History

Three on what, for a minute, was the big story and why they all miss an important point

Jonah Goldberg: "Campus Commotions Show We’re Raising Fragile Kids".

Noah Rothman: "A Plague of Racial Hoaxes on Campus".

Andrew Stuttaford: "Yale & Missouri: Power Play".

While these pieces capture part of the story of what's going on, they don't capture the main part. Permit me to identify it. It's something I'll call the Jackpot. The Jackpot is tied for the best experience a human can have. (The other tied for best experience was identified by Winston Churchill: "Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.")

The Jackpot starts with a belief or an idea that an individual is absolutely, completely sure is both vital and true. The vitality and truth can be established by experience, education, tradition, instinct--it doesn't matter. (Examples: war is bad, poverty is bad, the first amendment doesn't cover "hate speech".) Second, the holder of said belief or idea must also believe that somehow, for some reason, there are a large number of people who don't share the belief or idea. Why? The holder thinks they're ignorant or evil--it doesn't matter. So the holder writes, yells, marches in support of the belief or idea and experiences the inexpressible thrill of being simultaneously correct and important and brave. This is the basic Jackpot.

The Jackpot is greatly enhanced if the holder's narrow self-interest also benefits from holding the belief or idea. And the ultimate enhancement of the Jackpot--the Jackpot of Jackpots, if you will--occurs if the holder imagines that the belief or idea puts him in some (small) danger of physical harm.

In my  lifetime a shining example of the Jackpot was the college-student protests against the Vietnam War. While many no doubt had pure convictions, the protests also reflected narrow self-interest. If the war ended, many of the protesters wouldn't have to risk being shot in rice paddies thousands of mile from home. Even in the short run, occupations of buildings and such meant they didn't have to go to class, and by many accounts, the protests made live rock-and-roll, drugs, and sex more readily available.  And for the hint of danger we have no less an authority than Stephen Stills: "That America is still the home of the brave oh yes it is / And you got to be brave children / How many is it that they shot down already? / Something like seventeen of us."

The details of how the events at the University of Missouri and at Yale last week, and similar events at places still to come, fit the Jackpot are left as an exercise for the reader.