The Agony of Moral Defeat

harvardPerhaps when literary critic C.S. Lewis despaired of “omnipotent moral busybodies . . . who torment us for our own good,” he was speaking about those well-meaning, but naïve college students who “torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Lewis’s observation seemed to have been given credence in the past weeks by the very public, tendentious rants of two coeds, one at Harvard University and one at UCLA, as they railed against a world in which their dreams of social justice for the oppressed and weak was not being realized, despite their best efforts.

In the first instance, in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson entitled “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom,” Sandra Y.L. Korn, majoring at Harvard, tellingly, in the history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality, decided that academic freedom was undeserved by those who hold beliefs different than hers and her fellow “moral busybodies”— those who have decided what is moral, what is right, and what is acceptable speech and behavior on Harvard’s campus and in the world beyond. “Why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom?’,” she asked, seemingly without embarrassment. Academic freedom, she contended, should be put in check so that unwelcomed viewpoints can be suppressed. As an alternative virtue, she suggested “a more rigorous standard: one of ‘academic justice.’”

One example of how that justice might be applied, at the expense of academic freedom, was the recent academic boycott against Israeli academics called for by the American Studies Association (ASA). Though the boycott was subsequently denounced by over 200 university presidents and scores of academic organizations and scholars, Ms. Korn thinks that the loss of academic freedom by Israelis is of secondary importance to her notion of “academic justice;” that is, justice for the oppressed, the victimized, the marginalized, the weak. “The ASA, like three other academic associations,” she wrote, “decided to boycott out of a sense of social justice, responding to a call by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine.” Despite universal protestations from many people far more insightful than Ms. Korn, in her mind, any critics of the boycott are, by definition, morally wrong, and, she asserted, “only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.”

The UCLA incident revealed a similar Leftist obsession with obtaining social justice for the Palestinians, even if it necessitates the weakening or destruction of the Jewish state. On February 26th , the UCLA undergraduate student government voted 7-5 against a Students for Justice in Palestine-proposed “Resolution to Divest from Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights,” including specific corporations:  Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, Cemez, General Electric, and Hewlett-Packard. After the charged hearings, which included some 500 people in the audience and went on for ten hours, an identified UCLA undergraduate, who was serving as a note taker for the hearings, broke down and railed at the cameras with an expletive-laden rant about how disappointed she was that the resolution failed, how ashamed she was of the racists and bad people who voted against divestment, and how Palestinians would now continue to be “hurt” because of their inaction. For two minutes the hysterical woman can be seen screaming “I’ve never been so f***ing disappointed” and complaining that “we just f***ing blew it” by not passing the corrosive divestment resolution.

Many pro-Israel commentators gleefully parodied the whimpering student when the video went viral, suggesting that her behavior typified the dangerous liberalism which elevates the Palestinian cause at the expense of Israel’s survival. But the reality is more troubling than that: this woman, like the Harvard undergraduate who wishes to live in a world where only her predetermined virtues and worldview prevail, feels quite strongly that, in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at least, the answers are black and white, there is a moral side and an immoral side, and that anyone who does not, or cannot, see things as clearly and unambiguously as these gifted undergraduates do is a racist, an oppressor, an imperialist, a colonizer, or a supporter of an illegal, apartheid regime trampling the human rights of a blameless indigenous people.

As commonly happens when liberals appraise the relative merits of their own countries and others, one set of expectations is used to measure Third-world countries and their leaders, and a totally different, far more stringent (if not unreasonable) set is used when evaluating the behavior and values of the United States, the EU, or Israel. This cynical, nearly hypocritical, view has meant that the Left frequently denounces Western democracies as imperialistic, racist, militaristic oppressors, precisely because they wish them to evolve to a purer, newly-structured society and feel that they have the collective insight and moral strength to effect this change as they strive for the social justice, or its intellectually-flaccid offspring, “academic justice,” a nebulous term lifted from Marxist thought which empowers Left-leaning administrators, students, and faculty with the false ethical security derived from feeling that they are bringing positive moral and ethical precepts to campuses.

For that reason, Israel is continually slandered as a racist state, an aggressive, militaristic regime that inflicts disproportionate suffering on the hapless Palestinians, lubricating the argument that this inequality is inherently and inexorably wrong, that it must be corrected and made just. Thus, when such radical campus groups as Students for Justice in Palestine have as their core mission, as their name implies, bringing their own vision of justice to the Middle East, it is justice only for the oppressed, the Palestinians, and not for the perceived oppressor, Israel, whose position of power was made possible only because of military strength and imperialistic tendencies.

For the Left, social justice is solely for the disenfranchised, the ‘victims’ of unjust Western societies, those whose suffering is ostensibly caused by and is the fault of imperialistic, capitalistic, militant, hegemonic nations—America and Israel foremost among them. And on campuses, where liberal professors have nearly made sacred the politics of race and class and have identified specific sets of favored victim groups for whom justice will be sought, the cult of “victimhood” has even led to compulsory instruction on the mechanics of achieving social justice for the weak in society.

The new academic dialogue over the concept of social justice obviously has found a fitting locus with concern for the Palestinian cause, since the concept of social justice is particularly applicable on highly-politicized campuses when, as in the case of the Palestinians, the absence of a new Arab state is perceived to be the fault of Israel alone. Compassion for the dispossessed and the weak on the part of the Left has also seen the growth of a whole different set of ethical standards by which the actions of powerful nations—primarily Israel and the U.S—are judged as compared to weaker, developing, sometimes clearly inferior nations, based on their political and international behavior.

In their mission to protect the sensibilities and emotional well-being of identified campus victim groups, universities, often violating their own written guidelines and codes of behavior, have also instituted speech codes to prevent what is generally called “hate speech” now, but which has become a perverse tactic to marginalize, and exclude, the speech and ideology of those with whom liberals and Leftists do not agree, those individuals who express ideas that offend the sensibility of Ms. Korn, for example. Because they feel they have the moral high ground and a much more profound insight into social justice and the rights of the oppressed victim groups with whom they share an intellectual affinity, Leftists are fervent in their belief that they, therefore, have a right to unfettered speech to promulgate their own high-minded views; in fact, the speech of their ideological opponents, simply by virtue of the fact that it contradicts the moral principles that the Leftist holds dear, is regularly regarded as “hate speech” that can be ignored, punished, or, as happens with increasing regularity, shut down completely and excluded from the campus conversation.

That core sentiment has come to define the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and was on full display at UCLA during the divestment debate: it is the notion that the repeated defamation of Israel will result in its eventual expulsion from the supposed civilized community of nations. But the call for divestment is merely a tactic through which Israel will be marginalized, and eventually extirpated, as a pariah state with no moral justification for existing.

The acting out and vitriolic language against Israel that so often defines campus anti-Israelism may make the activists feel good about themselves for striving for social justice, but, as journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has contended, these are hollow efforts, that “[i]nstead of investing money and efforts in organizing Israel Apartheid Week, for example, the self-described ‘pro-Palestinians’ could dispatch a delegation of teachers to Palestinian villages and refugee camps to teach young Palestinians English. Or they could send another delegation to the Gaza Strip to monitor human rights violations by the Hamas authorities and help Palestinian women confront Muslim fundamentalists who are trying to limit their role to cooking, raising children and looking after the needs of their husbands.” What was Abu Toameh’s conclusion about this misdirected effort to support the Palestinian cause? “What is happening on the U.S. campuses,” he wrote, “is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation’ as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel . . ,” and “we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.”

“The whole problem with the world,” observed philosopher Bertrand Russell, “is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” That these two undergraduates display a certainty that is so stringent and so contrary to intellectual inquiry should give us all pause, and might make us question if we are teaching a whole generation of college students what to think instead of how to think.

Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, is president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews.

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Harvard’s Rebel Without a Clue

Sandra_KornIt reads like parody, but it’s not. Appearing the other day in the Harvard Crimson, the article was headlined “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom: Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice.” Its author, a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y.L. Korn, argued that the concept of academic freedom should be replaced by one of academic justice. “When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression,” she proposed, “it should ensure that this research does not continue.” To a large extent, of course, the American academy is already under the thumb of the left-wing Thought Police; Ms. Korn only wants to complete the job. She’d like to see an academy in which, she explains, somebody like Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield – a conservative who would never be hired nowadays, but whose job is secure thanks to tenure – would be given the boot, the better to purify the sweet air of Harvard Yard.

Who is Sandra Y.L. Korn? The contributor’s note identifies her as a member of the class of 2014, a Crimson editorial writer and columnist, and “a joint history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality concentrator in Eliot House.” “Concentrator” is apparently Harvardese for “major.” Ms. Korn’s college education consists, then, of courses in Women’s Studies and in “History of Science,” which, according to Harvard’s website, “offers students the possibility of studying the history and social relations of science” but “does not require students to take science courses.” (Which, of course, is ridiculous: how can you begin to understand what science is without actually studying a science?) Ms. Korn, I also discovered, is working on a thesis about “how biologists have tried over and over again to explain gender difference by invoking ‘science.’” In other words, she’s learned about science – without really learning any science – in order to discredit “science,” a word she puts in scare quotes. (Her project is, note well, entirely consistent with Women’s Studies dogma, which teaches that science is “masculinist.”)

Ms. Korn, I further discovered, is not only a prolific columnist – writing regularly for both the Crimson and the Harvard Political Review – but an active member of Occupy Harvard, the Progressive Jewish Allliance, the Student Labor Action Movement, and BAGELS, “Harvard’s group for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgendered Jews.” In her columns, she’s paid tribute to the Black Panthers, celebrated the Occupy movement, and chided those who cheered Kim Jong-Il’s death. She’s opposed allowing ROTC back onto the Harvard campus, one reason being that “[i]nternational students…from countries not allied with the United States” might object to their presence. She’s criticized Harvard’s plans to distribute lecture courses on the Internet as the latest development in “a long history of imperialism in which U.S. elites have told an increasingly globalized world that what they thought was best.” She’s written that “[w]hile violent resistance through Hamas is not right,” it’s “not incomprehensible,” given that “non-violent resistance cannot make the international community pay attention to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.” And she’s dismissed as “Islamophobia” any statement of the objective fact that anti-Semitism is a core element of contemporary Palestinian identity.

Speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, summer before last Ms. Korn went on a free ten-day trip to Israel courtesy of Taglit-Birthright Israel, then wrote a column savaging the “right-wing rhetoric” she was fed – by which she meant that, for example, her tour guides displayed an unapologetic pride in Israel and were honest about the systematic inculcation of anti-Semitism in Palestinian schools. While in Israel, she wrote an article lamenting that the country – which some of her family members admired half a century or so ago as “a workers’ nation, a socialist utopia” – has now “adopted capitalism with fervor,” an action which she plainly deplores.  She is, indeed, no fan of capitalism. More than once, she’s ranted about the fact that many Harvard graduates get jobs in finance. In one column (reprinted by The Nation, where she was an intern) she savaged Harvard’s Office of Career Services for steering students toward Wall Street, and wondered aloud whether they do so in order “to guarantee wealthy alumni donors.” She concluded her piece by underscoring the need to “destroy…the well-paved road between the Ivy League schools and Wall Street.” When she went to England last summer to do “research” at Trinity Colllege, Cambridge, she found stuff to complain about there, too: “Why do the fellows here dine in the same hall as undergraduates but on a raised platform apart from them?”

In the wake of the 2011 Mumbai bombings, Ms. Korn was outraged – not at the terrorists, but at Subramanian Swamy, an Indian politician and Harvard economics lecturer who responded to the atrocities with an article about how “Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus.” Ms. Korn and some of her confederates jumped into action, agitating for Harvard to – as she put it – “discontinue its association with an offensive figure.” The action succeeded; Swamy was banished. A month later, Ms. Korn and a fellow Women’s Studies major slammed President Obama’s speech on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as too America-centric. “As an international student from a Muslim country and an American student from a suburb of New York,” they wrote, “we believe that discussions and events commemorating 9/11…must place the attacks within a global context.” Why remember the 3,000 people killed in the Twin Towers, they asked, and not “the nearly 250,000 deaths which followed”? And why no tribute to the Muslim victims of “bias crimes” in the U.S. since 9/11?  “[B]y urging all Americans to take emotional ownership over the event,” Korn and her co-author argued, “we cast a U.S.-centric and nationalist stance on 9/11 that dehumanizes and delegitimizes the perceived ‘other’—and allows us to emotionally detach from wars taking place abroad.”

Not surprisingly, Ms. Korn was also displeased by the patriotic displays after bin Laden’s death. That night, “hundreds of excited Harvard students gathered outside my window in Matthews. Chanting ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ and singing ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Ten Thousand Men of Harvard,’ these joyous, debatably sober, vuvuzela-carrying Harvard students celebrated the death of America’s most-hated enemy: Osama bin Laden.” Ms. Korn said that while she “dislike[s] attacks on American soil just as much as the next person,” she “hesitate[s] to label humans as ‘evil.’” Beside, celebrations of bin Laden’s death only “reaffirm negative prejudices about Americans held by those involved with terrorist groups,” “confirm that Americans are unfeeling and inconsiderate,” and do “nothing to earn America the respect of the Afghani people.”

Who, then, is this fierce critic of American empire, this enemy of capitalism, this scourge of Wall Street? Well, as it turns out, she’s from the affluent suburb of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where she grew up in a house at 61 Darren Drive that was purchased in 1998 for $800,000. (If you check it out on Google Maps, it looks like the very image of the American dream: a peaceful paradise of large, pretty houses separated from the quiet street by broad, manicured lawns dotted with shade trees.) Her parents are Elizabeth A. Korn, a pediatric endocrinologist, and William D. Korn, whose own Harvard degrees are in economics and business administration and whose website describes him – the father of this proud 99-percenter – as follows:

Bill Korn is a veteran technology executive with more than 30 years of experience managing fast growth businesses. As Chief Financial Officer for seven companies he has raised over $250 million of capital, including debt and equity financing. Bill has completed seven acquisitions, including negotiating terms, arranging financing, performing due diligence and integrating teams. He has successfully created many successful partnerships and joint ventures.

The bio goes on for several more paragraphs, providing details of his years at IBM and other corporations and his involvement in the National Association of Corporate Directors and the New Jersey Economic Growth Council.

Sandra Korn is, then, the child of two parents who, taken together – to judge by their CVs – personify pretty much everything she’s rebelling against. She’s a product of precisely the kind of upper-class American suburban life for which she has professed an ardent class contempt. And she’s about to collect an immensely valuable diploma after utterly squandering a magnificent, world-class opportunity to actually learn something. Instead of grasping this opportunity, she’s spent the last four years marinating in her own ideology by writing articles, participating in activism, and taking “courses” that are about nothing more than Being Ideologues Together. There’s no sign that she’s been educated at all, in any sense of the term – no sign that she’s learned anything of significance about, say, history or economics, no sign that she’s developed any understanding of the way the world works, no sign that she grasps the concept of challenging one’s own assumptions by taking in unfamiliar facts and grappling with ideas different from one’s own. She mentions her professors in her columns only to upbraid them. (Several of her profs, for example, have urged her to work on not saying “you know” and “like” in every sentence – which she rejects as an effort to make her speech patterns more masculinist.) She gives every indication, in fact, of having arrived at Harvard believing that she already knew everything she needed to know and of having viewed her presence on campus as a chance not to obtain a first-rate education but to roil the waters in a very big pond.

I don’t mean to come down like a ton of bricks on one lone college kid. I focus on Ms. Korn because she’s one of the most prominent voices at what is by far America’s most prominent university, and because she’s a highly representative figure whose views are standard issue for a great many privileged young Americans today. And at the very heart of what makes her representative is the fact that she hasn’t got an original thought in her head – and doesn’t even realize it. She’s swallowed an ideology whole and learned to spit it back. Her unoriginality, her predictability, are matched only by her colossal self-assurance; she’s clearly never entertained any serious doubt that she belongs to her generation’s intellectual crème de la crème. For all her rage against America’s cruel classism, she never questions, in any of her many articles, the elite status she herself enjoys, perhaps only because her father is a well-to-do Harvard alum.

To the extent that this young woman represents the next generation of the American elite, America is doomed – period. The one sign of hope that stands out in her articles is the anecdote about hundreds of students congregating under her dorm window to sing “God Bless America.” Were there really hundreds? If so, hurrah. I wouldn’t have dared hope there were more than a handful of Harvard students who had it in them to put on such a display; given the way things work at such universities nowadays, I would’ve imagined that the admissions office did a far more effective job of screening out applicants capable of such behavior. But even though Harvard students like this do apparently exist, perhaps even in the hundreds, the fact remains that it’s the Sandra Korns – with their contempt for freedom, their love of totalitarian-style “social justice,” and their determination to purge the ideologically impure – who define such institutions in our time, and who, simply because the word “Harvard” or “Yale” or “Princeton” is printed on their diplomas, are almost certainly destined for highly influential careers in America’s corridors of power. Yes, the singers of “God Bless America” may go on to Wall Street and make millions, but the Sandra Korns will go on to places like the New York Times and proceed to bend the culture to their will. And if that’s not terribly depressing news, what is?

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