“Silence = violence” leads to the demonization of the silent and the compulsion to utter certain words

September 2, 2020 • 9:00 am

Until recently, those on the Left who were not sufficiently “progressive” were criticized for their words: not saying the right thing. Now, according to the article below, you get damned for your silence. Or, if not that, you’re compelled to say certain words and phrases.  In part, says author Jonathan Turley, this change comes from the doubly misguided slogan “silence is violence,” which has been applied to several causes.  Turley is a professor of law at George Washington University specializing in civil rights, a renowned legal scholar, and author, and a broadcaster. But he’s concerned. Click on the screenshot to read his piece in The Hill:

Turley’s concerned not with emitting the wrong kind of speech, but being compelled to utter the right kind of speech:

In a previous column, I warned of the thin line between speech codes and commands, as people shift from compelling silence to compelling words. “Once all the offending statues are down, and all the offending professors are culled, the appetite for collective suppression will become a demand for collective expression.” Such a line between punishing and compelling speech is easily crossed if free speech itself is viewed as a threat.

. . . We are now watching the fear realized. A mob surrounded diners outside several Washington restaurants, shouting “white silence is violence” and demanding that diners raise a fist to support the movement. Some diners dutifully complied as protesters screamed inches from their faces. Lauren Victor said she marched with protests but refused to be bullied. The mob surrounded her, and Washington Post reporter Fredrick Kunkle eventually identified one freelance journalist as one of the people yelling at her face and loudly demanding, “What was in you? You could not do it?”

. . . The current transition from speech codes to commands is based on the same notion of speech as harm. Just as speech is deemed harmful, and thus subject to regulation, silence is now deemed harmful. University of California Berkeley law professor Savala Trepczynski, also the executive director of the Henderson Center for Social Justice, declared that “white silence is incredibly powerful” and that “it acts like a weapon.”

I had to see if the restaurant bullying indeed happened, and it wasn’t hard to find this tweet, and then a video in the WaPo article linked in the previous paragraph. It’s chilling, and reminds me of nothing other than the Cultural Revolution, with the ideologically impure (in the case of Lauren Victor, one actually sympathetic to the cause but unwilling to be bullied) being publicly shamed and demonized. The hectoring freelance journalist was Chuck Modiano, who writes for Deadspin. 

Here’s another video:

There are several more examples, but I’ll give just two more.

Syracuse University moved much more directly not just to prohibit but to mandate some forms of speech. Professor Keith Alford, the diversity and inclusion officer of the college, declared students would be punished for simply witnessing “bias motivated” incidents and “acts of hate.” That was the response to demands by a student group for expulsion of “individuals who witnessed the event or were present but did not take part.”

This is the ultimate sanction: punishing students who only witness but don’t participate in “hate speech”.  You can see the supporting evidence at either Turley’s own website or The Post Millennial.

And one more incident (well, two) that I checked out, which again happened to be true:

Such concern over speech codes turning into speech commands would have been viewed as absurd just a few years ago. Now calls for civility in dialogue are denounced as racist dog whistles. Trinity College professor Johnny Williams said those who want civility uphold “white supremacist” capitalist power. When news host Joe Scarborough criticized those who confronted diners at restaurants and asked for more civility, University of Mississippi professor James Thomas denounced it and said, “Do not just interrupt meals. Put your whole damn fingers in their salads.”

It is the ultimate expression of entitlement. People either must conform to your values or face the public condemnation and threats. Your salad is no more inviolate than your speech. In a world where silence is violence and civility is complicity, there is little room for true free speech.

You can see Johnny Williams’s views in a coauthored piece at Inside Higher Ed. And the tweet by James Thomas, shown by the South Mississippi station WLOX. (I’m betting the tweet is deleted now.)

Before the last election, I criticized those who called out the Impure (all Republicans) in restaurants or other public places where they appeared with their families, trying to enjoy a meal. While some readers thought that harassing people in restaurants was perfectly fine, I couldn’t do it, and I think those who do, or who approve of it, are crossing the line. After all, would you like a Trump-ite to yell at you and your family while you’re eating out? I didn’t think so.

Here’s one more example that was sent me by Matthew Cobb. Here you have to start a virtual group meeting with the obligatory confession that you’re a racist. I haven’t verified this one, but Northwestern’s law school has been beset by student demands that they hire more black faculty, which constitute only 5% of the professors there. (Click on the screenshot to see all the confessions.)

This last one is the most chilling. What kind of atmosphere (and inducement to confess) would lead these people to abase themselves in this way? And why is it relevant? The worst part is that I see no sign of this authoritarianism abating.

78 thoughts on ““Silence = violence” leads to the demonization of the silent and the compulsion to utter certain words

  1. Forcing professors to admit that they are racists is a pretense for making “systemic racism” appear to be true, thereby giving them the pretense for knocking down the system.

    Also what student of colour would possibly feel safe at NU if it is swarming with self-admitted racists. What alumnus is going to donate to NU if they think that the faculty are either all racist or are too cowardly to stand up for themselves.

    This entire movement is a godsend for right-wingers who want to undermine academia. Certain parts of academic clearly deserve to be undermined. And at this point, it’s clear that many universities need to be defunded. Calculate the proportion of a university’s faculty that is dedicated to pushing political narratives (i.e., the “grievance studies” departments). Adjust their government funding downward by that percent.

    1. It’s classic original sin stuff. If you are born white you are racist. It would be fun to instead say “I am born of a woman who ate of the evil fruit. I am a sinner”. Let them deal with that shit. Claim you didn’t know which original sin you were admitting to and got mixed up.

          1. Yeah, that’s why I chose that example.

            Will minority members who are heterosexual be forced to confess to homophobia? Cis-gendered minority members to transphobia? Healthy minority members to ableism? Male, to misogyny? Or is it only whites who need to publicly atone?

            I remember reading a newspaper column written by a conservative Christian that said “Of course, we are all sinners who deserve eternal damnation.” I thought “Speak for yourself.”

  2. For sake of discussion, let us agree that all white people are racist. It seems to be the goal of the harassers that these people can be converted to being anti-racists (whatever that term means since I can’t recall it ever being spelled out) by public shaming and forcing them to make self-confessionals. It is hard to imagine a more counterproductive strategy. Sympathizers to the anti-racist cause can only be pushed so far if they are portrayed as evil people. It is not unfair to characterize the harassers and their dupes as revolutionaries. But, to what revolutionary end is unclear. Unlike the Leninists of Czarist Russia, they seem to have no plan except to create chaos. They are a reflection of the growing distrust of democracy on the both the left and the right (the Republican Party’s commitment to democracy has substantially eroded). Historical analogies are never perfect and should be used with care, but in my mind I conjure up the street fights between Nazis and Communists in the Weimar Republic.

  3. This is classic totalitarian practice: You cannot be neutral, you must proclaim your agreement explicitly and repeatedly. We must understand that there are groups within the United States that are against liberal democracy, and reject such values as pluralism, free speech, and due process.

    1. Yes, this is why I’ve said many times that “authoritarian Left” is not the correct label. “Totalitarian” is correct. Authoritarians demand that you submit, but you can still have your own thoughts and private conversations. Totalitarians demand control over everything, from your actions, to your thoughts, to your speech. They want total control of your being. It’s not enough to go along; you must actively proclaim your allegiance and do their bidding.

  4. I think the far left or the woke movement is really no different than the far right or Trump cult. The fanatics use tactics such as the silence BS to achieve their goals. In fact it is likely easier for the far left because they are working on the younger crowd, the students to collect their following. Maybe susceptibility to all the BS is in the DNA of many people. It is really not that much different than what leads people to religion. People are sticky sponges just walking around waiting for something to stick.

    1. Yes, I agree with you and BJ. It’s common to talk about a spectrum of political beliefs, but I often wonder if it isn’t really a circle, and the extremes come together in totalitarianism. It seems to matter quite a bit to the extremists what the flavor of the totalitarianism is, but not to the rest of us.

  5. Those “confessions” of racism are so reminiscent of the show trials under Stalin and the purges in countries like Cambodia. I guess it is the same authoritarian instinct in motion. But I trust at some point there will be a reaction to all this postmodern madness.

  6. “After all, would you like a Trump-ite to yell at you and your family while you’re eating out?”

    Indeed not. I broke up with her the next day!

    (I beat Ken to the punch on this one)

    On a more serious note, I now genuinely fear that, at work or school, I will one day soon be forced to make political statements with which I don’t agree in a “workshop” or “orientation,” to say nothing of simply being berated for my thoughts or the color of my skin (which ain’t that white, but I guess is considered “white passing”). The idea of being forced to submit to such a humiliating experience, to choose between keeping a job/education and debasing myself, makes me sick. This whole thing makes me sick. And it scares the hell out of me. Being forced to make political statements or submit to ritual humiliation is twisted.

    I can’t imagine what the media would be saying if the roles in these videos were reversed, with right-wing protestors bullying people. I often wonder what the media coverage would look like if the roles were reversed in so many of the situations we see now, and that thinking exercise is the best way to uncover just how much bias we have in our media.

    1. You are not the only one who is scared. I won’t say where I work but I am almost certain that this required “correct” political statement and/or ritual shaming is just around the corner. Last January we had to spend 3 hours being berated by an outside group who championed critical race theory, said everything in our society is racist, that being white meant we were racist and black people could not ever be racist, that we only had our jobs because of racism, and so on. I’ve come to hate my job. I don’t know what to do about it. I struggle to find work anyway, I lack a social network, I seem to lack marketable skills, and all of this exacerbates by depression and anxiety. Reading this post got my blood pressure up, for sure. It all seems a bit hopeless, like the foundation of our democracy has been excavated and packed with dynamite, the fuse has been lit, and I fear the final outcome. I am glad I’ve moved to a rural area though. Surrounded by tRumpers is no fun but, assholes they may be, they leave me alone.

    2. Yes this is now pervasive. At academic conferences one can now opt to include preferred pronouns on the name tag. Typically the name tag must be worn to get access to the conference facilities, so one’s gender orientation is prominently displayed. Of course for the vast majority of individuals this is done in solidarity with trans individuals in the organization. But not including pronouns is also therefore on display. And is open to (mis)interpretation.

      Similar issue for email signatures: in my organization the majority of young woke members include preferred pronouns in signatures, but the old liberals do not. So far this has not become compelled speech (one is not yet required to indicate preferred pronouns) but that change would not be surprising.

        1. I have reported before about the pronoun slapstick comedy in my old department. Asked by Email to list my preferred personal pronouns, I replied that after cataract surgery I discovered that I could now read Russian, and listed Мы и наши as my choice. A gang of grad students denounced my reply as a “microaggression” and complained about my existence to the HR office. I did consider complaining about the department’s Latin alphabet supremacism, and its Микроагрессия against the vulnerable, marginalized Slavophile community. But that might be dangerous. The woke mobs know my address, and are not noted for their sense of humor.

          1. “…pronoun slapstick comedy…”

            My personal pronoun is granklesnoogawoot; the possessive form is #8*&6^xhuuuuuuuun89#!.

            But that, of course, is only for today; at the stroke of midnight, as is their custom, My Organisms will assign me new ones.

            I’ll keep you posted.

        2. ‘Can’t one simply write “X/X” to satisfy the gender pronoun requirement?’

          Wouldn’t that be sex and not gender? (Wait, I forgot, sex is a “social construct.”)

          I contemplate addressing someone named Klinefelter who has Klinefelter’s Syndrome. (Some variation of “XX/Y”)

      1. ” . . . opt to include preferred pronouns on the name tag.”

        Yes, as if two persons in face-to-face conversation typically address each other with their preferred third person-singular pronouns.

    1. Timothy Snyder spoke of this in his book “Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century” about a shop owner putting a sign up that said “Workers of the World Unite” just so he could stay in business and avoid trouble, and that such actions amount to obedience in advance to totalitarians. Or something along those lines.

    1. That’s the irony here – most are very privileged. They are no idea what being poor means. Of course, poverty doesn’t count, only race.

  7. More examples of idiocy on the Left.

    What (in the hell) makes them think they will be the ones in charge of deciding what is acceptable speech? The 2016 election?

  8. Why do we subsidize the social sciences whose only aim now is to create an army of Red Guard zealots to do advance their version of the Cultural Revolution?

  9. This last one is the most chilling. What kind of atmosphere (and inducement to confess) would lead these people to abase themselves in this way?

    I can tell you exactly what kind of atmosphere: it’s exactly the same MO as Christianity, or at least the version of Christianity I used to subscribe to, which is Church of England.

    You are forced to admit that you are a sinner and declare it in various rituals. Then you can be saved from your sin by turning to Christ and making large donations to the Church.

    1. To me, this is even worse than churches forcing people to admit that they’re sinners. At least the Church says that all people are sinners, and you can take solace in the fact that it’s really just a perfunctory admission. “Yeah, I’m a sinner, blah blah.” Here, only certain people are forced to say something, forced to “admit” to something they might not even be, in front of everyone, considered one of the worst things you can be, and all based on certain immutable characteristics. Meanwhile, other people get to be the ones to tell them that, yes, they are indeed such terrible people, and must be guided by the hands of their betters toward the light.

      1. Sorry, I did not mean to give the impression that I thought my experience in the CofE was worse than this. No, in my church, at least, the admission really consists of ritualised prayers. Most people reciting them probably do not even think about what they are saying.

        I’m just interested that these people use precisely the same tactics as the purveyors of religion. What we have here is a religion in many ways and woe betide the heretics and unbelievers.

        1. No need to apologize! I totally got what you were saying. Just thought I’d write a comment about how this might be even more insidious and malicious.

    1. Agreed. This is not going to end well. If I’m enjoying a meal with my family and am suddenly surrounded by a mob like those in the videos, I will do whatever I need to do to defend my kids, my wife, and myself. I don’t glorify violence, but I also refuse to be bullied and intimidated. Compared to the people I grew up with, I’m nearly a pacifist. If the “protestors” continue with this technique, there will be bloodshed.

      To be perfectly clear, this is a prediction, not my desire.

      1. I expect you’re right. Though perhaps they pick their targets for bullying carefully, focusing only on those unlikely to offer serious resistance. But all it takes is for them to be wrong once.

  10. I think Biden will have to clearly differentiate his campaign from this radical wing. It’s such an easy target for tRump-world to exploit.

    Can you imagine what Hitch would say to these noisy mobsters?

            1. What Trump says and what Trump does have always been two separate things. That said, I do think Trump has the advantage in the debates, mainly because he will lie his ass off. Besides the damage of the false claims themselves, they force Biden to spend much of the debate defending himself from the false accusations.

              I would like to see a live fact-check during the debates. I bet that would make him think twice.

              1. He would most definitely say that. However, it does have a chance of making some people wonder if each “fact” is true or false. Many have made their decision already but there’s always a few who remain to be influenced.

              2. Debates never have been and never will be about truthfulness and policy. Sound bites are much more important. Biden’s biggest worry is having one of his infamous gaffes.

                Trump is a first class troll and Biden is likely to rise to the bait.

              3. Yes. Biden really needs to go on the offensive. He’s way too willing to let Trump set the agenda. He needs to find creative ways to dominate the news cycle at least some of the time. Biden should demonstrate that he intends to take action where Trump only has lies and BS. He’s not president so the actions available to him are limited, but he could organize the states’ response to COVID in some helpful way.

  11. My favorite is the action toward Rand Paul. “In June, he introduced a Senate bill to ban no-knock warrants called the ‘Justice for Breonna Taylor Act.'” And yet he was harassed and told “Say her [Breonna Taylor’s] name.” The media presentation of this is telling.

    NPR acknowledges that he sponsored the Breonna Taylor Act but leaves out that the so-called peaceful protesters were yelling at him to “say her name.”

    CBS tells about yelling “Save Her Name” but leaves out the fact that he sponsored the act in her name.


  12. I’m not a big Jordan Peterson fan but he saw this coming earlier than most. Canada passed legislation making it a finable offence to not use the preferred pronoun of a person. Peterson first rose to fame on this one issue. He called the legislation the first step towards compelled speech and people thought he was just crazy and fear mongering.

    1. ” . . . Jordan Peterson . . . called the legislation the first step towards compelled speech . . . .”

      Gad Saad was right in there with him.

  13. The ruling by the Diversity and Inclusion officer of Syracuse U. is particularly revealing. Soon, if it hasn’t happened already, we can expect that the participants in our required “anti-racism” training sessions will be closely watched, to detect the miscreant who stops applauding first.

  14. I’m not sure how to frame this yet as it’s not clear to me if the Left is: a. Ascendent, with a very worrisome ideology involving riots, mobs, and harassment coming slowly into power or b. Self-destructing in front of our eyes, by becoming the most indefensible parody of itself, sabotaging itself by burning every bridge it will need to be in any way effective in the future.

    1. The only thing that makes sense to me is that the chaos and agitation must be funded and directed by state actors for the purpose of general destabilization.
      BLM does not seem to promote policies that a reasonable person would predict would result in a net improvement in the quality of life of the average Black person.
      Antifa/RevCom seems to use tactics designed to create chaos, but don’t seem like they are organized to do more than that. I suppose there could be a larger organization, with truckloads of heavy weapons and hundreds of secret training camps, but It seems super unlikely.
      In my area, we had the one shooting, which I would never predicted. That was a game changer here. Now everyone I know is carefully following the first rule of unarmed combat*.
      We don’t have much in the way of public parks. A picnic area, and a little “spray park” that has some fountains for the kids to play in. Even most or the roads are unpaved. But we have a first-rate public shooting range, with targets out to 1000 yards. Any randomly chosen 12 year old would probably be able to consistently hit targets 500 yards and out, and likely has been practicing for years, not just on the range but on live targets in rough country.
      That does not mean that we, as a community, are any kind of cohesive military force. There are no militias or any of that sort of thing that I am aware of. Far from it. But neither are we Ukrainian Kulaks. If I were a bolshevik, and looking for a population to load onto rail cars for the camps, I would not want to go against people who regularly stalk and kill elk in the mountains.
      Multiply our little community by many thousands, and you at least have a huge logistic challenge.
      I don’t think that is even part of the larger plan.
      It really does seem more likely to me that general urban disruption here would make the odds of, as an example, China’s plans for Taiwan somewhat more attainable.

      *Never be unarmed.

      1. I don’t think there’s any real plan, I think it’s more a constellation of factors that came together. More kids than ever are going to college, and colleges have been increasingly hardcore about pushing Leftist ideology, creating a generation assured of their Just Cause. This is reinforced by the media, who always leaned Left, but moved to leaning way Left when they wanted to band together against Trump. So suddenly the social rewards, in terms of narrative and how you’re perceived, are huge if you can prove that you’re aligned with Wokeness, in a social media generation hungry for social rewards. And then once things reach a critical mass you have opportunistic looters and crazy kids who want to be crazy (I guess because I went to a school that was infamous for small post-football riots, that part doesn’t surprise me much – I see statue tipping and fires in general as the same impulse. This is just one of those bizarre things that young people do, and if you give them a free pass to do it and even praise them, of course all hell will break loose.)

        I think this has gone relatively unchecked because of Trump – the Left doesn’t want to publicly criticize their own side, and maybe are hoping all the chaos will hurt him politically. What worries me is that anyone who is being even remotely honest with themselves can see how this situation will play out. How will Vicky Osterweil (who wrote “In Defense Of Looting”) react if looters burn down and pillage her residence? I’m going to take a wild guess that the answer is ‘not well’. In some ways this is the equivalent of children saying “When I grow up I’m gonna let my kids eat dessert all day and play Xbox and stay up all night and never go to school!”. No one in their right mind thinks “Oh wow, this is going to be a real problem in the next generation!”. While humans are loath to change their minds, we all know there are a few things we predictably do change our minds about as we age, and the phenomenon of ‘becoming your parents’ is a universal one. We all tend to reliably see the light on such topics.

        So I don’t worry about people not coming around on the topic of riots – views about how great chaos and anarchy would be are pretty self-correcting. What worries me is that restoring order tends to be much harder than maintaining it, and I think the inevitable backlash to this situation could put us in a much worse place than where we started. More authoritarian programs like ‘Stop and Frisk’ were already on the way out as public opinion turned against them, but now, who knows?

  15. Their demand that everyone choose sides is likely to backfire on them.

    I have never had much positive to say about the 3%rs or the open carry fanatics with all their tactical cosplay.
    But it is hard to even put into words how much I despise the far left Marxist cadre.
    I have personally been able to avoid either group.
    My oldest was not so lucky. His university was one where BLM fanatics were allowed to disrupt and threaten at will. They seem to have targeted particularly my son’s peers, who were quiet, studious med students, who mainly just wanted to study. They would interrupt their study groups, even in reserved spaces in the library. They would seek them out in the food court, they would intercept them on walkways and common areas. And always with demands to “say Black Lives Matter!”, and always lots of threats and profanity.
    My kids are fully immunized against Marxism, having learned all about it from their grandfather who survived a couple of years in Mao’s reeducation camps.
    I doubt they ever got my kid to say it, but he transferred to a safer school.

    I definitely don’t harbor any malice towards the Black community, any more than I would judge one of my neighbors if they were pressured into buying a timeshare, or if their kid joined a cult. If anything, running the Marxists off might be a great bonding exercise between people across the racial spectrum.

  16. To the extent it is post secondary educators who are pressured this way, surely at least having tenure will be valuable for resisting. I realize this is far from the majority. Hopefully tenured professors, especially those in administrative positions, will help the others to resist.

    Maybe there will be opponents of tenure who become newly converted to becoming supporters. Hopefully this would include many right-winger economics conservatives who see advanced education merely as job training.

  17. Something I might write:

    “Hello, my name is Lee, and I don’t really know if there are remnants of racism in me; I will leave that judgement to people who know me better than you guys. I will try to purge them as I find them, because I honestly believe in the moral equality of all humans, and I want to do my part to make the world a better place.

    But one thing I’m pretty sure of is that you guys are real assholes who are working your butts off to get Trump re-elected in 2020. And I find that both terrifying and really, really offensive.

    BTW, get your fingers outta my salad before I break them off.”

  18. I’m reminded of the “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer took part in an AIDS walk but was derided for not wearing an AIDS ribbon.

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