Remember this 2015 pseudonymous essay in Vox, titled, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me?” Last night I was at an event, and met a college professor. At some point in our conversation, he mentioned an incident in which he used a common word that upset a (white, female) student, who accused him formally of racism. It was a preposterous charge, and nothing came of it ultimately, but it had a chilling effect on the professor. He said that he now is not eager to get involved with mentoring, for example. If you limit your exposure to the students, you limit the opportunities they have to accuse you of racism, sexism, homophobia, or any of the other sins against the Holy Zeitgeist.
I told the professor that I try never to talk about anything controversial in personal company unless I’m sure that everyone around me already agrees with me. It’s not simply that I don’t want to get into it with a screaming SJW who wants to have it out with me at a cocktail party because I don’t share her view of some political issue. That’s part of it, but I am a public figure, and say lots of controversial things in this space. I try to leave work here on the blog, and not take it into private life. With me, it’s more the case that I don’t want to say something controversial that I wouldn’t say on the blog, and have someone overhear it, send it out on social media, and ruin me.
I can’t think offhand what kind of remark that might be, but these days, who knows? The word the professor in last night’s conversation used was completely ordinary, and not used by him in a racial context. But in our emotivist world, the student felt that it was racist, so the professor had to face something he never should have had to face.
So now you have a professor who has to see students as potential destroyers of his career on spurious grounds. You have to go to cocktail parties and social gatherings being very conscious of what you say and don’t say, because some angry person might put it on social media. Everybody is potentially working for the secret police.
I’m not being as hyperbolic with that remark as you think. When I was in Hungary recently, my friend A. told me that her country still hadn’t recovered the social capital plundered by the communists. That is, Hungarians — like everyone living under communism — had to learn not to trust anybody. You truly didn’t know who was a secret police information. An ill-considered word could cost you your job. A thoughtless joke overheard by the wrong set of ears could land you in prison. We don’t have a totalitarian state here, but we are creating that kind of society.
Everybody laments how divided America is, but how many of us are part of an organization that lets us meet once a week with others who are very different from ourselves?
The professor, who is white, said to me last night, “Everybody talks about how we need to have a conversation about race in this country, and we do. But who can afford to make themselves vulnerable?”
He’s right about that, and not just about race. You would have to be a fool in this environment to risk saying something that could get you tagged as a racist, sexist, homophobe, bigot, etc. — especially when the rules are constantly changing, and what defines bigotry is in the mind of the person whose feelings determine truth. It’s much safer to stay silent, and only speak to those you trust. This is simply reality.
Did you watch what happened to the Fox News host Laura Ingraham? She tweeted a tasteless remark making fun of the fact that David Hogg, the gun control protester, failed to get into four colleges to which he had applied. It was an rude, gratuitous remark, and she ought to have apologized and rescinded it. Well, she did that, but only after Hogg used his new power, and social media, to convince at least five of her advertisers to abandon the show. Look:
I 100% agree an apology in an effort just to save your advertisers is not enough. I will only accept your apology only if you denounce the way your network has treated my friends and I️ in this fight. It’s time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children. https://t.co/H0yWs4zMGk
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) March 29, 2018
“Children”? Here’s a 17-year-old guy — old enough to join the military and bear arms for his country — who now has a national platform, one in which he accuses his opponents of bloodlust, but he’s still hiding behind the “children” thing? Well, of course: because it works.
Laura Ingraham ought not to have tweeted the thing she did, and she ought to have apologized (as she did). But now her livelihood is at stake, and this kid is reveling in his power to destroy his enemies, while draping himself in the mantle of Childhood Innocence. If you have a social media account, it’s time to think hard about whether it’s worth the risk of continuing with it. We now see that one tossed-off, ill-advised tweet, if it angers the right person, could cost you your job. David Hogg is turning into Anthony Fremont:
We are manufacturing a cadre of Anthony Fremonts. We are creating a No-Trust Society, one in which people will have to turn inward out of self-protection. This is not going to end well. A reader who grew up under Czech communism told me recently that in the end, the only people you could trust back in the day were members of your family. Anybody else might have turned you in to the secret police as ideologically unreliable. This man’s priest turned out to be an informant. We aren’t there, but as the illiberal SJW Left gains power, we’re fast moving in that direction.
UPDATE: Reader Beowulf:
I always appreciate Rod bringing to our attention the direction society is going. The academy especially is falling into darkness. However, I recommend a different attitude. Look at David Hogg and his influence and be encouraged! Yes, the social media mob of young people and coastal elites is dangerous–extremely dangerous. Approach with due caution, but not fear.
The rabble and the rousers are dangerous in the way a dying animal is dangerous. These people are weak. I do not just mean physically weak although they certainly are that, but they are psychologically weak. Quite possibly the psychologically weakest and among the least robust humans ever to have lived. Only true “last men” could be weaker.
I see no strength, only desperation. Look at their leader! David Hogg? What a joke! The guy has nothing to offer but hackneyed cliches and he delivers them with all the inspiration and authenticity of your typical middle school stage actor. I watch David Hogg the way I watch Michael Scott–embarrassed but my amusement at my own embarrassment keeps me watching. And people rally around him? The mob is dangerous sure, but they are not predators, they are prey.
They are hungry for a better story through which to interpret their lives–we should give it to them. These absurd victim-hero narratives that have become all the rage the last few years did not come from healthy people. They reveal people utterly dissatisfied with the overall trajectory of their lives and who are desperate to inject meaning into them. They draw life by casting themselves in the most inflated and comical roles because they are weak. They are begging Christians to come and show them something better. Don’t listen to the message they communicate with words, listen to what they are saying with their actions: come convert me to something better, I have nothing.