I’m a huge fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In my opinion, it’s the funniest show on television, and there ain’t a close second. Watching the escapades of a group of sociopaths who run a bar – a motley crew known as “the Gang” – provides a dark sort of comedy that stands out from most laugh-tracked garbage that cable channels try to pass off as humor.
It’s no coincidence that in watching the last few weeks of turmoil unfold at the University of Missouri and Yale University, I’m reminded of one of my favorite episodes of Always Sunny. Indeed, the opportunity for serious discourse about race and (in)equality that arose at these two acclaimed universities has been wasted; the climactic drama of real change has turned into a dark comedy of errors.
Let me set the stage for the Always Sunny comparison here. In Season 7, Episode 4 of Always Sunny, titled “Sweet Dee Gets Audited,” the Gang finds themselves at odds over the decision-making processes in their bar. Since things aren’t getting accomplished in a satisfactory manner by screaming at each other and making emotional, personal attacks – the perpetual status quo for the Gang – bar co-owner Dennis Reynolds suggests an undoubtedly healthier, more productive manner of addressing issues: “We’re going to have a daily meeting where we will discuss all bar matters. Emotion will be suppressed and reason will prevail.” The Gang readily agrees; logic and reason obviously produce better results than hotheaded, blind emotion.
To make a long (and hilarious) story short, the Gang fails miserably. Their attempts at using reason to get things done are completely futile, and after a serious debacle, the Gang eventually realizes that, as a group of sociopathic narcissists, reason and logic are impossible. Instead, the characters unanimously agree to go back to “the old system of organized chaos, where emotion trumps reason every single time and we just yell at each other to get the shit that we want!”
Welcome to college campuses in America in 2015, where emotion trumps reason every single time, and the people who yell loudest generally get the shit they want.
This problem is not unique to American college campuses; it’s a failure of present-day America as a whole. It just so happens that college campuses currently represent an enormous contingent of the Millennial Generation, making these alleged bastions of critical thought the most sheltered, saccharine bubbles in the country, and probably, the entire world.
I am not intrinsically biased against Millennials; hell, to quote the Who – we’re talkin’ ’bout my generation. Born in 1990, I’m undoubtedly a Millennial, and I’m guilty of many of the same sins as my peers. I was raised in Vail, Colorado, a ski-resort town that is about as sheltered of a place as one could possibly be brought up. I’ve never been faced with poverty or hunger or concerns for my safety. I’m positive that all of this gives me a great deal of – as liberals are quick to point out – privilege. I don’t pretend to understand or fully appreciate the concerns and tribulations of Americans who did not have the luck to be born into such fortuitous circumstances. However, what I am is educated, a critical thinker, and most of all, a man who makes it his prerogative to approach any issue with reason, detached from emotion.
In this way, I could not be more different from the majority of my generation. The Millennial generation has been coddled; by our parents, by the media, and unfortunately, by the schools that taught us key developmental skills in socialization and critical thinking. The result? A generation that, much like the Gang on Always Sunny, believes that the way to deal with adversity is through emotion, and not logic. In the aforementioned episode, character Charlie Kelly provides another telling, and extremely relevant quote: “If you’re not as educated or as informed what you do is you start your own party and you yell the loudest.”
This is the state of affairs in America in 2015. If you’re offended, you bitch about it until someone else fixes your problem for you. If you feel slighted, you do everything to drag your perceived oppressor down, instead of attempting to build yourself up. Remember, everyone in the Millennial Generation was raised on participation trophies and gold stars – we’re all winners, we’re all smart and useful and equal, and if we think we’re right about something, that makes it a bona fide fact – we are right. Our subjective views are given the gravity of facts. If we dislike another person’s subjective opinion, they must be objectively wrong. We’re all supposed to get along and love each other and nothing is supposed to knock our teacup off the rails on our life’s Disneyland ride of bliss.
But that ain’t life. At the University of Missouri, students found that out the hard way in recent months. Some ignorant MILLENNIAL decided to utter a racial slur at a black leader on campus. Another MILLENNIAL did the same to a group of students of color. And yet another was deranged enough to smear a swastika out of his own excrement on a bathroom wall. These events shattered the “safe space” that Millennials are accustomed to inhabiting on a college campus like Missouri. The teacup was shattered, and emotion trumped reason. Someone had to pay. Like invading Iraq after 9/11, it didn’t matter WHO was truly responsible; SOMEONE had to to take the fall, heads needed to roll, a “bad guy” needed to pay in blood. Emotion needed to prevail.
The Saddam Hussein in this analogy was University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe, like Saddam, was certainly no saint – his gaffe, captured on video, addressing “systematic oppression” would make Rick Perry blush – but Wolfe had as much to do with these isolated incidents of racism as Saddam did in orchestrating the fall of the Twin Towers.
Indeed, you can kill one source of alleged evil in the world, but you’re mistaking the forest for the trees. Sure, maybe Mr. Wolfe did not respond appropriately to the incidents of racism, but his ouster does nothing to address the problem as a whole. What could Wolfe have done differently, besides responding to complaints more expediently? Are diversity seminars really going to end racism? Are admonishments against racial slurs going to sew racist mouths shut? In any case, the climate of the Missouri campus in the days since Tim Wolfe’s removal gives plenty of ammunition to the viewpoint that maybe he was actually doing a pretty GOOD job. Without any doubt whatsoever, the University of Missouri is a more dangerous place to be with Mr. Wolfe gone. Professors have canceled classes. Students have been arrested. The media has been threatened. The beginning of the post-Wolfe period cannot be seen as anything resembling a victory by Concerned Student 1950 and their ilk. In the most positive light, it’s been a Pyrrhic victory, at worst, it’s turned Missouri’s campus into the Battle of Heraclea incarnate. Ask any black or white student, black or white professor, black or white journalist if he thinks the milieu at Missouri is a safer, better place since Wolfe stepped down. If a single one says yes, he’s either delusional or a liar.
This is what happens when emotion trumps reason. You fail to see the big picture. You let your emotions, your rage, control your course of action. You view yourself as the moral arbiter of the world, wrapped up in your preconceived notions and confirmation biases. Certainly, that happened Tuesday, as Payton Head, the black student leader originally responsible for starting this “discussion” at Missouri, failed to use reason and fact-checking before posting that the Ku Klux Klan was present on Missouri’s campus. This gave rise to more and more emotional panic and outrage, regardless of the fact that the Klan was, in fact, not on Missouri’s campus.
This campaign of misinformation ran rampant on social media, as more and more people used emotion as a form of research to report nonexistent gunshots, riots, and other fictional happenings at Missouri. Eventually, logic, reason, and facts prevailed, and many students, including Payton Head, admitted that they had lied – or at the very least, accepted something as fact without thinking critically. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and when you’re already on a tree branch, it’s easy to mistake a rope to rappel down for a noose.
Sadly, the chaos and outrage in Columbia, MO is not unique. Over one thousand miles away, in New Haven, CT, one of the nation’s premier academic institutions is dealing with a similar, albeit less severe debacle. At Yale, the cause of widespread emotional outrage borders on the absurd: Halloween costumes. A professor at the school sent out an email in advance of the dress-up holiday, inviting a thoughtful discussion on whether certain costumes – namely, those “appropriating” other cultures, from Indian headdresses to Mulan costumes – were really intrinsically “offensive.” The professor, Erika Christakis, did not defend costumes that could be perceived as racially offensive; rather, she asked the ostensibly intelligent, reasonable, critical-thinking students of an elite university to simply think critically about whether college-aged adults should act as a police force on what other college-aged students decided to wear on a whimsical holiday.
The result? You guessed it. Yale students are calling for Christakis’s ouster, as they believe her to be an insensitive racist. Protests have been held. Tempers have been incensed. The administration finds itself in a situation similar to its counterpart at Missouri – do the officials give in to the emotional pleas of outraged students, or do they back a member of the faculty who was simply expressing a first amendment right, and doing so with the clear intention of encouraging thoughtful discussion? For now, thankfully, Yale is doing the former, as Christakis remains employed.
Unfortunately, these events are not unique to Missouri and Yale. They are not isolated incidents. Rather, this is the new normal in America, and especially, at American institutions of learning, where critical thought and rationality are of the utmost importance; perhaps more so than anywhere else in this country. In the Civil Rights Era and beyond, colleges have historically been at the forefront of the movement for social change. Protests on college campuses have long been a means of bringing attention to the ills of society. Protests, at their core, are admirable; a way of engaging the country in important discourse. I have nothing against the protests at Yale and Missouri, per se. Rather, I take issue with what is being protested. Concerned Student 1950 and Yale’s Costume Cops have essentially proclaimed themselves social justice warriors, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kent State’s 1970 protestors. This is beyond absurd. At Missouri and Yale, the stakes are not in the same ballpark; instead of rallying against segregation, the merits of war, and human equality, the present protests are essentially, at their core, about censoring free speech, and making sure nobody is subjectively offended.
I understand that not everyone will agree with me on that point – especially when it comes to Missouri. I have never set foot on the Columbia campus, and I have never been a student of color. I’m positive some students didn’t feel safe, and I’m positive some students felt targeted and discriminated against. It’s not my place to invalidate their feelings or dispute their claims – I have not shared in their life experiences. But guess what? Life isn’t safe, or politically correct, or fair. Outside of a college campus, there is little recourse when some jackass throws a racial slur your way. In the real world, people can and will wear Halloween costumes that offend delicate sensibilities. That’s life. Plain and simple.
The Atlantic recently published an article titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” (which you can, and should, read in its entirety, here), which addressed the very real issue of colleges becoming dumbed down in order to appeal to the emotions of their pupils. Indeed, in present-day America, it is the students running the colleges, not the faculty and administrators. Faculty, administrators, and students alike must constantly tiptoe on eggshells, as espousing any controversial opinion can be grounds for dismissal, expulsion, or even legal action. The resulting college climate benefits nobody. These institutions are designed to create critical-thinking, logical, enlightened young adults that are ready to step into the real world as leaders. Once upon a time, college was the place where young people would confront the unpleasant, realize their biases, respect dissenting viewpoints, and find their own truth. That is no longer the case. Instead, by teaching towards emotions instead of reason, students don’t face uncomfortable and challenging issues. They are force-fed the same faulty narrative – everyone is equal, everything should be fair, and that anyone who disagrees with the aforementioned tenets are inherently incorrect. That is truly terrifying.
Some day in the not-so-distant future, Millennials will be the leaders of society, the most populous demographic in the United States. And the foundations of our society will fall into shambles if the ambitions of our leaders, our politicians and lawyers and doctors and philosophers, is to not offend instead of to seek the truth. We must, as a society, not allow this to happen.
And as a Millennial, I recognize that my place in this is imperative. How we, Millennials, choose to comport ourselves at this juncture is critical. We will soon be the representative American citizens. We must act with rationality and learn to think before acting. And we must eventually raise our children the same way. I can confidently say that my children will know that all is not fair, that there is only one first place, and that one brain solves problem better than the hearts worn on a thousand sleeves.
We all must decide how to shape our legacy, individually and as a generation. Do we want our place in history to be the generation that thought critically, while still moving forward with our impressive penchant for progressive change? Or will we be remembered as the generation that became so incensed at every perceived slight that we effectively censored free thinking and gave into the ills of groupthink?
Will we be the generation that acted based on reason or on emotion?