Image Courtesy Of: http://imgur.com/gallery/13HUEao
In addition to what my “About Me” page says, I am a PhD student in the department of Sociology at a University in the southern United States who grew up bilingually in both the United States and Turkey and carries two passports. Racially—a category Americans obsess about but something that I cannot understand—I look phenotypically “white” (although I have, on occasion, been mistaken for being Hispanic). That’s me. Just another human being trying to make sense of the world, combining my experiences to reach a cogent understanding of the chaos around me. I give you this information because—due to my background—I do not feel safe in President-elect Trump’s America. But it is not the kind of “unsafe” most “educated” people on college campuses would assume. In this climate of rising intolerance, it is impossible to feel safe. It is like trying to stay dry in a Florida hurricane. It is chaotic, it is loud, it is unpredictable, and…it is wet. Really wet. Like the rain, the intolerance surrounds you until you can barely keep your head above the water. They say that the rain will wash you clean, but what if it only makes the dirt cling to you more?
I was sitting in a gender sociology graduate seminar last week as students vented their frustrations at the election. In a country where campuses have organized cry-ins and professors have cancelled tests, we have seen education—one of our most vital national resources—be sacrificed in the face of fear. That is why it is a good discussion to have, and a necessary one at that. But only if it is, actually, a discussion. I emphasize it because Merriam-Webster describes the word as “the act of talking about something with another person or a group of people; a conversation about something” or “a speech or piece of writing that gives information, ideas, opinions, etc., about something”. Both definitions describe a process of a dialectic—exchanging opinions and ideas is the goal. As critical theorist Jurgen Habermas said, we need communicative action, where “participants are not primarily oriented to their own successes; they pursue their individual goals under the condition that they can harmonize their plans of action on the basis of common situation definitions”.
I didn’t experience that kind of communication last week. When a fellow student told the class that we, as educators, need to tell the students what is happening and that we are here for them she said that she told her class that she rejected the President-elect and expressed an opinion that, unequivocally, supported one side of America’s political debate.
I had been silenced all year in this class, by nature of being a “white” (in quotations because I am unsure as to what it even means) heterosexual male in a gender Sociology class. I was told that “fathers didn’t matter” and that [white] males are to be blamed for everything that is wrong with our world. I bit my tongue all for three months. It was difficult, because such divisive essentialist statements that reek of sexism and bias are disgusting but I didn’t really care for the discussion; my research focuses on nationalism and national identity—not gender identity, so I let those with more knowledge of the topic have their say. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t speak. I was a male in an environment where males were tolerated but not wanted. I could only be savaged if I ever dared open my mouth. So I didn’t. I was complicit in accepting the seminar’s fascistic atmosphere. I was scared and certainly didn’t feel safe. But I let it all go—it was just three hours of a 168-hour week. I could deal with it.
This class was different. When I heard this student—who is also an instructor, working within the purview of the exploitative nature of higher education—explicitly advocate bringing politics into the classroom I could not hold back any longer. I had been asked before by fellow instructor/students if I brought politics into the classes I teach. I said absolutely not; it is unfair to the students. My fellow instructor/students were incredulous, which—in turn—made me incredulous. The job of higher education is not to indoctrinate but to present facts; the troubling result of such indoctrination were made clear this election. So I decided to test the waters—I told the student she should follow the rule I follow, the “Max Weber” rule. He said that politics does not belong in the lecture-room,
the prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform […] speak where criticism is possible. In the lecture-room we stand opposite our audience, and it has to remain silent. I deem it irresponsible to exploit the circumstance that for the sake of their career the students have to attend a teacher’s course where there is nobody present to oppose him with criticism. The task of the teacher is to serve the students with his knowledge and scientific experience and not to imprint upon them his personal political views” (Max Weber, Science as a Vocation. Emphasis Added).
Had more academics followed this line of thought, we wouldn’t be in a situation where universities have arguably systematically indoctrinated students, thereby creating a situation where those who hold certain political views come to see themselves as “more intelligent” and “morally superior” to those who hold opposing views. To conflate a political position with “intelligence” is dangerous, and leads to a situation where one side continually ignores the other. I want more critical debate and less shaming. Sadly, I didn’t get what I was looking for.
After my comment suddenly, like a thunder crack, all hell broke loose. The student asked me if I was aware that Max Weber’s close associates joined the Nazi party. I was taken aback—I couldn’t believe it was happening. A harmless comment made her liken me to a Nazi. It was amazing. But it was also as American as Apple Pie and Chevrolets unfortunately. When in doubt, call the other person a Nazi or a racist and you win the argument, no questions asked. Admittedly, as someone accused of being something they are not, I gave an emotional response. If someone calls me something I am not I will give an emotional response; the response to being called a racist will be the same as it would be if someone called me a Yankees fan (I’m from Providence—Red Sox all the way) or a Fenerbahce fan (I bleed Galatsaray’s yellow and red). I asked her how she could compare me to a Nazi. She raised her voice and it all just fell away into a haze, one of those heated moments when the heart is beating and its tough to keep composure. As her voice rose I tried to calm her down—just “relax” I said, because (after all) its just politics. She berated me. She yelled. My telling her to relax apparently belittled the fact that she didn’t feel “safe”. When I told her I was the one who didn’t feel safe and that I would leave the class she didn’t mince words: “GO! JUST GO! GET THE F**K OUT!”. It was surreal. I was being kicked out of a graduate seminar by someone who couldn’t see things any other way than her own. It certainly wasn’t healthy. But it needed to happen if only to—maybe—wake people up. The toxic environment on American college campuses does not affect just one end of the political spectrum. It affects both. And that is something we need to—in fact, we must—change if we want to have a semblance of a functioning educational system and, ultimately, democracy.
In this environment free speech is only good if someone thinks the same way as you think. Just like democracy is only good if your candidate wins. Those protesting Mr. Trump’s victory feel the same way; the same people who were worried his supporters would not accept the election’s outcome are the same people taking to the streets today—even assaulting those who they think voted differently. They are those that cruelly savage a Muslim woman for daring to explain why she voted a certain way. This climate creates a situation where people fabricate attacks on campuses which only serves to mask the fact that there are real attacks, perpetrated by supporters of both sides. This is a product of a society that promotes “Me” over “Us”: More selfies, more Tweets, more “ME”. It is symptomatic of a society left rudderless, with no ideology other than “MY” ideology. There is no concept of what America is supposed to mean. But that is not what I am here to write about; I am here to point out that lumping almost 50 percent of the population into the categories of “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic” and who knows what else, people really miss the point.
People miss the point that there are points of convergence which, if seized upon, could actually improve our democracy. People miss the point that the working class is divided along racial lines. People miss the point that institutionalized slavery has been replaced by “political slavery”; the rich are coopting the vote of the poor by appealing to racial difference and are really failing black Americans. People miss the point that—in most of the world—one faces deportation for entering a country without proper documentation (or, to put it more simply, “illegally”) and that allowing it to continue is unfair not only to Americans, but those immigrants who wait years following the legal path to citizenship. People miss the point—perhaps most importantly—that America’s interventionist foreign policy is based on “American Exceptionalism”, an ideology that could be construed as racist and fascist by promoting an idea that the United States is inherently “better” than the rest of the world. Many innocent (and other not so innocent) people have died at the hands of this ideology, yet some people are fighting for a continuation of this flawed ideology and lamenting its (possible) passing.
The world we live in is no longer the immediate aftermath of the second World War, when America had to fund the world through the Marshall Plan. Other countries have advanced economically. This is not the Cold War era, when capitalism had to be forced on the world through the barrel of a gun. Capitalism has been accepted as the dominant economic philosophy, the United States doesn’t need to continue driving it through neo-liberal policies and ignoring human rights in the process. The national mission must evolve with the times. Francis Fukuyama’s end of history has not materialized, its time policies recognize that. I’m not unaware of the oddity that it is a billionaire espousing some of these positions. Of course it’s odd.
But, it’s a necessary shock to the dominant ideology and may actually be a chance to return to true American values of liberty and freedom for all. I wish slavery hadn’t happened; it destroyed the fabric of the country. Now we all must deal with the repercussions. Political correctness has only put a band-aid on people’s true racism by silencing them. Now some bigots are coming out and spewing hatred and promoting racist attacks. By lumping all such misguided individuals together as “Trumpists” we again miss the point. Because these hateful people are coming out and expressing their views we now know who they are, they have been uncovered, and law enforcement can take care of them so that—instead of band-aiding racism—we clean it up and get such people off our streets. Indeed, when I spoke up about political correctness in another class, arguing that the policy of “language policing” actually exacerbates racism rather than solving it, another student dared support my position and was savaged by an African American student because he was “a white male who couldn’t understand”. It was a racist statement. But, it was accepted because it was within the purview of political correctness. This kind of behavior can only divide people further.
Just twelve years ago, back when I was in college, “left” minded people would have been voting in droves for a candidate who was against foreign intervention and who was against the exploitation of workers (foreign and domestic) through free trade agreements and outsourcing that promotes child-labor. They would have been jumping for joy at a president-elect who promises to work for free, eschewing the presidential salary of a not insignificant 400,000 dollars and who is interested in scaling down the funding for transnational security agreements like NATO so as to free up money to spend at home in social services like healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Instead, people only look at the surface. “Racism” and “sexism” are the buzzwords, no criticism is focused on policy at all. This is why it is important to move towards a post-ideological society. Less left and less right and more critical thinking about the issues, and about society is what is necessary. Respect our values and traditions, positive nationalism that is not fascistic. Foreign policy that leads by example, not force. And an understanding that, in modern society, the “left” and “right” might have more in common than we realize.
A Libertarian Celebrity’s Graphic Tries To Bridge The Gap Between Ideologies; Less Spending on International Military Alliances Might Mean More Money Can Come Home. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bigskywords.com/uploads/1/2/8/0/12804055/military-spending-meme.png?605
Shockingly, some perspective was offered by—of all people—Kanye West (the rapper whose “Famous” video is worth watching) who proclaimed that, had he voted, “he would have voted for [Mr.] Trump”. Of course, this offended most of the (ostensibly liberal) crowd at Mr. West’s concert since, as an African American, such support for a Republican is unexpected—and we have America’s racialized politics to blame for this. The Tweets in response to Mr. West show an inability—indeed a refusal—to see things from any other perspective, similar to what I have experienced in my own university.
Kanye West Is Savaged by “Supporters”. He Is my Musician…Only If he Follows MY Politics, Just Like Free Speech Is Good, But Only If You Think What I Think. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/18/entertainment/kanye-west-donald-trump-trnd/
Mr. West’s words in Sacramento, California, seemed quite sober to me in pointing out the failure of America’s “free press”:
It’s a new world, Hillary Clinton, it’s a new world […] Feelings matter. Because guess what? Everybody in Middle America felt a way and they showed you how they felt […] A lot of people here tonight felt like they lost. You know why? Because y’all been lied to. Google lied to you. Facebook lied to you. Radio lied to you.
Mr. West continued to hit out at the corruption in the corporate music industry, something akin to the corruption of sport by way of Industrial Football. Passion has fallen victim to money, and this means that in the world of extreme capitalism independence (in both art and sport) is hard to come by. I quote Mr. West’s passage at length below, taken from (state media’s) New York Times:
Turning his focus on the music industry, Mr. West questioned gatekeepers for promoting songs by Drake but not Frank Ocean, and wondered once again why he is often overlooked at awards shows. Referring to this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Mr. West pulled back the curtain on what he said was the political behind-the-scenes dealings that go into booking celebrities for such events.
“Beyoncé, I was hurt because I heard that you said you wouldn’t perform unless you won Video of the Year over me and over ‘Hotline Bling,’” he said.
Sometimes we be playing the politics too much and forget who we are just to win,” he continued. “I’ve been sitting here to give y’all my truth even at the risk of my own life — even at the risk of my own success, my own career.”
However, Mr. West said, such truth-telling was necessary for real progress. “Obama couldn’t make America great because he couldn’t be him to be who he was,” he said. “Black men have been slaves. Obama wasn’t allowed to do this” — the rapper screamed — “and still win. He had to be perfect. But being perfect don’t always change” things.
What Mr. West says is not insignificant. As a musician that represents the Culture Industry—in which an “enlightenment” is produced that actually amounts to mass deception—Mr. West has a mass following. The fact that even his deviance from the dominant “narrative” sparks anger in fans is indicative of a society that has become sheep-like. No one can think for themselves, since they have been force fed beliefs from a culture industry that is, in fact, far removed from the masses of society due to a combination of money, power, and status (to borrow, again, Max Weber’s terminology). This is why we, as individuals who embrace democracy and freedom and equality for all, must fight against this kind of intolerance and resist being blinded by ideology.
I ask student and educators across the country to resist this culture industry in which “consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances” and give it a break. To realize that this message is not directed at my institution is very important. I have met some of the best—and I stress, the best—faculty in the world at my university. They have been nothing short of extremely supportive—not just “supportive” but “extremely supportive”, I cannot stress this enough. They are the epitome of what graduate faculty should be. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for some of the students and to them—and students across the country—I have a message. Give your political process a chance before passing judgement. I cannot predict the future—I am, after all, just a marginal sociologist who knows more than to trust a politician—but I can see the present. It is one driven by hate and by vitriol, characterized by paroxysms of rage on both sides. And that is definitely no way to treat your fellow human beings. Politics is not a sport, it is not a zero-sum game. Have some respect for democracy. Have some respect not only for others but, probably most importantly, have some respect for yourselves.
As a bonus, please enjoy the memes below which—I believe—go some way to showing the problems in America’s higher education. Sometimes, it takes the unexpected to challenge the status quo; just look at Hoffenheim’s 29 year old coach Julian Nagelsmann who is taking the Bundesliga by storm!
This One Is For the Students. Image Courtesy Of: http://thefederalistpapers.org/us/every-college-student-needs-to-read-this-genius-message-meme
This Is, Sadly, a Fascist Strategy Embraced by Many American Graduate Students. Unfortunately, It Merely Ends the Conversation Meaning That No Constructive Debate Can Take Place. Image Courtesy Of: http://dirtyconservative.com/the-liberal-argument-methodology/
Another Sad Way of Silencing Debate In the United States’ Academic Community: Invoking Hitler. Image Courtesy Of: http://imgur.com/gallery/SjQclIQ
More Free Speech and More Critical Thinking Is What We Need in America, Regardless of Ideology. Image Courtesy Of: http://world-visits.com/2011/12/flag-of-the-united-states