I’m afraid that I must cancel my upcoming appearance at the University of California, Berkeley. The fact that I didn’t actually have an appearance scheduled there is of no consequence. This is still not an announcement I want to make. The intellectual environment at Berkeley has grown too toxic, and the food in the restaurants around the campus too expensive, for me to even consider going there to speak.
When I stood astride that Chevy Vega with my friend Mario Savio in 1964, screaming, “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!” and “Ronald Reagan will never be president!” we were fighting for freedom of speech. But now freedom is dead, and speech is no more, and I am out a paid trip to the Bay Area.
In Berkeley, the antifa activists are engaging in a dangerous game of spin the bottle and smash it over a frat boy’s head, repeatedly denouncing my ideas, even though they’ve never heard of my ideas, or of me. (Antifa is short, I imagine, for “anti-fashion,” given their hideous outfits.) If I want to go to California and give a lecture on the topic “There Are Only Two Genders and Immigrants Are Lazy,” then I should be allowed to do so. That right is protected in the First Amendment, under the emoluments clause. But instead you have bandana-clad anarchist morons battling bloody in the streets with barely sentient sides of beef. All I want is the free exchange of ideas that was promised to me when I was a graduate student at Harvard. Is that too much to ask of our fragile democracy?
But this is endemic of the cancerous tumor and diabetic coma that has consumed the American academy in recent years, as the cosseted and wealthy denizens of our elite institutions no longer want to have their eyes opened by a lecture series called “The Inherent Advantages of Western Culture,” like the one I delivered at Princeton so many decades ago. Instead, you have once-great universities like Johns Hopkins offering for-credit classes with titles like “Intersectionality and You: Advanced Cuddle Parties for Nonmajors,” “The Grocery Lists of Audre Lorde” and “Capitalism Equals Slavery.” It’s a brainwashing that would put Winston Smith to shame, a death by chocolate for elite twits.
The inmates are running the asylums that they pay $70,000 a year to attend. Witness the recent actions of the Trans-Queer Asian Student Association at Williams College, an illustrious school named after its most famous alumnus, Robin Williams. These so-called undergraduates put out a 5,000-word “manifesto” denouncing a series of lectures given by a tenured professor who postulates that World War II Japanese internment camps were a “necessary evil” that “should have happened to gays, too, just to be safe.” Their vociferous protests shut those lectures down just when we needed a free exchange of ideas the most. When we will be liberated from the giddy bleats of those social justice warriors? When will education be about ideas again, like it was at the University of Chicago in 1955? Whither the academy? Whither? Whither?
I remember when you could walk into any lecture hall or David Susskind TV studio in the United States and say something like “The Vietnam War is going pretty well, all things considered” or “The American male has been turned into a castrate by Gloria Steinem’s febrile ramblings.” Those evenings might have ended with your getting punched in the teeth by Gore Vidal or having sweaty makeup sex with Germaine Greer in student housing, but at least they were evenings, and at least they ended.
In contrast, the current air of student censoriousness will never end until we do something about it in a military sense. Alternately, we need to form our own academy, where the free exchange of ideas can proceed unfettered by the sensitivities of tiny suburbanites who recently started to care about things like “racial justice,” “victim’s rights” and “vegetarianism.” When I was in college, you went to the steak fry, you took whatever the cops dished out and then you went home and read Montaigne in the original French. Those were the times when ideas flowed free like pure mountain spring water.
But fear not, for I have millions of followers on Instagram who will come when I call them — or at least fairly soon after. The academy has lost the opportunity, but others will gain. We must re-educate the masses, we must wash the unwashed and we must allow me to deliver a lecture on “The Desexualization of Cocaine.” Somewhere in this great rusted-out hulk of a continent there are people who will pay good money to hear me.
At the very least, I should be allowed to speak in Oakland.