If you were to enroll today in Columbia’s Department of Women’s Studies you would be taught that we still live in an oppressive patriarchy and that gender differences are “socially constructed” and can be re-constructed, and then eliminated as we reach the highest stage of women’s liberation. But this is ideology not reality.
The fact that this ideology is a required creed for students of Women’s Studies reflects not an advance in consciousness but the retrogressive return of American liberal arts colleges to their 19th Century roles as doctrinal institutions, the difference being that this time the doctrines are secular and political rather than religious.
Of course a large and important sector of our modern research universities has not regressed. The hard sciences—the engines of our technological futures—continue to progress. If one were to walk over to the departments of biology and neuroscience, one would learn that gender differences are not “socially constructed” but hard-wired as part of our genetic makeup. We can already see the next academic reformation coming as the new progressive religions increasingly clash with empirical discoveries in the biological sciences. Plus ca change.
While some changes add up to less than meets the eye, others have led to consequences that are nothing short of catastrophic. The last fifty years have witnessed the growth of a new environmental consciousness, for example, whose modest goal is to “save the planet.” Talk about hubris.! Shortly after we graduated Columbia, Rachel Carson published a book that is regarded as a founding document of the environmental crusade. Her tract warned that the continued use of DDT pesticides would kill the world’s bird population and create a “silent spring.” A little over a decade later, because of the influence of her book, DDT pesticides were globally banned.
As it happens, at the time Carson wrote, the world had been recently freed from the scourge of malaria, which had previously accounted for three million deaths a year. This was thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation and its funding of a malaria eradication program, which relied on the pesticide DDT. Soon after the pesticide was banned malaria reappeared. The resulting epidemics have produced a toll of preventable deaths that already exceeds any other in the grim annals of man-made mortalities.
Since the progressive doctrine of The Silent Spring was implemented, three million people have died of malaria every year for more than thirty years, adding up to a total now of nearly 100 million. Ninety-five percent of the victims have been black African children under the age of five. As a footnote to this tragedy, Carson’s claim that DDT was harmful to birds has since been discredited.
Of all the battles that Americans have fought to advance agendas that are generally regarded as “progressive,” the one that appears to have had the most uncontroversial success is the fight against racial discrimination. There was a time not long before we came to Columbia when there were overt and unapologetic bigots in the U.S. Congress, such as Senator Theodore Bilbo a member of the Ku Klux Klan and an avowed racist. Today no anti-black bigot could stand up in the public square and proclaim his bigotry and survive with a public career. And now we have our first black president.
At Columbia last year a noose was posted anonymously on an African American professor’s office door. The entire university—administrators, faculty and students—recoiled in horror and came to the defense of the target. We have come so far that no one could be surprised at that.
But it is only half the story. At the same time that anti-black prejudice has retreated from the public square, other forms of prejudice using other groups as targets have become acceptable, even normal, and particularly in the most “progressive” circles. At Duke University not too long ago a drug-addicted prostitute who was black accused three white students of a crime they did not commit.
There was not a shred of evidence to sustain the charge, and much to contradict it. Yet the prosecutor, seeking the support of the black vote in Durham was not deterred. So reckless and racially motivated was his prosecution of the innocent students that he was subsequently disbarred for his actions, which included suppressing evidence that proved conclusively that they had not committed the crime.
Yet because they were white and the alleged victim was black the public lynching of their reputations continued for a year. The president of Duke, an Ivy League scholar, expelled them in advance of any trial, and terminated the athletic season of their team, and fired their coach.
Eighty-eight professors condemned them as racists, associating them with slave owners and white rapists of the past. While the press protected the name of their accuser, it paraded their images before a mass audience and made them national pariahs.
This is a particularly ugly case, but the new racism reflected in its details has become institutionalized.