In his book, The Case for Democracy, Russian dissident and gulag survivor Natan Sharansky proposes a simple test to discern if you are living in, what he calls, a "free society" or a "fear society." He calls it the "Town Square Test," Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm? Today, the "town square" exists virtually, on social media, on Twitter and Facebook and the answer is a resounding, no.
During this time, there have been numerous incidents in the UK of people being visited by the police and told to "check their thinking" after voicing dissent against reality by denying leftist ideologies. Today, people run the gauntlet of being labelled a fascist for stating brute biological facts. The trend still continues apace. Last week I woke up to a marketing campaign by feminine care products producer Tampax claiming their products are for "people who bleed" and not women who menstruate. They clearly missed a massive marketing opportunity not sending a large shipment of tampons into the notorious protestor occupied zone in Seattle earlier this summer to bung up all the bullet holes.
This Halloween, as the lefist media continue to construct a Berlin, sorry Biden, fire wall around the presidential presumptive and his family, as Twitter and Facebook attempt to curate the zeitgeist, I'm left wondering if perhaps the first sign of serious trouble was way back in 2006.
This was the year Larry Summers resigned as Harvard University president, with a nudge, after a vote of no confidence by liberal arts faculty. The reason? He had suggested that innate, average sex differences and not sexism, could be responsible for the under representation of women in highly competitive jobs and industries. This was, and still is, a perfectly reasonable hypothesis in the real world, but is haram in the church of critical social justice theory. Since then, many people have lost livelihoods and lives after coming under progressively censorious scrutiny.
The excesses of progressive, leftist ideology are not new to human civilization. Writing about the French Revolution in 1790, the father of British conservatism, Edmund Burke, warned against the revolutionary's tendency to imbue themselves with false virtue, believing they are combating prejudice while actually declaring war on nature. This describes the present situation well. Burke also predicted the subsequent French reign of terror — in which well over ten thousand people were put on trial and executed for political 'crimes' — noting that when people play God they soon begin to behave like devils. It is a chronically overlooked fact by liberal lefties that the tradition of modern conservatism came out of the 'liberal' enlightenment, to guard against the excesses of the Jacobin terror.
The idea that being a liberal or a lefty somehow imbues you with saintly goodness is a complete fantasy. The most robust signifier of being a leftist is not that you are a good person but a hopelessly deluded one!
This blatant self evident truth still unfortunately doesn't stop the most intelligent of us from falling for it.
As the US elections draw to a close, a gaggle of our once heterodox intellectuals have retreated from centrist ground, to the familiar comfort of the fallacy of the benign left. Steven Pinker, Jon Haidt, Bret Weinstein, Sam Harris, Jesse Singal, Helen Pluckrose and more, have abandoned their centrist positions and all the people who followed them there.
Last week saw Pinker post a bizarre tweet arguing, of all things, the libertatian case for voting for Biden. He followed that by sharing an article written by Singal, Even If You Are, For Some Reason, A Liberal, Single-Issue Anti-Wokeness Voter, You Still Shouldn't Vote For Trump and then yet another by editor of Areo magazine, Helen Plukrose, who abandoned centrism a while ago, to be fair.
Perhaps Pinker still genuinely believes his vision of benevolent liberalism still exists. Maybe these actions are an attempt to pay coin to his captors, to ward off future attack, as the ancient Britons paid danegeld to their Viking invaders in the hope of staving off more rape and pillage. It didn't work then and won't now.
This is a lament, because Pinker is a writer I have admired for many decades and wrote one of the most important books of the 21st century in The Blank Slate. He is a man who, I believed, tried to straddle the left/right ideological divide all his life with intellectual integrity. He has long self identified as a social liberal but, as he is also an empirical evolutionist, he cannot in good conscience deny the realities of biology. Indeed, in 2006 Pinker defended Larry Summers' heretical claims of average sex differences. This, and his failure to utterly submit to leftist ideology, has earned him a place on their hit list. Today's revolutionary leftists take no prisoners. Just like their Jacobin forebears.
After experiencing this personally for 20 years, I am through trying to woo leftists. They don't want to be wooed, they have no interest in developing a healthy egalitarian partnership. In spite of what they say, they have zero interest in equality OR diversity. Evidence of the corruption of the left is everywhere and don't have to look far. Just ask the actor Chris Pratt, last week roasted over the social justice hot coals for the crimes of going to church and following Ben Shapiro on social media.
I'm not a betting person but right now, I'd put money on certain primitive island tribes in the north Indian ocean having more egalitarian tolerance than liberals on Twitter. We should stop calling it "social" media. Stalker media is more accurate
It's hard to understand the position of Pinker and his intellectual cadre, who have helped document the inexorable capture of our institutions by the illiberal left over the last 50 years. The Larry Summers putsch was a clear warning that we failed to respond to. Now we find ourselves today at a place where leftists do not even try to hide their agenda, but instead, as with the "1619 Project" brazenly try to bend reality out of shape to support it.
Historical slavery is condemned whilst the thriving contemporary slave trade in Africa and Asia is willfully ignored or, in the case of China, unashamedly endorsed by Disney. In place of these bare faced facts, liberals try to claim that Trump's four years in office has been the biggest threat to liberal democracy, instead of its last hope of survival. Average intelligence is quite enough smarts to know that explanation stinks.
Jon Haidt, author of numerous books including The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics, is another formidable self declared liberal defender of critical thinking. He published a paper in 2015 noting that the underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology was likely a consequence of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. In response, Haidt created the Heterodox Academy, a group of four thousand academics, administrators and graduate students who supposedly believe in academic viewpoint diversity.
He has, however, explicitly backpedaled from these principles this year, explaining — very hesitantly it has to be said — his change from being a critic of critical theory to now "opening his heart" to it. His transformation happened, he said, after the death of George Floyd when he was invited to visit museums about slavery and lynching in Montgomery. He reported having a very powerful emotional experience and has since been trying to expose himself to "different webs of meaning." Well, good for him. I've never needed to visit a museum to empathize with humans in bondage, or to understand the horrors of slavery. Slavery is still ongoing in Africa and Asia. To be sure, I felt the same about Anne Frank and the holocaust both before and after I visited the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam.
If anything, the explicit lack of human empathy in the Black Lives Matter/critical race theory grift, the blatant attempt to capture wealth, the embedded Marxism, has done more to close my heart to it than open it. It was open before and it still is to people in need of help and compassion.
This is not Haidt's first inconsistency however. Two years before becoming woke on road to Montgomery, in a Sam Harris podcast, Haidt described a highly equivocal encounter as "unequivocally racist" (00.36m in the timeline) and in that moment ruined an innocent person's life. Sam Harris is another of our public intellectuals who cannot seem to parse the difference between actual murderous authoritarianism around the world and Trump's real — no bullshit — politik, who this week said he found Trump more reprehensible than Osama Bin Laden.
Known as the Yale, "napping while black" incident and widely reported as a racially charged boundary dispute, there was no attempt by the mainstream media to represent both sides of the story. The accused, Sarah Braasch, was thrown under the equality and diversity bus by everyone involved. Including our heterodox heroes.
Braasch is a vulnerable woman with a troubled childhood and a history of trauma, just the kind of woman the left ostensibly loves to help and would say is vulnerable to further victimization. At the time of the incident, she was a committed social justice warrior who was devoting her life to the study of systemic and institutional racism. She was living in the Yale dorm in very unusual circumstances in that she was the only person living on her floor, which was rarely used by other students. The encounter Haidt describes as "unequivocally" racist occurred in a dark room while the person was also covered in a blanket. As has been noted by other writers, Braasch could not have possibly known the person she found on her floor was either female or black, until the escalation occurred.
Yet Haidt attributed explicit malign intent to a human being while robustly defending the institution it occurred in, on scant evidence. As years have passed, and the equivocal nature of the encounter has been established by numerous investigations, Haidt — and Yale — have singularly failed to apologize for the slander, which has compounded the difficulties Braasch has experienced as a vulnerable person.
What puzzles me is that, as a scientist, Haidt did not even attempt to test the parsimonious, null hypothesis against the far more extraordinary, politically correct one: That a misunderstanding occurred, then a perhaps understandable overreaction, followed by a completely unnecessary escalation by Yale and Haidt himself. For someone whose area of research is the study of morality, his inability to even consider an alternative scenario is not the act of a person who values heterodox approaches to complex human social phenomena.
Our public intellectuals today, while enjoying a wonderful quality of life and attracting many followers by writing about the real threat to freedom of speech, now seem curiously deaf to their own warnings. They have instead joined the chorus of condemnation aimed at Trump supporters, leaving us all high and dry.
Sarah Silverman, not a public intellectual but a comedian who identifies as a liberal progressive, had quite an interesting talk to herself on her podcast recently which was liked by many of our leftist intelligentsia. She made the pertinent point that the totalitarian nature of cancel culture alienates people. "If we [progressives] don't give these people a path to redemption then they are going to go somewhere where they are accepted." For her there seemed only one option for what that place was: "the mother f—ing dark side."
Human physiology is a fascinating thing. If you sit in a dark place for long enough, your eyes go through a process called a dark adaptation, where the eye adjusts to the lack of light and clarity and can see much better than you did upon entering. Our culture has gone through a similar process, a similar dark adaptation, where progressives have been sitting in the dark so long the light is now intolerable to them.
One notable exception is James A. Lindsay, co-author of Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody. While writing the book, he had a very different revelation to Haidt, and recently made the brave decision to publicly announce his intention to vote for Trump. This is a rational man who has seen the evidence and who appreciates that Trump is the only person strong enough to stop the rot, if it can be stopped at all, which is not guaranteed.
I asked him if he would comment on the capture of our political and educational institutions by critical theorists, and the utter failure of our public intellectuals to challenge it. He replied:
"I know how it works. It works by taking over administrative bureaucracies and twisting them to its agenda. Trump can barely control it in his own administration but is actually trying. Biden won't just be permissive but also encouraging of it. It's not liberal and cannot be pushed back without standing up to it."
He gets it and is taking a lot of flack from his liberal, lefty colleagues because of it.
In the gulag, Natan Sharansky noted that there were all kinds of political prisoners and though each was centred their own concerns, there was also a functional heterodoxy. They all agreed they wanted to live in a free society. And they all agreed on the definition of a free society.
"A society is free if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm."
In today's digital age, that definition needs to be extended to include the right not to be stalked and cancelled on Stasi media, and pretend that this kind of relational aggression, typically favoured by women and older men, doesn't lead to real harm, hardship and death.
This isn't hyperbole. If it is, then the last 20 years of public intellectual engagement, from The Blank Slate onwards, is also hyperbole. Where does it leave us when intellectuals such as Pinker and Haidt the very people who taught us critical thinking, forsake it themselves? The only progressive thing about contemporary progressivism today, is its familiar creeping totalitarianism.