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Victimhood Culture and Howard Dean

Victimhood Culture and Howard Dean

The clash between dignity culture and honor culture that Jason Manning and I discuss in our book is not the familiar clash between between left and right. The new victimhood culture comes from the campus left, to be sure, but many on the left reject the new culture’s focus on minor offenses, or the blurring of the boundary between speech and violence. Barack Obama for example, has spoken out against it, saying that he doesn’t agree “that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.”

It is perhaps strange, then, that Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, former Democratic presidential candidate, seems to embrace even the extreme manifestations of the new culture, such as the attempts to prevent conservatives from speaking on campus or to punish people for even mild objections to the campus activists’ aims and tactics.

Here is Dean, starting at 26:47, recently defending the students who vilified Yale professors Nicholas and Erika Christakis in the fall of 2015:

You might recall that the Christakises were the headmasters of one of Yale’s residential colleges until students became outraged that Erika wrote an email questioning whether the university needed to be involved in policing Halloween costumes. She suggested that maybe students could handle offensive costumes themselves through conversations with one another, through self-censure, and social norming. At one point a group of students confronted, berated, and cursed at Nicholas, and the uproar eventually led the Christakises to leave their positions as headmasters after the end of the term.

Dean’s summary of the events is one falsehood after another. He mischaracterizes the content of Erika Christakis’s email, and, laughably, claims he later found out that Nicholas Christakis was the leader of the William F. Buckley Society at Yale, which Dean says he “thought was rather fitting.” (Christakis is a lifelong liberal and was not the leader of the William F. Buckley Society.)

Nicholas Christakis pointed out these and Dean’s many other errors in a series of tweets.

Of course, anyone might just half-remember a story and not realize it, but this isn’t the first time he’s gotten things wrong in defending the extreme manifestations of campus victimhood culture. During a controversy over a planned talk by Ann Coulter at UC Berkeley, last April, for example, this is what Dean tweeted:

Here again Dean was factually wrong. The Supreme Court has been clear. But it’s remarkable that these kind of statements now come from mainstream political figures and journalists, not just campus radicals. Whether out of confusion or conviction, or more likely, some combination, Howard Dean believes Erika Christakis’s congenial, thoughtful email deserved angry denunciations and more, and he even rejects longstanding first amendment jurisprudence. Victimhood culture is on the march.

(Photo by Matt Wright, CC BY-SA 3.0,
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