Affirmative action is destined to soon die a swift and merciless death at the hands of American conservatism. First, a lawsuit against Harvard’s allegedly race-based admission process is working its way up to the Supreme Court. Second, and particularly fatal, the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority in the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination will almost certainly rule against Harvard, which could outlaw affirmative action in college admissions.
“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’,” wrote George Orwell in a 1946 essay. On campus, the same may be said of many words in leftist political discourse today. Students rally around terms such as “intersectionality” and “empowerment”, while “toxic” and “problematic” figures are fervently attacked. These words may feel comfortable and intellectual, but in reality they are almost entirely hollow. Seventy-two years ago Orwell decried the emptiness of political language. It is now high time that we scrutinized our own use of buzzwords.
This is a feminist manifesto for the Kavanaugh era. It calls for a reevaluation of the hysterical woman, an old archetype haunting our national conversation on gender relations. Both the right and the liberal establishment are uncomfortable with the hysterical woman, which is to say that they are uncomfortable with the messy ways that pain and anger get expressed and worked through. They use accusations of hysteria, a debunked nervous disorder connected to femininity, to disqualify women from civilized discourse. But for leftists and feminists, “hysteria” can still be of use. The hysterical woman represents a commitment to respecting and staying with the emotional aftereffects of trauma—a commitment to not only believing survivors, but also turning our shared experiences into a force for change.
I often find myself in the company of utopians. The most common on campus are the social-justice types: history’s on our side, folks, and it’s coming to an end… It’s progressive Stanford, proud home of the pseudo-Hegelian, and while Hegel has no place in the histories they’ll write, they will follow him, misinterpreted, to the end of time. Naturally, this being Silicon Valley, you also meet the transhumanists—true believers not just in our world’s perfectibility, but in the perfectibility of the body, mind, and soul (in a purely scientific sense, of course). Then, near and dear to my heart, we have our communists and communistically-inclined, pinning their hopes on the distant Revolution and a new world order. There are many more such groups at Stanford, but you get the main idea: I’m surrounded by lovely, well-meaning Teleologists. And they’re from all over the ideological map.
The historical annals are replete with narratives of student heroism. The global uprising of 1968 which challenged capitalism, American imperialism, and contemporary gender and sexual norms was foremost a revolt of students. In France the memory of May 1968 endures as a moment when university students almost created a revolution while, in the States, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) flourished, mobilizing hundreds of thousands at the height of anti-Vietnam protests. But tales of student activist prowess are not limited to the New Left of 1968. The two most prominent revolts against Soviet authority – the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Prague Spring – very prominently featured students. Even Stanford has an illustrious history of student protest, having played an important role in the movement to divest from Apartheid South Africa in the late 1970s. At their most valiant, students have articulated nuanced and insightful politics, and have led national, and even global, insurrectionary movements.