Mark Franke: The violently selfish campus


“People talk about the divide in this country as though we were standing on opposite sides of a chasm. When the reality is that we are standing over the chasm, as if on a bridge. You’re never going to get everyone to cross to one side or the other. Some people can’t accept that. If they can’t get everyone to their side, they’d rather blow up the bridge.”

The above is quoted from the futuristic “2054: A Novel” by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis. It appears at the end of the book as the protagonist muses over civil violence in an America that represents a logical extension of our current situation.

I admit to being a skeptic but not a pessimist and certainly not a cynic, but it is hard to find a reason to be optimistic these days. Is there any good news to be found in the daily headlines and the cable news chyrons? Public reaction to the recent convictions of President Donald Trump and Hunter Biden was informed not by respect for American jurisprudence but by predetermined bias for or against the defendants.

In a perverted sense one cannot help but conclude that the legal process did not matter at all. Why go through expensive trials when the outcome would not be accepted by half of the population? Why not just put the verdict to a popular referendum?

Ancient Athens and Republican Rome had court systems that involved large open juries of citizens, at least those who bothered to show up for the trial. In Rome’s republican death throes, guilt or innocence was decided by which side rallied the larger number of favorable jurors to attend. It was political theater at its most cynical, Cicero’s courtroom eloquence notwithstanding.

In the novel “2054” street mobs are a daily occurrence. The nation has broken down and the general populace views the government as illegitimate. These demonstrations devolve to violence on a regular basis. Meanwhile, White House advisers and senior Congressmen scheme for power behind the scenes as they manipulate an inept president.

One might want to excuse the situation on our college campuses as they are just kids going through a phase. Let’s hope that is all it is but I am not sanguine. I was in college during the Vietnam demonstrations. Wikipedia, my crutch for AI, has a list of these protests longer than I cared to count. The escalation of violence is evident as one scans the list which is in chronological order. Violence begets violence, as history instructs us.

As I write this just after the summer solstice, there are news reports of a few radical environmentalists spray-painting the monuments at Stonehenge. Vandalism of important pieces of art is not a contemporary phenomenon; just recall the senseless iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire during the eighth and ninth centuries. And who can forget the Taliban’s 2002 destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan? Cultural barbarism must have a half-life running to millenia.

This is not simply destruction of private property, which is abhorrent enough. The current horde of cultural barbarians are targeting historical treasures. But then their manifestos make it clear that they are at war with civilization.

I am Christian, not a Buddhist, but I regret the obliteration of their statues. Nor am I a pagan, but I regret the defacing of Stonehenge.

While I am disclosing what I am not, I should add that I am not a psychologist either. In fact it was my least favorite class in college. But it doesn’t require a Ph.D. in psychology to recognize these acts, and their actors, for what they are — selfish and self-centered, declaring themselves intellectually and morally superior.

I wonder what goes through their minds when they realize that they just ran afoul of the criminal justice system. Or perhaps they won’t face that anguish because they cleverly have taken the measure of large city prosecutors and campus administrators.

What play would Shakespeare write about America’s political and cultural environment in 2024? Would he write a tragedy or a comedy? He surely wouldn’t title it “Much Ado about Nothing.”

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected].

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