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The Railroading Of Mark Crispin Miller

Soft totalitarianism at work: NYU cancel-culture mob comes after a left-wing contrarian
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Earlier this semester, Mark Crispin Miller, who teaches media studies at New York University, got in trouble because of something he was accused of saying in his class on propaganda. The academic free speech organization FIRE explains:

In September, a class session focused on campaigns promoting mask-wearing as a means of limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus. After a student took issue with some of Miller’s in-class statements and the sources he cited, she took to Twitter calling for him to be fired. Miller’s department chair, Rodney Benson, replied to the student’s posts and indicated that the department had made her concerns a priority.

On Oct. 6, Miller responded on his personal blog, outlining the material he shared in his course, noting the criticism he received, and expressing concerns — which FIRE shares — about the threat to academic freedom posed by investigations into course content. He also shared a petition asking NYU to affirm his right to academic freedom, which has garnered more than 17,000 signatures.

Then, on Oct. 21, several faculty members of the media department penned a letter to Dean Jack H. Knott and Provost Katherine Fleming calling on them “to publicly support the NYU community and undertake an expedited review . . . of Professor Miller’s intimidation tactics, abuses of authority, aggressions and microaggressions, and explicit hate speech, none of which are excused by academic freedom and the First Amendment protections.” However, the letter itself contained no specific allegations of policy violations, focusing instead on “the way in which [Miller] engages discussion around controversial views and non-evidence based arguments”; his petition, which they characterize as an “email campaign against the department”; and others’ negative responses to the student’s criticism of Miller’s course.

On Oct. 29, Dean Knott launched an investigation into Miller based on the letter.

FIRE takes Miller’s side in the matter, and explains why; read its entire piece, and the letter it sent to the president of NYU defending Miller from this outrageous investigation.

I know about this because of this fascinating interview with Miller on the dirtbag Left podcast Red Scare. I strongly urge you to listen to it. Miller is, by his own proud admission, a man of the Left, but he lays into the Left for supporting what he calls in the interview a form of totalitarianism like we have not yet seen. Here, in Miller’s own words, is the background of what happened to him (it’s a more detailed version of what the FIRE story says).

As Miller explained on the podcast, he asked his students to think about the way Covid masking was sold, as a story about propaganda. He says he never told his students not to wear masks, and wouldn’t have done so. But he did want them to understand how propaganda works, using a contemporary example. It’s not the case that propaganda is always for a bad cause (though Miller apparently believes that masking is ineffective, or at least not as effective as we have been told). The point, Miller told the podcasters, is that he wants to encourage students not to take the word of authorities — not even himself — at face value, but to do their own research on all issues.

This prompted a single student to take to Twitter to accuse him (falsely, he says) of telling students not to mask, and thereby making her feel unsafe. Here’s a tweet in which she called for action, and a tweet in response from Miller’s department head:

So they went after Miller. Nineteen of his colleagues signed a document demanding an investigation. According to Miller, none of them contacted him in advance to get his side of the story, or anything normal like that. This is why he has filed a lawsuit.

Miller tells the podcasters that it’s his belief that at least some of his colleagues signed the letter to punish him for something he said earlier about transgenderism. Miller comes across as a kind of anarcho-leftist, highly suspicious of concentrated power. He said that he has absolutely no objection to transgendered people, but he did mention that on his website, he published his “critique of transgender ideology.” [Hear MCM talk about this starting at the 49:55 point on the podcast.] He says that it was occasioned by a Sprite commercial showing a mother binding the breasts of her daughter. Here’s a link to MCM’s post, from back in February. MCM demands to know why billionaires are funding the transgender movement, and offers what sounds to my ears like a crankish leftie theory.

But so what? It’s a very fair line of inquiry, sparked by his wondering what interest an international soda corporation has in airing advertising affirming youth transgenderism. MCM links to this Jennifer Bilek piece from First Things in which she traces the money trail from rich men like George Soros and Warren Buffett, to the front lines of transgender activism. You would have to be blinded by ideology not to wonder what was going on here. According to Miller, this is what triggered one or more of his colleagues to falsely accuse him of saying that he hates transgendered people, and so forth.

It is entirely possible that MCM is partially, or even mostly, a left-wing crank. He believes that the Covid response is in some sense hyped to promote corporate power and centralization, and though he despises Donald Trump, he believes that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. Is he nuts? Maybe he is. But academic freedom protects people like MCM who hold unpopular opinions. In the podcast, Miller says that his academic colleagues are so deep inside an ideological bubble that they believe what they hear on NPR and read in the Times without question, and demonize any person and any claim sounding like it might be something that Trump would say.

Again, I would by no means say that I agreed with everything Mark Crispin Miller says. I don’t know much about him, though there is no question (based on things he’s published on his website) but that he believes the Covid phenomenon is a conspiracy to police the population and to concentrate power and control into a few hands. This might well be a crackpot belief — but the man should not be libeled and be forced to fight for his job because of this belief. Listening to him tell his story reminded me of how it felt to be part of the public discussion back in 2002, as millions of Americans (including me) were convinced that only cowards and fools believed that the US had no business launching war on Iraq. Today, Mark Crispin Miller might well be a fool about Covid, but I am not willing to stand back without protest and watch him crushed professionally for his dissent, even if he is wrong.

Listening to that podcast episode, and reading up on this controversy, it is clear to me that he is at the very least a victim of the kind of soft totalitarianism that I’ve been warning about for some time. As I said earlier in this post, he even talks about what’s going on as a form of totalitarianism, on the Chinese model. I wish he had said more about it. You do not have to agree with MCM on Covid, or on anything else, to recognize that what is being done to him is also happening to dissenters within academia and other institutions — those who have the courage, or the craziness, to stand against the cancel-culture mob. Once more: the principle of academic freedom is meant in part to protect gadflies like Mark Crispin Miller from precisely the kind of cancel-culture frenzy that is operating here. It is very much in the interest of all free thinkers — Left, Right, and center — that he should prevail in his lawsuit against the NYU mob.

It is also very much in our interest that we inform ourselves about what Prof. Miller is being put through by his institution and those within it. They will eventually come for us all, you know. One thing Miller said in talking about Covid struck me: he said that extended lockdowns destroy small businesses, and benefit major corporations (especially Amazon), who have the size to withstand the shock, and who can buy up ailing small businesses for pennies on the dollar. Miller may believe that the Covid lockdowns are being staged precisely for this sake, but I don’t think you have to believe that it’s all intentional to recognize that this is one economic effect of the crisis. If we have fewer small businesses, we are all more vulnerable to woke social engineering at the hands of major corporations. Small businesses are one of the few institutions where dissidents can find shelter — where they can make a living without having to compromise their consciences. If we emerge from this crisis with many fewer of them, who does that benefit, and who does that hurt?

Here is a link to the Red Scare podcast with Mark Crispin Miller:

I shouldn’t have to say this again, but to get out in front of accusers in the comments section, I will: my recommending the podcast interview does not mean that I endorse any of Prof. Miller’s views. It only means that I think he has some things to say that we should listen to and think about. He is a victim of soft totalitarianism within NYU. You might think he’s 100 percent wrong about Covid, but that does not justify the way he is being railroaded by NYU. If they get away with what they’re doing to him for his Covid opinions, they can get away with doing it to anybody over anything.

UPDATE: I have no idea if Conor is talking about Mark Crispin Miller, but this new tweet applies: