The New York Times apparently has an inexhaustible supply of so-called liberals who are baffled and enraged by any criticism of their views by the so-called “left.” Desperately worried that Yale’s 2015 Halloween memo has faded into distant memory, they publish Lionel Shriver’s complaint that young people criticized her opinions on social media! As the kids these days say: Srsly!
When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.
. . . . .
As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.
That’s a nice touch–saying that complaints about the “international foods” in the Oberlin dining halls are motivating supporters of The Human Stain. And it’s typical in its over-the-top complaints about “self-censorship” and “real censorship” without any actual examples. (Pro tip: unless you have evidence to show us, knock off the hyperbole. People criticizing your ideas does not equal “censorship.” You calling their complaints “censorship” is rich, when after all they’re just enjoying that “free speech” you claim to value so highly, not “tyranny” of any sort.)
What’s next, complaints that the “radical left” is missing their targets, the “real” racists?
Ironically, only fellow liberals will be cowed by terror of being branded a racist (a pejorative lobbed at me in recent days — one that, however groundless, tends to stick). But there’s still such a thing as a real bigot, and a real misogynist. In obsessing over micro-aggressions like the sin of uttering the commonplace Americanism “you guys” to mean “you all,” activists persecute fellow travelers who already care about equal rights.
Moreover, people who would hamper free speech always assume that they’re designing a world in which only their enemies will have to shut up. But free speech is fragile. Left-wing activists are just as dependent on permission to speak their minds as their detractors.
Yes–free speech is so much under attack that it can only be defended in the far corners of indie journalism in ‘zines, free City Paper weeklies, online “weblogs” (or “blogs” for short), personal Instagram accounts–and the editorial pages of the New York Times.
Ugh. Write whatever novels you want to write! Just don’t tell other people to STFU. How hard is it for anyone over the age of 40 to get this? (BTW, that’s me, friends. Why are my fellow middle-aged people such sensitive flowers that they can’t take criticism from a few Millennials? Do they need Trigger Warnings before they look at their Twitter timelines?)
18 thoughts on “OMG. LOLz! WTF? “Shrill tyranny of the left” to blame for the Human Stain, everything wrong in the nation.”
I love the faux straw-woman (and it’s clearly a woman there!) who considers it a microaggression when you say “You guys!” I guess if you’re a white dude and you’ve never experienced a microagression it’s an absurd premise that only merits a condescending explanation of why your account of your own experience doesn’t matter. I know I’ve enjoyed every bit of “light” sexism I’ve had to deal with my whole life, including my professional one surrounded by democratic men who consider themselves part of the solution.
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N.B. Lionel Shriver is a woman, but your point about the straw woman still stands. I think it was being argued with by young feminist woman that set her teeth on edge and led her to think she was being “censored” when she obvs. is free to publish her silly opinions in major op-ed real estate.
I’m torn — while I agree Shriver protests too much, I do think there’s something to it — and it has consequences: See http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2016/may/23/ku-professor-who-said-n-word-class-will-lose-job-u/
As a 35-year-old I fall at the upper end of most sociological definitions of “millennials,” although most fears about “youth these days” are actually focused on college-age young people who are now younger than that generation and as yet to be branded by the marketing powers that be.
I think my biggest concerns about the way we talk about the consequences of pushing for social and cultural change by youth are:
a) that we turn it into a generational contest which is as old as the sun and usually as inaccurate — some young people are deeply reactionary, some are deeply left-leaning radical, many are just trying to pay rent, etc. … and the same could be said about retirees. And
b) that by framing the silencing effect of speech as filtering from the bottom up (e.g. readers/reviewers/social media –> an award-winning, best-selling white author) we obscure the material power dynamics that will ultimately privilege her voice — or voices like hers — as more accurate in their estimation of the world than the voices of critics.
Silencing does happen, every day. But usually the people silenced are not folks who are given NYT op-ed space to complain about it. So that is where my resistance to giving a bullhorn to people like Shriver comes from.
(That and the fact that her actions speak louder than words and it seems clear at this point she is not asking to discuss this issue in good faith. She’s looking for permission to continue being dismissive and insulting to those who do not like her.)
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Brilliantly put, Anna–I agree with you entirely about 1) the pointless generational conflict flogging, and the 2) bullhorn vs. a few Tweets that this op-ed represents.
People are still entirely confused about what censorship is vs. other people expressing their opinions about your opinion. If you’re not being dragged off to prison, or your papers and books burned, or your website and social media accounts suspended, then you’re not being censored. You’re being criticized by other people, who also have liberty of speech!
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I remember reading about this on IHE. There’s so much we don’t know here–maybe KU wanted to fire her all along, & this was just a pretext. Maybe she has really bad judgement in a lot of areas, as her word choice may indicate. (I can’t imagine using this terminology in any classroom setting ever, even if quoting a primary source, but I can imagine others using it appropriately.)
The students didn’t have the authority to dismiss her–only others in the university have that kind of power.
Slightly OT teaching question. While teaching the Miller’s Tale several years ago in a seminar there was a lively exchange about whether “queynte” was gratuitously offensive within its 14th century context, or was essentially a neutral term. (I recall that an out of classroom e-mail exchange that I had with a Middle English expert on the subject kept getting filtered out by the software. . .). I also occasionally utilized popular music as source material. Should I be bleeping out bits of Bob Dylan or NWA lyrics if I am utilizing them in the classroom? Should I merely acknowledge the offensive language but let it go uncensored? What approaches do others take on this point?
Reminds me of the time the president of the University of Colorado said that “c*nt” isn’t an insult, just an old English term of endearment! http://www.westword.com/news/hall-of-shame-5082425
Good times, good times. Honestly, there are no absolute rights or wrongs here–I think it’s a matter of campus culture and what the students you’re teaching in a given term want to deal with.
Here’s a related letter to editor from my colleague at Southern CT State U
That letter makes no sense at all. To wit:
First of all, he says he “warns students in advance,” which is all TWs are in my understanding of the concept. But then he says they “may threaten academic freedom,” but doesn’t explain how. How can *administrators* use TWs to threaten academic freedom? I think we saw in the case of the Chicago dean’s letter that administrators have no say whatsoever as to the ideas and concepts that are discussed in classrooms.
The use (or refusal) of TWs is and should remain faculty prerogative. TWs don’t announce that controversial material or troubling ideas WON’T be discussed; in fact, they’re an announcement that they most certainly WILL be discussed. People like this letter writer are intentionally muddying the issue and refusing to explain the purpose of TWs and how they’re used.
Re: the letter from my colleague at Southern — the second half of the sentence is key here. The edict about trigger warnings is coming from top level administrators (in our case, this letter was a reply to a letter from our Board of Regents President). This has a chilling affect on untenured and contingent faculty especially. It’s part of a “the customer is always right” mentality.
Oh, that context was entirely missing in the link you sent me. I had never heard of anyone *requiring* trigger warnings. This is so stupid, and equally as effective as the letter from the UC Dean announcing that “we don’t believe in trigger warnings,” then admitting that he has no say whatsoever about what actual faculty do in their actual classrooms.
So OK, say “trigger warning.” Whatever! It’s not a big deal, nor does it IN FACT prohibit anyone from discussing anything.
As an adjunct professor who discusses sexuality and consent within various historical contexts, I can affirm that there is certain anxiety about TWs. HOWEVER, while I would be reticent to get on board with administratively mandated TWs within course descriptions, I also think that the anxiety about them broadly is way overblown. Introducing a lecture with the phrase, “today we are talking about sexual consent within a particular historical context,” is so easy that it feels to me that any resistance to such introductions is posturing. That being said, I do think such an example also presents another problem, in which a student who is particularly uncomfortable with such a conversation due to previous experiences must potentially out themselves in order to address their discomfort.
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I’m scratching my head trying to figure out who’s up in arm about using “you guys” as a neutral term. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing. The only people who have ever hassled me about it are my siblings when they want to be obnoxious.
For what it’s worth, in my 61 years I’ve found no clear age pattern to liberal/conservative. Frankly, a lot of it is in reaction to personal circumstances, like those ’60s radicals who became Wall St. operators once the Vietnam draft was over. I’ve wondered if the Bobby Kennedy who wiretapped Martin Luther King Jr. would have proved the radical he portrayed himself in 1968 if he’d lived and been elected.
This mid-boomer, anyway, really enjoys the company of my nieces and nephews (Gen-Xers on down) and the younger people I work with. Not that I don’t occasionally indulge in “hey, you kids, get off my lawn!” moments when I want to be obnoxious.
K–there is no evidence that anyone objected to “you guys.” It’s just incitement for people who want to believe that the PC hoards have overtaken the U.S. So, so silly.
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Please let us not associate Philip Roth’s towering masterwork, a sprawling meditation on all things twentieth century which is in my personal top twenty, with Mr. Trump.
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HAhaha. Good point. But if anyone is a Human Stain. . .
I’m reminded of a classic line from the original House of Cards, Francis Urquhart describing a fellow parliamentarian as a “plump little bag of squirming appetites,” and nothing else, except 100x worse and more debased.