LONDON, ONTARIO – Last month for reasons that are starkly unfathomable to me, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to give the commencement address at New York University; an event which takes place each year in the academically hallowed venue of Yankee Stadium. I do wonder just what the agenda is of the University’s board of governors in selecting a speaker so lacking in intellectual, moral or even oratorical heft. Do they regard such speeches as a species of light entertainment; an opportunity to let the kiddies feast their eyes on somebody who’s famous for being famous and what does it matter if he has nothing of actual value to impart?
Trudeau’s entire 12-minute talk is widely available on the Interwebs, in text or video format, if you’d care to check it out for yourself. A lot of the press coverage commented on how his highlighted themes of celebrating diversity and fostering cross-cultural respect were actually implicit digs at the current border-enforcing ogre in the White House. But what most impressed this Canadian in hearing Trudeau’s speech was the moral preening and rank hypocrisy of it all. Here’s a little sample of what I mean.
Pinch yourself first, if it’ll help you keep awake as you slip into this cloying bath of liberal bromides:
“We are not going to arrive at mutual respect, which is where we solve common problems, if we cocoon ourselves in an ideological, social, or intellectual bubble . . . for us to keep moving forward, we have to do it together. All together. Humanity has to fight our tribal mindset. We go to the same church? Cool, you’re in my tribe. You speak my language? You’re in my tribe. You play Pokemon Go? You’re a vegetarian? You like the Yankees? You go to the gun range? You’re pro-choice? Tribe. But of course, it’s not the ‘belonging’ part that’s the problem, it’s the corollary: You are part of my tribe, and they are not ... Whether it’s race, gender, language, sexual orientation, religious or ethnic origin, or our beliefs and values themselves – diversity doesn’t have to be a weakness. It can be our greatest strength ... Our celebration of difference needs to extend to differences of values and belief too. Diversity includes political and cultural diversity. It includes a diversity of perspectives and approaches to solving problems.”
Right. So how can a Prime Minister who insists that we honour diversity of belief and expression be the same prissy bully who cuts off a nervous woman at a town hall meeting because she was so unprogressive as to use the word ‘mankind’ in the formulation of her question? Where’s the ‘mutual respect’ in demanding that a fellow citizen jettison a real word in favour of his preferred and utterly inane concoction (which even my spell-checker regards as illegitimate): ‘peoplekind’?
How can he list ‘pro-choice’ as one of those lamentable tribal designations that unnecessarily cuts us off from half of the population, and then insist that any politician who wants to run as a candidate in his benighted party must publicly support the slaughter of the unborn? How can such a wonderfully tolerant and inclusive prime minister also refuse to let any taxpayer funds be allotted to charitable programs that are operated by people who won’t deep-six or at least deny their pro-life convictions? Or refuse pro-life physicians their conscience rights in not referring patients to other doctors who don’t have any qualms about euthanizing human beings?
A truly thoughtful and respectful prime minister who actually valued freedom of thought, speech and religion – who really believed that his fellow citizens were entitled to make up their own minds on such foundational questions – would not badger and chip away at the rights of those who held different convictions from his. I find it sublimely perfect that this arrogant, would-be dictator of ‘right think’ should be invited to lecture about his own munificent commitment to the fullest possible spectrum of thought in that other unprecedentedly Orwellian environment whose very name Kate MacMillan (of Small Dead Animals fame) tirelessly reminds us denotes the precise opposite of ‘diversity’ – the ‘university’.
I couldn’t help noticing during this month’s provincial election that the Liberals and the NDP (and maybe the PCs; they were a lot more reticent about rolling out their platform which might go some way to explaining their massive victory) were both promising to lay on lots more psychological counselling services for high schools, universities and colleges. Earlier this year The London Free Press reported on a five-year mental health strategy which Western’s administration passed on to the university senate for approval in response to demand from students:
“The strategy calls for ingraining mental health and wellness into every aspect of life at Western, and takes aim at the downside of the university’s competitive climate, recommending programs that ‘normalize setbacks’ and help students to deal with failure . . . The new strategy comes the same year that several Western students took their own lives, others complained to the media about mental health services, and a student plebiscite called on administration to make mental health and wellness a permanent priority in Western’s overall strategic plan.”
There have been a number of alarming news stories recently about ballooning rates of anxiety, depression and suicide in that cohort born after 1995 identified as ‘IGen’. The name is a tip of the hat to the I-phone, an instrument of excruciating social torture to which most of this generation is hopelessly addicted and which in turn is shrinking their brains, stunting their skills of discernment and expression and pumping them full of existential dread.
As American author Jean M. Twinge writes in IGen, her new and devastating study of the unfolding catastrophe:
“Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent—more than twice as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls . . . The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to close the gap. These more dire consequences for teenage girls could also be rooted in the fact that they’re more likely to experience cyberbullying. Boys tend to bully one another physically, while girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships.”
You put all that together with reports about students crying out for ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings,’ the shutting down of visiting speakers who threaten to expose students to too-challenging ideas, the sandbagging of teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd by tenured tyrants, and it’s hard to avoid the impression that there is a constriction of tolerance and expression underway in the corridors of academe to match that in the corridors of political power.
These are the two places which have traditionally been about the free and lively exchange of ideas and watching Trudeau the Younger bamboozling a ballpark full of selfie-snapping grads about the glories of diversity was enough to push me around the twist. I hope and trust that this double-barrelled constriction isn’t absolute or irreversible but until something breaks open in these two arenas so essential to democratic health, it isn’t hard to understand why bold disruptors of the lie like Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump attract so much outrage and support.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
Monday, January 28
St. Peter's Seminary
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