Increasingly, the Atlantic has been shining a spotlight on the millenial/campus phenomena of “microagressions” and (subjectively labeled) “victimhood culture” – sometimes conflating them with “trigger warnings”, but I largely see that as a separate topic. (See also: here, here, here, here, and here.) These topics, and that of millenial and Youth mentality in general, fascinate me. A more recent article posted to Hacker News prompted responses that are consistent with those posted elsewhere: essentially that millenials are outrageously oversensitive and over-reactive. I think something larger and more systemic is at play, which I explained in the response I posted and have republished below.
I think understanding this situation completely requires an enormous amount of empathy. Whether one agrees with the protesters or not, it’s unfair to characterize them merely as fighting against freedom of speech. I am sure they recognize the speech aspect of this, but to them, that is second to what they perceive to be the central issue: equality. Arguable perhaps, but I hold that the issue of equality trumps that of speech.
This issue is part of a larger trend whereby arguably minor transgressions trigger significant protest (see the Atlantic’s coverage of Oberlin). My take is that after an oppressed class completes the initial leaps and bounds toward equality, tactics of old (e.g. nonviolent peaceful protest) cease to effect further change. New tactics therefore must evolve in order to close the remaining gap. This gap is relatively small, but its size isn’t the point - the fact that a gap, based merely on class identification, exists at all should not be accepted.
The current tactics might not be perfect - I posit they are still evolving. But they do effectively utilize available resources and processes (e.g. content virality) to draw massive attention to issues.
As for their characterization by MSM (e.g. the protesters are “bullies”, they have fostered what is uncharitably called a “victimhood culture”) we are simply observing (or participating in) the attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance between evidence of social inequality and the intellectual status quo.
I should also have noted that turning to fellow class members for support is not certain to magnify an issue; those members must still evaluate the claims of the aggrieved at their own discretion, which does serve as a natural, self-adjusting standard for this type of collective action. Often times, this, and the trigger warning debate, all seem to come down to being a little more thoughtful and to expressing a bit of respect – a small price to pay to further the cause of Equality.