On being Adults

I have always opposed hate crime laws on the grounds that the law should generally deal with our actions rather than our more difficult to determine motives. I am also saddened by the growing tendency of college students to turn to their in loco parentis administrators to protect them from the verbal challenges that should be part of their growing up experience. These two are related.

The ongoing discussion of transgenders’ use of bathrooms, locker rooms, and other public facilities has raised all kinds of issues. What if a “real” man pretends to be a woman and comes into the Lady’s room and molests some poor girl? Won’t laws allowing people to use the restroom that fits their sexual identity encourage such behavior, or at least open the door to it? No. Such behavior has been illegal forever without having to ask what reason or excuse was given for being in the Lady’s room. Comments from a reader of my “Public Bathrooms” blog earlier this week illustrates this sort of misguided thinking:

John Rohan: “The fear is not just transgender people attacking anyone…. The real fear is ordinary males taking advantage of the policy, which has happened on many occasions, so it’s not a “non issue”.

“This isn’t just about bathrooms with private individual stalls. It’s about locker rooms and showers, like in our schools. If the Obama administration had it’s way, biological males, with no surgery, hormone treatments, and without necessarily even informing their parents, should be allowed to use the girls locker rooms and showers.

“McCloskey goes on to ask: “How is it to be enforced? DNA testing by the TSA at every bathroom door?” Well, let’s flip that around. If you allow trans people to use their preferred facilities, how is that to be enforced? Asking for proof of hormone medication? A doctor’s note? Then what?”

It is the transgenders who have the difficult and sometimes wrenching decisions to make about what facilities to use at each stage of their transition. Common sense will and normally has prevailed on everyone’s part. When truly offensive behavior occurs (e.g., an assault) for what ever reason, the laws already exist to punish it.

There are times when we need the state to punish unacceptable behavior and to protect the weak, but the trend toward reliance on Big Brother to deal with more and more of the things we don’t like bods ill for our liberties and our society. Big Brother has a habit of having a mind of his own (or of his best placed buddies) the imposition of which we don’t always like. Of equal importance is the weakening of our personal strength to deal with the real world from turning too often to the state to deal with what we should be able to deal with ourselves.

This leads to my second concern, which is the subject of an excellent op-ed by Catherine Rampell in this morning’s Washington Post: “College Students run crying to Daddy Administrator” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/college-students-run-crying-to-daddy-administrator/2016/05/19/61b53f54-1deb-11e6-9c81-4be1c14fb8c8_story.html

In her column Ms. Rampell says: “I applaud students who want to create a diverse, welcoming atmosphere on campus. I admire their drive to make the world around them a better, more inclusive place. What puzzles me, though, is this instinct to appeal to administrators to adjudicate any conflict.

“Rather than confronting, debating and trying to persuade those whose words or actions offend them, students demand that a paternalistic figure step in and punish offenders.

“Adult students, in other words, are demanding more of an in loco parentis role from their schools. And administrators appear ready and willing to parent.”

Political correctness, as opposed to good manners, reflects a worrying propensity to turn to and give over to authorities things we should develop the capacity to deal with ourselves. I have written about this several times before but the disease is still with us: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/what-is-wrong-with-pc/

What is wrong with PC?

Almost five years ago I wrote about political correctness (PC, politeness and caondor): https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/pc-politeness-and-candor/. In short, I said that what would normally be considered “good manners,” — values and behavior of free individuals– was becoming a stifling imposition of expected behavior by various authorities, another manifestation of the nanny state. Given our laudable propensity to generally rebalance excesses in one direction or another, I assumed that PC would be fading by now.

In 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley, I participated with other students from the far left to the right (University Conservatives and Young Republicans– we didn’t have far right students at Berkeley) in demonstrations AGAINST the University administration’s efforts to limit our freedom of speech. This was the famous Free Speech Movement. Thus I am shocked to read that today’s students are demanding restrictions on speech by the authorities. What is going on here?

On November 9 the WSJ reported that: “On Oct. 28 Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee blasted out an email advising students against ‘culturally unaware’ Halloween costumes, with self-help questions such as: ‘If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?’ Watch out for insensitivity toward ‘religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc.’ In short, everyone.

“Who knew Yale still employed anyone willing to doubt the costume wardens? But in response to the dean’s email, lecturer in early childhood education Erika Christakis mused to the student residential community she oversees with her husband, Nicholas, a Yale sociologist and physician: ‘I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns,’ but she wondered if colleges had morphed into ‘places of censure and prohibition.’

“And: Nicholas says, ‘if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.’

“Some 750 Yale students, faculty, alumni and others signed a letter saying Ms. Christakis’s ‘jarring’ email served to ‘further degrade marginalized people,’ as though someone with a Yale degree could be marginalized in America” Read the whole sickening story: http://www.wsj.com/articles/yales-little-robespierres-1447115476

It is hard for me to grasp that some Universities now carve out limited spaces within which students may freely express their opinions on controversial issues. Charles Murray’s reaction resonates with me: “Safe space. That’s the POINT of a university. To be a safe space for intellectual freedom in a world largely hostile to that concept.” FACEBOOK, Nov 10, 2015.

It is a good thing that today’s students are more sensitive to bad behavior among their peers and hopefully better behaved themselves. However, the swing from students demonstrating to defend free speech to students demonstrating to restrict it represents, in my view (as correctly noted by the brave Mr. Christakis in the above article) a swing from each or our personal responsibilities to exhibit, defend and promote good manners to a wide ranging state—big brother—to oversee and enforce all that in its wisdom we should believe and do. We will be a weaker and more subservient country as a result.