Reaching Out From the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance
Episodes in the Formation and Growth of the Successor Ideology
Back in 2019, a friend of mine gave a commencement address at an English department of a college in the Western United States. A heckler interrupted his speech and went on a rant expressing his outrage that my friend did not acknowledge the genocidal violence of the settler colonial project upon which all that exists in America today is built. My friend is of course a good liberal schooled in the pieties of the contemporary age -- and the often brutal history that undergirds them -- and was therefore quick to acknowledge that "I also felt he had a point," as he put it in his note describing the event to me.
"I'd meant to mention the previous inhabitants of the area, in what at the university they call "the land acknowledgement...' And I refer to it in a section of the essay on which the talk was based, but I cut that bit out to save space and also perhaps to spare the feelings of parents: ("Congratulations to your offspring on a diploma from Genocide U!")
This was when land acknowledgment was just beginning to emerge as a pro forma part of public meetings in certain liberal jurisdictions in the United States (as has been the case for many years prior in Canada), whereby representatives of the sovereign entities governing various locales make routine attestations to the illegitimacy of their own rule. My friend then went on to lodge his reservations about the manner in which his heckler took a Manichean approach to discourse he had observed among younger progressives -- a refusal to grant, as he put it, "the presumption of good will so necessary to any real dialogue." While noting that "I think the indigenous history of the area is both shameful (for the settler colonialists!) and important," he also went on to note that indigenous history prior to the arrival of Columbus was hardly the fairy tale that some have since made it out to be: "lots of bad ecological stewardship, lots of enslavement, and for that matter such #MeToo-able stuff as the public rape of female captives practiced by the indigenous peoples of the West."
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According to the strictures of the Successor Ideology, my friend's concession to the feelings of the parents of graduating seniors would be seen as pandering to "white fragility", while his refusal to indulge fairy tales about indigenous purity and righteousness would be deemed a form of "white defensiveness" itself partaking of the essence of "white supremacy culture." (To say nothing of course to the facetious reference to genocide which would be framed as “making light of mass murder.”) This is merely to underscore what everyone already knows: a relentless system of racial casuistry exists which allows anyone to convict anyone else (for it is not only non-white people lodging these accusations, nor only white people who are on the receiving end of them) of world historical evils with reference to any statement the latter might make or neglect to make concerning an ever-widening range of subjects, to which the only acceptable response is ritualized acts of groveling and submission.
The cultural work with which we have been consumed over the past half-decade has been a still yet incompletely realized effort to make ever-wider swathes of the culture subject to the authority of this casuistry -- to be schooled in its pieties from the earliest age, to accept its worldview as axiomatic, and to support the expansion of an apparatus of enforcement of its affirmations and denunciations that encompasses the whole of public life. Indeed, this apparatus seeks to reach beyond the public self to remold the consciousness of the individual soul in its private moments. That the effort is still far from completion does not change that the fact that this is its goal, in pursuit of which many are working tirelessly each day, with the formal blessing of the entirety of our culture-making system, public and private alike.
The point of this anecdote is not, however, the student outburst or the substantive debate that my correspondent glossed. The former is a possibility that has hung over anyone venturing to address early American history in a university setting anytime over the last five decades. The latter is a larger subject to which we will return as this one-man think tank pivots toward the deeper investigations that lie beyond the taxonomy of the Successor Ideology with which these early posts have been concerned. What matters here is not so much that one overzealous undergraduate schooled in the Manichean mindset and buttonholing tactics of the new progressivism made a scene at a graduation ceremony, but the institutional response to it that soon followed. If the prior posts have been concerned with the ideological content of the Successor Ideology, this post and its follow up will explain who are the primary agents of the spread of the ideology — from the content to the sociology of the movement.
A few days after the speech, my friend received an email from the "Principal Equity Officer" from the "Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance." The letter noted that "it was recently reported to my office that you may have experienced racial harassment following the commencement speech you delivered for the English Department. I wanted to reach out to you to let you know about options and resources that are available to you on campus."
These services included, as the message went on to detail, an offer to "speak with you about your specific concerns related to safety on campus," the provision of "free confidential counseling and advocacy services to students, staff, and faculty who experience or witness disruptive or traumatic incidents," from the "Office of Victim Assistance," an assurance that "The University prohibits retaliation against anyone involved in a conduct process or who reports conduct concerns," and crucially, an invitation to file a report initiating an inquiry into "whether someone on our campus violated the DH policy."
Note here the sudden turn: my friend, the white man pandering to white fragility through omission of the genocidal origins of the United States, was suddenly the prospective "victim" to whom a range of university services, including therapeutic ones meant to address the resulting “trauma” to which he was presumed to be subject, were on offer. The student activist who had righteously called him out for his erasure of the genocide at the foundation of the United States, was suddenly the prospective “perpetrator” of an act in violation of the university's "Discrimination and Harassment Policy," and therefore the prospective target of investigation and disciplinary action.
It should go without saying that my friend, a good liberal with no prior exposure to the metastasizing apparatus of university administration that is a primary vector of Successor Ideology, was horrified by the suggestion that a student should be investigated for an act of disruptive and uncivil, but in his view, unquestionably free speech.
He hastened to convey this message to the Principal Equity Officer:
“Thank you for reaching out. But I need to emphatically state that I don't in any way feel myself to be the victim of racial harassment, and I would object strenuously if any official punishment were imposed on the person who took issue with my commencement address.”
This reply went unanswered by the Principal Equity Officer. But two days later, my friend received a reply from another university office, this time from a “Victim Advocate Intake Counselor”:
“I am one of the confidential advocate counselors from the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA). Our office was informed that the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) has outreached to you. OVA is not part of OIEC or the police department however we are very familiar with their processes. I wanted to outreach to you and let you know that OVA is available to you if we can be a resource to you at this time.”
Here we have a group of salaried employees with nothing to do all day but wait for a report of discrimination or harassment. They exist by virtue of the dubious claim that such practices are pervasive in the academia of 2021. They must find opportunities to justify their existence wherever they emerge. Where the problem they exist is lacking, the problem must be redefined in more expansive terms to ensure it is always with us. Once you persuade institutions to accept constructions of the wrong and the ensuing harm that violate the boundaries of logic, you have an infinite warrant to continuing doing so without limit.
Having this system suddenly redound against the woke activist is interesting — it shows how once bureaucracies established in response to student protest can act independently of those aims once established. But what remains and was affirmed through the response was the underlying basis of the Successor Ideology’s power: its warrant to control harmful speech on the premise that wrongful speech can induce trauma. This is a new form of governance, only very crudely theorized in advance, but created through an emergent process of protest, moral entrepreneurialism, and rent-seeking by activists seeking institutional sinecures. And yet it has coalesced into a discrete and readily enumerated set of doctrines derived from the hyper-progressivism of the Left Academy. Each day brings another episode of the elaboration of these doctrines into a Leviathan of public and private power that increasingly impinges on everyone’s life, as ever wider swathes of professional and personal life become subject to its dictates, and exposed to its jargon.
Even as the machinery moves to protect a white male speaker from “harassment and discrimination” by a woke activist, it establishes new normative expectations through its intervention. To the prospective perpetrators, who are all of us: You are being watched. You must take care not to harm others. Consequences will flow from doing harm. To the prospective victims, who are all of us: You are fragile. You are in need of professional intervention to manage your relations with others and to your own emotions. We are here to help.