In the Gulag Archipelago, which describes the Soviet Union’s forced labor camp system, author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recalls a scene from a communist party conference in Moscow:
At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raising arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?
The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on — six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?
The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even those who were left would not falter…
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!
Solzhenitsyn remarked that the director at the paper factory was arrested later that night. “That… was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them.”
They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he signed… the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” (And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?) Now that’s what Darwin’s natural selection is. And that’s also how to grind people down with stupidity.
It’s a good thing you can’t be arrested for lack of enthusiasm here in America. Or Brett Favre would be dragged away for his lackluster clapping for Caitlyn Jenner, which apparently made “the ESPYs uncomfortable for everyone”… you didn’t clap long enough, comrade!
Social justice warriorism has been slowly suffocating popular culture and the education system like some kind of medieval crushing torture. Academics can now have their careers ended when they highlight factual information, say something others deem offensive or merely ask a question.
People such as Lawrence Summers, former President of Harvard, who was pressured to resign after stating that there are more men who have “aptitude at the high end” (he might have added that there are also about twice as many boys than girls on the low end, see here, here and here).
And Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, who resigned from University College London after a frenzy over his comment that female scientists cry “when you criticize them.”
And Marquette University professor John McAdams, who was suspendedafter he wrote a blog post criticizing another professor, who told students not to share their opinions if they were not pro-gay.
And Yale lecturer Erika Christakis, who resigned after cultural appropriation backlash from an email where she asked whether or not there was “room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious, a little bit inappropriate or provocative or yes, offensive [with their Halloween costume]?”
The list goes on. Christina Hoff Sommers dubbed this new status quo the “axis of intolerance.” Camille Paglia said universities are “institutionalizing neurosis.”
Replacing old-fashioned dialogue and debate is a deranged passive-aggressive “logic” that is running amok unchecked — universities policing language, banning dissenting voices on campus, professors saying men should not be allowed to speak first in discussions, attempts to eliminate due process, phrases like “you guys” and “melting pot” being deemed hurtful and racist, mispronouncing a student’s name being considered a microaggression, demanding the “misogynist” history of constellations be told, yoga stop being culturally appropriated, “racist” campus buildings be renamed and “racist” campus restaurant logos be changed — “logic” that bullies others into conforming to a narrow set of dos and don’ts. “Logic” that embodies exactly what it claims to be against!
“If you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself?” asks Peggy Noonan. “Do you think Shakespeare, Frieda Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Langston Hughes and Steve Jobs woke up every morning thinking, ‘My focus today is on looking for slights and telling people they’re scaring me?’”
The Iron Curtain squashed opinions that were considered threatening to communism, and renamed buildings too. However delusional, the Soviets at least had an endgame — “in the eventual worker’s utopia, unnatural desires will vanish and each will contribute according to his abilities and receive according to his needs.” (Source)
What social justice warriors have in store after their “safe space” quota has been reached is less clear. Whether or not there is a power trying to socially engineer something and using the social justice warriors as pawns, the effect is the same.
“The role of oppressor has been passed to the left,” Lionel Shriver wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, “Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves ‘progressives,’ forsaking a noun that has had its roots in ‘liber,’ meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit.”
What are we so afraid of? If what someone says is in fact racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever, how is shutting down their voice going to make them any less racist, sexist or homophobic? Perhaps we’re afraid that the conversation would lead us to confronting our differences, that people do not have equal ability or intelligence and our choices and preferences actually have some impact on our individual success and happiness.
We all start out in different environments and cultures with differing genetics and opportunities. Denying the impact of these factors won’t solve inequality. Providing everyone with the same opportunities won’t solve inequality. As Ferdinand Mount wrote in Mind the Gap, “when you think about it, equality of opportunity is an odd kind of equality. ‘The equality to become unequal’ — what sort of justice is that?… Even if equality of opportunity is fully achieved, all that has happened is that each of us starts off on the same rung of the ladder. There is still a ladder.”
There is not much room at the top of any hierarchy. This is not new. But it seems social justice warriorism is in part a reaction from those who think getting there should be easier; maybe, on some level, they realized the “privilege” they thought others had actually meant working hard. Maybe they believe they can’t get ahead even if they work hard.
Perhaps social justice warriors have decided the only way to escape the endless ladder rungs of real world competition is to embrace the lower expectations of victimhood, which is their choice to make, but they are bringing down others with them and that non-strategy isn’t going to lift anyone up.
The biggest frustration is, it’s clear social justice warriors don’t feel capable. Because people that feel capable do not purposely drag others down; people that feel capable do not become “cry bullies” when others treat them as if they are capable.
It is a good thing to include genuinely oppressed voices. But it’s time to stop applauding when perceived intolerance is met with intolerance and violence, when irrationality and emotional outbursts are institutionally rewarded, when being “offended” or “triggered” infringes on somebody else’s right of free speech and due process… in short, when it stops making any damn sense.
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