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Bloomberg Reads the Riot Act

In a Commencement address to University of Michigan students entitled Here’s Your Degree. Now Go Defeat Demagogues, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg began as follows:

Bloomberg Commencement Intro.jpg

Bloomberg’s admonition recalled for me an interaction in my day with Education Professor Peter Kelman. I made a comment in class, and he shot/shut me down dismissively. That stung. Quite a lot. So much so that I went to see him in his office the next day. I recounted how wounded I had felt, and he responded in a way that professors (and administrators) rarely do today, but should do more often: “Toughen up, Joe,” he said, “In the real world you’ll get much worse than what I gave you.” I did. And in the coming years, I did, too. In part because of Kelman’s good advice, I could more than hold my own with people who use verbal aggression in addition to logic in debate.

Contrast that with a student/administrators panel discussion that I attended last year at the College (I recall the title being something like New Definitions of Masculinity). No more caring, solicitous, gentle men could be found in the land — so much so that they carefully filtered their remarks to ensure that nobody could possibly be offended by anything that they said. And as a result, all anyone ended up saying during the discussion was that at all times and in all situations, people should be caring, solicitous and gentle. I remember thinking that these folks were being trained for the academy. Their thin skins could tolerate no other environment.

So, “Toughen up, everyone.” It’s a rough and tumble world out there, and though you can’t always get what you want, you can try even if people seem dismissive and uncaring. Mostly they are not, and many of them are only looking to see if you have any nerve. Others just disagree with you. Learn to respond now. Don’t seek to hide.

Addendum: Bloomberg’s entire address bears reading. He well notes the need for careful analysis in the face of wild-eyed promises from the Left and the Right. His conclusion:

Today, when a populist candidate promises free college, free health care and a pony, or another candidate promises to make other countries pay for our needs, remember: Those who promise you a free lunch will invariably eat you for breakfast.

He’s got that right, too.

Addendum: A thoughtful column in the Harvard Crimson by Rachel Huebner H ‘18, A Culture of Sensitivity, echoes the above:

Since the beginning of my freshman year, I have come to believe that a more fitting way to describe the current culture on college campuses is a culture defined not by open expression—but by sensitivity. This undue focus on feelings has caused the college campus to often feel like a place where one has to monitor every syllable that is uttered to ensure that it could not under any circumstance offend anyone to the slightest degree. It sometimes feels as though pluralism has become an antiquated concept. Facts and history have been discarded, and instead feelings have been deemed to be the criteria that determine whether words and actions are acceptable.

Addendum: It seems that we are having a sensitivity crisis, as Inside Higher Ed reports in a story entitled Fraternities Under Fire for Sexual Assault Awareness Banners:

College fraternities are known for hanging offensive and sexist banners in front of their houses. The practice has drawn controversy before, even resulting in Sigma Nu suspending its chapter at Old Dominion University last year. Fraternities at Northwestern University are now under fire for hanging a different kind of sign: banners that raise awareness about campus sexual assault. “This is everyone’s problem,” one banner read. “Theta Chi stand against sexual assault,” read another.

The banners, which were fixed to the outside of fraternity houses during April, were meant to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But some students on campus found the signs to be in poor taste, arguing that fraternities should do more than hang banners when combating campus sexual assault. “To display a banner [saying] that ‘We support survivors’ is really something you have to earn by actually walking the walk,” one student told the Daily Northwestern.

On Monday, Northwestern’s Interfraternity Council announced that it would discourage chapters from hanging the banners in the future, and that it would create a four-year sexual assault education program for fraternities. “We recognize now how this campaign may have been emotionally triggering for survivors, and we want to make a deep, genuine apology for anyone that may have been affected,” the IFC’s executive board said in the statement. “This was not our intent, but it is our fault for not being cognizant enough and not considering how it might affect others in our community.”

Actually, we are having a silliness crisis.

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