the politically correct hordes that Stewart's more determined sneering never really achieved.
Milo doesn't have a TV show (yet) but he gives talks and is on a campus tour. Naturally when he showed up at Berkeley a riot broke out. A little flavour of the evening may be gleaned from any number of sources: "Protesters armed with bricks and fireworks mounted an assault on the building hosting a speech by ... Milo Yiannopoulos." Another: "Several injuries have been reported and at least four banks have been vandalized after demonstrators marched away from the scene of a violent protest at the cancelled speaking event by ... speaker Yiannopoulos."
And just one more: "As the gathered crowd got more agitated, masked "black bloc" activists began hurling projectiles including bricks, lit fireworks and rocks at the building and police. Some used police barriers as battering rams to attack the doors of the venue, breaching at least one of the doors and entering the venue on the first floor."
Now what do we call it when people in black uniforms and face masks storm a speaking venue, assault attendees, light fires and throw bricks at police with the express purpose of shutting down a speech? Would "fascist" work for you? In this context, and remembering it is a university campus where this outrage was perpetrated, I think fascist will serve quite nicely. And then we may advance to giving the name of the group that sponsored this giddy fit of intolerance and mayhem. They call themselves "AntiFa" which is the cute way campus blackshirts like to spell anti-fascist these days.
For it is only on a university campus that simple, basic words are made by violence to take on their exact and opposite meanings: up is down, right is wrong, day is night, and anti-fascism is fascism.
You see thereby what I mean by saying it is only in a university setting that words and descriptions are not only torn from their roots, mauled and variously abused, but put to service in the exact opposite of all their meaning. For those who are little too fond of invoking an analogy with the Weimar Republic in these Trumpian days, it might be worth looking in a reverse direction at Trump's more fanatic opponents for a more faithful deployment of the comparison. As between the well-coiffed, mild-mannered Yiannopoulos and a mob of black-clad mask-wearing brick-tossing rioters, I'd go with nominating the latter as the fascist crowd.
Righteousness staggers the angry mind. The rioters presented the "argument" that Yiannopoulos's (aborted) talk was an act of violence, while ever so superciliously they maintained that their acts of violence were free speech. One pureblood nitwit at the event whined that it wasn't Milo's talk, per se, that triggered her, but that she feared that in some future class she might unwittingly be sitting next to someone who had attended it. (Does Berkeley have an entrance exam? Does it require baying at the moon?)
More and more those who are, as it were, genetically opposed to the results of the presidential election, make the assumption that the Republican victory handed them a licence to violate all the codes of civil society and the understandings of democratic practice. That because their fellow citizens make a choice they find unpalatable they are thereby released to riot and violence and plaster their actions as heroic and noble. And of course the cringing authorities of the universities, instead of clarion denunciations of such actions, and absolute dissociation from all such charades, dance mildly down some imagined middle. Milo is a "provocateur" or he is "extreme" right wing, or that most feeble of all standbys, claiming the protest was "infiltrated" by "outsiders."
The moral courage of some universities is at a low low ebb and their long and ancient reputation as havens of thought and intellectual regard is being travestied. There is only one real protest I would really like to see on a university campus these days: one that marched for more rigorous courses and more time in the libraries, reading. Meantime, I expect we'll see a run on Mussolini bios.
Rex Murphy, "The Fascists on Campus." National Post (February 4, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program. See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.Copyright © 2017 National Post
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