As everyone knows, the original Thugs were members of a murderous Hindu cult that was devoted to the goddess Kali, and that preyed upon parties of travelers whom they would at first befriend, and then betray in some lonely spot by the brutal rite of thuggee. It appears that some similar scourge is now haunting the banyan groves of academe, if the Thug Warnings recently issued by our panjandrums are to be taken seriously.
The first Thug Warning came from the Dean of my College, on November 15th, when she reminded us that we “truly are a family,” albeit a family that is “exceptionally global and diverse,” and in which it is rather difficult to get tenure. Without mentioning just what had made it necessary, or just how it ought to be done, she invited us to join her in “reaffirming our . . . values of support and compassion.” You can be sure I did so, then and there, with my hand upon my heart. Then I checked under my desk to see if there were any Thugs.
The second Thug Warming came the next day under the letterhead of my professional organization, the Association of American Geographers. Here is how it opened:
“As our nation continues to digest the outcome of this year’s contentious election campaign and the upheaval in many communities we have seen as a result, we wanted to reach out to you in a spirit of shared concern.”
I do not recall the A.A.G. leadership offering comfort to the losers in any previous election, and I would be very interested to know what “concerns” they believe are “shared” by the organization’s several thousand members. I can only suppose that they are warming us that night is falling in the banyan grove, and it is being whispered that there are Thugs among us.
After some boilerplate designed to preserve the Association’s non-profit status, they tell us that “the AAG opposes policies that demean and exclude individuals and groups based on gender, race, sexuality, religion, or ethnicity.” They do not mention the policies they have in mind, but Thugs are notoriously crafty, and when they slip their Rumal (a garrote) around one’s neck, it always comes as a surprise.
The A.A.G. is equally opposed to policies that “trample on the virtues of academic and scientific freedom,” and that “ignore geographic research” and “the consensus of the scientific community.” To an ignorant outsider, academic freedom would seem to mean freedom to dissent from “research” and “consensus,” but in the sinister shadows of the banyan grove, I suppose it is best to stick together.
In any event, they assure their members that “the voice of geography will be needed as our country charts a way forward,” apparently unaware that, in conducting an election, the country has charted a way forward, and that it has done so without much heeding “the voice of geography.”
Later that same day I received yet another Thug Warning, this time from the Provost and President of this university. Under the subject line “We are All Aggies,” they wrote that “some of you have expressed concern about protection of students regardless of race, religious preference, sexual orientation, and/or immigration status in light of the recent election,” omitting to mention just who it was who expressed this concern, or just why their concerns ought to be taken seriously.
This alarm is followed by obligatory argle bargle about balancing “freedom” and “respect,” all of which comes down to the instruction that members of the university community must “refrain from disparaging remarks” against persons we believe are not “legitimately here.” Here we were trembling at the thought of silken Rumals, and the real danger was “disparaging remarks”!
Ah, but only one week later, on November 23rd, we were shown a real Thug. In a message from the President, and another from “Student Leaders,” we were informed that a “private citizen” had booked a room on campus, and in this room Hitler (alias Richard Spencer) was scheduled to air his fetid opinions on December 6. I’m afraid I discarded the original Thug Spencer Warnings, and so cannot quote from them, but our President kindly sent out another only yesterday.
He tells us there has been a “significant outpouring of concern,” “outrage,” and condemnation of “everything for which he [Spencer] seems to stand.” With these cries of alarm, our President “strongly agrees,” adding that he believes Spencer’s views “have no place in civilized dialogue and conversation.” He does not appear to have made any close study of Spencer’s views, but is nevertheless confident that they are “abhorrent and profoundly antithetical to everything I believe.”
(I suppose we must take it that the President is in substantial agreement with every view expressed on this campus that he (or the administration generally) has not troubled to dissociate himself from. These would include varieties of Black Separatism that are exceedingly similar to Spencer’s program. They would also include some fairly forthright communism. But I guess Black Separatists and communists are not Thugs.)
After doing everything imaginable to publicize Spencer’s forthcoming talk, which would otherwise have passed off with very little notice, our President has decided to draw students away from the perilous banyan grove with an enormous whoop-de-doo in our vast football stadium. Here the panem et circenses will include speakers, entertainment, and “a large wall” (no kidding) on which persons with a “commitment to unity” can sign their names.
As you can see, night is falling in the banyan grove of academe, and those who have ears to hear can discern the silken whisper of an unfurled Rumal. For my part, I’d say that sound is the usual rustle of money. If you find my dismembered corpse at the bottom of a well, you may take it that I was wrong. Or right. You choose.