The Sleeper Wakes

David Randall

What is wrong with this picture?” asks Alexander Herzen in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia.

You remember those puzzle pictures, when we were children … there’d be a drawing with things wrong in it, a clock with no hands, a shadow going the wrong way, the sun and stars out at the same time … and it would say, “What is wrong with this picture?” … Someone sitting next to you in class disappears overnight, nobody knows anything. … Young men and women are pairing off like swans on the skating ground. A crocodile of Polish prisoners goes clanking by in leg-irons on the Vladimir road. There is something wrong with this picture.

The first step is to realize something is wrong with the picture.

Today in American higher education, reform of the academy ultimately depends upon the realization by members of the academy, and by their supporters in the public at large that something is wrong. It is always good to see signs of such awareness. Two encouraging articles came in over our transom today. In the New York Times, Eduardo Porter writes that “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change.” The article is decidedly grudging in its tone, and goes to great lengths to reassure its readers that there are no end of conservative biases against science, but it does at least recognize that liberal biases exist:

“When science is aligned with big corporations the left immediately, intuitively perceives the technology as not benefiting the greater good but only benefiting the corporation,” said Matthew Nisbet, an expert on the communication of science at Northeastern University.

So when assessing the risks of different technological options, the left finds the risk of nuclear energy looming the highest, regardless of contrary evidence.

Knowing you have a problem is a necessary first step.

Meanwhile, Harvard Law professors Jacob E. Gersen and Jeannie Suk have posted a forthcoming article in the California Law Review, on “The Sex Bureaucracy.” This article provides chapter and verse on the metastasizing Title IX bureaucracy in the Department of Education, which is making Good Sex a bureaucratic objective, or else risk Star Chamber proceedings:

By focusing on risk factors for sexual violence, the bureaucracy made it acceptable, indeed even mandatory, to refocus regulatory attention on sexual matters traditionally the domain of morality and even marital morality: promiscuity, sexual fantasy, masculinity, pornography, honesty, feeling, and caring relationships. In addition to the question whether DOE and CDC are the right political institutions to be regulating sex, there is a question as to whether any part of the federal government is. Lawrence put the government on notice that it must respect the domain of sexual liberty. The sex bureaucracy is the government’s reply. Define sexual violence such that almost all sex people are having is technically in violation, and the feds are squarely in the bedroom. All potentially sexual interactions and negotiations among individuals take place in that expansive regulatory shadow.


If sexual violence is defined as sex that is bad, and if sex that is bad is illegal, stopping sexual violence is no longer about stopping sexual violence. It is about teaching people how to have good sex in healthy relationships. […] To the quotes from the Father of Psychoanalysis and the Father of Sociology, we might add one from the Father of the Nuclear Navy: “If you’re going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy: God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t.”

As Ming the Merciless put it, “All creatures will make merry. On pain of death.”

Something is wrong with the picture, and the readers of Porter, Gersen, and Suk are beginning to realize it. It is a hopeful sign.

Image Credit: Wikipedia, cropped.

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