Some academics fear for their career because they don’t believe progressive orthodoxies

By | September 1, 2020

John McWhorter writes:

Our national reckoning on race has brought to the fore a loose but committed assemblage of people given to the idea that social justice must be pursued via attempts to banish from the public sphere, as much as possible, all opinions that they interpret as insufficiently opposed to power differentials. Valid intellectual and artistic endeavor must hold the battle against white supremacy front and center, white people are to identify and expunge their complicity in this white supremacy with the assumption that this task can never be completed, and statements questioning this program constitute a form of “violence” that merits shaming and expulsion.

Skeptics have labeled this undertaking “cancel culture,” which of late has occasioned a pushback from its representatives. The goal, they suggest, is less to eliminate all signs of a person’s existence—which tends to be impractical anyway— than to supplement critique with punishment of some kind. Thus a group of linguists in July submitted to the Linguistic Society of America a petition not only to criticize the linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker for views they considered racist and sexist, but to have him stripped of his Linguistic Society of America fellow status and removed from the organization’s website listing linguist consultants available to the media. An indication of how deeply this frame of mind has penetrated many of our movers and shakers is that they tend to see this punishment clause as self-evidently just, as opposed to the novel, censorious addendum that it is.

Another defense of sorts has been to claim that even this cancel-culture lite is not dangerous, because it has no real effect. When, for instance, 153 intellectuals signed an open letter in Harper’s arguing for the value of free speech (I was one of them), we were told that we were comfortable bigwigs chafing at mere criticism, as if all that has been happening is certain people being taken to task, as opposed to being shamed and stripped of honors.

To the extent that the new progressives acknowledge that some prominent people have been unfairly tarred—including the food columnist Alison Roman, the data analyst David Shor, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art senior curator Gary Garrels—they often insist that these are mere one-off detours rather than symptoms of a general cultural sea change.

For example, in July I tweeted that I (as well as my Bloggingheads sparring partner Glenn Loury) have been receiving missives since May almost daily from professors living in constant fear for their career because their opinions are incompatible with the current woke playbook. Then various people insisted that I was, essentially, lying; they simply do not believe that anyone remotely reasonable has anything to worry about. [Continue reading…]

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