There seems to be this intellectual poison in the popular dialog today that every issue must be polarized. This is nothing new, of course, but this past election season has been the most polarized I can remember, with loyalty tests, political catechisms, witch hunts, accusations and condemnations, shout downs, name calling and the like not seen since the McCarthy days. The thinking today is ‘If you disagree with my ideology in any degree, you obviously don’t agree at all and must be discarded.’ It’s like the old Christmas tree light strings: If one goes out they all go out. Maybe G.W. Bush started it with his admonition, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists.” Why can’t I be neither?
I was too young to remember the Red Scare of the 50’s and the House Un-American Activities Committee and I wish I didn’t have to live it now. It’s funny in a decidedly un-funny way; a Russian talk show recently had a segment on Neo-McCarthyism. The audience wasn’t familiar with the origin of the term, so the host explained it. The response was: Oh, yes. We had that, too. He was called Joseph Stalin.
Speakers at universities shouted down for holding illiberal views? Intellectuals and investigative reporters black listed? A list of ‘banned sites’ published by Princeton University? Banned by whom? Using what criteria? Dissenting views shouted down? An errant Google engineer fired for badthought? People maligned, misquoted, and misnamed? Mantras of disinformation? A propaganda priesthood? And a faraway scapegoat who’s responsible for all of our woes? Not us, oh no! It’s that person over there. And ‘those people.’ They are THE problem. No need for self examination.
Some criticisms of the left are that we are becoming fascist. We have talking points. We have forbidden lists not clearly defined. Loyalty tests. We banish our own if they do not completely comply, even if they are just asking for dialog. If someone calls into question even one rod on the liberal fasci bundle they can lose their jobs. We eat our own. We’re the army that shoots its own wounded. We criticize the pimple on another’s face while ignoring the skin cancer on ours.
I have heard liberals on Facebook saying you ‘can’t reason with those people(!)’ What next? Should we put them all away for their own good? Maybe they’re crazy and should be institutionalized like Stalin did? Ann Coulter famously said, “…liberalism is on the spectrum of mental illness.” She wants to be heard, and so she should, yet this rhetoric betrays her own bias toward censorship. So who gets to shut up whom? When will they be put in an institution? Or special camps for their own protection? What mason will lay the cornerstone for the next gas chamber? Reeducation camps? Brain unwashing/rewashing with a rich fertilizer of spin? Barn raising of the Gulag? Pitchforks and torches of the righteous? A crusade?
We know what’s best for them, so everything is right when we do it! We insulate ourselves by declaring that it can’t happen here. How could those (Germans, Turks, Pol Pot, Edi Amin) do those terrible things? They must have been deranged or just plain evil. I’m glad we’re not like that. Now pass the pitchfork.
It always starts with a just cause. No-one wakes up one morning and says, ‘Today I will be evil.’ Things like the Suffragettes (a good idea,) prohibition (not so good,) women in the workplace, the pill, sexual liberation, entry into politics, women in the boardroom, in the pulpit, in space, etc. All good things and hard won by women and men who worked hard to achieve them. These have disintegrated into gender neutral pronouns for infants, bathroom rules, HR depts considering signed statements of compliance and penalties for ideology breaches, and the MeToo app for your iPhone which is capable of ruining someone’s career with a simple accusation. No evidence required! No due process. No innocent before proven guilty. Magna Carta my feminist ass. Burn him! Susan B. Anthony must be turning in hizer grave. When movements stop being able to do useful things, they start doing dangerous things. And soon immoral and illegal things. And at the end, war crimes.
Well, they feel they can’t reason with ‘us people,’ either. I have also heard the claim that hecklers and violent antifas have been planted to make liberals look hypocritical, and that ‘crisis actors’ have been used to fake tragedies. Well, if we find claims of ‘crisis actors’ as conspiracy theories, they can say the same about claims of ‘infiltration.’ Sauce for the goose.
What should we do? Ignore it? Declare it disinformation? Spin? More subhuman blather from ‘those people?’ The deplorable, racist, sexist untermenchen? These were only isolated events? I would like to say that the disrespectful hecklers are not indicative of the rest of us, but I can’t say that in all honesty seeing what's happened to other speakers who were not deemed ideologically appropriate. Just look at Facebook as see what’s being said by both sides? Can you tell the difference? I can’t.
In any case we should have a position on this kind of behavior, one based on dialog and respect, not self-righteousness and insults. Be careful what you throw at others. They may just throw it back.
Where’s Walter Cronkite and his show, You Were There? It relived historical events. Things like the poisoning of Socrates and the suppression of free thought. All thinly disguised attacks on McCarthyism.
The twenty first century is shaping up to be just like the twentieth.
Things change. Things stay the same.