I’m worried about Bari Weiss, for she seems to be publishing the same stuff over and over again. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m reading the same stuff over and over again, but from other people. Regardless, her new piece is in the Deseret News, an odd choice because it’s owned by the Mormon Church (LDS). The topic is how many people silence themselves, both on the right (if they live in blue states), or the left (in red states or if you’re a “liberal” but surrounded by hyperliberals who will go after you, like at Smith College).
We already knew that, so click on the screenshot if you want to read it, and I’ll put a few tidbits below that may be new to you.
The “old” liberal consensus:
I was born in 1984, which puts me among the last generation born into America before the phrase “cancel culture” existed. That world I was born into was liberal. I don’t mean that in the partisan sense, but in the classical and therefore the most capacious sense of that word. It was a liberal consensus shared by liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.
The consensus view relied on a few foundational truths that seemed as obvious as the blue of the sky: the belief that everyone is created in the image of God; the belief that everyone is equal because of it; the presumption of innocence; a revulsion to mob justice; a commitment to pluralism and free speech, and to liberty of thought and of faith.
. . . Most importantly, this worldview insisted that what bound us together was not blood or soil, but a commitment to a shared set of ideas. Even with all of its failings, the thing that makes America exceptional is that it is a departure from the notion, still prevalent in so many other places, that biology, birthplace, class, rank, gender, race are destiny. Our second founding fathers, abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, were living testimonies to that truth.
Well, we can leave the God part out, since most of us don’t believe in gods. We can still hold people deserving of equal treatment for other reasons, which are better ones: it is simple justice to treat people equally in terms of moral responsibility, the law, and so on, because there is no good reason to do otherwise, and society runs best when all are “equal” in this respect. I have no problem with the rest of it. And the last paragraph shows how the “new” liberalism—the liberalism of extremists—differs from that worldview.
The new “illiberal orthodoxy”:
This old consensus — every single aspect of it — has been run over by the new illiberal orthodoxy. Because this ideology cloaks itself in the language of progress, many understandably fall for its self-branding. Don’t. It promises revolutionary justice, but it threatens to drag us back into the mean of history, in which we are pitted against one another according to tribe.
The primary mode of this ideological movement is not building or renewing or reforming, but tearing down. Persuasion is replaced with public shaming. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Mercy is replaced with vengeance. Pluralism with conformity; debate with de-platforming; facts with feelings; ideas with identity.
According to the new illiberalism, the past cannot be understood on its own terms, but must be judged through the morals and mores of the present. Education, according to this ideology, is not about teaching people how to think, it’s about telling them what to think. All of this is why William Peris, a UCLA lecturer and an Air Force veteran, was investigated because he read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” out loud in class. It is why statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln were torn down last summer. It is why a school district in California has banned Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” It’s why the San Francisco School Board just voted to rename 44 schools, including ones named for George Washington, Paul Revere and Dianne Feinstein — you read that right — for various sins.
Okay, that’s a good list, but we know much of this already, although perhaps Weiss’s readers don’t. But she’s way behind the news curve, as with the school renaming. However, here’s one tidbit I’d missed:
In this ideology, if you do not tweet the right tweet or share the right slogan or post the right motto and visual on Instagram, your whole life can be ruined. If you think I’m exaggerating, you might look up Tiffany Riley, the Vermont public school principal fired this fall because she said she supports Black lives but not the organization Black Lives Matter.
You’re gonna get paywalled if you try to follow those links, so here’s the story from Vermont local NBC news outlet:
Riley’s post said she firmly believes that “Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point.”
She went on to write that while she wants to get behind Black Lives Matter, “I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all?”
Her post generated more than 100 comments and was widely shared, the school board said. She was placed on paid administrative leave June 12 and the board unanimously voted on July 27 to fire Riley, pending a termination hearing. The Sept. 10 hearing was held in a closed executive session, although Riley tried to have the hearing open to the public.
Not a smart Facebook post if you want to retain credibility with your community, but it is still within Riley’s freedom of speech to post this on Facebook. Indeed, she filed a freedom-of-speech and defamation lawsuit in 2020 but I haven’t found much about it since. You shouldn’t get fired for exercising your freedom of speech unless it somehow contravenes your ability to do your job or reflects badly on your employer, nether of which seems to be true in this case.
Finally, Weiss explains what’s new about “cancel culture” as opposed to previous “discussions” about differing views:
But what we call cancel culture is a departure from traditional taboos in two ways.
The first is technology. Sins once confined to the public square or the town hall are now available for the entire world for eternity. In our era of Big Tech there is no possibility of moving to a new town and starting fresh because the cloud of all of your posts and likes hangs over your head forever.
The second is that in the past, societal taboos were generally reached through a cultural consensus. Today’s taboos, on the other hand, are often fringe ideas pushed by a zealous cabal trying to redefine what is acceptable and what should be shunned. It is a group that has control of nearly all of the institutions that produce American cultural and intellectual life: media, to be sure, but also higher education, museums, publishing houses, marketing and advertising outfits, Hollywood, K-12 education, technology companies and, increasingly, corporate human resource departments.
And this leads to self-censorship. Even I have to worry about shutting up when I address certain topics, though I have little to lose.
At any rate, although what’s above may be news to the good citizens of Utah, it seems to be banging the same old drum, with the addition of gods. Or maybe I’m just splenetic today.