Tuesday, November 29th | 5 Kislev 5783

May 22, 2017 4:07 pm

Campus Unrest and a Culture of Pride

avatar by Jon Haber


A Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) display at Ryerson University in Toronto, expressing the ‘Culture of Victimhood.’ Photo: SJP Ryerson via Facebook.

We conclude our four-part series by noting that there are several ways to approach today’s problems of campus unrest.

The first is to treat them not as a challenge to the current moral order, but rather as a “moral panic” that will eventually burn itself out.

That phrase, used a couple of times in this series, describes a phenomenon that emerges in most societies (although somewhat more frequently in robust democratizes like our own), which involves large numbers of people putting aside reason as they collectively take on a perceived impending catastrophe, usually one that combines political and moral dimensions.

The crusade against alcohol that ended in Prohibition is an archetypical example of a moral panic, but one could list others including the Red Scare in the 1950s, childcare-center abuse stories in the 1980s, or our own fright that the nation’s educational system (and thus future prosperity) will be doomed unless we deal with a crisis of “bad teachers.”

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Even if they are temporary, moral panics are far from harmless. Indeed, thinking through the consequences of the panics noted above immediately demonstrates why they should be vigorously fought against. But because sanity tends to ultimately return as those panics dissipate, the tactics one chooses to fight them are different than ones used when confronting a new (and potentially dangerous) moral system trying to push out an older one.

Presuming problems on today’s campuses represent a “Culture of Victimhood” trying to dominate a society built on a “Culture of Dignity,” one strategy for fighting that fight is to try to shore up the existing order by, for example, reasserting the virtues of a dignity culture and demonstrating its superiority over the new victimhood-based system trying to take its place.

Unfortunately, such tactics collide with the general cultural assumption that the new is — by default — superior to the old.  The “Culture of Dignity” also relies on personal restraint and on the appeal to outside authorities, both of which are difficult to maintain in an era of endless choice and expanding bureaucracy.

Even if these external pressures weren’t in place, the “Culture of Dignity” — which assumes everyone is playing by the same set of rules — has proven to be fairly weak at defending itself against those who have shredded the old rulebook and today follow the principle of “by any means necessary.”

As any military commander will tell you, one cannot defeat something with nothing. So if a new emerging moral order is threatening to topple an older one, the best way to keep that from happening is to introduce a different new moral system superior both to the old way of doing things as well as to the emerging alternative.

This is not always the safest of routes, since moral cultures tend to create new norms that redefine what is considered good or bad, appropriate and inappropriate. Rule by law is an obvious improvement over rule by force (except, perhaps, for the ruthless). But, as mentioned previously, the new moral cultures proposed by 20th-century tyrants attempted to define what was in fact deviant and dangerous behavior as supremely good.

But not all moral cultures need to appeal to such base instincts. In fact, virtues such as pride (especially regarding things one has every right to be proud of) and heroism are particularly compelling calls to action, especially compared to the shriveled self-definition offered by a “Culture of Victimhood.”

But what on earth should we be proud of, especially in an era when others keep telling us that everything we believe, do and enjoy should be treated as a source of shame?

Well I’m going to go out on a limb and put Zionism at the top of my list.

For if you think about it for even a moment, what is the more remarkable thing about the 2oth century: the Nazi’s horrific attempt to liquidate world Jewry or the ability of the remnant of that catastrophe to create a nation within three years of their near annihilation? And while “making the desert bloom” has come to be seen as a cliché at which others sneer, the fact is that Israel’s pioneering forefathers did just that, while also finding time to resurrect an ancient tongue that today embraces liturgy, literature, and even stand-up comedy.

Continuing to mention the “Startup Nation” can also seem boastful, especially when others are insisting we only talk about the alleged criminality of that nation that no number of startups can “cover up.” But what can possibly say more about the human capacity to persevere than a people able to not just survive but thrive while under perpetual threat of destruction from overwhelming numbers of enemies?

Naturally, Israel’s foes will object to anyone taking pride in their object of hate (and send particular vitriol in the direction of anyone embracing the “Z word” they spend so much time denigrating).  But look at what their “Culture of Victimhood” + “Culture of Honor” mutation takes pride in — best exemplified by the Palestinian refugee camp where teaching children bloodlust and hatred takes precedence over teaching them math — to see the evil doppelganger of all that Israel has achieved.

A “Culture of Pride” would embrace Israel’s glorious achievements without becoming smug or insensitive to legitimate injustice. In fact, it would embrace the best aspects of the “Culture of Honor” (including courage and self-reliance) and the “Culture of Dignity” (including respect for others and self-restraint), while also being impervious to taunts by moral midgets insisting that their victimhood (self-imposed or otherwise) requires us to do what they say.

In an era when those inhabiting a dignity culture refuse (or have forgotten how) to fight back against threatening replacements, perhaps the obligation to provide a humane alternative, the “Culture of Pride,” falls — yet again — on the Jews (and our friends). While it might not seem fair for this burden to land on a people who could rightly take their place among the world’s victims, as Clint Eastwood told Gene Hackman at the end of Unforgiven (right before blowing his head off): “Fair’s got nothing to do with it.”

Conclusion of a four-part series: Part I, Part II, Part III.

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