If Nothing Is Any Better than Anything Else, Why Read at All?


February 13, 1991|By JAMES J. KILPATRICK

WASHINGTON. — Let us examine, if you please, this postulate: Shakespeare's plays are good. In many college classrooms these days, such an examination would end before it had fairly begun.

This is because all white males are racist oppressors; Shakespeare was a white male; therefore, Shakespeare was a racist oppressor. On correct campuses, such racist oppressors as old Bill are held in contempt. Their writings may be studied, but only to reveal the bias they contain.

Did you suggest that Shakespeare's plays are ''good''? What do you mean by ''good''? Are you contending that some plays are ''better'' than others? Do you believe that Western moral and cultural values are superior values? If you hold such views, your views are not politically correct. You must attend classes in attitudinal adjustment.

The intellectual virus that has infected our institutions of higher learning evidently has reached epidemic proportions. In its special issue of February 18, The New Republic performs a ZTC notable public service -- all the more notable because of the magazine's long identification as a forum for predominately ''liberal'' thought. Almost the entire issue is given over to an exposure of such bizarre phenomena as the ''Duke Vision'' and the ''Smith Design.'' In taking the offensive against this intellectual corruption, The New Republic's editors demonstrate true liberalism at its best.

If the situation were not so appalling, the whole business would ++ be funny. One yearns for a Jonathan Swift, or a Franz Kafka. Where is the contemporary satirist to puncture these gassy balloons? There is something fundamentally ridiculous in the new orthodoxy of the politically correct. In today's academic groves, words do somersaults. ''Diversity'' means ''sameness.'' Free speech carries a heavy cost.

The general idea in these intellectual zoos is that all cultures are equal. There no longer is such a value as ''merit.'' The rule applies to language. It also applies to music, with the result that Mozart is no better than rap.

By the canons of political correctness, standard English is no better than black English because there is no such thing as good, better and best. The two languages are different, that is all. And students must be encouraged, or required, to study them equally and to accord them equal respect.

This lunacy is now taken seriously. Writing in The New Republic, Fred Siegel looks at multiculturalism as the virus has infected Duke University. Entering first-year students go through a brainwash in the fashion of a carwash. The purpose is to remove the grime of incorrect thinking. Perceptive students learn that ''Duke's Vision'' of multicultural equality is the school's official ideology, against which aberrant thoughts must be measured.

For Duke students, a preference for one system of values, based solely on any one culture, is ''a denial of the humanity of others.'' At Stanford, the precepts of Newthink require that DWEMs be repudiated. These wretches are, of course, Dead White European Males -- Plato, Ovid, Voltaire, Gibbon, Eliot.

At Smith College, the president is pushing an agenda of affirmative action that is nothing if not sweeping. The Office of Student Affairs distributes a bulletin that identifies forbidden attitudes. One offense is to be guilty of ''ableism,'' that is, ''oppression of the differently abled by the temporarily abled.'' Another offense is ''lookism,'' involving standards of physical beauty.

On many campuses, students risk suspension or expulsion if they are heard voicing any ''discriminatory'' or ''disparaging'' remarks about another student's race, sex, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or age.

Here and there a few courageous professors and deans have resisted the onslaught. Several institutions have revoked or diluted their codes of correct speech. It is immensely gratifying to learn that students increasingly are rebelling against the absurdities of Newthink. Conservatives and liberals alike are rising to the defense of Western values.

Maybe the process of corruption will soon run its course, but don't bet on it. The academic dragoons of Newthink are in the saddle, booted and spurred. It will take a major effort to unseat them. Those who love our Western inheritance had better get off their rumps and fight.

James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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