This Is What They Do (Part Three)
Another classical liberal argument for protecting freedom of speech for Marxists, communists, and the like, which has been in and out of vogue since at least John Stuart Mill, is that the true and the good will always win in an open debate of ideas.
There are a few problems with this famous assertion on its face. For one thing, in order to test its soundness, we would first have to define exactly what conditions must be met for a social context to qualify as “an open debate of ideas.” Does it simply require that everyone in the social context agree not to kill his debate opponents? Or does it also entail some assumptions about the minimal rationality and good faith of the interlocutors? (For example, an open debate about the idea of what constitutes an appropriate diet might lead to very different conclusions if the interlocutors were eight-year-old boys and the debate took place at a cake shop, as opposed to their being eighty-year-old Korean grandmothers at a fish market.) And then, in turn, would this not further require defining what is meant by “rationality” for the purposes of this debate? And how would one ensure that all the available and plausible “sides” of the debate are being heard, and heard in the proper light, in order to guarantee that the truest and best of them will in fact rise to the top in this “open debate”? And should all the participants in this so-called debate, even presuming one could ensure their mutual good faith and minimal rationality (according to some agreed-upon definition of rationality), be expected to arrive at the same true and good conclusions regardless of any previously acquired beliefs, i.e., their education in the broadest sense?
But let us leave aside all these questions for the time being, and simply grant the classical liberal assumption as it stands. Perhaps the true and the good will indeed always win in an open debate — which is why progressives, who have their own very peculiar conceptions of the true and the good, and are very clever at compensating for their practical and intellectual shortcomings, consistently utilize every means at their disposal to kill open debate.
Barbara Kay, a longtime writer for The National Post, the one relatively “conservative” Toronto newspaper, has announced her decision to leave the paper due to the recently intensified climate of Marxist speech purges throughout the media.
Here is the key point of Kay’s blog post explaining her choice [bracketed insertions are mine, to provide context]:
Thanks to the excommunication of James Bennet and (effectively) Bari Weiss from The New York Times, the vicious hounding of Margaret Wente at Massey College [a journalist whose appointment to Massey, U of T’s fancy-pants glorified frat party, was “cancelled” due to her lack of Marxist orthodoxy], and the CBC’s sadistic shaming of veteran broadcaster Wendy Mesley [who dared to speak “the N-word” in the utterly non-pejorative context of quoting a person who used the word], the poisonous phenomenon I am describing here is by now well-known. Every editor feels like he is one Tweet away from getting mobbed and fired. And so the range of permissible opinion shrinks daily. Many columns now read as if they were stitched together from the same few dozen bromides that one is still allowed to say. In a Canadian media industry that regularly lauds itself for courageous truth-telling, the goal is now to hide one’s true opinion rather than declare it.
Journalism and academia, two of the most consistently Marxist-friendly and stringently progressive institutions in North America, are now being swallowed up by the monster they themselves have created. They have encouraged and indoctrinated generations to the virtues of intolerance and hatred espoused in the name of “justice,” and they are now reaping what they have sown, as communists and their fellow travelers always do, in the end. The forward ratchet that defines progressivism is nothing but an ever-tightening vise for crushing the past. Hence, if you play your role well in the machinery of progress, you are effectively preparing the mechanism for the day when it will crush you. In effect, the news media and the university are in the process of cancelling themselves.
For a microcosm of how this works on a personal, human (or rather inhuman) level, consider the case of Wendy Mesley, noted by Kay. The veteran CBC reporter and host, even after having her career and reputation destroyed, nevertheless groveled for the government broadcaster, issuing the standard “I am a sinner” lament, declaring herself “deeply ashamed,” apologizing for “abusing her privilege,” for…for saying the full form of the magic N-word in the context of describing, with sympathy, the verbal abuse suffered by a black person. In other words, she was, as she claims in her apology, trying to “expose the truth” about “anti-Black racism.” But after being thrown down the memory hole for her pains, she now understands “that I did the opposite and I am now one example of the problem.”
In today’s communist purge climate, you see, even speaking out against racism makes you a racist, if you do it using words that you are not racially permitted to use. And Mesley, a dutiful servant of progressive politics, has the smallness to condemn herself as a racist on these terms — without a moment’s thought, of course, for the millions of decent, well-intentioned people she is thereby implicitly branding and condemning as racists on the same irrational, purely Maoist premises.
And with her ignorant and infantile groveling and apologizing, Mesley imagines, I suppose, that she might save her reputation and perhaps even her career. Sorry, Wendy, that’s not how your movement works.
Here is how it works: During the segment when she used the evil word, one of the people on air with her happened to be a black CBC Radio associate producer. Here is the comment on Mesley’s self-condemning apology from this colleague:
Reflecting on #CDNmedia. A space that evidently upholds whiteness:
I was on the call when Wendy Mesley said “n*gger”. Since then, she’s released two statements apologizing w/ two different accounts. I’m seeing tons of support for her but in reality, the behaviour is anti-Black.
— Imani Walker (@imaaniwaalker) June 26, 2020
No pity. No mercy. No forgiveness. No attempt to show understanding or sympathy. Just hatred. Just one more bitter kick at the dying Mesley’s little white face. That is how this machine works, Ms. Mesley. It’s your turn.
The other Canadian example cited by Kay, above, is that of Margaret Wente, a Globe and Mail senior editor turned opinion columnist nominated to a largely ceremonial position at Massey College, but then suddenly subjected to “further review” due to Marxist purge complaints of racism, sexism, and general moral impurity, since she had occasionally expressed non-leftist views in her (formerly) mainstream journalistic writing.
As she summarizes the current climate in the post linked above:
As a columnist, I had strong editors to back me up. And I wrote at a time when you could speak your mind. In the last few years, by contrast, the window for even mildly controversial opinions has shrunk dramatically. It has shrunk the most at places that have traditionally prided themselves as champions of free expression. As ideological correctness becomes the modern currency of spiritual virtue, rational dissent has been cast as heresy.
I wish the folks at Massey College well. But they’ll have a hard time turning their 1960s take on Oxford into a woke utopia that will satisfy their critics. And the sight of their panic is blood in the water for the same folks who came after me. There is no way they can cleanse themselves of the stain of white privilege. Ultimately, the only way they’ll be able to atone for their sins is to cancel themselves.
Until the final sentence, I am with Wente all the way here. My objection to her final sentence, however, is that she still has some learning curve left to travel on this issue. The truth, with regard to both the news media and the educational world — from Massey College to junior kindergarten — is that in fact they made the choice to “cancel themselves” (i.e., to bury themselves in Marxist totalitarian rubble) generations ago. We are merely seeing the final stages of the process today.
You will say what you are supposed to say, or you will be hounded and chased out of town. You and your family, all your life’s work and your career efforts, your reputation and your basic moral status as a citizen, will be ripped to shreds in a moment, without hesitation and without a hearing, if you dare to cross any of the myriad and ever-shifting lines of acceptable language, which means acceptable thought. Your mind will be vetted regularly, everything in it dumped on the pavement like the contents of a handbag by a mugger looking for valuables, and anything found there, and deemed unacceptable to those who set the standards of acceptable thought this year, will be used to ruin you. Not out of any desire to “change minds” or “improve society” or “promote justice,” but simply out of the perpetual and essential urge of progressive authoritarianism to wipe the slate clean and rewrite it at will. The thoughts, and secondarily words, that they seek to erase — and that you help them erase if you grant them the pre-execution apology they demand of you — are simply all those thoughts that might, if heard in public, obscure their path to the emotional security and comfort of insecure and spoiled children unable and unwilling to deal with adversity, unpleasantness, disapproval, or the challenges of imperfect reality as adult human beings.
Anyone still capable of feeling shocked by the mercilessness and lack of self-doubt exhibited in the progressives’ will to kill all dissenting ideas would do well to spend a little time, as soon as possible, reconciling himself to the history of this ideology, including of the prominent heroes of today’s heirs to the cause. If the leaders of this movement, and their unthinking mass of followers, had their druthers, it would be more than just ideas that they would kill; and they would do this too without mercy or self-doubt. For this too, as history more than amply proves, is what they do.