Dissidents and Doublethinkers in Our Democracy
Plus: a new organization picking up the flag the ACLU has put down.
I know a lot of people who live in fear of saying what they really think. In red America and in blue America — and, perhaps more so, on the red internet and the blue internet — we are in the grip of an epidemic of self-silencing. What you censor, of course, depends on where you sit.
My liberal friends who live in red America confess to avoiding discussions of masks, Dominion, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, the 2020 election and Donald Trump, to name just a few. When those who disagree with the surrounding majority speak their mind, they suffer the consequences. I think here of my friend, the conservative writer David French, who for four years endured an avalanche of horrific attacks against himself and his family for criticizing the Trump administration that ultimately required the intervention of the FBI.
But there are two illiberal cultures swallowing up the country. I know because I live in blue America, in a world awash in NPR tote bags and front lawn signs proclaiming the social justice bonafides of the family inside.
In my America, the people who keep quiet don’t fear the wrath of Trump supporters. They fear the illiberal left.
They are feminists who believe there are biological differences between men and women. Journalists who believe their job is to tell the truth about the world, even when it’s inconvenient. Doctors whose only creed is science. Lawyers who will not compromise on the principle of equal treatment under the law. Professors who seek the freedom to write and research without fear of being smeared. In short, they are centrists, libertarians, liberals and progressives who do not ascribe to every single aspect of the new far-left orthodoxy.
That’s the opening of an essay I wrote about America’s self-silencing majority for The Deseret News Magazine, published this week. It was my effort to explain the widespread phenomenon — and seeming contradiction — of doublethink in our democracy.
I am not speaking here of people holding their tongue in order to be polite. I’m speaking about people who are closeting their common-sensical beliefs for fear of a censorious, merciless ideology that tags any skeptics as bigots.
These aren’t simply anecdotes. A recent national study from the Cato Institute found that 62% of Americans say they self-censor. The more conservative a group is, the more likely they are to hide their views: 52% of Democrats confess to self-censoring compared with 77% of Republicans. But still: 52% of Democrats.
Two studies published this week round out the picture.
One is Heterodox Academy’s annual Campus Expression Survey Report, which found that in 2020, 62% of college students the group surveyed “agreed the climate on their campus prevents students from saying things they believe.” In other words, the majority of college students say that they cannot tell the truth in institutions that exist for the purpose of pursuing the truth. Read the whole thing.
The second is a report from the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology conducted by Eric Kaufmann. Again, it’s worth reading the whole thing, but one item stands out: seven in ten conservative academics in non-STEM fields say they self-censor.
Do ten conservative American academics even exist? (Try naming ten outside of Hillsdale College. I’ll go: Harvey Mansfield, Niall Ferguson, Ruth Wisse, Robby George. Struggling to come up with a fifth without Google.) Then again, we wouldn’t know because they are closeted.
This was a week when the trend I have been writing about seemed to accelerate exponentially, touching subjects I honestly was not expecting. Like Mr. Potato Head. And Dr. Seuss.
By now you have surely heard that the Seuss estate is ceasing publication of six books, including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo” because they show images that, according to the estate, are “hurtful and wrong.”
Yes, of course: the Seuss estate is welcome to discontinue any books it wants. But does it not strike you as dystopian when eBay decides that people who own those books cannot even resell them?
“EBay is currently sweeping our marketplace to remove these items,” the company told the Wall Street Journal. In the meantime, one can still reliably purchase works by those paragons of social justice, Mussolini, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin, as Matt Taibbi helpfully points out.
There’s more. Amazon this week unveiled a new policy that it could erase the listings of “inappropriate and offensive” works, or books that promote “hate speech.” Who decides what is inappropriate, hateful or offensive? The same faceless (and increasingly irreplaceable) company that delivers Haagen Dazs. “You needn’t burn forbidden books if people can’t buy them in the first place,” Abigail Shrier puts it in a sharp piece about what this new policy portends.
It’s hard to fully capture the downstream effects of this corporate totalitarianism. “For the people saying that you'll be able to find copies of these books at libraries or garage sales. Yes, perhaps. But writers do not support themselves like that. They need markets. And so they will learn to anticipate the corporate power and the result is self-censorship,” observed the critic Thomas Chatterton Williams on Twitter. He’s right. But that kind of preemptive censorship is already here.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to my hero Natan Sharansky. In this essay — worth printing out and reading slowly — he and co-author Gil Troy warn us about the “bottom-up cultural totalitarianism” that’s sweeping across the West.
I know. It’s depressing. Perhaps you’re sick of complaining and want to do something about it.
Good news: Yesterday we launched the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.
FAIR is an organization that is picking up the flag the ACLU and the SPLC have put down by standing up for civil rights, civil liberties, equality under the law, fairness, tolerance, and pro-human anti-racism. Our mission statement spells it out beautifully.
The board of advisors is an advertisement for what we’re all about: a coalition of liberals, moderates, and conservatives joining together to defend our most essential values. The group includes Coleman Hughes, John McWhorter, Melissa Chen, Ian Rowe, Glenn Loury, Eli Steele, Steven Pinker, Daryl Davis, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Zaid Jilani, Kmele Foster, Andrew Doyle, Chris Rufo, Liang-Fang Chao, Megyn Kelly, and more. I’m honored to be working alongside them.
So far, FAIR is an all-volunteer organization. I really hope you’ll get involved.
Last thing: Nellie is, far and away, the writing talent in this house. Her essay this week bowled me over and I’m really proud to share it.
Shabbat shalom, dear readers! See you next week.