A good life is elusive

Connor Grubaugh writes on multiculturalism v. in loco parentis as two competing ways of being at college:

…we should observe a serious difference between contemporary diversity culture and in loco parentis. True, both the humanistic mores of liberal education and the categories of postmodern identity politics imply certain behavioral and discursive norms. But the premises from which these two sets of norms are derived are fundamentally incompatible.

Political correctness and campus diversity culture treat the self—our identities, feelings, appetites, and desires—as sacred, and accordingly demand affirmation of the self in all circumstances. The supreme virtue in this cult of the self is niceness, which is not the traditional Christian virtue of love or charity, but rather utter passivity and complete deference in the face of any appeal to a person’s inner being. Microaggressions and “unsafe” speech aren’t just verbal insults, they’re threats against everything that nice people know to be inviolably true: the subject, the Cartesian mind-in-body. The exhortative “Don’t judge,” the supportive “You do you,” and the dismissive “Haters gonna hate,” are just a few of the diversity-cult’s favorite incantations—all variations on the motto of that old fool Polonius, “To thine own self be true.” Religious vocabulary is appropriate here, because secular progressivism is at its core a religious enterprise. It’s no coincidence, as Matthew Rose has shown, that liberal Protestantism and the post–World War II progressive movement were bedfellows from the beginning.

The old rules of in loco parentis, by contrast, took little interest in the self. By proscribing drinking and carousing, sexual relations and social impropriety, they located the truth somewhere beyond the student’s subjectivity—in the objective world beyond our heads, sure enough, but more precisely in the mind of another, divine subject. If ultimate reality is known by the intellect, but is not itself the intellect, then anyone who pursues truth must acquire self-discipline, abandon all selfish desires, and faithfully form the mind in the shape of what it ultimately seeks. The old moralizing regulations were designed to encourage, so far as possible, the rational self-governance of the soul. Perhaps they only rarely had the desired effect, or were on occasion counterproductive—higher education was by no means perfect in the nineteenth century, or ever—but if a university must adopt some rules, it seems reasonable that at least a few of them should point the way toward the highest things by discouraging participation in the lowest.

“You do you” assumes that there’s such a thing as a consistent “you.” There isn’t in my experience. I have certain overarching ambitions and ways of thinking, but “doing me” in any given moment can mean practically anything—including plenty of things that wouldn’t be good for me.

Constant self-affirmation gets boring. We’re too often simply a bundle of desires in any given moment rather than a rationale and grounded actor making consistent decisions about what we perceive as the good life.

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