The Grand Inquisitor of the Ivory Tower: A Paradox of Freedom

By Aleksey Bashtavenko

“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew, 18:13

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, America was in for a drastic change. In stark contrast to the 1940s and 50s that were characterized by order and respect for authority, the cultural revolution raged on through the 1960s. Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded Kennedy and energetically responded to the public demand for social change by legislating the Civil Rights of 1964, effectively de-legalizing segregation. Galvanized by Martin Luther King’s fiery oratory, the Black community aggressively challenged institutions they viewed as racist and oppressive. College students rallied against the Vietnam war and the authoritarian formalism of campus administrators.

Echoing the tumultuous spirit of the times, student activist Mario Savio urged his peers to put their bodies upon “the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus” and “to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”. Contemporaneously, the seditious spirit reigned in Eastern Europe as Soviet forces quelled the Prague Spring and less than a decade ago, the Warsaw Pact subdued the Hungarian uprising. Even the USSR underwent a period of “De-Stalinization” under Kruschev’s leadership.

The American free speech movement swept across campuses questioning the status-quo of the academic establishment. For good reasons, they believed that the culture of philistinism pervaded academic life and scholarly institutions stood systematically opposed to creative expressions of intellectual individuality. In stark contrast to the modern collegial environment, students of the 50s were expected to dress professionally and to converse with their superiors in a formal manner. Educators stressed the importance of building a comprehensive background of knowledge and left very little room for autonomous thought, especially if it led students to question the establishment.

Today, the academic establishment promotes conformity and obedience to authority just as much as it did in the 1940s. Savio and his followers fought for freedom of expression in the name of egalitarian causes. Yet, they have succeeded only in very limited respects. The collegiate milieu embraced the progressive ideals of the Free Speech movement, yet the moral ideal of their campaign has been discarded. As recently as 1994, Savio denounced senator Jesse Helms as a “crypto-fascist”, yet it did not occur to him that this epithet should be applied to the modern university administrators and their allies in the Democratic Party.

To their credit, Savio’s cohort were willing to fight for their beliefs and that is what they had in common with their contemporaries who fought despotic regimes abroad. However, the same cannot be said about the Social Justice warriors, their modern-day successors. Far from continuing the original fight for free speech, these students are looking to silence professors, visiting lecturers and peers alike. With every passing generation, the standard for what counts as offensive changes and this sharply reflects on the overall mental health of students. The evidence clearly shows that newer students are more likely to be politically engaged.  Moreover, the most active of demonstrators are the most likely to display various traits of mental instability.

When the PC movement was first beginning to gain traction on campuses, comments prominently featuring derogatory views about minorities were deemed unacceptable. Yet slowly but surely, the trend shifted away from excoriating people who make comments that clearly seem racist and toward those who simply appear to think poorly of minorities. In this sense, the inculpation targets not only those who do things that are deemed inappropriate, but also those who seem to be thinking problematic thoughts. There is a manifest similarity between this position of the Social Justice Warriors and that of Christian preachers who teach that hating another person is just as sinful as murdering them. With these considerations in perspective, a new code of thought-control emerged known as “micro-aggressions”.

By definition, people who are guilty of such thought crimes, do not intend to do any harm to the person they have offended. In other words, they are racist, homophobic, ableist or transphobic; but they simply are not aware of that. In the eyes of the Social Justice Warriors, this does not make their transgressions any less severe. To the contrary, those who unintentionally ruffle people’s feathers must have morally corrupt minds in the same sense that Christians who fantasize about committing adultery are deemed to have unwholesome souls. Similarly; Christians may admit that devout believers may act out of character, the Social Justice warriors will also concede that good people sometimes fail to live up to their values. Consistently with the doctrine of the original sin, most Christians believe that man is depraved by nature and because of that, he will always be tempted to do evil. Consistently with this position, professor Noel Ignatiev holds that “whiteness” is to be defined as a social construct that serves the sole purpose of persecuting people of color.

Therefore, it is completely understandable that white people are racist by nature and they seem to have a biological imperative to victimize colored people. Thus, it is to be expected that even the most devoted of white “anti-racism” activists will sometimes slip up and display tears in an “inappropriate manner”, thereby implying that white people are somehow more deserving of sympathy than their exotically colored neighbors .  Such activists are more than willing to forgive their collaborators who simply slip up on occasion.  However, if an individual is guilty of a micro-aggression, it is not the case that he simply acted out of character on one occasion. Instead, it is to be assumed that he is so deeply sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic and transphobic that he does not even realize it. Entertaining thoughts that offend protected groups must come as easily to him as breathing does.

Therefore, he deserves the severest censure and excoriation. In the event where such a person is invited to campus, the student activists will strive to sabotage the speaking event in any way possible. If that does not work, they will create safe spaces to ensure that no “gentle souls” are harmed by what may be said there.  In light of the recent escalations concerning what counts as a micro-aggression, students have been developing increasingly more refined sensitivities to what can be construed as offensive. Now, even the appearance of an effeminate homosexual speaker such as Milo Yiannopoulos causes an uproar on campus, sending hundreds of students scurrying away to “safe spaces”.

These developments leave one with a question as to why the academic administrators continue to aid and abet these developments in juvenile delinquency. One obvious answer is that universities desire to collect greater revenue by accepting hordes of students who have neither the intellectual ability nor emotional maturity to withstand the rigors of genuine education. The other and more politically significant reason rests in the Grand Inquisitor problem. In Dostoevsky’s Opus Magnum, Ivan Karamazov composed a play describing the resurrection of Christ in the 17th century Sevilla. At the heyday of the Inquisitions, He appeared at the funeral of a little girl and resurrected her, cured the sick and performed various miracles described in the New Testament. Christ was immediately apprehended by the head of the Catholic Church and incarcerated in the tower where “the vilest of heretics” are burned. Therein, the Grand Inquisitor demanded to know how “He dared to disturb us”. Christ remained silent throughout the interrogation as the patriarch of the clergy lectured him on how “man does live on bread alone” and that is why people prefer security to freedom.

Despite his brusque manner of treating those who “disturbed” the religious institutions, he clearly was guided by benevolent motives. Likewise; the university administrators who promote policies concerning micro-aggressions, the Grand Inquisitor wanted to protect the people he saw as inherently fragile and incapable of standing on their own two feet in a truly free society. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ preached that people are to become like children and to that end, the university system continues to infantilize their minds. It is difficult to judge the character of the Grand Inquisitor without suspecting that his actions have also been inspired by ulterior motives. It is clear that he demanded absolute servitude from his subjects and in return, he seized tremendous wealth and power. Yet, the same can be said about the elites of the Ivory Tower whose social position is deeply embedded within the highest echelons of the American politico-economic hierarchy. Just as the Grand Inquisitor provided his subjects with a predictable and a secure life, the university colludes with the public sector to ensure that ideologically obedient graduates continue to serve government expansion upon graduation.  As these students graduate from college, completely bereft of practical or intellectual skills useful to society, they will have little choice but to seek employment with non-profit organizations championing the causes they have been “educated” to fight for.

Indoctrination is never an end in itself, but a means to the end of radically reshaping the collective consciousness of society. Once students are taught that any inkling of a notion that is not compatible with the PC left’s position is a micro-aggression, they will never even entertain the idea of questioning what they were taught. At any rate, they were never taught to think for themselves and the schooling they received ensured that every last vestige of intellectual individuality has been banished from their minds. They reflexively assume that anyone who criticizes plans for the expansion of government must be guided by sinister motives; or as Stalin would have it, they must be “the enemy of the people”.

In a recent speech, Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban declared that “freedom starts with speaking the truth” and that the “enemies of freedom no longer send dissidents to concentration camps”, but institute rigid thought control policies punishing those who stand for anything national, historical, traditional or individualistic . Orban’s speech received a predictable reaction, yet his criticisms apply widely to cultural milieus across the “free world”. John Stuart Mill defined liberty in a strictly negative sense to mean “freedom from coercion” and this has been the cornerstone of individual rights across the Western civilization. The British philosophers were first to describe a doctrine where people were free to do as they wished, provided only that they did not inflict harm upon others. Mill strictly adhered to the distinction between offense and harm, maintaining that in order to remain truly free; a society must never punish those who merely offend others. Clearly, this lesson has been lost upon the modern academic establishment and their coterie of cronies who are rapidly eroding the roots of the Western society.

Jeremy Bentham developed the concept of panopticism referring to a prison where the inmate is under constant observation of the guard. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault applied the concept of panopticism in a socio-cultural context. At the time of his writing, it seemed that citizens were under constant scrutiny from their superiors in factories, schools, court houses and all other public institutions. People were under pressure to “think properly” or risk having their reputations ruined, which could potentially bar them from the polite society and destroy their livelihood. Since then, this phenomenon has been taken to its vicious extremes to the point where not even the most distinguished academics are safe from their own brand of McCarthyism.

There is no shortage of stories regarding professors who incurred devastating professional consequences because of their heterodox ideological views. Recently, Duke University placed professor Jerry Hough on an administrative leave because he repeatedly criticized the pervasive climate of political correctness on college campuses. While Hough was a senior instructor with over 40 years of teaching experience, he was not a renowned scholar. Nonetheless, even the most distinguished of academics are not immune to such treatment. Despite that Dr. James Watson made enormous contributions to the discovery of DNA, his enormous academic stature was jeopardized by comments that the left judged to be racist. In reality, Watson merely contended that foreign aid to Africa is not sufficiently effective because the average IQ of Africans is substantially lower than that of Caucasians. Far from being a bizarre speculation of a racist, Watson’s claim is amply corroborated by a wealth of empirical studies in psychometrics. Academics cannot procure the freedom to be intellectually honest about topics that the left deems heretical, even if they reached the highest echelons of the collegiate institution. Professor Lawrence Summers was not only a distinguished scholar, but also president of Harvard when the establishment forced him to resign because some of his speeches allegedly promoted sexism. In reality, he merely cited a well-documented fact that the IQs of women tend to be average while men tend toward extremes in both ends of the spectrum. Nowhere did he say that men had superior intelligence to women; his only contention was that men are more likely to be exceptionally bright or quite dull.

The political correctness ideologues are not only the grave-diggers of academic freedom who create a pervasive culture of censorship across every sphere of society; they have no use for the concept of negative liberty or individual rights. Although they call themselves “liberal”, the Jacobins and the Leninists are their true intellectual predecessors. In the strictest sense of the term, they are the enemies of free speech and their objectives are fundamentally opposed to that of Savio’s movement. They have traded their freedom of thought for security and they expect the rest of the society to follow suit because the prevailing zeitgeist exhorts us to do so. Although academics are growing wary of the creeping authoritarianism of the PC movement, many are powerless to resist.  Casualties continue to mount as careers and livelihoods of academics are destroyed for thought crimes.

Not even the common-place white-collar professionals can afford to simply disagree with the establishment. It is up to the Grey Tribe to take a firm stand against this scourge. If we fail to do so, who else will? Recently, a Canadian photographer was facing hard prison time for disagreeing with a feminist on Twitter. Immediate action must be taken or we’ll soon be dealing with a country that we do not even recognize. Instead of the court of justice with the due process of law, we may well be dealing with a ferocious people’s tribunal and a committee for policing thought crimes. We call upon our readers to antagonize this climate of censorship in any way possible. First of all, the collegiate environment is to be boycotted: if you need to advance in your career, find an economically viable niche and enter a trade-school or a “boot-camp”. Avoid all social gatherings that serve the ostensible purpose of promoting this cancer of the intellect. If you do find yourself in such a company, undercut them in any way possible; be it through disruption, tirade or internet publications exposing them for who they are.

7 replies »

  1. This is a response to this piece by a leftist writer in another forum:

    “1. Spurious causation. Rather than it being the case, as you seemed to suggest, that there is a direct correlation between mental instability and political involvement, there could be a third extraneous variable that is the cause of both of these effects. This hypothesis makes sense because this factor would be the very thing the students are protesting against, i.e. oppression or inequality.

    2. You suggest that SJWs condemn those who don’t know that they’ve committed an aggression as being worse than those who “slip up.” I think this is also a false dichotomy. The problem for them is not with being uneducated about social justice, but with not making the effort to become educated. In other words, the aggressors you mention have actually committed two “sins”: the initial aggression against minorities, and the subsequent denial thereof.

    3. Safe spaces are important, but not because minorities have become more sensitive or because society has become more aggressive. This is not a new problem. For example, racism is obviously not new. It’s just become more subtle. Minorities need and deserve a place in which they can feel safe, and if they don’t feel safe in society at large, what is the harm in granting them a place where they do? Safe spaces aren’t making individuals more sensitive. They are the effect, not the cause, of groups of people collectively feeling unsafe. Why are you blaming groups of people for their natural emotional and social reactions to a phenomenon rather than exploring the phenomenon itself? It seems to me that this is the wrong problem to try to solve.

    4. I haven’t read Mill closely, but you define coercion in an extremely liberal way. A more leftist definition would certainly include instances of harm to an individual’s opportunities (e.g. socioeconomic opportunities), which could even include emotional harm.”

  2. As per response 3:I think we need safe spaces for white people in Zimbabwe and South Africa, for Christians in Egypt and for men in Sweden.

  3. I have responded to the critic’s comments.

    1. The majority of students whom I’ve described as the “Social Justice Warriors” were victims of neither inequality nor oppression. Had your “third extraneous hypothesis” held true, we’d expect student activists to be indigent Blacks and Hispanics rather than whites hailing from fairly wealthy families. Moreover, there is no evidence suggesting that Blacks and Hispanics score higher on neuroticism than Whites. There is also no evidence to suggest that any of the groups whom the academic left regards as “victimized” are less emotionally stable than the “rich white males” who constitute a significant portion of student activist groups.


    2. I do not believe I’ve set up a dichotomy. I drew a distinction between people who commit occasional “micro-aggressions” and those who do so frequently. Countless other people would fall into many other categories with respect to this issue.

    With respect to your claim about education, I have two objections. First of all, no amount of education can prevent students from avoiding offending others under all circumstances. For example, there is nothing wrong with making statement such as “America is the land opportunity” or “the most qualified person should get a job”. Comments of this nature should not be upsetting to any reasonable person. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with a Caucasian student trying to speak Spanglish to a Hispanic friend and calling soccer “futbol”. This does not convey any disrespectful intention and again, such an innocuous phrase should not ruffle any feathers. My point is that micro-aggressions often tend to be subjective in character and even the most thoughtful of statements can be deemed “offensive”.

    Secondly, I am unclear as to how you’re defining “education”. To the best of my understanding, education is ideologically neutral, fact-based and logically rigorous. On these grounds, I suspect that much of what is going on in “social justice” classes is not in the least bit edifying. The majority of social science professors tend to insist that human nature, gender, race and ethnicity are “social constructs”. While such a position can be corroborated by arguments, it is not a scientific fact. Discourses on this topic would most appropriately be categorized as theoretical rather than empirical. Although I have no objection to the act of exposing students to this point of view, intellectual honesty behooves instructors to also introduce their students to the contrary position.

    Instead of filling up sociology books with arguments stemming from this narrative, it would be perfectly fitting to also require students to read works such as “Human Nature” by Edward Wilson and “Troublesome inheritance” by Nicholas Carr. Instead, professors generally eschew such readings and when they comment on works of this ilk; they intend to refute them.

    When you claim that the person who unwittingly commits a micro-aggression is guilty of the “sin of not educating” himself, it seems to me that his real transgression is failure to view social issues from the left’s perspective.

    What if that person is wrong? What if he is completely backward, xenophobic, transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic and so on?

    Again, I’d like to reference John Stuart Mill’s antithesis to Plato’s Philosopher King Doctrine. Mill rejected Plato’s premise that politics is a craft and arrived at the conclusion that no person can be allowed to have the final word on essential social issues. Mill maintained that although political discourse is not as rigorous as research in natural sciences, scholars and activists alike must strive to raise their standards of rigor. Just as physicists and chemists pursue the truth by critiquing each other’s works, social scientists should leave their ideas open to criticism. Mill contended that a free society requires for the mainstream to tolerate the views of the crank not only because one can never be certain that he is wrong, but also because correct political opinions should be practiced as a “living truth” rather than as a “dead dogma”.

    He even went so far as to cite the practice of the devil’s advocate in the most repressive of European institutions; the Catholic Church. Part of the reason why the Catholic Church has become increasingly intransigent in Mill’s time is that Christians ceased to entertain their beliefs with a reasonable degree of skepticism.


    3. I am not blaming anybody for their natural reactions. Blacks and Hispanics are not the ones clamoring for the hysteria around safe spaces. While some members of both groups may report feeling uncomfortable under certain circumstances, they do not demand safe spaces on college campuses or elsewhere. There is nothing natural about these developments: social justice warriors simply wish to feel like they are doing something important without devoting any effort to it. While Christian fundamentalists volunteer, go on missionary trips and perform good deeds as part of their moral crusade; the social justice warriors have no time or effort for such things. They do not understand what it’s like to even spend an hour in the shoes of a person from a “protected group” and they have neither the humility nor the self-discipline to learn. That’s why they rarely donate to charity or render services to the disadvantaged.

    They have no regard for any of the causes that they profess to be passionate about. They do not care if LSD or breast cancer are cured, and they will never even consider contributing to serious efforts of solving real problems. What’s important to them is “marching for breast cancer” or “taking the Ice Bucket challenge” so they can post an obnoxious selfie on social media.

    Far from being advocates of the disadvantaged and the dispossessed, they are exploiting these groups for their own sense vainglorious self-absorption.

    4. I agree that the line between offense and harm can be rather thin. I accept your suggestion that “harm to opportunities” or “even emotional harm” can qualify as harm.

    For this reason, I strongly oppose all government policies that are predicated on racial prejudice. Clearly, apartheid, genocide and legalized discrimination are indefensible. On the same principle, I would also decry the practice of reverse-discrimination or affirmative action. Even if they level the playing field at some point, such programs are difficult to rescind or even attenuated. Therefore, policy-makers should carefully consider the possibility that such programs will inflict harm upon the non-protected groups.

    When the government openly espouses racist policies, it can inflict emotional harm upon others. The harm could be severe and unavoidable because most denizens of a country cannot avoid interacting with the government and they generally lack opportunities to expatriate.

    What if the private sector is inflicting harm upon individuals? What if almost everybody is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and so forth?

    While that is a theoretical possibility, it is a well-documented fact that public perceptions of minority groups change. Jews, Italians, the Irish, the Japanese and the Eastern Europeans faced severe oppression in the United States. However, these groups quickly proved worthy of respect and acceptance by the mainstream society. Similarly, African-Americans and aboriginals were making considerable progress toward achieving this objective. Yet, Lyndon B. Johnson could not allow this to happen.

    By the time the Civil Rights of 1964 was legislated, most Americans have grown deeply skeptical of institutional racism and that is why LBJ could confidently say “morality forbids” institutional segregation. While he had little choice but to end coercive segregation, creating a massive welfare state for African-Americans was not necessary.

    Naomi Murakawa went so far as to argue that leftist policies of Johnson’s brand tacitly approved of government action to coerce minorities who continued to be victimized by racial bigotry. By authorizing programs such as affirmative action or welfare that is intended to disproportionately benefit Blacks, the government tacitly endorses a deeply racist notion.

    In so doing, the proponents of this position imply that in contrast to the countless ethnic groups who overcame discrimination on their own endeavor, the Blacks are not capable of doing so. Therefore, they must remain as wards of the state and an elaborate system must be developed to keep them disciplined. On these grounds, Murakawa has shown how a combination of welfare state policies greatly contributed to the excessive incarceration of Blacks.

    Clearly, such sentiments clearly have not been consigned to the Ash Heap of History as Trotsky used to say. Even today, it is common for the liberal academic elites to imply that Blacks are not capable of overcoming discrimination on their own. Without such racist assumptions, there would be no justification for affirmative action.

    In an effort to combat the forms of harm you’ve mentioned, the government should allow minorities to overcome bigotry on their own endeavor. African-Americans have proven capable of contributing to the American culture because of the contributions of talented and industrious individuals representing their community.

    Martin Luther King elevated the public’s opinion of the Black community because he was a gifted orator, not because of LBJ’s Great Society programs. Thomas Sowell has shown that Blacks were capable of developing high-caliber minds because of his natural intelligence and drive. Had he relied on Affirmative Action to become a renowned scholar, his achievements would have been much less effective at combating racial bigotry. Similarly, Barack Obama reached enormous success in his political career largely despite of leftist “do-goodery” rather than because of it.

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