A Vermont college says it has initiated an independent investigation into a protest in which the author of a book discussing racial differences in intelligence was shouted down during a guest lecture and a professor was injured.
Middlebury College president Laurie Patton said in a letter to the school community on Monday that once that work is completed the college will follow a process of determining a course of action for each person understood to be involved in last week's events.
She says people have the right to make their voices heard in support of and in opposition to other people and ideas but the college's concern is acts of disruption and violence.
Author Charles Murray's talk was moved to a different location and was live-streamed to the original venue. But protesters drowned it out.
The college says some protesters became violent and one pulled a professor's hair, twisting her neck.
Hundreds of students chanted as Murray started to speak at an event Thursday, forcing the school to move the talk to an undisclosed location Charles Murray's new book argues that the economic problems of America's working class stem largely from their own character flaws, and that wealthier people should be less shy about teaching them how to live responsibly.
I don’t know him, nor have I read his writings beyond a review of his works in the article.
He seems to belong to a school of thought we known to us. In 2012, I wrote,
“Belonging to a superior social class in Europe rested on family, lineage, and vast holdings of property. The wealth that resulted gave social prestige. Wealth was simply an enabler. In Europe, its possession did not make you a gentleman. “Flash forward to America.
“The key to power in America was money and the possession of huge amounts of it. After the Civil War, money was the key to ascending the social ladder, and getting a fortune was not a matter of polite duels between nimble rapiers but of brass knuckles. It was a high stakes game. Success meant glory; failure, bankruptcy and oblivion. Respect for the rule of law was ignored as irrelevant. When Jay Fiske and JP Morgan found themselves in control of the two ends of the Susquenna Railroad, they resolved the conflict by mounting locomotives at each end and then ramming them headfirst into each other. And even when one party lost, it retaliated as best as it could by ripping up tracks and destroying trestles as they went.
“Competition between companies meant no quarter given and none asked. In one case, a persistent opponent of Standard Oil was blown up by dynamite. Some organizations resorted to kidnapping. There were other incidents of moral charm as well. When a great blizzard blew down telephone poles in New York, Jay Gould, a ruthless master of money markets was forced to send his financial dispatches by messenger. His competitors kidnapped the boy, substituted a look-alike, and for days, Gould was dismayed to find his moves were known days in advance.
“Not only were these titans of industry ruthless and implacable, they were vulgar and flagrantly arrogant, boasting openly about their immorality. At no time did they treat the American public with any reverence. Commodore Vanderbilt, the king of shipping and commerce, once said, “What do I care about the law? Haint I got the power?” J. Pierpont Morgan was no better. When an associate of his, Judge Gary, challenged him, he said, “I don’t want some lawyer telling me what I cannot do. I hired him to tell me how to do what I want to do.”
“Finding an honest financier in those days was as rare as finding a jewel in the head of a toad. The historian Robert Heilbroner once said that the rich in the 19th century ran the country as one big casino, but what he didn’t say was that the game was almost entirely rigged. Heilbroner, Hofstadter, Josephson, and many others abound with incidents that make you turn away in moral disgust. These robber barons were alas simply ordinary men, simple, sentimental, and unimaginative and not very well educated. Some like Carnegie turned to philanthropy later in life, but they were very old by then. They had spent their vital force.
“Over time, after the Civil War, embraced a doctrine of a debased, heartless form of Darwinism that proclaimed that those that had emerged at the top of the conniving heap were the best fitted to survive. They claimed to be choicest flower of civilization. When the philosopher Herbert Spencer visited New York, it was almost a state occasion. Spencer, of course, was a close friend of Andrew Carnegie.
“Huge financial success has a strange effect. When any one of us begins his career, little notice is taken of him or her. When a businessman becomes a captain of industry, his fame somehow results in his being seen as a gifted person with extraordinary skills, superior diligence and superior insight. Soon an ideology springs up around him, based on cowed servility, that embraces his poisonous practices all based on the maximization of profits, the minimization of risks -- as if it were the source of the American greatness. Hofstadter said, “Assured by intellectuals of the progressive and civilizing value of their work, encouraged by their status exemplars of the order of opportunity, exhilarated by the thought that their energies were making the country rich, industrial millionaires felt safe in their exploitation and justified their dominion.”
“Every other measurement of merit was discarded as trivial or eccentric. The long trials of reform -- the passage of child labor laws, the Factory Acts, the struggle for Social Security -- meant nothing for Big Business. The fact that economic life for the masses was intolerable meant nothing at all. For Big Business, power to compel was the grim idol it worshiped and adored. And worse, the famed barons were an incredibly crass bunch who smoked cigars wrapped in one hundred dollar bills. They were vulgar and pedestrian souls.”
Professor Charles Murry
Murray has been described as a “libertarian capitalist” which Wikipedia defines as one devoted to “ fiscal discipline, respect for contracts, defense of private property and free markets and the classical conservative stress on self-help and freedom of choice under a laissez-faire and economically liberal capitalist society with social tenets such as the importance of religion, and the value of traditional morality through a framework of limited, constitutional, representative government.”
Some of these ideas are not to my taste because elements of them seem heartless, but having students at a small liberal arts college in Vermont shouting Murray down to prevent his speaking and explaining his ideas fills me with vivid alarm. It should alarm you as well.
On what grounds does a group shout down an author because your views disagree with his? What entitles any crowd to ignore considerations of forbearance and civil good manners in order to shout down views unfavorable to yours? What prompts such dogmatism in a student that it wants to rule out any discussion of views except ones that endorse your pet notions? Are you really so certain that your knowledge is so sound and valid that you can wield it like a club to silence a dissenting or skeptical voice?
To shout someone down may give you the complacency that comes from knowing that you think just like everyone else, but that sense of self-satisfied complacency that works to rot the soul. It weakens the power of the mind. Complacency in matters of intellect is a sinister quality.
See Part Two