On Wednesday nights, as part of an articulated program with my home institution, I teach a class at Middlesex County College, a community college in Edison, New Jersey about an hour away. A couple of weeks ago, a student walked into class a few minutes late, visibly upset and flustered. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that on her way to class, she’d crossed an on-campus street at the crosswalk. By state law, cars approaching a crosswalk are supposed to yield to pedestrians, but one didn’t, and in failing to yield, almost hit her. In anger, my student flung her coffee at the offending car, splashing it. At that point, the occupants of the car got out, physically attacked the student, then got back in their car, and drove off.
Though not seriously injured, my student was understandably shaken up and angry. So she walked over to the campus police station a few hundred yards away, only to be waved away on the premise that her case was inconsequential, and nothing could be done about it.
I have no reason to doubt my student’s story. I assume that it’s largely true as narrated. In case you were wondering, the story was not a fabricated excuse for lateness. For one thing, the student wasn’t late enough to need an excuse; for another, my students know that I don’t take punctuality seriously enough to demand excuses when they are late. I relate the story not because I think it’s all that noteworthy, but because I don’t.
This isn’t to say that I find the driver’s behavior excusable, or the police department’s apathy heartening. Nor am I suggesting that the next time something like this happens to you, the thing to do is to fling coffee at the offender. I simply mean that the story is too ordinary to merit much journalistic fanfare. Things like this happen at thousands upon thousands of crosswalks across the country. They have no particular implication beyond underscoring the workaday fact that people can be assholes.
That all seems obvious enough to me, but change the identity of the person at the center of the story, and add or subtract a few details, and all of a sudden–apparently–you get the makings of an earth-shattering controversy. I’m referring, in case you haven’t figured this out, to the case of Kaitlin Bennett at Ohio University. The OU incident took place almost at the same time as the Middlesex incident I’ve just narrated, but the Bennett juggernaut has in the meantime continued elsewhere. I gather that Kaitlin is now in Cleveland, bothering people there.
Kaitlin Bennett is a right-wing gun activist associated with Liberty Hangout, a libertarian students organization. She’s famous, if that’s the right word, for walking across Kent State University back in 2018 with an AR-15 rifle slung across her back, and in other cases, for walking across other university campuses, camera in hand, “owning the libs” by asking them stupid questions, waiting for their correspondingly stupid answers, and putting the results on Facebook. Great work if you can get it.
Put another way, Kaitlin Bennett is yet another attention-whore with too much time on her hands and an online audience to match. People like this make me long for the good old days of our manufacturing-based economy, when social media didn’t exist and honest factory workers made useful things, like widgets and steel.
Evidently, Ms. Kaitlin decided to show up at Ohio University, a notoriously left-wing campus (or so I hear), and got “hounded” off campus by a howling left-wing mob (or so I’m told). By an interesting coincidence, coffee was flung at her, or rather, at her vehicle. But hell, you don’t need to me to describe this for you. You can watch it for yourself. The blessings of social media.
I’ll admit that the OU incident wasn’t exactly like my Middlesex incident, but all the relevant ingredients are there: a college campus, flung coffee, police apathy, triggered members of Generation Z.
Granting the differences between the two situations, ask yourself what explains why the Middlesex event was totally obscure while the OU event was big news. For that matter, ask yourself why Kaitlin Bennett is a thing and my student is not. Yes, the crowds were bigger at OU. Yes, Kaitlin Bennett is “famous” in the self-certifying sense that she’s famous for being famous. But why does any of this matter? Why is it that, no matter how hard I tried, there’s no way I could have turned my student into Middlesex College’s answer to Kaitlin Bennett? No amount of PR gamesmanship would make her the poster girl for the yield-to-pedestrians law, not even a verbatim recitation of every fact on the CDC’s Pedestrian Safety page. This despite the fact that more people have died in pedestrian-related crashes than have ever died in all the gun buybacks in history combined.
The reason, I think, is perfectly encapsulated by none other than Kaitlin Bennett herself.
It may seem a little grandiose to summarize a Kaitlin Bennett tweet in standard argument form, but let’s live a little. Here’s what we get:
(1) For any x, if x is a Trump supporter, then this is what happens.
(2) X is a Trump supporter.
(3) And look what happened!
In other words, Kaitlin Bennett’s whole shtick is to stage pranks intended to “prove” the truth of the major premise of a quasi-deductive argument about how academia works. If you have no idea how academia works, and/or get your idea from the likes of Kaitlin Bennett, then all of a sudden it looks as though every time Kaitlin steps on a university campus, she confirms (1) all over again! And if that’s the case, well, (1) must be true! Of course, no one comes to that conclusion who hadn’t started with it in the first place, but there are enough of those for the argument to do its work.
Let me let you in on a little secret. I step onto university campuses far more often than Kaitlin Bennett does. I do it five or six times a week, every week, at two or three campuses per week. And I’ve had essentially this routine for about 25 years now. Another little secret: the world that Kaitlin Bennett describes, of campuses dominated by leftist mobs, is essentially unfamiliar to me. I don’t mean to suggest that such things don’t exist. I’m not in a position to say. All I mean to say is that the world Kaitlin Bennett regards as representative of American academia is not one that represents my experiences in academia, despite my having spent the last 25 years of my life within it.
You might object that this is because I am myself a libtard who swims in the waters of academic libtardism, regards those waters as my natural environment, and is therefore unable to detect libtardism when I see it. I would personally contest the idea that I am a libtard, as I think would most actual libtards, academic or otherwise. But I leave this subtle issue to the judgment of the reader. I’ll simply say this: I have colleagues who are Trump supporters, and have (and have had) plenty who are ordinary Republicans. (Once upon a time, I was myself a Republican, albeit an extraordinary one.) They don’t get treated like Kaitlin Bennett, mostly because unlike her, they’re not hoping to be treated that way for propaganda purposes. They just come to work, do their work, and leave without being called out for their political beliefs. And they can’t be that zealous about hiding their Trump/Republican stripes because if a libtard like me knows their political affiliations, how worried about disclosure could they be?
It’s interesting that when Bennett was in New Jersey back in November, she went to Rutgers, but to my knowledge didn’t visit Middlesex, just a few minutes away. Actually, to the best of my knowledge, she didn’t visit any of the county colleges in the state. I suspect this is because she knows what would happen if she did: nothing. I doubt that one in ten or even one in twenty county college students knows who she is, or could pick her out of a police line-up, much less a crowd. What would be newsworthy in that case would not be the reaction to Bennett, but the lack of one: imagine trudging up and down a whole college campus, Info Wars camera in tow, and being met with the bludgeoning indifference of a “Yeah, whatever” every time you introduced yourself.
Kaitlin: Hi, I’m Kaitlin Bennett from Info Wars.
Student: But will that be on the test?
People invested in a belief about the ubiquity of political correctness on America’s university campuses forget that 40% of those campuses are community colleges where indifference is the reigning ideology. And plenty of four-year institutions like mine (and its peer institutions) follow suit. There are no ideologues on these campuses, whether right- or left-wing. It’s a miracle if you can find the expression of ideas on them at all. There are just legions of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in the hopes of graduating as fast as possible, brandishing their degree at some employer, landing their dream job, and melting into the underbrush of bourgeois American life.
That description makes them sound like a bunch of capitalist tools ripe for a deep dive into the works of Ayn Rand, but that’s absolutely not what I mean. They’re as likely to vote for Bernie as hang out at Liberty Hangout. But don’t infer that they’re a bunch of democratic socialists, either. They’ll vote for Bernie (if they do) only because he’s promised to forgive their student loans. If Trump promised the same, or gave them a better deal, they’d unapologetically vote for him. But if any of this makes you apoplectic, calm down. Most likely they won’t vote. Most likely they neither know nor care who’s running. Most likely they aren’t registered to vote and don’t know where their local polling station is. Most likely, you could buy their votes by trading it for some weed.*
Anyway, here is my challenge for Kaitlin Bennett, on the outside assumption that she reads Policy of Truth: I do a unit on gun ownership and gun control in one of my classes at Felician. You have an open invite to that class. Schedule a date and a time with me, and the floor is yours. Bring your camera and your gun for all I care: I’m always open to new pedagogical techniques.** But don’t complain if no one throws anything at you, or curses at you, or hounds you off campus and into your large-scale SUV. Just try your best to keep them awake. I’ve had mixed success with that myself. But I’ll leave it to you. You’re the expert.
*I’m not making that up. Every now and then, I teach the ethics of voting in class. When I do, I run a “vote auction” to see who would sell their vote for what. Many sincerely profess their willingness to sell their vote for weed, as long as I can guarantee its quality. To their credit, however, most students indignantly demand a fairly large payout before they’ll sell their vote–at least four figures. (Presumably, they can buy their own weed.) Selling their right to vote usually takes more bargaining–up to fifteen minutes’ worth.
**I have no objection to a gun, but admin might, and their decrees are not my lane. I assume no liability for what happens with the gun.