by Mary Harrington
Monday, 20
June 2022
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13:39

Stanford’s war on relationships threatens us all

Social institutions are being systematically dismantled
by Mary Harrington
Credit: Getty

When social bonds give some people an unfair advantage over others, the answer is to destroy those bonds. This is the message now institutionalised at Stanford University, and it should alarm us all.

One of the difficulties in a large university is how to find your place within the great mass of others. At Stanford, as many other US colleges, a key means of finding community has historically been via student-organised living, centred on “Greek life”, which is to say a fraternity or sorority, or on a “theme house” based on shared interest.

But such communities have come under attack in recent decades as problematic: socially exclusionary, historically-white hothouses for sexism, racism and homophobia. And via the social bonds that persist beyond university years, these problematic “Greek life” networks have been attacked as a silent-but-deadly means of perpetuating “white supremacy”.

A profoundly unsettling new essay at Palladium details the methodical way Stanford’s administration “has executed a top-to-bottom destruction of student social life” since 2013, in the name of preventing further such injustices. Harvard tried to take the “Greek life” houses on all together, but dropped the effort after being sued by alumni. Ginevra Davis outlines how Stanford has been devastatingly effective in picking them off one by one, via disciplinary investigations.

The endgame is, it appears, to “rid the campus of all distinct social groups”: a project greatly accelerated by the distance-learning interregnum of Covid-19. On returning, students found housing allocated at random in “neighbourhoods” differentiated by anonymous letter. Homes with decades or even centuries of oral tradition and organic culture are dispersed one by one, to one of the “dozens of now-cultureless dorms scattered around campus”. “Hallways are quiet and doors are locked” in such dorms, and “students come to the conclusion that no one would really notice if they disappeared”, while incidences of alcohol poisoning are at their highest for years among a lonely, atomised student body.

If this seems a lot of attention to pay to student life many thousands of miles away, it’s because elite universities are finishing schools for the ruling class. Such institutions don’t just shape their graduates via knowledge transfer, but also by instilling social templates and networks of friendship. Accordingly, what starts in universities inevitably percolates into public life. Far from pulling their socks up on contact with ‘the real world’, the ‘special snowflakes’ who drove the 2010s ‘campus wars’ are now rewriting mainstream politics in their own image: ‘cancel culture’ is increasingly how we do everything.

Unless America’s future ruling class rebels and seeks out alternative worldviews, the university-level war on social relationships all but guarantees a future overclass so howlingly atomised they’re unable to see, let alone value, any social bonds based on particularistic affection or shared meaning. Such a class would be able casually to concrete over more or less anything, if doing so could be made to look like it’s in the interests of social justice.

And America is the world’s cultural hegemon. Its elite undergraduates grow up to staff and steer that hegemon, and their preoccupations set the cultural weather in locations well beyond America. If the principal finishing-schools for America’s economic, cultural and political elite are now rolling out a methodical war on organic, particularistic social bonds, we can assume that in due course this war will spread to institutional politics well beyond universities, and well beyond America.

Anyone who values contingent social bonds is going to need a better defence of those bonds against the bulldozers of “equity” than “we’ve always had them”. For the war on relationships is only just getting into gear.

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Jim R
Jim R
8 days ago

Personally I think this war has already been lost – the victors are now in the phase of mopping up scattered and ineffective pockets of resistance. Social institutions have been all but replaced by the social media directed hive-mind for younger generations. Older generations who ought to know better are all capitulating. Who knows what kind of Frankenstein’s monster of a society our social engineering has created and what havoc is to come as it assumes real power?

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
7 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

A horrifying thought, but you might be right. Here’s some recent empirical date inline with what you say, pertaining to Unis here in the UK. According to the 2022 ‘Student Academic Experience Survey’ published two weeks back,  one in four students are lonely most or all of the time, which is 4x worse than for the general population. (And that might be under-stating things as the student survey was take around Feb this year, wherease the last big general population survey was taken back when we still had lockdowns.) On the bright side, as Hölderlin says “Where there is peril, that which will save us also grows”. Perhaps the Stanford board (& those running other Unis) might start listening to sensible people like Mary rather than lunatic SJW activists.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
7 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

When they get old enough to get judicial appointments then it will be over. Every court decision will be issued by a True Believer who despises ordinary people. Then we will either have a dictatorship or a civil war.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

I suggest making Welsh the official language of the UK. That would be a permanent impediment to American influence

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
6 days ago

Excellent idea! And maybe a skosh of Yiddish, just to complicate things.

Howard Ahmanson
Howard Ahmanson
6 days ago

Do you know what language “slosh” is? Hint: Not Welsh. Not Yiddish.

Phil Zeni
Phil Zeni
5 days ago

Skosh — it’s Japanese, brought back to the US by soldiers.

Last edited 5 days ago by philzeni333
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

That’s like saying it’s the end of history, which is over the top. Society changes and then reacts to the changes.

The pendulum is already swinging back on woke with sports governing bodies on trans; free speech on campus being protected by a bill of rights; women’s groups re-establishing women’s rights; etc.

In twenty years time young people will laugh at the snowflakery and be appalled at the banning culture, and smile at the fashion for beards and full body tattoos – just like 50s Mcarthyism and communist paranoia was condemned by everyone 15 years after it happened; but unfortunately a lot of older trans people will realise that changing gender didn’t solve their problems, and that will generate a tsunami of legal claims against the medical profession.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

hear hear!

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
3 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

“… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Last edited 3 days ago by Richard Parker
J Bryant
J Bryant
7 days ago

Perhaps I’m being too optimistic but I sense a ray of hope here.
Last year I read a book about the US college cheating scandal where wealthy parents, mostly based in the California bay area where Stanford is located, paid a company to cheat on their kids’ SAT test (a key test for university admission) and, in some cases, to bribe university employees to help secure a place at a top college for their kid. Famously, the actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were convicted.
I learned that children of the elite no longer have ready access to top colleges. These colleges are now prioritizing diversity and that’s heavily working against rich kids even if they are smart and otherwise qualified. The Greek system that Mary H. writes about was traditionally a bastion of privilege on campus. The most exclusive sororities/fraternities were, in reality, only open to people from the top level of society and undoubtedly provided an excellent network of contacts for later life.
I find it hard to believe the elites will still send their kids to these schools now that the schools have ideologically turned against them. Ultimately, these policies will work against the universities, imo. Of course, I may be underestimating the ability of the elites to game the new admissions system.
The part of this article I certainly agree with is the increasing atomization of US society. The author notes the US is a cultural hegemon, but I wonder how long that will last. Who in their right mind would import wokeism and its potential for cultural annihilation?

L. Archaon
L. Archaon
7 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Replying to the last question, most of Europe did. If wokeness didn’t actually originate in Europe in the first place, just to get perfected and packaged in the US thanks to the power of Hollywood, Disney etc.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
7 days ago

I think Universities will collapse. Hardly anyone will want to go. But on the wider issue, this process has been going on since at least the 1980s. Corporations, trades unions, institutions and public bodies had clubs and societies of all kinds organised by and for members and staff. London Transport alone for example had football and cricket leagues, camping clubs, photography society, arts clubs and even a flying club. All gone now. Society is being hollowed out and people atomised by an unholy alliance of technocratic corporations, government apparatchiks and post modern academics. It’s not left, it’s not right, it’s just evil at the centre of everything; a great spider cocooning us one by one in its vast expanding web. And all to keep us safe of course…

Last edited 6 days ago by Martin Smith
George Bruce
George Bruce
7 days ago

Obviously there are still university courses and departments of academic excellence.
BUT
The universities really are just a money-making scam now, with an important role in providing connections for later life.
An article I read recently said that if you break down who gets into Harvard, it is more or less:-
25% due to their sports ability
25% due to affirmative action
25% legacy (so parents went and presumably have cash and donate)
25% pure academic ability
Obviously people in the first three categories are not all stupid, but apparently there is a pressing need for easy courses so they can pass.

Earl King
Earl King
6 days ago

As boomers pass in to the night, and Gen x’ers shortly thereafter I have no doubt that the world will be different. Will it be better is the question. We are losing the bonds that defined a nation. The disappearance of institutions that help raise children is alarming. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, institutions that helped to reinforce ethics. All going away. Community Churches are dying as well. College was a place to make life long friendships. Without family and friendships this life can be a lonely difficult place.

David Mottershead
David Mottershead
7 days ago

A bit like vertical tutor groups in some UK schools were four or five students from each year group are brought together as s ‘form’. A true recipe for loneliness and a lack of institutional identity. What are we doing to ourselves?

Russ W
Russ W
7 days ago

Woke, cultural self destruction.

john gill
john gill
7 days ago

Jim R may be right. If the Fat Lady isn’t singing yet then she’s warming up. I hope it doesn’t come to civil war here in America but sometimes there are worse things, like the Borg.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
6 days ago

The indoctrination factory!

Michael James
Michael James
3 days ago

Social atomisation has always been a goal of the totalitarians: if individuals are allowed to have a relationship only with the state, they are that much easier to manipulate.

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
7 days ago

”…howlingly atomised…” tell us how you really feel, Mary. What I don’t understand is how all that late PoMo inflected Social Justice, Gender Ideology, and all the other spurious contortions of jargon was absorbed with such relish by humanities professors who now provide the vector to metastasise the contagion to the next ‘privileged’ generation who will…

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
6 days ago
Reply to  Brooke Walford

A good question. James Lindsay of newdiscourses and Helen Pluckrose of Counterweight spell out the vector(s) in some detail in their book Cynical Theories.
As far as I can understand, there was a underestimation of the prevalence of marxist professors and other faculty in universities. With the realisation of the devastation and destruction wrought by the instantiation of marxist ideology in the Soviet Union identity was used as a means to forward a deconstruction of Western capitalism. So, according to Lindsay, neo marxist critical analysis was brought to bear on identity groups – identifying (1) a special property, identifying (2) the ideology that supported and protected that special property for (3) a dominant group that had special access to that property and that excluded (3) all others from it.
Perhaps I have misinterpreted all that but that is what I think Lindsay’s analysis illuminates. Thus using the culturally disenfranchised to stir up their perceived greivances as a means to attack culture. Po Mo was tied in by abusing its ideas to provide armour for their assertions.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
3 days ago

I think that’s a fair summary. “Cynical Theories” is well worth reading too: though you may end up knowing more than you’d wish to about this sort of tosh, it’s always advantageous to know your enemy.

chris redman
chris redman
7 days ago

“elite universities are finishing schools for the ruling class. Such institutions don’t just shape their graduates via knowledge transfer, but also by instilling social templates and networks of friendship. Accordingly, what starts in universities inevitably percolates into public life.”
A good statement of why we need rid of them.

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
6 days ago
Reply to  chris redman

Chris, stop and think. Surely you can recognize that flawed institutions can also have redeeming virtues, and that the impulse to raze and start over rather than to renovate and reform is a dangerous one.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
3 days ago
Reply to  David D'Andrea

Agreed: let’s channel the anger and disappointment into reformation. Conservatism is all about that, after all. Former generations left us with some good ideas on which to build…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 days ago

lower middle class envy aka it cant be bought, or they son’t have access 0R if it can be bought, they don’t have enough to buy it……

S A
S A
1 hour ago

What is interesting is fundraising relies upon the unique bonds that the big woke universities are implementing.

I suspect the colleges in the US who are trying to promote a “conservative friendly” attitude will allow social groupings with only a little nudge here and there to ensure nothing looks too easy to attack (avoid any groups being all while, even by accident).

Those unique characteristics is what creates the bonds both student, institutions and alumni all leverage later.