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Our United States of Fear: Meet the right’s ridiculous new bogeyman - David Masciotra

As America continues its fall in international rankings of education, health and happiness, it becomes difficult for reasonable Americans to proclaim, “We’re number one!” There is one area in which the United States undoubtedly takes the top prize: panic.

Barry Glassner, an award-winning sociologist, indicted the mass media, political class and general public’s collusion in the creation of a “culture of fear,” years ago with his book of the same name.

The mood of the country is one of perpetual anxiety, and there is no shortage of politicians and pundits ready to convince a gullible, frightened people that we are mere inches away from Armageddon.

The right wing, who have become so committed and disciplined in their hysteria that they’ve turned it into an art form, have recently nominated a new threat to the future of the nation, and the survival of Western Civilization – not illegal immigrants, or even Islamic terrorists, but indebted college students.

Not a day can pass without a cowardly and pathetic conservative, who missed his chance to condemn teenage Elvis Presley fans and long-haired hippies, warning of the dangers civil society faces from the “politically correct mob,” “social justice warriors,” and “coddled college students.”

It is not just the right wing filling the cacophonous chorus of handwringers and weepers over nineteen-year-olds who have taken an interest in campus politics. The mainstream media often lends a hand by facilitating “debates” over college controversies with right wing terminology, and occasionally, a liberal, like the otherwise brilliant Jonathan Chait, will perform the familiar, “I’m a liberal but…” shtick. Kirsten Powers, a contributor for Fox News, earns her living as a master of the gimmick, and she has parlayed it into a lucrative book, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.

“Mob,” “warriors,” “silencing”: Spooky language, but no representation of the truth, or indication that the paranoiac has much sense. Certainly, there are examples of sanctimonious campus activists or overzealous professors acting with an excess of sensitivity until they become insensitive to the nuances of communication, the diversity of political ideology, and the importance of the university as a host and headquarters for robust dialogue.

 Contrary to the apocalyptic forecast of the PC myth, liberal activists and professors who stifle speech are such a small fragment of campus life, academic curricula, and college administration, that they are nearly insignificant.

I came to this realization after thinking about how in my six years teaching at two different universities, maintaining affiliation with my graduate school, speaking on several campuses, and having conversations with friends in the professorate at a variety of schools, I have never once experienced or witnessed an incident of politically correct suppression of speech nor have

I heard of such an outrage occurring at the colleges where any of my friends teach. Some will claim that my experience is anomalous. Squads of Maoist cultural revolutionaries are indeed storming classrooms and throwing uncooperative students and instructors against the walls, but they just have not yet reached the campuses where I spend time in Indiana and around Chicago.

It turns out, however, that the data supports my story, and undermines the delirium of the self-righteous and self-appointed defenders of free speech against invisible censors.

In the spring of 2015, the National Coalition Against Censorship partnered with the Modern Language Association to survey 800 college professors from hundreds of different four year universities.

Less than one percent of those surveyed said that their university mandated the use of “trigger warnings,” and only 34 percent said that they had ever “warned” students about the content of textual or visual material in the course. In most cases, the warnings were for graphic sexual or violent content. Also, 85 percent of the professors said that no student had ever requested a trigger warning, or asked about trigger warnings.

Far from a muzzle on open discourse, the “trigger warning” is a largely non-existent device – more of a buzz term than a real policy.

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