Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
It’s not clear what the origin is of that admonitory observation, though one plausible source is Sophocles’ Antigone, in which the chorus observes that the gods muddle the minds of those to whom evil seems good.
We usually think of this stricture applying mostly to individuals. But as I look around our culture today, I wonder whether it might apply equally to institutions.
Investigating that possibility with anything like thoroughness would take many pages. But let me offer what Kierkegaard described as a “preliminary expectoration” by noting what prompted the thought that this connection between madness and destruction might have an institutional as well as an individual application.
For anyone attuned to the cultural static of our times, it will come as no surprise to learn that the bulletin came from that pullulating golden midden, the university, and from the highest reaches thereof. Elsewhere I have written about Harvard’s decision to go full blackface by appointing Claudine Gay, an activist intellectual nonentity, to be its next president.
As the commentator Francis Menton noted in an excellent piece on Gay’s appointment, she has long been “the enforcer-in-chief of [wokeist] orthodoxy at Harvard.” She helped destroy the career of the brilliant economist Roland Fryer because he came to the “wrong” conclusions about whether the police displayed racial bias in their use of force (they don’t), while overlooking alleged data fabrication by Ryan Enos, another Harvard professor, because his studies had come to the right (i.e., left-progressive) conclusion about race and public housing.
Gay’s appointment was just another example of how the obsession with race is destroying the academy in this country. Would she have been appointed had she not been black? Of course not. But no sooner had I filed that piece than Stanford University beclowned itself even more dramatically. As the Wall Street Journal reported, administrators at this gilded elite bastion of politically correct attitudinizing (endowment as of June: $40.1 billion) recently published guidelines for its “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” “a multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in IT at Stanford.”
It gets worse, much worse, but for now all you need to know is that the “EHLI” is “one of the actions prioritized in the Statement of Solidarity and Commitment to Action, which was published by the Stanford CIO Council (CIOC) and People of Color in Technology (POC-IT).” If you have some Dramamine or an air sickness bag handy, check out the emetic verbiage at the links.
It’s all part and parcel of our culture’s process of inversion, reversal, or—to give it a more familiar name—suicide. The EHLI website is . . . special. Early on, prospective readers are warned:
CONTENT WARNING: THIS WEBSITE CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT IS OFFENSIVE OR HARMFUL. PLEASE ENGAGE WITH THIS WEBSITE AT YOUR OWN PACE.
Feeling strong enough? Then let’s proceed. The scarifying bulletin offers advice on the language that you should—and, more to the point, language that you shouldn’t—use in several different situations. With respect to language that touches on prowess and disability, for example, it suggests that instead of saying “addict” one say “person with a substance use disorder” (not that the person mainlining heroin had any choice in the matter, you see). Instead of saying “basket case,” consider saying “nervous.” Instead of saying “committed suicide,” say “died by suicide”—as if it just happened; no agency or responsibility involved. And on and on through the usual lexicon of supposedly hypersensitive but really obtuse insanity.
The website proceeds through all the usual politically correct categories, with entries on “ageist” language, 57 varieties of “gender identification” and, of course, endless handwringing entries dealing with race. Don’t say “bury the hatchet,” for heaven’s sake, say “call for peace, call a truce. ” Don’t say “low man on the totem pole,” say “lacking seniority, don’t have the power or prestige.” By the same token (is that permissible?), don’t say “balls to the wall” (I could have told you that), say “accelerate efforts,” don’t say “chairman” or “chairwoman,” say “chairperson, chair.”
Naturally, you shouldn’t even think about using personal pronouns or the word “man” as a collective noun or as a verb. Don’t say “black hat,” “black mark,” “black sheep,” “blackballed,” “blackbox,” “blacklist.” Don’t even say “brown bag” because—well, you know. Grandfather, father, mother, daughter, son: they’re out, and so are most uses of the word “master”: “master list,” “master a subject,” “master plan.” You can’t say “rule of thumb” because, the document explains, “this phrase is attributed to an old British law that allowed men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.” It actually has its source in Muslim practice, but they’re a protected group, so we’re not supposed to mention them.
Note that the version of this pathetic document I link to exists on a server at the Wall Street Journal. Stanford, facing blowback (that word must certainly offend someone!) hid it from public scrutiny. As the Journal’s column put it, “without a password, you wouldn’t know that ‘stupid’ made the list.”
In some ways, this document simply recapitulates the politically correct nostrums that have been with us for decades. Back in the 1990s, I was writing about similar implosions at Smith College, for example, where one was advised to avoid the sin of “lookism,” i.e., the mistaken belief that some people are better looking than others. But like recent formulations of cannabis and other drugs, Stanford’s latest folly is more concentrated, and therefore more toxic, than the academic street drugs of yesteryear.
Writing in this space recently, Victor Davis Hanson predicted that the accumulation of woke impedimenta is in the process of destroying the university. Soon, he suggested, they are likely to be abandoned by the public as “irrelevant.” The injection of identity politics and “DEI” initiatives into the lifeblood of the university, their deliberate lowering of academic standards and abandonment of the effort to preserve and transmit the deposit of our cultural heritage, what we used to be able to call, without irony, our “institutions of higher education,” have turned rancid and are consuming themselves from within: all of that is rendering them increasingly preposterous.
Eventually, it will catch up with them. The future of what Hanson calls “overpriced indoctrination echo chambers, where therapy replaced singular rigor” may indeed be numbered. I have thought so before. In the past, the self-engorging Leviathan somehow managed to lumber on, getting richer and richer—and more and more irrelevant. Perhaps judgment day is right around the corner. We can only hope.
I’ll end with a prediction. Stanford’s embattled president Marc Tessier-Lavigne is on his way out. The next Stanford president will be a black woman, “gender non-conforming” if possible but recognizably female and recognizably black. Stanford can’t let Harvard hog all the glory.