The first commandment of any orthodoxy is “thou shalt not dissent.” Because, to the orthodox, their doctrine is who they are. It is their identity. Any threat to the dogma is existential — any challenge to their beliefs is a threat to themselves. And so the first law is to forbid dissent within; and the second law is to repress dissent from without.
This happens all the time, and everywhere. It’s why the Tudors had such a problem with Catholics, why Muslims have such a problem with apostasy, why we had the Red Scare, and why Academia is such a self-selectedly dangerous place for those who don’t toe the party line.
So you look at the shenanigans going on at college campuses lately. I’m not writing a substantive criticism here –plenty more are writing fine pieces on how hypocritical, misguided, entitled, and meanspirited are those who shout down views with which they are uncomfortable; those who demand warnings before exposed to knowledge; those who want others to protect them from the dangerous ideas in the First Amendment that let people criticize their First-Amendment-protected speech and associations; those who demand punishment of those who do not protect them as fully as they like, or who do not grovel enough when they apologize. None of this is new. Student groups at my own college back in the late 80s would forbid the press and “outsiders” from their otherwise public meetings on campus, would swipe an entire press run of student papers running an editorial contrary to their views, would go after dissenters with vitriolic passion, and so forth and so on. It’s what orthodoxies do.
I’m writing to point out that the end result of “thou shalt not disent” — unless brutally enforced, and often even then — is to breed more and stronger dissent. It’s counterproductive. And it’s going to be counterproductive here.
Because people push back. Ideas that they don’t even care that much about at first suddenly become deeply important and worth fighting for, when threatened with repression. Mildly-observant once-a-year churchgoers become dedicated fervent churchgoers when they move to a country where they have to do it underground. Casual supporters of gun ownership who otherwise had no problem with sensible safety regulation (viz, the NRA before the late 70s) suddenly become rabid opponents of any attempt to regulate ownership in the face of an orthodoxy of banning guns, to the point of creating their own orthodoxy (see the NRA ever since).
Why is climate change denial such a big thing? Why are people so avid in denying that the climate is warming, that it’s very likely caused by greenhouse gases created because of human activity? The science is pretty damn clear on this one. Why do otherwise rational people resist it with such passion? Because climate change became an orthodoxy that shouts down and silences those who disagree. From reading conservative pundits, one gets the impression — clearly their impression — that the climate change orthodoxy refuses internal dissent to such a great extent that even shoddy studies get praised if they support the dogma, while inconsistent studies are silenced rather than acknowledged and dissected, and there’s more than a little sweeping of inconveniences under the rug in service of the cause. The very phrase “climate change deniers” is an accusation, a charge of blasphemy, a label that there’s something seriously wrong with you, that you don’t deserve to be heard. The result is that people who are naturally skeptical about sweeping scientific claims (“remember how it was Global Cooling, before it changed to Global Warming? and are eggs good for us again?”) start to feel like they’re being pushed around. And so they push back. Their skepticism — so readily assuaged with respectable evidence — becomes opposition. And now you can shout yourself until you’re blue in the face, show them reams of reams of data, and they simply don’t trust it. You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.
And so look what these adult “kids” on campus want: Racial tolerance? That’s a good thing! Courtesy, gentility? What’s wrong with that! Freedom to form associations of like-minded individuals with their own space where they’re free to associate without constantly being confronted by other-minded people? By all means!
What are they getting? It started off with mild derision — look at these social justice warriors, aren’t they silly? But then they started fighting their war by silencing, shutting down, excluding, and punishing everyone who wasn’t sufficiently orthodox? That’s only causing pushback. Thoughtful people may only criticize their methods, but many will feel compelled to oppose them on the merits. People whose mild racism might have gone away with simple exposure and accustomization (the whole point of “diversity,” remember?) now may well feel attacked, learn to associate only more negativity, and double down on their racism. That is a bad thing! Those the PC see as uncouth, when treated with pure discourtesy, rudeness, and hostility, may well decide that PC manners ain’t manners at all, and double down on their own attitudes. When the SJW insist on their own freedoms of expression, but insist on stifling the expression of others, not only do they lose all credibility in the Free Speech arena, but they’re fighting for a dangerous precedent where the tables may turn, and they may find their own expression being stifled.
These orthodoxies fail because they’re held by otherwise decent people. Not too many of them would be willing to enforce them with, say, a brutal pogrom. Which is kinda what it takes. They really and truly believe they’re right, and that dissent is goddamn dangerous, and that the ends are noble enough to justify their suppression of dissent. If they’re lucky, all of that just makes them look silly. But when push comes to shove, it makes them the bad guys.
And it’ll backfire. It’s going to make it that much harder to achieve social justice, because now they’ve got to overcome the very “deniers” their orthodoxy created.
Well anyway, I’ve got my popcorn. Let’s watch the show.