On Monday morning, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne sent out a lengthy email, titled “What binds us together.” It highlighted the importance of free speech at Stanford and across higher education in general, emphasizing what binds us all together as members of a free society and beyond. Referring to the Law School incident as “deeply disappointing,” Tessier-Lavigne has summarized what many have felt regarding free speech on campus. Moreover, he offers a more hopeful vision of the future in which the bedrock principles he refers to can be respected and upheld.
This emphasis on a bedrock consensus is telling. It demonstrates a desire to de-escalate and escape the more extreme forms of division and politicization across campus and to focus on ideological commonality instead. However, it also demonstrates, in part, the existence of a silent majority on Stanford’s campus—a majority that, quite frankly, just wants to get on with it and has rightly become alienated by the intense politicization of campus life. More specifically, students are tired of the progressive push to introduce a political element into every choice an individual makes, including whether or not it is ethical to eat meat, travel by airplane or major in CS.
Generally speaking, this initiative is not new. Progressive sects have insisted for a while that every action is a political action. What a person eats, what a person wears, and which lectures a person attends are all associated with positive and negative brownie points. It is natural for many to want to escape from this insistence upon universal political importance. It is exhausting and unfulfilling to scrutinize one's life through the lens of the political, which in part explains the resentment many feel to those who insist on doing so.
This resentment can be seen in a few places. Interestingly, one of these is the social media app Fizz, which allows students to share their thoughts pseudonymously. As per the classic adage “give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth,” when people are placed in an environment where their identity is protected, their fear of retribution from the more vocal sects of progressives (and those who follow in their wake) evaporates. They are free to vote with their “likes.”
It’s clear that a large majority of those on Fizz hold different views than purport to hold in public. For example, a recent post praising the news that Tirien Steinbach had been placed on Leave (with the caption “Good”) received nearly 1000 upvotes, with the top comments agreeing that her actions were disappointing and cast a bad light on Stanford.
Likewise, Youtuber Danny Mullen, came to campus during Winter quarter to satirize the liberal culture at Stanford and was instantly recognised by a large group of Kappa Sigma Brothers. They knew and loved his work, and they lamented the loss of Stanford’s vibrant social life. Indeed, as a response to the ‘Stanford Hates Fun’ movement, students have become increasingly resentful of the “safetyism” that appears to be the administration’s policy. Generally, people just want to be left alone and have fun—who can blame them? Stanford is already hard enough without adding a constant political element into the mix.
However, those who wish to escape the political are frowned upon for this desire. Indeed, many progressives insist that choosing to be apolitical, or ignoring the political entirely, is itself a political action, and one that should be discouraged. These groups will no doubt be disappointed by MTL’s de-escalation email.
The email was a nice break from the more virulent forms of politicization on campus. I, like many, enjoy spaces where the political is deeply irrelevant. One of the things that initially motivated me to join the Review was to find a space to discuss things freely away from the usual, tired campus politics.
Yet, it is unfortunately true that while most people would like to turn away from the political, there are those who avidly pursue it. Without real opposition from the silent majority, these very individuals will be the ones who are left to push their agendas. Therefore, to live our lives free of politicization, it is imperative we engage with such people at a political level.
In the words of Pericles, “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.” The utopian notion that politics can disappear entirely or can be rid of its antagonism is a misplaced one. The political will always find footing in other differences and issues, rekindling the antagonism in another arena. The desire to escape the political can only be fulfilled by going through the political, not running away from it entirely. While it is natural to distance oneself from the progressive march towards hyper-politicization, it is equally important to avoid complete apathy, lest the progressive march succeeds.
So, to the Stanford silent majority, know that there are more who share your sentiments than you perhaps realize. These are the people who just want to get on with it, the people who are tired of the universal politicization of campus life. Make sure that your voice is heard.