The recent rise of SJW (Social Justice Warriors) online, and the apparent backlash being felt by the old liberal guard against the action’s of these net activists, has exposed some incongruity within my own political activism.
Jonathan Chait, in his piece “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say” for NY Magazine, addressed the growing power the PC police have over debate and discussion. Various attempts have been made to marginalize ideas deemed unacceptable by this new vanguard of the revolution. Chait argues that,
“Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.”
He is right: a free and vibrant society requires contrarian citizens to speak truth to power, argue against orthodoxy, and challenge dominate narratives. Unfortunately for Chait and other well-intentioned liberals, he doesn’t have much ground to stand on when it comes to accepting and tolerating debate. He was rightfully mocked for taking offense to being called names by those to his left, but he spent years belittling and restricting speech he felt “unacceptable.” Now that the far-left has turned their anger to fellow travelers in the liberal camp, Chait’s passionate plea for an acceptance of debate gives this whole event a “chickens coming home to roost” feel. Forget the fact that the SJW likely do more harm than good when it comes to actually building a political movement; liberals need to address their own role in creating this sicking rhetorical environment.
Practicing liberals, like myself, are partially to blame for this current PC environment. I have personally been involved in protesting speeches and gatherings by individuals and groups I deemed racist. I have helped get activists and professors “uninvited” from giving a presentation at my university. I have demonized political figures (rightfully and wrongly) for saying unpopular things and for ties to unsavory radicals.
I regret my actions, even if the targets of my activism still repulse me.
I penned many essays asking for Ward Churchill to be fired for his “little Eichmanns” comments. I helped protest nationalist speakers from appearing locally, and called for Islamist groups with ties to Hamas to be thrown off campus. I can not, in good conscience, get on my high horse regarding the fostering of an open debate.
Orwell understood politics and the direction our society was headed far better than most of his contemporaries. We used to say that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, but chances are you will simply experience 2 minutes of hate. The lightening-fast furry brought about by online activists towards minuscule figures of importance for uttering slightly unconventional thoughts is now a mainstay of our political debate. An entire cottage industry has been created where aspiring writers cut their teeth by crushing individuals for the slightest of infractions. Competent researchers like Razib Khan end up fired for having penned pieces at right-wing blogs, John Derbyshire was sacked for speaking widely held thoughts on race, and mom and pop pizza shops are forced to close for claiming they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding (who gets pizza for their wedding anyway?). We have created a world where the smallest deviation from the acceptable narrative is enough to tank your career and lose your livelihood.
Is this really what we want?
I don’t like most of Greg Johnson’s ideas about race over at Counter-Currents Publishing. I also don’t think he should be destitute and hounded for publishing books that are objectionable. I happen to own some of those books, and they have not destroyed the sanctity of my home.
I find many of the books published by AK Press to be twaddle for an increasingly sectarian group of activists hell-bent on destroying an visage of community present in America. I also don’t think their doors should be closed (I also own a number of their titles).
But I will go further than saying I merely accept their right to disseminate unpopular ideas. I want those ideas to reach as many minds as possible. The blandness of modern political life is nauseating. SJW are working tirelessly to create a uniform culture where all diversity is accepted, except in the realm of ideas. We are not living in a more just world, just one with fewer real viewpoints and notions. Other than the few online activists that get their jollies from taking down random figures for perceived intolerance, does anyone actually want to live in the world they are devising for us?
So from this moment on, I want to see a real radical in every institution. Someone who says things that actually challenge dominate norms. A fascists in every university, an anarchist in every government institution. Towards a radical future without fear of reprisal for philosophical deviation.
(Painting by Wassily Kandinsky, On White II, 1923)