Getting minds right at Yale: Learning from Trent Colbert

I have taken the story of Trent Colbert’s resistance to the authorities pushing the racist diversity/CRT cum cancel culture agenda down our throats as a case study. The audio posted with Aaron Sibarium’s original Free Beacon story takes us inside the asylum.

Is there a major American institution that the mania has not infected and turned into an enemy against us? Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Director Don Siegel’s 1958 original starring Kevin McCarthy remains a timeless classic. Resistance may be futile.

That’s Donald Sutherland in the 1978 remake at the right. Sutherland is a stand-in for the likes of Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken and her colleagues enforcing the regime of “Diversity and Inclusion” at Yale Law School.

What can we learn from Colbert’s example? I think he illustrates Heritage Foundation President Kay James’s first proposition in “Seven Steps to Surviving Cancel Culture” Thinking of her own experience as a black woman opposing abortion and other sacred orthodoxies of the left, James urges: “First and foremost, don’t give a damn about cancel culture. If you do, you’re giving small-minded people control over you that they don’t deserve. Realize that these are often people who want to silence your ideas because they’re afraid if others hear them, they might agree.”

Courage is the virtue that Bari Weiss urges as well in the November Commentary essay “We Got Here Because of Cowardice. We Get Out With Courage.” Subhead: “Say no the the Woke Revolution.” It’s easier said than done, as the cases Weiss runs through make clear. Colbert can be added to Weiss’s honor roll.

Listening to the audio of Colbert’s Close Encounter of the Diversity Kind at Yale Law School, I was struck by Colbert’s poise and self-possession. That’s a big “If” you’ve got there — “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”

Colbert speaks with the voice of one who was raised by a mother and father who set him on his path. He went to church on Sunday. His mother taught him by example not to be a coward, not to say it if you don’t mean it.

Having followed the story as it unfolded, Razib Khan interviewed Colbert last week for his Unsupervised Learning podcast. This episode is rightly titled “Standing athwart the mob.” Interested in the same questions I was, Khan provided this introduction to the episode:

I was broadly familiar with the culture-war saga that Colbert was caught up in, having read a piece a few weeks ago in The Washington Post describing how a seemingly innocent and jocular email triggered accusations of racism at YLS (as well as Aaron Sibarium’s piece in The Washington Free Beacon). Colbert’s in Persuasion [posted here] made me curious about him, and I reached out to talk about what he had seen, and the lessons that we as a society and individuals might take from it.

First, Colbert gives us his own perspective of what transpired at YLS to make him a “trending topic” on social media. Perhaps to the surprise of Millennials, the 23-year-old Zoomer seemed not entirely familiar with the well-known podcast Chapo Trap House.

As a member of Gen X, I have to admit it’s a little unnerving to hear Millennials viewed as geriatric elders. But Colbert grew up in a world of super-charged cultural change and perhaps perceives the passage of time differently than those of us who came into adulthood before smartphones. He contended that some of the offense others perceived might be a matter of cohort differences and even just his casual Zoomer manner. Even a few years’ difference today might mean an entirely alternative landscape of memes and sensibilities, so a subtle and wry reference among his age-mates could strike an individual only a few years older as offensive, opaque and “tone-deaf.”

With that in mind, I was curious about his background, and where he got the strength to stand up to the YLS administrative bureaucracy. We explored his relationship to his Cherokee background, as well as growing up in a moderately conservative household where religion was important. Colbert takes the idea of right and wrong seriously, and he felt that his own conscience would not allow him to agree to an apology that was premised on lies.

Importantly, he also had a supportive group of friends at YLS and a wider circle of backers in the community. Eventually, we moved to broader social forces, and how his individual choices and decisions might impact others. By doing the right thing, rather than the easy thing, Colbert hopes to show that it is possible to defeat the kind of bureaucratic machine that was unleashed upon him and trigger a preference cascade that changes the culture on campus.

And doing the right thing has not been entirely easy, as Colbert admits to being uncomfortable with realizing how others at YLS viewed him purely through a racial lens, as well as the fact that many prominent organizations accused him of being a racist. Overall, perhaps the take-home lesson is that it doesn’t take an exceptional person to take on the system. Just someone who has a core set of principles and friends and family who support them when they might have to make decisions that lead to socially unpopular outcomes.

This excellent podcast is well worth your time if you are interested in Colbert’s story.

Khan himself is good in the interview. At one point he refers to “the people who narced on you,” which really gets at Colbert’s experience inside the asylum.

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