The novelist Lionel Shriver, a liberal, reflects on the hysterical progressive response to the apparently intolerable claim she made in a speech (at an Australian literary festival!): that novelists have the right to write about characters from cultural backgrounds other than their own. She writes, in the reflection:
As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.
Ironically, only fellow liberals will be cowed by terror of being branded a racist (a pejorative lobbed at me in recent days — one that, however groundless, tends to stick). But there’s still such a thing as a real bigot, and a real misogynist. In obsessing over micro-aggressions like the sin of uttering the commonplace Americanism “you guys” to mean “you all,” activists persecute fellow travelers who already care about equal rights.
Moreover, people who would hamper free speech always assume that they’re designing a world in which only their enemies will have to shut up. But free speech is fragile. Left-wing activists are just as dependent on permission to speak their minds as their detractors.
In an era of weaponized sensitivity, participation in public discourse is growing so perilous, so fraught with the danger of being caught out for using the wrong word or failing to uphold the latest orthodoxy in relation to disability, sexual orientation, economic class, race or ethnicity, that many are apt to bow out. Perhaps intimidating their elders into silence is the intention of the identity-politics cabal — and maybe my generation should retreat to our living rooms and let the young people tear one another apart over who seemed to imply that Asians are good at math.
I understand her desire to stand back and let the left-wing crazies eat each other alive, but I hope Shriver doesn’t. That’s because if these berserkers are to be defeated, we need old-fashioned liberals like her to take a stand against them. As Shriver rightly point out, defending the right of all people say what’s on their minds is a matter of self-defense.
When I read the line claiming that “the shrill tyranny of the left” helps push ordinary people to Donald Trump, I reflected on this week’s Milo Yiannopoulos appearance at LSU in Baton Rouge. I fell ill at the last minute and wasn’t able to go, but my desire to show up had nothing to do with wanting to hear what the clownish provocateur had to say. It was entirely to stand in symbolic support of his right to be on campus saying it. Members of the campus
ideological uniformity diversity community tried to stop him from showing up, and reportedly were able to enlist a high-ranking college administrator — the Chief Diversity Officer — in their efforts. Happily, they failed to achieve their goal. Again, I say “happily” not because I endorse Milo’s shtick, but because I strongly endorse his right to perform it, and the students’ right to watch the spectacle. And because the same grounds that the Social Justice Warriors at LSU used to try to silence Milo — that his speech would be hurtful to them — could be used to silence political conservatives and religious conservatives.
And not just conservatives. After all, if their Australian counterparts managed to intimidate the organizers of a literary festival into hastily arranged programming to counter the benign address of a novelist asserting the right of novelists to write about people and topics of their choosing, they’ll also go after liberals. If extremism in the defense of anti-racism, anti-homophobia, etc., is no vice, then there is no limit to what these moralistic Jacobins will do. It is up to principled liberals to join the fight against them.
About the SJWs driving people to vote for Trump, I can easily see why. I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is a Social Justice Warrior. But I do believe that she will not do anything meaningful to speak out against them. There will be no Sister Souljah moments in her campaign. And because noxious identity politics has a much greater hold among liberal elites than it has in the past, it’s reasonable to assume that a Hillary Clinton administration will fill the federal bureaucracy with people who intend to advance the SJW goals, or who at least lack the principled courage to stand against their march through the institutions. How can anybody look at how college administrators capitulated to them last fall and believe otherwise?
It is appalling to consider that the First Amendment would likely fare better under a Donald Trump presidency than a Hillary Clinton one, but I believe it’s the truth. I hope in Monday’s debate, someone asks both candidates about it.