George Orwell wrote his dystopian novel titled 1984 in 1949. This novel is relevant today because it depicts a totalitarian government and its use of advanced technology and media manipulation to control its people. Orwell’s main character is Winston Smith who lives in Oceania, which is one of the three huge governments that exist in the world of the book. The government of Oceania is known as “Big Brother” and is controlled by a small, powerful, and mysterious group of elite people. The government keeps track of its people through the use of cameras and listening devices placed in their television sets and a secret police force who report rebellious thoughts and misbehavior.
This novel came to my mind when I read about Amy Wax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who is in trouble for her political wrongthink. Wax has the credentials necessary for a long academic career. However, her bachelor’s degree from Yale College, her medical degree from Harvard, and her law degree from Columbia have not stopped a campaign to get her fired. The fact that she has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court for the Justice Department does not help her case. None of her credentials help because she continues to think differently.
Wax has been called racist, sexist, and xenophobic many times, but she doubles down in calling for debate, evidence, and accountability. She has been attacked by students and colleagues for saying that children do better if their parents have traditional marriage values. Her critics also dislike her argument that many of today’s problems come from “the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture” or the lifestyles of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.
Alas, such a culture was not destined to continue because the flower children or hippies of the 1960s rebelled against the societal norm. They rebelled against their parents and leaders and went their own way, and society is reaping the results of their decisions. This author believes that Wax was absolutely correct in her argument.
The action that really got Wax in trouble was a 2017 podcast interview with Glenn Loury, economist and professor at Brown University, about affirmative action. She commented, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of (my) class, and rarely, rarely, in the top half. I can think of one or two students who scored in the first half of my required first-year Civil Procedure course.”
Interpreting Wax’s statement to mean, “Amy Wax said black students can’t excel in law school,” her critics used it as fuel in their battle against her. The result is that she no longer teaches first-year law students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Wax spoke at The Heritage Foundation on November 8 about her politically incorrect statements and the fallout from them. Then she suggested some ideas of how to counter the “radical, identity-based grievance culture” that has taken over the nation’s universities.
Remind students that one of the central missions of the university, which justifies its existence, is to get at the truth. That requires honest debate, patience, intellectual honesty, investigation, and a lot of hard work….
No one can be heard to say, “I’m offended.” They all have permission to be offended. But they just can’t express it.
No one is allowed to accuse anyone else, in the classroom or out, dead or alive, of being racist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremist, or any other derisive, identity-based label. No slurs or name-calling. These don’t enlighten, educate, or edify. They add nothing. Give us an argument. Tell us why the other person is wrong.
No one can complain to administrators … about anything said in class.
Finally, both the government and private donors need to rethink the lavish financial support for higher education, and especially for elite and selective institutions, which serve only a teeny-tiny portion of our population and which in many ways I’m afraid, have become an anti-Western and anti-American liability.
How can we get the rich to see that supporting elite universities today might not be the wisest and more fruitful uses of their hard-earned money? What we need is a list of alternative causes and alternative institutions and goals for their money that help ordinary, average, unspecial people who have been unduly neglected by our elites and our increasingly walled off from them.
Wax admits that the chances that her guidelines will be adopted in classrooms on college campuses are slim to nothing. In fact, she expresses little hope for them to do so in the current climate. She further states she expects that threats against professors who are politically incorrect to become worse.
Professors who hold unpopular positions or state inconvenient facts are now considered psychologically toxic. If their presence causes offense, distress, feelings of insult, fears of ill treatment, that is enough to eject them from the classroom. And of course, these perceptions and feelings are subjective, they are self-confirming, they are immune from challenge. It’s all in the mind of the beholder. And the beholder’s mind reigns supreme.
The example of Amy Wax shows us clearly that we are living in the echoes of 1984. The rising generations are going to universities that indoctrinate them in liberal speak rather than teaching them to think critically. It is a terrible assault that is being done to the current crop of university students, but an even worse one is the fact that this group of students will affect the next one and others further down the line. They will become the parents and teachers of innocent and bright children who will have their minds clouded by the nonsense of political correctness.