Against Modern Fate

One recent night, in the midst of classic midnight dorm room discussion, my good friend Jonathan brought up the knotty topic of mental health: how much can one blame outside encouragement, to put it lightly, for things like suicide? More generically, to what extent is the mind controlled by influences beyond our reach?

To understate it, suicide is a touchy issue. It’s tragic, heart-ripping, and often unexpected and incomprehensible. For many developed countries, it is the scourge of our time, and it goes far too unnoticed until it becomes politically expedient to notice it. Lately, the Left has seized upon mental health issues, a trend that had me initially confused. We continue to see the general social campaign tactics, like raising awareness and fighting stigma and so forth, but there’s little about those things that conservatives should argue with. Indeed, conservatives should hold dear the intrinsic value of every life. There should not be political disagreement over mental health issues, and there really hasn’t been; it’s a new phenomenon. But why? Especially on university campuses, why are so many progressives digging subterranean battle trenches under this rare spot of accord? Why make mental health an issue?

I ended up conversing heatedly with my friend Rohan, an ambitious and passionate future neuroscientist, about a subject I knew very little about: the brain. Being an English major but a champion bullshitter (the two actually tend to go hand in hand), I wasn’t about to back down from a battle, one-sided though it may have been. Biological influence came into play after Rohan held that conditioning could influence the brain beyond one’s control. Eventually, so the argument went, one develops an obligation, like Pavlov’s dogs, to simply respond. Suicide is only an extreme example, a result of perhaps years of such ‘conditioning’ that could assumedly cause other mental illnesses.

Although rohan may not have known it, he made a great case for the safe space. The battle for free speech right now is being fought in academia, but it’s not being fought well. Leftist professors and pseudo-academics are increasingly churning out support for the argument that language can present clear and present danger. After all, if we are nothing more than the product of some haphazard chemical processes and the oppressive shaping of our society, blame gets shifted around a bit. Safe spaces have borne their fair share of ridicule over the course of their recent intrusion, but few conservatives get to the core of why they’re so fundamentally wrong. It’s more than just pampered elitists getting easily offended; after all, the contemporary Left brands itself as dangerous, nonconformist and hard-hitting, breaking socially constructed oppressive barriers with a judo chop of some kind that isn’t an appropriation of East Asian cultures. In their own eyes, the radical Left is all about invading traditionally “safe” spaces like the church or the academy or the Boy Scouts. The campus safe space issue goes deeper than just a liberal double standard. While conservatives have correctly gone after safe space’s repercussions against free speech, they tend to fall short of attacking the root of the problem.  Repression of free speech in the academy springs from the idea that a person is the result of his (xis?) environment. Whether that environment is of nurture or nature (is not the body an environment of the mind?) is of little difference, and both arguments are utilized and interlinked; the main point is that the onus of personal responsibility is shifted from the actor to some other source, a trigger, if you will. The Left causally links trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and other mental disturbances to external factors, typically the great boogeyman of oppression. Take, for example, ReAnn Pickett’s Time Magazine article: “Safe spaces can have powerful therapeutic purposes for those who enter them. . . . A lack of safe spaces can compound the mental toll of racism, even subtle racism. . . . A critical phase of healing involves reclaiming power and control in positive ways.” (http://time.com/4471806/trigger-warnings-safe-spaces/) A more thoughtful, less identity-based article by Ashutosh Bhagwat and John Inazu likewise supports the idea of a safe space on psychological grounds, additionally comparing safe spaces to socially important places of association like taverns in pre-Revolutionary America or gay bars in the 60s (https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/21/easily-caricatured-safe-spaces-can-help-students-learn-essay). Anywhere you look, whether the author has “owner of ten cats” or “Nelson Mandela Fellow at Yale University” after their name, the argument will remain much the same: safe spaces are necessary for psychological healing and social change. For the critical Left, it’s about more than just exposure to different ideas: it’s about first establishing the right to exist, about preventing psychological issues that lead to grade slippage, rage, obesity, death, you name it. Conservatives should not diminish the value of these issues. Instead, we should examine the faulty logic of the safe space argument.

The state of modern academia leads us to leave the dubious link between white guy dreads and impending mental illness alone for right now. Additionally, no one could reasonably dispute that conditions like PTSD are indeed externally triggered. Like I said, conservatives should take mental health issues seriously. However, taking an issue seriously doesn’t mandate the acceptance of liberal thought. More fundamentally important is the thesis that the actions of another person and one’s own psychology can force one outside the realm of their own judgment. Marxism always requires a victim, double entendre intended, and thus requires an oppressor, too. Arguably, it may just be human nature to want to foist personal responsibility on something else, like fate or astrology. Our postmodern age is no different; maybe we’ve just traded the sidereal for the biological or societal. I am, and thus I think—that sums up the leftist principle of personal decision. Many once thought we were controlled by stars, and now the enlightened understand that it’s actually dopamine and white Christians. Conservatism should be a lone voice crying out in this historical wilderness, a little pinprick on the timeline of civilization reminding the world that, tragically, it’s just up to you. Words have power—of that I am intimately aware. However, to claim that someone’s speech can render others unable to control themselves is to rob individuals of their agency. If human thought is but driftwood buffeted by society and biology, the individual cannot steer himself.

I recall how just before Trinity’s NSO Diversity Lecture, all of the speakers were sitting in an empty Laurie Auditorium, giving their prepared speeches for practice. Before I presented mine and received a lot of very gentle suggestions to maybe take out all that stuff about race being unimportant, my friend Camila told the story of her grandmother’s tenacity in the face of discrimination and familial responsibilities (responsibilities, I might add, that present-day feminists would urge her to abandon). One professor said, “that’s great, that’s inspiring, but remember you don’t want to send the message that just anybody can lift themselves up by their bootstraps, or anything like that.” Inspiring indeed. Yes we can! . . . But no, you can’t.

Just as personal responsibility is the cornerstone of conservative economic thought, so must it be for the mind. The implications of materialism—also called historicism, the belief that all ideas and people can only be understood through historical or material processes—are hollow and horrifying. Free will becomes a weakling myth against to the ineluctable forces of one’s status or physiology. Although the concept in its purest form really only enjoys influence in university dissertations, it’s spread its tentacles into the public. We see it on the news every time a terrorist strikes and it had to have been his parents, his hometown, his mental health, anything but his choice of belief. We see it in the courtroom when people are convicted for encouraging suicide—a despicable thing to do, to be sure, but it doesn’t rob someone of their own personal agency. Life itself to the modernist becomes nothing more than the result of chemical luck.

Je pense, donc je suis. I think, therefore I am. I won’t go so far as to embrace Descartes’ sentiment as down-the-line conservative thought, but as far as free will goes, conservatives should embrace the idea that individuals control themselves, not that their state of being predicates their thoughts and actions. We should reject the materialist idea that we think because of what we are. Otherwise, the societal enslaves the individual. A person who is at the mercy of their society thus loses all control. That is true oppression.

Interestingly enough, my friend Rohan has a devoted interest in Stoic philosophy, which is all about overcoming the forces that seek to conquer the pure will. Just as a little prophecy of Isaiah, somewhere down the line that belief will clash with his self-professed materialism—but then again, he can choose to ignore that.

Trinity University Community Reacts to White Supremacy on Campus

The Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, posted flyers on Trinity’s campus last night.

It appears that the Patriot Front showed up at Trinity University late last night or early this morning and put up flyers asking “Will your speech be hate speech?” and other slogans intended to persuade passersby to visit their website and consider joining their organization. Shortly after 10 AM this morning, University President Dr. Danny Anderson sent an email to Trinity Faculty, Staff, and Students describing the flyers as “advocating positions antithetical to Trinity University’s values”. He also noted that campus police highly suspect, but are still unable to confirm, that the flyers were placed by trespassers targeting San Antonio are universities.

Co-president of campus conservative organization Tigers for Liberty Isaiah Mitchell says that “the Patriot Front, like all white nationalist groups, views our Founding Fathers through the same skewed, oversimplistic lens that progressives do: they were white and racist by our standards, so therefore America at heart must be. The only difference is that white nationalists think that’s a good thing. They have no place in conservatism, where ideas and individuals matter more than the demographic groups in which they’re born.”

The University, rightly standing for the values of community and inclusion, has called on the campus, in the words of President Anderson, to send “the strongest possible message that hate will not be countenanced at Trinity University.” Political science professor Dr. Keesha Middlemass echoed Dr. Anderson, saying “I do not support any attempts to inflame racial tensions” and that “as a member of the faculty it is upsetting to know that an uninvited group is spreading hate on our campus.” Dr. Anderson’s email also encouraged anyone with information relating to these flyers to contact campus police at tupd@trinity.edu or by phone at 210-999-7070 (non-emergency) or 210-999-7000 (emergency). 

Manfred Wendt, Student Government Senator for the Class of 2019, said that “it is blatantly obvious that this was not done by members of the Trinity community.” He noted that while similar events at UTSA recently may have led us to expect this to happen at Trinity, “we all hoped it wouldn’t.” Even though there were a large number of posters put up on campus, they all seem to have been removed within a few hours of the campus becoming active in the morning, by a combination of students, faculty, and other members of the community. He also added that “they wasted a ton of time doing this, because no one at Trinity will be receptive to this hateful and divisive rhetoric.”

Chiara Pride, an activist supporting progressive causes at Trinity and in San Antonio as a whole said that she “trust[s] in the intelligence and heart of our Trinity students. I am confident that they can see through the hateful rhetoric of groups like the Patriot Front, I hope that they know that true patriotism is not forged in ‘fire and brimstone’ but from the unity of disparate groups coming together to advocate for healthy and joyful communities.” She also encouraged anyone interested in “progressive issue advocacy and nonpartisan civic engagement” to reach out to her.

Emily Bourgeois, co-president-elect of the campus group Trinity Progressives, provided the following statement on behalf of her organization:  

“I want to make it abundantly clear that white supremacy and neo-nazism do not have a place on this campus. These fliers were a blatant attack on the very fabric of everything that we stand for as an institution of higher learning and, more importantly, as a community. It is imperative that minority staff, faculty, and students know that we stand alongside them. The voices of these few hateful individuals are loud and prominent right now, but this divisive rhetoric is aiming at creating controversy. It is important that we come together as a community to make it known that these views are not welcome on our campus. We cannot permit actions like this to continue. I am calling upon the administration to acknowledge that this specific form of hate, white supremacy and neo-nazism, is completely antithetical to the diversity that we appear to hold as a key facet of Trinity’s mission. It is time that our leadership and our campus show that we value the safety and quality of life of all of our students.” 

These sorts of events often bring to the forefront of conversation the role that free speech must play in reacting to these ideas. While Trinity University is a private institution, and thus has broad discretion in determining what, if any, outside organizations can promote themselves on campus, the question is still important. Recently, at Southern Methodist University when Vanguard America, an organization similar to Patriot Front, placed flyers on campus, the school’s College Republicans chapter responded by condemning such heinous ideas, and noting that conservatives believe “every life has value and it doesn’t matter what color that person is.” It is not clear how Southern Methodist University is responding to the flyers placed at their campus, but the approach taken by student groups is one that should be emulated at Trinity as well. Isaac Ogbo, junior Marketing major and member of Tigers for Liberty says that he “understand[s] their right to express their beliefs,” but “vehemently oppose[s] their desire to post their ideology at a private institution in a deliberate attempt to spread divisiveness through this community.” 

The Patriot Front, while seeking to style themselves as right wing, sees individuality, the core tenet of American conservatism, negatively. Their website says that “to see yourself fully as an individual is misguided, and lacks an ethical basis.” Individualism is not misguided, this view is. Barry Goldwater said in 1960 that “the conscience of a Conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being.” The Patriot Front, and any organization that elevates one race over another, is thus entirely antithetical to what true conservatives stand for. 

The Alt-Right vs The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life

Editor’s Note: This article details one of the ways which the alt-right violates the 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative as laid out by Dr. Paul Kengor.

A belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life at every stage of development is one of the most distinctive parts of Reagan-style American conservatism. Reagan’s pro-life stance gained him the support of evangelical and Catholic voters, and continues to play a role in retaining many of those people in the Republican coalition to this day.

Ronald Reagan famously asked, “What single issue could be of greater importance?” He also supported a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution which would have recognized a right to life for every human being “without regard to age, health or condition of dependency” from the moment of fertilization. This respect for the infinite value of every human person, by simple virtue of them being human, completely opposes the values of the alt-right and other collectivist groups.

This belief in the special, immutable, infinite value of the human being guides many other conservative positions. Our support for individual rights like free speech, the right to protect yourself with weapons, and the right to a fair trial all stem from the fact that people matter because they’re people. There’s never any question.

While most conservatives would say that our rights and value come from God, because we are made in His image, this is not a necessary part of conservative thought. Believe it or not, it is not an explictly religious idea to affirm that people are valuable.

To Richard Spencer, who is as close to a spokesman for the whole alt-right as one can be, our rights do not come from God, and human beings are not inherently valuable. To Richard Spencer and his collectivist minions, the value of a human person comes from their place within a family, society, racial or ethnic group, or some other community.

This perspective is, quite frankly, horrifying. If our value comes from our membership in a community, then that value can be taken away if the community, the collective, decides that our membership isn’t beneficial anymore. Believers in human beings’ inherent dignity would never consider that someone is less deserving of protection, or has less moral worth, because they are young, disabled, sick, old, or a member of a different racial group.

Lest one may claim that Richard Spencer is not in fact a spokesman for the whole movement (a somewhat strange proposition, but I’ll allow it), take Aylmer Fisher, exhorting their fellow alt-righters to “not fall prey to the pro-life temptation,” who observed (quite accurately, I would add) that the alt-right views “abortion—and contraception more generally” as “about the only things keeping our societies from falling into complete idiocracy.” Or later in the article, the assessment that the alt-right is “skeptical” of “concepts like ‘equality’ and ‘human rights.’” The narrative is clear: to the alt-right, humanity has no inherent value, no inherent dignity, no inherent worth of any kind. A person is valuable not because he or she is a person, but because of their place in the collective and what they can contribute to that collective. To the alt-right, you or I are only valuable because other people seem to think we are. It’s like fiat currency with human lives.

This identitarian point of view is problematic to pro-life conservatives on its own, and that’s even excluding blatantly racist comments made by those on the alt-right, or Richard Spencer’s claims that they “want to be eugenic in the deepest sense of the word.” Pro-lifers do not. We celebrate every human life, no matter their physical or mental ability, race, family background, income, or any other label that collectivists may try to place on someone.

Trinity University Sociology Department Refused to Remove Statue of Jefferson Davis

By Jonah Wendt

In a shocking move, the Trinity University Sociology Department has refused to remove their prized 666-foot-tall statue of Jefferson Davis from the Sociology lounge. Despite the current social and political climate calling for the removal of Confederate statues in public spaces, the Sociology Department is clinging tightly and controversially to its 666-foot-tall statue of Confederate president and known racist, Jefferson Davis.

When reached for comment, Department Chair Dr. David Spener cited protection from the Wendt Twins and other members of the conservative group “Tigers For Liberty” as the primary reason for keeping the statue in the sociology lounge. “When the Wendt twins and other members of that freedom-loving organization see the statue of a man who advocated against the application of almost all basic human rights to non-whites, committed crimes against humanity, and fought true liberty every day of his life, they’ll go running in the opposite direction. It’s not so much that we stand with Jefferson Davis and his beliefs, but that we need his protection against the mongol hoards of TFL and those damn Wendt Twins.” When reached for comment, Manfred Wendt stated that while he is quite concerned about the message being sent by the Sociology Department, his attention is divided among the department’s other statues, including their 900-foot-tall statue of Adolf Hitler, 250-foot-tall statue of Benedict Arnold, life size statue of Mao Zedong and an oddly small, just 6-inch tall statue of Jim Crow. Manfred also noted with alarm that these statues were purchased and put in place soon after he and his twin brother came out as conservative.

As the story continues to develop, the next stage in the controversy may be the department’s recent application for SGA funding of another statue: a 350-foot-tall depiction of George Soros, to which Alexander Perkoswki reportedly replied, “We don’t fund food.”