Hello, everyone! Today we have a guest post, How the Winds Change, about social signaling, the Federal Government, the Cathedral, and Title IX–and how these things may change:
After the election we’ve seen a lot of liberals express the fear that LGBTQ people and Muslims and other minorities will be rounded up and become victim to horrible things, as this blog has noted. It’s kind of a weird paranoia. Even if Trump was as evil as they say, liberals still have a solid 47% of the populace opposed to him – even up to 90% in their cities. How would you get the people on board with stigmatizing minorities when so, so many people oppose it? In order to enact this sort of draconian social change, you’d really need the masses to buy into it.
I think this fear comes from social justice advocates realizing, somewhere deep down, that their hold on the Cathedral is in some ways quite tenuous. There are a lot of true believers, but there are even more people just along for the ride, who see the best way to get status is to play along with progressive orthodoxy. If the best way to get status and to protect your position becomes “follow the Trump party line,” then those activists currently in the vanguard could find themselves losing a lot of their influence.
The government can do that. Usually in the culture wars the government is a passive beast, something to be fought over and not really a driver of people’s opinions. This is particularly true in liberal democracy, which used to be one of the best things about the US democracy. But, the government has a lot of money, and a lot of power, and if it wants to start really, seriously swaying the elites, status-seeking people will follow it.
Here’s an example. How many of you have heard of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights? Not many of you probably, as it’s a fairly small office. It’s headed by the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. No one famous, not someone you see in endless clickbait articles or cable news debates. She doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page! She’s just in charge of making sure that schools that receive federal funds (mostly universities) are in compliance with civil rights laws.
But with this administration, the Assistant Secretary of this office cares a lot about progressive social change. And she believes very strongly that sexual assault in our culture is a major problem, and she wants to raise awareness of it (backed by a White House Task Force) . This is no grand conspiracy, this is one person caring about a cause a lot, with only a little bit of federal power behind them, all out in the open.
Now, if found in violation of their civil rights requirements, a university could lose Title IX funding, which is a lot of money. But that sort of hammer can only be used so much, and it’s not even clear how you could prove harassment on campus was the fault of the university in such an investigation.
So instead, the OCR has taken a much more ambiguous approach. Whenever a sexual assault investigation on campus is in the news, they would send a Dear Colleague letter to the university, announcing it was investigating their response. Eventually, the OCR publicly released a list of 55 schools under investigation for how they handle sexual assault accusations.
There is no way that the federal government could pull Title IX funding from 55 major institutions. As a whole the threat was entirely a paper tiger. But whooo boy, no university wants to be on that List. No admissions counselor wants to explain to student’s parents what that List means. No fundraising officer wants to explain to alumni why they are on this List of schools under investigation, before asking them for five figure donations.
So the school does everything they can to comply with the OCR, and make clear they are on the right side of history. In practice, this means putting the rights of the accused last, the rights of the victim second, and the interests of the OCR first. It also means a lot of campus publicity that isn’t shown to reduce sexual assault, but looks like they are doing something.
You may have noticed that within feminism, the problem of “sexual assault on college campuses” has received a ton of attention. Part of the reason for that is universities falling over themselves to appease this office with its vague requirements. As the old saying goes “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
That’s the system. The government vaguely threatens people who get a lot of money from them. Those people with a lot of money jump in line. Other elites look to the people with money as sources of moral authority and take their cues from them. And the masses worry about what the elites are chattering about so much. This is pretty much the definition of the Cathedral after all.
Ordinarily the US government isn’t very involved in the culture wars, so the cultural opinions of the elite are unlikely to turn on a dime. But as we’ve seen, with some issues the federal government does get involved. And I think a lot of the social justice fear is that a Trump administration will get much more actively involved in trying to sway opinion on his issues.
First of all, they’ll stop doing what the current OCR is doing. They may even do the reverse, and starting making a list of schools who they think have been too hard on defendants. Then other bureaucrats in their various niches can begin pursuing investigations designed to “raise awareness” of their pet issue. And before you know it, all the high status intellectuals in your society are apologizing for their past stances and trying to sound like they agreed with Donald Trump all along.
It’s a pretty frightening image, and a good wake up call to just how much power the government has to bend the course of our moral culture when it wants to. No political group on either side should be comfortable with this.