Some of you may remember my August 22, 2013 post,The Great Oberlin College Racism Hoax of 2013:

A massive racism hoax took place at Oberlin College in February 2013 in which two students made seemingly racist, anti-Semitic and other such posters, graffiti and emails for the purpose of getting a reaction on campus, not because they believed the hostile messages. At least one of the two was an Obama supporter with strong progressive, anti-racist politics.

School officials and local police knew the identity of the culprits, who were responsible for most if not all of such incidents on campus, yet remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real. National media attention focused on campus racism at Oberlin for weeks without knowing it was a hoax.

The hoax was confirmed when Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller recently obtained police records. Now it’s out in the open. Here is the history of how the hoax developed, played out in the media, and was covered up by the Oberlin administration.

Things would get much worse after that at Oberlin, even after the hoax was fully revealed, as we described in Oberlin racism hoax exploited to advance “even more extreme policies”.

I explained the Oberlin situation in a radio interview:

The Oberlin hoax certainly was not the first such racism hoax, nor the last. In fact, over the years we have documented many such hoaxes, and also the atmosphere of political correctness which aides and abets the charges.

But why? Was it merely malevolent motive in order to score a bigger political point? Was it groupthink which chose to believe accusations of a certain type merely because the accusations served to confirm preexisting views of race in America?

1. Applying Principles of Psychoanalysis

Legal Insurrection reader Howard S. Schwartz took an interest in our coverage of the Oberlin case.

Schwartz also happens to be a Professor at Oakland University in Michigan, with a strong academic interest in the psychoanalytic study of organizations. Among other things, Prof. Schwartz has written extensively on issues relating to the sources of political correctness and the impact on organizational behavior.

So I was quite interested when Prof. Schwartz recently forward to me a paper he presented at the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations in Rome, Italy, in June 2015, titled Analysis of a Racism Hoax at Oberlin College (full embed at bottom of post)(Scribd, SSRN).

I only took one psychology course in college, and I must have passed because I graduated. But I’m not too familiar with the terminology and theories of psychoanalysis.

For the most part, I apply the “Duck Test” to matters of political psychology: If it looks like it’s nuts, walks like it’s nuts, and talks like it’s nuts, … it’s nuts.

In most of the cases we write about, the Duck Test works just fine.

But Prof. Schwartz delved a little deeper than the Duck Test into why hoaxes like that at Oberlin are able to capture the psychology of an entire organization, from students to faculty to senior administrators and even the college President. And he does it in terms of psychoanalytical understanding.

Be warned, the analysis includes terms like “Oedipus Complex.” (If you start sucking your thumb when you hear the word “oedipus,” seek immediate help.)

All joking aside, the analysis makes some serious points about political correctness and social justice being more than about politics. It’s mental.

Here is the Abstract of the paper (hard paragraph breaks added by me for ease of reading):

It is often alleged that American society is racist, even though it is acknowledged that overt expressions of racism are extremely rare. How do people know that it is racist, then? This paper raises the possibility that this claim of racism is based on a projection.

Our times have seen an overthrow of Oedipal psychology, in which the father represents objective reality, which gives us no special place. This overthrow has been in the name of the omnipotent mother, who loves us just because we are who we are. She disdains the father. Her children join her in that and believe that the love she gave him, which he was supposed to have earned, had been stolen from them. If it had not been, they would have been untouched by anything but love; an image I call the “pristine self.” It has been stolen from some children more than from others, and the task of the other children is to hate the father and love those, paradigmatically of other races, who have lost the most love in the past.

The deprivation of this perfect love is projected onto the father and experienced as racism. Among those who adopt this view, it provides the basis for their experience of the world, and of their proper place within it, but it is entirely in the mind and hence rests on faith. They need to keep this faith constantly renewed.

I illustrate this through an analysis of the response to a racism hoax at Oberlin College in 2013, centering around an anti-racist convocation, which I compare to a religious revival meeting.

2. Unreality Becomes Reality

As hysteria gripped the campus, students at Oberlin started seeing things that didn’t exist, like the Klan sighting, which police concluded likely was just a student walking wrapped in a blanket.

This unreality was fostered by college facilitated gatherings in which these false perceptions were reinforced, in an atmosphere where Oberlin’s history of opposing racism loomed heavy:

Media coverage amplified the hysteria:

Oberlin College Race Hoax 2013

In the paper, Prof. Schwartz addressed some of the points I made about the Oberlin hoax:

In response to the bloggers’ revelation of the hoax, the Administration (2013) defended its support for the mobilization through a statement which says, in part:

These actions were real. The fear and disruption they caused in our community were real… we draw the line at threats and harassment of any kind. We will not tolerate acts of hatred and threats of violence regardless of motivation.

Jacobson responded that the actions inflicted real pain, to be sure, but that they did so because the students thought they were genuine expressions, rather than a hoax. He likened the situation to someone sounding a fire alarm, and the administration, while knowing that the alarm was a prank, continued to let people believe there was a real fire.

So what was going on here? Jacobson’s charge is basically that Oberlin’s failure was a failure to represent reality. The fear and disruption were contingent upon the students believing that there was real threat. The administration knew that there was not, but didn’t tell them. Why not?

I would like to address this question obliquely by suggesting that it did not matter whether Krislov and his administration represented reality in the way that Jacobson and others had in mind. They would not have succeeded in doing so even if they had tried.

The truth is that reality was defined in a quite different way than we are accustomed to seeing and that Krislov had no standing as an authority to represent that reality. In fact, it was defined against him.

What was happening, according to Prof. Schwartz, was a clash of realities (hard paragraph breaks added):

What we can see here, I will argue, is a clash between two definitions of reality.

One is the definition which seems most familiar to us. Within this reality, there are a number of objective features that bore upon the state of the college at that point, including whether the threat was real and whether cancelling classes would represent “giving in” to the perpetrators. Krislov, by virtue of his formal position as the President of the college, would have been authorized to make a decision based on the full range of those circumstances and his assessment of the ramifications of his decision in the future.

But in the other reality Krislov was no figure of authority. The feelings of the black students were paramount and objective reality was not an issue. If Krislov did not take orders, he was to be held in contempt.

Why would there be a clash of realities?

The events were hoaxes, and demonstrably so. How is it that the entire college refused to adjust its perceptions of reality even after the hoax was revealed?

Michelle Malkin, an Oberlin alumna, explained that identity politics drove the agenda:

3. Paranoia and Projection: Political Correctness and Social Justice

Prof. Schwartz looks deep into how the politically correct mind has developed its perceptions of reality:

When we deal with matters of political correctness, we are engaged with phenomena that are incomprehensible as long as we look at them as the product of rationality. Anyone with an eye for these sorts of things will find that eye strained on a daily, and even on an hourly basis. Now is not the time to enumerate the categories of such irrationality (For that, see Schwartz 2003, 2010), but only to say that the study of irrationality is necessary for their comprehension, and that psychoanalytic thought is predominant, for its depth and systematic development, among the modalities of such understanding. More than anything else, it is the
rational study of the irrational.

Psychoanalysis offers us leverage in understating irrational social phenomena because its basic premise is that our earliest understandings of the world and ourselves are formed long before ideas were held to the constraints imposed by logic. Their meanings were formed by emotional dynamics and reason had nothing to do with them. Moreover, these early experiences form the core around which our later and more realistic understandings are built. The secret of understanding such irrationality as we find in political correctness, therefore, is to make sense of emotional reality, and this is the aim of psychoanalysis.

Prof. Schwartz includes “social justice” in his analysis (hard paragraph breaks added):

.One rarely, if ever, sees “social justice” used in reference to an objective state of affairs; a type of social structure that will be more just than we have now. It is always used as a negation of social injustice. The point is that, linguistically, in the binary social justice/social injustice, the latter term bears the weight of meaning.

Social justice is simply the absence of social injustice, and social injustice is simply justice that has been perverted and corrupted by social factors, such as racism. Social justice, then, is a misleading term. In the absence of corruption by social factors, the result is simply justice, the modifier “social” adds nothing to its substantive content. The result of this is to undermine claims about the structural importance of such social factors as racism, which now are asserted to be basic elements of social structure.

In the transformation of objective reality into a manifestation of oppression, psychoanalysis will suspect the operation of paranoia, of which Freud (1922) says

We are reminded that sufferers from persecutory paranoia … cannot regard anything in other people as indifferent, and they, too, take up minute indications with which these other, unknown, people present them, and use them in their delusions of reference.

And it will recognize the fundamental dynamic of paranoia, which is projection.

For the full analysis, read the paper.

Here is one particularly perceptive observation — the Oberlin community created its own reality to justify its preconceived notions of pervasive racism:

In this way, we do what projection does. We transform an intra-psychic conflict into an interpersonal one. Instead of tearing ourselves apart, we can, in our fantasy, tear him apart, and emerge from this, again in our fantasy, whole, beautiful, and perfect: the pristine self. We can build a whole world out of this, and each of us can find our place within it, and especially those who have been deprived in the past.

We therefore redefine the world as a venue for this struggle, and we redefine ourselves through our roles in this struggle.

Having redefined ourselves in this way, we have made ourselves dependent, for our sense of identity, on the existence and pervasiveness of the racism that we have created through our projection.

And that’s what happened at Oberlin, and happens on so many campuses where the need for self-worth manifests itself in creating realities that do not really exist.

In his conclusion, Prof. Schwartz makes this observation:

The answer I have proposed was that reality had been redefined at Oberlin and that, within that redefinition, the charge of racism was, in effect, structural, and had come to provide the meaning of people’s college experience and, indeed, of their lives.

4. Paranoia and Projection Don’t End With Racism Hoaxes

Prof. Schwartz’s analysis applies not just to racism hoaxes, but also to so much of campus life, including the current “rape culture” mania, and the burning of the accused male at the stake by campus kangaroo courts.

Is it any wonder that in 2015 Oberlin Radical Feminists Freaked Out at Christina Hoff Sommers?

The feminists who demanded Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces to protect themselves from Dr. Sommer’s views were acting like infants:

It’s like a gigantic psychological drama is unfolding through the progressive social justice movement on campuses around the country, in which warped perceptions of reality created to justify their own existence drive the agenda.

If all they needed was to solve their mommy and daddy problems, that wouldn’t be so bad.

I just wish they would leave the rest of us alone while doing so.

Additional Legal Insurrection posts regarding the Oberlin racism hoax:


Analysis of a Racism Hoax at Oberlin College