Fighting ideological repression by the Authoritarian Left

October 3, 2023 • 11:45 am

I don’t know how Anna Krylov manages to sustain a successful career as an accomplished and honored theoretical and quantum chemist at the University of Southern California—while at the same time turning out long and thoughtful pieces that attack the ruination of science by the Authoritarian Left. She was, for example, the main author of the multiauthored piece “In Defense of Merit in Science,” although she charitably allowed the authors to appear in alphabetical order (I was one). As sole author, in 2021 she published “The Peril of Politicizing Science” in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, her first shot across the bow.

Anna continues to post on the Heterodox Academy and Heterodox STEM websites, and now has partnered again with Jay Tanzman—a freelance academic statistician—to defend science against ideological rot.  The article on Heterodox STEM below (click to read) is informed by Anna’s experience growing up in the repressive Soviet Union, and compares how speech was repressed by her government and how it’s being repressed by Authoritarian Left Science Bigwigs.  (She doesn’t pretend that science in America is the equivalent of Soviet science, but there are telling parallels.)

But the main difference between this article and the others by her and Tanzman is that this one puts a positive spin on our dire times, telling STEM people how to fight the Critical Social Justice termites in our house, termites that should be reserved for politics and not allowed to eat away at science.

This is a long piece, but it reads well, is amply illustrated with Soviet examples of repression, has lots of references, and, most of all, will hearten those of you who hate what’s happening to STEM but haven’t spoken up about it.

First, Krylov and Tanzman (henceforth K&T) diagnoses the problem:

Free speech itself, the cornerstone of liberal democracy, is under attack. As viewed by CSJ activists, free speech is dangerous, harmful, and equivalent to violence [41]. Adherents of DEI ideology believe that DEI should trump academic freedom [42]. Institutions essential for providing a platform for the marketplace of ideas, information exchange, and debate have largely abandoned their mission in the name of social justice activism. Articles in the press are infused with CSJ ideology [4]. Scientific publishers from Scientific American to the flagship journals Science and Nature have become mouthpieces for CSJ [43–56]. Universitieswhose primary mission is education and truth seeking, have become complicit in censorship, scholarship suppression, indoctrination, and intimidation [57–59]. Universities and professional organizations have compromised their mission as seekers and communicators of objective truths by abandoning traditional institutional neutrality in favor of political activism, taking official positions on elections, police reform, abortion, wars, and other social issues [60,61], leaving dissenters out in the cold.

. . . What we are witnessing today—curriculum “decolonization,” the elimination of honors classes in schools, the ubiquitous war on merit [4], the imposition of political litmus tests for academic positions, Newspeak, the renaming of everything in sight, and on and on—are not isolated excesses perpetrated by a handful of overly zealous but otherwise well-meaning individuals; they are symptoms of a wholesale takeover of our institutions by an illiberal movement that currently has the upper hand. The current situation is not a pendulum that has swung too far and will self-correct [74]; it is a train hurtling full speed toward a cliff. Those of us unwillingly to go over the edge can either jump off—leave academia (or maybe start up alternative institutions)—or fight to get the brakes applied before it is too late. The remainder of this chapter is about the latter course of action.

The rest of the paper involves giving the reasons we should fight this incursion (the answer is simple: “because it is the right thing to do”). K&T also say it’s exhilarating and empowering, though I have to admit that there are times when battling this nonsense is dispiriting, particularly when you get called names like “racist” or “transphobe”.

A few more reasons:

The choice to fight in the face of potential consequences is personal [89] and not an easy one to make. But as you contemplate whether to act or to lay low, consider the importance of truth and integrity in your life. To paraphrase Bari Weiss: Worship truth more than Yale. As she says:

[D]o not lose sight of what is essential. Professional prestige is not essential. Being popular is not essential. Getting your child into an elite preschool is not essential. Doing the right thing is essential. Telling the truth is essential. Protecting your kids is essential. [90]

Sure, no one wants to become a martyr for free speech or experience bullying, ostracism, and professional damage [81,91–93]. Cancel culture is real, but the risks are not what dissenters to totalitarian regimes faced historically or face today—cancel culture does not put you in jail. One still can write a dissenting op-ed without the fear of being stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the country, as Solzhenitsyn was for his writings [83]. We still can criticize DEI policies without fear of being put under house arrest, as Sakharov was for his vocal opposition to nuclear weapons and his unwavering defense of human rights [87]. But if we delay, some of the totalitarian nightmares of the past may become a reality. There are already worrying signs of this totalitarian-style repression in America: parents opposing CSJ in schools have been accused of terrorism and investigated by the FBI [94]; a journalist who wrote about collusion between the government and social media was paid a surprise home visit by the Internal Revenue Service [95]; a student who questioned the concept of microaggressions [96] at a mandatory training was expelled and forced to “seek to psychological services” [97]. These incidents in America today are chillingly similar to practices in Russia in the Soviet era, when the KGB routinely investigated dissidents, and dissent from Soviet ideology was considered a psychiatric disorder [84,88]. In the absence of resistance, this illiberal movement, like illiberal movements of the past, will gain ever more power, and we will face ever worse repression and erosion of individual freedom.

And then K&T proceed to the main part of their piece, offering up tips on how to fight. I’ll just list them in their own words:

1. Educate yourself; knowledge is power.

To effectively counter the ideology of CSJ, it is crucial to understand its nature and the tactics it employs. As two-time Nobel Laureate Marie Sklodowska-Curie said:

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.

2. Use all existing means of resistance, but first and foremost, the official ones.

Mechanisms of resistance are available through existing institutions, even if the institutions themselves are failing to protect their mission [101]. These mechanisms can be exploited to change the institution from within.

3. Don’t play their game: You can’t win.

We are trained to seek compromises and solutions that bring different groups on board; we seek consensus. That is a fine approach under normal circumstances, when all agents are acting in good faith. But we must recognize that we are up against agents who are driven—knowingly or unknowingly—by an ideology whose goal is to take over the institution. Every compromise with them brings them closer to their goal [1,3,74,98,123]. Therefore, we must stand our ground.

4. Focus on truth, not partisanship. Do not fear verbal attacks.

When you take on CSJ, there is something you will need to come to terms with: you are going to be called names, and your views and beliefs are going to be distorted and misrepresented. These are standard tactics of the CSJ movement. Since the adherents of CSJ have adopted an ideological, rather than a rational, worldview, they cannot rationally defend it; so they use the only tools they have: personal attacks and strawman arguments. They will call you transphobe, racist, misogynist, alt-right, Nazi, etc., no matter what you say or do. They will use deliberate misrepresentation of your expressions to subvert and discredit them [98]. They will use the “Motte and Bailey” trick [144] to derail conversations. Learn about these tactics so that you can anticipate, recognize, and counter them [98].

#4 is probably the hardest thing to do, as it involves having enough self-confidence to fight against nonsense, knowing your opponents won’t answer you with rational arguments but with name-calling. Fortunately, having written this website for 14 years, I’m pretty inured to that (you should see some of the insulting comments I leave unposted).

More important advice:

5. Do not apologize.

We cannot stress this enough. Your apology will be taken as a sign of weakness and will not absolve you—in fact, it will make matters worse. Apologies to the illiberal mob are like drops of blood in the water to a pack of sharks. Additionally, your apology can be interpreted as an admission of guilt, which can come back to haunt you in the event you need to defend yourself legally or in an administrative proceeding.

6. Build a community and a network.

Communities and networks provide moral support and there is safety in numbers. Some groups already exist. The Heterodox Academy (HxA), for example, provides a platform to organize communities (e.g., HxSTEM is a community of STEM faculty) and to connect with colleagues who are open to reasoned debate,

Remember, scientists who oppose the incursion of illiberal ideology into their fields outnumber those scientists who are vociferous advocates of CSJ. The vociferous minority wins because it demonizes and ridicules the opposition, as well as assuming the mantle of moral probity. Stick up for those who are wrongly demonized and don’t be afraid to speak up when you see nonsense. You may lose the battle, but it’s the only way to win the war.

K&T’s conclusion:

Will we succeed? Will we stop the train before it goes over the cliff? We do not know what will happen if we fight. But we know what will happen if we don’t. The task ahead might look impossible. But remember the USSR. It looked like an unbreakable power, yet in the end it collapsed like a house of cards. The Berlin Wall looked indestructible, yet it came down overnight. Recalling his 20 years’ experience in the gay marriage debate, Jonathan Rauch told us: “I can tell you that the wall of received opinion is sturdy and impenetrable…until it isn’t. And that it’s the quiet people in the room who are the swing vote…. and please illegitimi non carborundum [159].”

We are not helpless. We have agency and we should not be afraid to exercise it. We should fight not just because it is the right thing to do, but because fighting brings results. If we behave as if we were living in a totalitarian society, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not as optimistic as K&T, but I am willing to do something to stop the rot (e.g. this website, and my paper with Luana Maroja in Skeptical Inquirer). DO NOT DO NOTHING!

In honor of the first sentence of K&T’s penultimate paragraph, here’s an old song from Steve Still’s best solo album:

A note on the cover:

The front cover photo was taken by photographer Henry Diltz during a snowy September morning outside Stills’ cabin in Colorado. The pink giraffe on the cover is thought to be a secret message to one of his girlfriends, specifically Rita Coolidge who had just left him for Graham Nash, which was one of the contributing factors for the demise of CSNY. 

11 thoughts on “Fighting ideological repression by the Authoritarian Left

  1. How many people here want to fight the “authoritarian left”, but continue to vote for a political party that empowers the authoritarian left?

    At some point, you are going to have to stop supporting the Democratic Party. Voting is anonymous, so it is the safest and easiest way to stop the authoritarian left. Vote third party, vote Republican as the lesser of two evils, but a vote for the Democratic Party is a vote for the authoritarian left.

    Right now, you are all getting what you vote for!

    1. Yes, the Democrats do empower (to some extent) the authoritarian Left, but not all of them. Voting third party or voting Republican are not acceptable alternatives because both tactics will guarantee a Trump victory, and we already know that Trump will wreck the country as President.

      If you want us to vote for Trump, you’re asking us to abandon some wokeness so we can have hatred and insurrection. Sorry, pal, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    2. The choice is between a party that is mildly (but still way too much) tolerant of CSJ and DEI, and a party that is in the grip of, well , outright authoritarian populists (not to call them fascists, let us say crypto-fascists?).
      Voting Republican is voting for the MAGA republicans at present. MAGA republicans winning power would be a geopolitical disaster for the US, the West, for freedom, democracy and Enlightenment.
      I still suspect Trump’s MAGA movement was a Russian ‘hybrid warfare’ operation. Sadly, Bill Barr cut that investigation short prematurely.
      Today, the crypto-fascists have the GOP in an iron grip. Only an overwhelming defeat at the ballot box can crush them.
      Sadly, in the US’ two party system a third party is not a viable option.
      As for the other end of the extremist spectrum (the CSJ ideology), I think the present administration is resisting them pretty well (with a few exceptions, such as reversing Betsy de Vos’ brakes on the excesses of title IX).
      IMMO, the danger of the crypto-fascist MAGAts is even more imminent right now than the dangers of CSJ, but, as Anna pointed out, the dangers of the latter are far from far away.
      The wide space bar in the centre has to fight a battle on two fronts simultaneously, the Alt Right and the Ctrl Left, as your keyboard will tell you.

      1. Where do you see any resistance at all in the Biden administration to extremist CSJ? The dangers of CSJ are right here, right now. People’s lives are being ruined.

        I wouldn’t count out a third-party candidate in 2024. I keep reading of growing distaste for Trump on the right and for the effects of Democrat policies on the left. That option is far more plausible now than ever and we desperately need it. Besides, if an actual centrist (we haven’t seen one nominated in at least 60 years) can’t draw out a majority from even 30% of Repubs who don’t want Trump and 30% of Dem voters sick and tired of the CSJ nonsense and its effects on their communities, we can kiss this republic goodbye no matter which major-party candidate wins.

  2. I’ve corresponded a little with a couple of other academics who are themselves either emigrés from the USSR or their parents were.
    They are, like Anna Krylov, astonished and appalled by the wave of CSJ orthodoxy that has swept over academia here, so
    creepily reminiscent of the Lysenkovshchina in the galaxy far away. …Our DEIshchina replay of the story raises interesting sociological questions— such as the interaction between political postures and careerist hustling in the academic world, a relationship that is evidently independent of geography.

  3. Krylov’s is a super piece. It exposes CSJ to be the poison it is. And she’s so right about the “throat clearing.” Normal people do that in order to help establish a rapport with the other conversant. But with these zealots there is no rapport. We don’t need to be in their good graces. We need to be in their faces.

    I’ll be keeping the link to Krylov’s article. I sometimes have the opportunity to educate people on the hidden agenda of the CSJ radicals. Regular people can’t believe that such evil hides in plain sight at our universities and in our great corporations. Even the administrators of those institutions are fooled. I like to believe that university presidents and CEOs are looking for a license to undo this mess and send their bloated DEI departments packing. Krylov’s article and discussions that take place on this web site are helping to provide that license. Krylov’s is correct: Fight Back!

  4. This is yet one more article, with notes, that I am collecting about this troubling phenomenon. The issue is not yet very present in my mid-sized university in the midwest, although I do sense rustling in the bushes, so to speak. There are more administrators in charge of DEI, and the occasional symposium about micro- aggressions. But so far I lecture about conventional biological sex and no one bats and eye. But I am stockpiling arguments and evidence just in case, and its all thanks to this site. 

  5. “But so far I lecture about conventional biological sex and no one bats and eye. But I am stockpiling arguments and evidence just in case, and its all thanks to this site. ”

    My last year teaching before retirement in 2022 I had a girl in my class who suffered from genderdysforia. (wanted to be called a he, I usually avoided the problem by referring to her name instead of her preferred pronoun). Anyway, I had a lot of very constructive discussion with this girl and I was always clear in my teaching (science) that biological sex is binary. Never, ever did anyone protest my “bigoted” view. Why? Well I believe that the vast majority of the kids here in Norway actually believe that sex is binary. The vast majority of people today, also the younger ones, do not support the most radical gender activist. There’s definitely also a tide against the woke madness her in Norway and I believe we, here at least, have reach peak woke. Of course, as a teacher it’s important that one is prepared for an activist to show up in class and ask provocative question like “How many sexes are there?”

  6. OK, having read what follows, it is a bit long, and apologies to our host if I’ve broken da roolz. But here goes.

    That’s a fascinating article. For me, as 69 yo, one of the most interesting things was hearing how little impact the Soviet dissidents had on Anna Krylov’s generation. For me, as a young lad, there was a time when Solzhenitsyn seemed almost single-handedly to be defying the Soviet leadership, and was an inspiring figure. He did lapse into reactionary obscurantism, but still, IMO, a great man and a great writer. And Andrei Sakharov was a truly great human being.

    The parallels between the Soviet suppression of dissent after Stalin, under the milder regimes of Khruschev and successors, and the current situation re free speech in the West have been on my mind. If you can find a copy of “Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record”, it’s worth a read. The notes on the meeting to discuss Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion from the Writers’ Union are scarily reminiscent of today’s cancel culture. It also contains Solzhenitsyn’s wonderful Nobel Prize lecture “One Word of Truth”, and his essay “Live not by lies” (, which contains the following advice, not, I think,at odds with Anna Krylov’s recommendations:

    And thus, overcoming our temerity, let each man choose: Will he remain a witting servant of the lies (needless to say, not due to natural predisposition, but in order to provide a living for the family, to rear the children in the spirit of lies!), or has the time come for him to stand straight as an honest man, worthy of the respect of his children and contemporaries? And from that day onward he:

    · Will not write, sign, nor publish in any way, a single line distorting, so far as he can see, the truth;

    · Will not utter such a line in private or in public conversation, nor read it from a crib sheet, nor speak it in the role of educator, canvasser, teacher, actor;

    · Will not in painting, sculpture, photograph, technology, or music depict, support, or broadcast a single false thought, a single distortion of the truth as he discerns it;

    · Will not cite in writing or in speech a single “guiding” quote for gratification, insurance, for his success at work, unless he fully shares the cited thought and believes that it fits the context precisely;

    · Will not be forced to a demonstration or a rally if it runs counter to his desire and his will; will not take up and raise a banner or slogan in which he does not fully believe;

    · Will not raise a hand in vote for a proposal which he does not sincerely support; will not vote openly or in secret ballot for a candidate whom he deems dubious or unworthy;

    · Will not be impelled to a meeting where a forced and distorted discussion is expected to take place;

    · Will at once walk out from a session, meeting, lecture, play, or film as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda;

    · Will not subscribe to, nor buy in retail, a newspaper or journal that distorts or hides the underlying facts.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible and necessary ways of evading lies. But he who begins to cleanse himself will, with a cleansed eye, easily discern yet other opportunities.

  7. And, perhaps outstaying my welcome, I will take issue with this: “it is through the actions of the dissidents that the West came to understand the Soviet regime as an “evil empire”. I always hated the “evil empire” war-mongering rhetoric of Reagan. It was more that, through the actions of the dissidents, people like me came to see that Russians were people much like ourselves, with the same hopes, fears, and concerns, not some kind of implacable enemy intent on our destruction.

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