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The Rise of the Comfort College (bloomberg.com)
131 points by zt 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

“to ask for evidence of violent practices is itself a violent practice.”

This is a scary phrase because it requires immense power be rested in an authority that can not be questioned.

I have a friend who was a victim of domestic violence growing up, terrible beatings. The worst part was that the cause was not always known, a few times a week the parent would go into a rage and beat the first one or two children they saw. The beatings were terrible- belts, shoes, hockey sticks, dowel rods, etc - so my friend tried to avoid them. Early on he would ask “what did I do” and that would enrage the parent more as the offense was so massive that not knowing it was an offense that made the beatings longer.

The only thing that consistently worked was to arrange for other siblings to be encountered first and wear out the parent’s rage. My friend discovered this because his brother kept doing it to him.

My friend never figured out how to avoid the beatings, they just grew up and left.

Reading this article gave me goosebumps and an overall melancholy feeling. I can't quite put my finger on why though...

I think it has to do with the subtext (I might be reading into this...) that knowledge is no longer a respected asset, but instead is viewed by some as a symbol of the 'old' status quo (and its related issues and in particular its failure in resolving some of those issues). The reaction to this, as I have understood it, is to either shun those who use knowledge (in the sense of this 'old' way) or outright censor them (remove them from the knowledge-pool).

The article did help in my understanding of identity-politics and why its such a powerful force in the USA and, for example, less so in places like Europe.

We should never assume that the loudest voices are also representing the majority opinion. This brought us into so many crises in the past.

Right now the world is changing as it did a few times in the past as well. From families to tribes, from tribes to cities, from cities to countries to nations to whatever is currently in the brewing. And always when such a big change happens it is not possible for us humans to really understand it. There are some who overinterpret the change and become zealous about enforcing it, but in the wrong way. There are also those that want to stay close to the old ways and therefore enforce these with zealous spirit.

That doesn't mean the majority will not do as it always did: try to make the best of what happens around them while continue to live their normal lifes. And in that regard the majority is also interested in knowledge and logic and fairness etc.

If you feel knowledge is an important part of your path continue believing in it and that there are enough other people around you who feel the same. Even if they don't speak up. This crisis will pass and then we'll live in a new world. And certainly we rather need more knowledge workers than in past iterations.

I feel that what is currently brewing is a form of social cults, or if you prefer softer phrasing, cultural tribes. With a very strong feedback control loop deriving from social networking.

Aspects we can see emerging (and mentioned in the article) include: submission to and no questioning of the leadership/apostles; there being only one absolute truth; a persecution complex; control of actions through indoctrination and isolation; group think; and cognitive dissonance.

> We should never assume that the loudest voices are also representing the majority opinion.

While that is certainly true...it is also often the loudest voices that control the narrative, and therefore politics. Sometimes to disastrous consequences.

"The lack of cognitive significance in tribal language is a symptom of the deeper disease: the devaluing of the pursuit of knowledge. Students are now absolutists. Students, administrators and some faculty know what is right (and who is wrong). Any challenge to their views cannot be in pursuit of knowledge or even clarification. It can only come from the desire to crush and oppress."

This is a good sentence. I've watched a few videos on YouTube of the interactions between some agitated, angry and "passionate" US campus students directing their indignation at what is often a single lecturer or orderly.

How is the irony of these types of hostile interactions lost of the very folks who insist on "safe spaces"?

The paraphrasing of Martha Nussbaum's thoughts near the end of this article seems to contain its essential message:

"The world-citizen view insists on the need for all citizens to understand differences. … It is connected with a conception of democratic debate as deliberation about the common good. The identity-politics view, by contrast, depicts the citizen body as a marketplace of identity-based interest groups jockeying for power, and views difference as something to be affirmed rather than understood."

> If you ask current students, and many administrators and faculty, what the goals of their colleges are, you will have to wait some time before hearing “knowledge.”

And yet, costing more than ever. For what? It's not like people are learning a lot more by paying a lot more.

When I was in college I thought it was more interesting and valuable from the conflict on campus. I'll call it conflict, too. People who were actually having differences with each other, and saying them, many times passionately if not angrily. Now it seems like people are so worried about offending each other they'd rather say nothing at all, which seems to defeat the point of having a diverse campus. If you have a diverse campus but everyone says the same thing, is it really diverse?

I also think the skills of being able to deal with, work with, and learn from people that are different from you (and possibly outright hate you, for reasons that may or may not be "valid") were some of the more valuable skills I learned in college. College was a lot more real world than say, high school. When you get out into the real world, nobody cares about your safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions. You have to find your own way, and fight for your own causes.

What has changed since you were in college, is that everyone is much more hooked into a network, where every misguided thought or utterance is broadcast to everyone on the network, and immediately pseudo evaluated through likes/views/retweets/upvotes etc. That was never the case, when I went to college and said/thought/did misguided things all the time.

It's the wrong architecture to educate anyone. The only thing such environments, do is produce insecurity, defensiveness and rebellion on large scales. The reaction to which is "safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions". And then we get reactions to those reactions, rather than focusing on the underlying change in architecture that has happened.

> every misguided thought or utterance is broadcast to everyone on the network, and immediately pseudo evaluated through likes/views/retweets/upvotes

I really think you're spot on with this one. Plus, not only are they evaluated, they are persisted on the internet forever to remind people of your previous misguided thoughts. And you are what your search results say you are.

Making mistakes is a natural, healthy part of learning. It seems like everyone is trying hard to not make mistakes, instead of learning from those mistakes.

>where every misguided thought or utterance is broadcast to everyone on the network, and immediately pseudo evaluated through likes/views/retweets/upvotes etc.

You're not thinking maliciously enough.

If you give a population not only an enhanced ability but also the excuses to concern troll for political points (which the Internet has wholeheartedly enabled, and that a certain political faction favors because of the lip service it pays to the disadvantaged regardless of whether or not it helps them) then that's exactly what you're going to encourage, and that's where the insecurity and defensiveness has come from.

Amplify the wrong voices, reward those voices for being amplified, and you have a tiny cabal of bullies running the world under the banner of "progress".

Fortunately, generations that have seen this bullying happen are starting to rebel against it (and everyone in the generation in which that behavior is dominant are mostly just trying to keep their heads down and avoid being targeted by the bullies), so I think there's still hope for education and the American way in general even though it might appear to waver for a bit.

> When you get out into the real world, nobody cares about your safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions.

Is this because such things will never fly there, or because they haven't yet thoroughly propagated there? My concern is it's the latter.

I can assure you these things are all well and truly propagating through Silicon Valley's larger companies.

Can confirm. A lot of it's welcome and overdue, but there is also at least the potential for the kind of chilling effects the OP describes.

It's possible it could spread to general society, although I think:

1. Not everyone goes to college and gets indoctrinated like this thinking it is the way the world should be

2. America at least has free speech, which I really hope doesn't change (even for the people I hate and disagree with), and I think that is the opposite of all this safe space stuff.

3. We're so politically polarized, if anything I think the left could go this way, but the right probably won't. I don't think there will ever be a general safe space where everyone agrees.

So IMHO, it just won't fly.

Exactly what I was thinking. At some point imagine when these kids hold all the jobs at CNN, all the positions in Congress, etc.

We could see massive change.

all you really need is for someone woke enough to get control over the hiring process. at some point you'd probably see a market correction & more businesses would begin to adopt the chick-fil-a' approach of unapologetic traditionalism.

Just look at history, its very clear: safe spaces are unsustainable. The petroleum-economy is a safe space, and its rapidly killing us all.

It strikes me that these “woke” students and faculty who value victimization over free speech are simply lazy. It takes far less effort to justify a position with dogma than with an intelligent, nuanced argument.

The replacement of truth with truthiness and platitudes and dialogue with attacks and tribes and dehumanization is not the way to build a stable society.

Fortunately this has not yet hit education here from what I can see.

Is the denial of nuance really a path to truth? Is it better to "maintain civility" instead of actually naming and dealing with problems openly? Maybe in American colleges, with their airing of the grievances (activism) and feats of strength (sports), Festivus doesn't just come once a year any more. And maybe all of that leads to better-rounded humans instead of just qualified job applicants.

Maybe it could, or maybe everything gets razed by it, getting an expensive lesson in failure.

Civility is entirely different from dialogue. Disobedience is sometimes necessary but cannot be the base of a society.

You can be non-civil and still discuss and engage with your opponent, but shouting them down is not engagement, neither are loud protests without constructive ideas that actually can work, or without actual pressure. Lying and shooting down inconvenient research is not an acceptable tactic. That's what communists did. Putting words into mouth of your opponent only escalates stakes. What you do they can do onto you, and smaller (poorer, less in control of media or masses) will lose.

In dialog, both sides can win. Compromises led to steady victory for many movements. (Such as feminists.)

Honest question: how should we take Bloomberg articles mainly based on opinion or original investigations ?

I don’t study in the US so have no opinion about US college, so don’t have any way to tell if these claims are any valid. Bloomberg has an history of making bold and empty claims to rile up viewership, is it limited to tech or is it the same for the other fields they cover ?

Not in the US either, but to me this makes the impression of taking one extreme case that is not very representative for the rest. At least on the Internet these opinions seem to be very rare, even in leftist spaces, even though English Internet users tend to be young and American. Also, this kind of opinion peace hits the zeitgeist very well, since being demonstratively opposed to identity politics seems to be fashionably right now.

It is a loud minority, roughly 8%.


They might be more rare in the parts of the internet you visit, ie if you read about tech then you will see mostly male views in the comments.

Eight percent of all Americans are progressive activists. The relevant question is how many university students and university staff are. But the fact that 80 percent of the general population and 79 percent of those under 25 think that political correctness is a problem suggests that they are also a small minority among university students. On the other hand, among those with a post-graduate degree it is only 66 percent. Sadly the article doesn't say anything about under-graduate degrees.

I find it interesting that people now ask for an opinion about what opinion to have about someone's else opinion.

I think this adds to the article.

Well, it can be a good idea to ask others to assess something you don't know enough about, if you trust them. Hacker News is at least more trustworthy than most other online platforms.

There's nothing more inherently 'trustworthy' in HN than there is in Fark. What there is, is a downvote button and an understanding that, if someone says something 'unpopular to the community', the community will deal with them.

This definitely speaks to the subject of the article and is very telling in and of itself: most online communities are comfort-communities. This seems to be bleeding into offline life at a rather rapid clip ..

Cute, I like it. But if you live outside the USA, then it is fair to ask these questions.

>one professor asked for evidence of “violent practices.” Another professor responded that “to ask for evidence of violent practices is itself a violent practice.”

so: to question something is an act of violence towards that something?

oops, I just questioned something ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They see your free speech as violence and their own violence as free speech.

Nice summary.

Works both ways, too, e.g. whenever religious groups rename any kind of disagreement with them as "Hate speech".

That's one of the most frighteningly accurate descriptions of modern US politics that I've seen, especially since it works regardless of who "they" are.

Sounds context dependent. Asking for evidence can certainly be an aggressive act—asking for evidence of the holocaust in certain situations would be interpreted as holocaust denial. This sounds like traditional media context erasure to create a story out of nothing.

Well, there’s already a lot of evidence about that, so there’s no need. Asking for evidence is absolutely essential to the progress of knowledge and truth.

I agree, it depends on the context.

That’s why more information on the questioning is so helpful. The quote said it was a professor trying to learn what the grievances were.

The difference with holocaust deniers (really quite an uncomfortable comparison of millions murdered to the demands of a few dozen rich, spoiled young adults that perceive violence) is that there is an existing evidence base documenting the holocaust. You can’t skip this step and there’s a lot of soul searching for the harm is caused to the collectors of that evidence.

Skipping the evidence base and going directly to no questions is a stupid approach in that it will not help people understand and avoid future harm.

It was the journalist who picked the context of the quote to carefully frame the narrative. Blame them.

It’s not just intellectual comfort... colleges have invested in other comforts and luxuries like extremely fancy dorms, dining halls that rival restaurants, etc. After all, each student provides more revenue than ever before, so higher CACs are justifiable. It’s a luxury good for a luxury market, and just like your local Rolls Royce dealership will not provoke you into a debate about racism your local four year private college would similarly prefer not to.

How common are things like that? I'm not American, but my impression is that these stories tend to describe exceptions. Is this just a particularly radical subset of students in a particularly radical college or is this representative of a larger pattern?

Well I've seen Silicon Valley folks in this very forum dismiss the enlightenment era/liberal principles of free speech, so I think it's widespread enough to feel it in regular life, especially if you're young in America's larger urban areas.

From what I have seen, Hacker News tends to defend free speech very much. Are you sure that it isn't simply the case that you remember (rare) instances that oppose your opinion much better than those that agree with you? Everyone seems to think that Hacker News (and other platforms) is on the other side of the political spectrum than they themselves.

To that extent do they dismiss it? In my country, Holocaust denial is illegal, but I think identity politics is still less widespread here.

BB paywalls can be bypassed by simply disabling JS (temporarily).

Far right demands purity of body and far left demands purity of mind. Everyone who fails do adhere should be purged. If you can't get them imprisoned or killed, at least try to ensure they can't get a job or live a life without harassment.

The current free speech laws protects our minds from the government, but it does nothing to protect us from private entities unlike the laws protecting our bodies from discrimination.

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