Friday, March 31, 2017

Diary

Perhaps I should say something about the student protest at Middlebury College, since it has been in the national news recently. In case you didn't hear about it, on March 2 the conservative writer, Charles Murray, who had been invited to speak by a group of students, had his appearance disrupted by protesters, and his party was accosted by students while leaving the campus. The female Middlebury professor who was to have questioned him during the discussion had her hair pulled and was hospitalized, and students jumped on the car.

I probably don't share many of Murray's ideas, though there may be some agreement between them and those of the genetic determinists with whom I sympathize. Primarily I think that this was a deplorable violation of free speech, like the one mentioned earlier involving Smith College students and Wendy Kaminer. In this instance the physical violence got somewhat more attention. It shows that political correctness can induce people to dismiss ideas without even knowing what they are, which was apparent from comments made by protesters and sympathetic faculty members. Fortunately, the college formally came out against the protesters.

There isn't really much of interest here, but it shows how narrow-minded students can be and perhaps echoes the ideas of Sherry Turkle, who has noted how young gadget-users live in an alternate reality in which they are unable to engage in traditional communication. However, this sort of protest is also reminiscent of protests of the 1960's, in which students engaged in a form of groupthink without always truly understanding the issues. From my point of view, it is an example of the bubble atmosphere that can develop on college campuses – especially at small liberal arts colleges – and mainly demonstrates that privileged upper-middle-class students think that they know more than they actually do. In this instance they wasted a lot of people's time, including their own, made a big fuss, and no one in Middlebury, including them, is any the wiser about Charles Murray's views or whether the protest was justified. To me, this episode is about the sociology of educational institutions in the U.S., many of which function more as status-granters than as places of learning. Apparently, as part of the educational package, the students get to pretend that they are college radicals. I doubt that this experience will enhance their intellectual discernment as adults.

In other news, I have been spending time on ancestry research and just received my DNA results. Ancestry.com had caused some confusion for me by saying that my sister had no British genes, even though our father was British and his ancestors lived there for hundreds of years and had English surnames. This prompted me to take the same test to see whether I would get the same results. I did, and found that the confusion comes from the way Ancestry.com defines ethnicity. Apparently, in order to be British, your ancestors have to have lived there thousands of years ago. Since that doesn't include the Anglo-Saxons or Normans, there aren't many British people in Britain, especially in Southern England. Our English genes fall into an amorphous group that includes Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, which in turn overlaps with a Mediterranean group that includes Italy and Greece. We also have West Asian genes from our Armenian ancestors. I found this information less useful than the large online database they've assembled, which has made it easy to find many of my English ancestors.

I've lined up a couple more books to read and will start commenting on one of them soon.

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