An ugly and violent protest at Middlebury College in Vermont kept scholar and author Charles Murray from addressing students and put him in danger—students tried to overturn his car as he left, and they physically assaulted the professor who had agreed to serve as the event moderator, pulling her hair and twisting her neck; she emerged from a hospital emergency room wearing a neck brace.
Murray had come to discuss his ground-breaking book about class in America, Coming Apart (reviewed here by the New York Times), which contends that the white working class is, literally, falling apart while the wealthy elites profit mightily. He draws a distinction between residents of what he calls “Fishtown,” who are down and out of work, and those of “Belmont,” who are getting richer.
You might think this would be an interesting topic to discuss and question him about given recent political developments that caught the left off-guard, but the students decided otherwise, shouting Murray down as a “white nationalist.” This was apparently triggered by Murray’s 1994 study The Bell Curve, in which he argued, as the New York Times review above puts it, that “that those with high I.Q.’s have replaced the old WASP elite in a modern economy that rewards brains over bloodlines.” And yes, he presented data on I.Q. distribution by factors including race. The findings and their accuracy were not at issue (although the objectivity of the I.Q. test itself has been debated). Following the angry response that The Bell Curve received from the left, in Coming Apart Murray looked only at the white working class and elites.
(Last year, Murray responded to distortions being spread about The Bell Curve by those who’ve never read it.)
Here’s why I’m blogging this. As noted in a roundup of press reports by the Unz Review:
Several groups in the audience stood as Murray began to speak. They turned their backs and spoke over him. Single voices merged into a call and response that included “Who is the enemy? White supremacy,” and “Charles Murray go away. Racist. Sexist. Anti-gay.”
Here’s the deal: Murray has been an advocate of marriage equality within conservative circles, even making the case for recognizing same-sex marriage at CPAC, as the New Yorker reported.
Whatever anyone might think of Murray’s arguments on I.Q. and economic success in modern America, he is certainly not “anti-gay.” The Middlebury students, ignorant as they are, just assumed he was.
Also, I liked the Unz Review commenter who noted: “The children of Belmont don’t want to hear about the woes of Fishtown.” Indeed.
More. In response to those alleging that the students seeking to prevent Murray from speaking were possibly small in number or outside agitators, in the comments below Josh remarks that “none of the students are reported to have responded by shouting back ‘let him speak,’ did they.”
Also, prior to his speaking, “More than 600 Middlebury College students and faculty have signed a letter to President Laurie Patton condemning the invitation of Charles Murray to speak at the college….”
Furthermore. From Murray’s own account of the event, which clarifies that he had been invited to speak by a small group of conservative students:
About a week before the event, plans for protests began to emerge, encouraged by several faculty members. Their logic was that since I am a racist, a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a pseudoscientist whose work has been discredited, a sexist, a eugenicist, and (this is a new one) anti-gay, I did not deserve a platform for my hate speech, and hence it was appropriate to keep me from speaking. …
Some were just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants. But many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like. …
I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. …
The pressure to refrain from suspending and expelling large numbers of students will be intense. Parents will bombard the administration with explanations of why their little darlings are special people whose hearts were in the right place. Faculty and media on the left will urge that no one inside the lecture hall be penalized because shouting down awful people like me is morally appropriate.
A progressive education.
Finally, Prof. Stanger’s account of the attack.
Ok, one more addendum. Andrew Sullivan writes:
They then expel the heretic in a unified chant: “Hey hey, ho ho! Charles Murray has got to go.” Then: “Racist, Sexist, Anti-gay. Charles Murray, Go away!”
Murray’s old work on IQ demonstrates no meaningful difference between men and women, and Murray has long supported marriage equality. He passionately opposes eugenics. He’s a libertarian. But none of that matters. Intersectionality, remember? If you’re deemed a sinner on one count, you are a sinner on them all. …
The final climactic chant is “Shut it down! Shut it down!” It feels like something out of The Crucible. Most of the students have never read a word of Murray’s — and many professors who supported the shutdown admitted as much. But the intersectional zeal is so great he must be banished — even to the point of physical violence.
Along similar lines: