The Deplatforming of the American Mind

Image by Republica from Pixabay

You learn a lot of things in Sunday School, if you go and if you ever listen much. For instance, you will certainly be taught the story of Joseph and what happened to him. Something happened to him that might be instructive to those of us living today.

You may have heard of his coat of many colors from the old Broadway show. Joseph’s life took a sharp turn when his brothers sold him into slavery because of that coat. Step past the family implications of all that for a second — slavery had to exist in order for Joseph to be sold into it. It had to be organized and predictable and it was. Joseph wasn’t sold into slavery in the New York Times’ favorite year, AD 1619, but in about 1700 BC give or take a century. He wasn’t forced into the fields in South Carolina, he was enslaved in the same Egypt we know for building grand pyramids. Contra the contemporary teaching of U.S. history classrooms, slavery wasn’t unique to the American experience. By the time of the very first colonies on North American soil, centuries before the Founders lived, slavery had been around a long, long time. America’s Founders sowed the seeds of slavery’s end. A Christian, William Wilberforce, was England’s leading abolitionist in the 18th century.

Do we teach this now? I went through 12 years of public school and never once heard Wilberforce’s name.

Spin the globe and the clock and land in southern Japan. Christianity arrived in Japan in the mid-16th century and was growing rapidly until Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the regional feudal lord, saw it as a threat to his power and issued edicts and eventually banned it. Japan’s shogunate government created one of the world’s original police states and continued the persecution, fully banning Christianity in 1633. Missionaries from Europe were driven out of the country. Christians were robbed of the freedom to speak their beliefs and tell others about their faith. They couldn’t go to church, they couldn’t print Bibles or any other materials. Christians were brutally deplatformed by order of the government, and soon enough by force of the culture. No one wanted to be caught near Christians. They were toxic. As the government ramped up its persecution, it executed thousands and thousands and crucified many in mockery of Christ. There were uprisings and rebellions including a famous ill-fated siege that echoed two centuries later in Texas in 1836.

Americans can be forgiven for not knowing anything about the shoguns’ relentless persecution of Christianity. It’s not taught here at all. We’re not even taught our own history well anymore. I knew nothing about it until my second visit to Nagasaki some years ago, when I saw the homes and churches of the crypto-Christians for myself and walked the fort where rebel leader Amakusa Shiro fell. I was astonished. It’s a turn in history that certainly disturbs the left’s narratives today that always put Europeans and Christians in the role of the baddies. In shogun Japan, local Christians and Europeans were very much the victims.

My point? If we knew and taught history better and more thoroughly, we might have to deal less often with the consequences of others ignoring history and making the same catastrophic mistakes others made back in time. Every political argument wouldn’t end where CNN’s Christiane Amanpour took things the other day: You’re Hitler! The 1619 Project is pseudohistory with an agenda. America is a nation founded on ideas, and the 1619 Project is aimed at discrediting America’s connections to those ideas, no more and no less. That it’s based on a false reading of history has not slowed down its Pulitzer or its entry into classrooms across the country. A Biden administration will do its dead-level best to further that insidious project. Count on it.

After a century or two of relative tolerance of competing ideas in our free republic, a republic which in turn spread freedom to countless other lands and peoples, we’re seeing disturbing signs such as WordPress’s apparent deplatforming of the Conservative Treehouse. This should not be happening, not in the United States anyway. But it is. Big Tech is growing rapidly into Big Brother. Twitter just owned up to being “wrong” about crushing that Hunter Biden story — after it very likely tipped the election to Biden. Twitter is sorry, not sorry about that.

Two books probably informed my worldview as much as any others in my college and post-college years: The Closing of the American Mind, by Dr. Allan Bloom, and The End of History and the Last Man, by Dr. Francis Fukuyama. Both are fine books from their time, but in the end, both fell short of predicting the future we now inhabit. In the former, Bloom concluded that we were losing our connection with Western culture in the dumbing down of education, and this diminishes us as a people, and he was right. Different generations of Americans have been taught different histories of our same country. Lacking a shared history, we will lack a shared identity. I don’t recall Bloom then predicting how ignorance would be weaponized in our time. The 1619 Project’s success depends entirely on aggressive weaponized ignorance and now has to be fact-checked even while it continues to damage our republic. The Times shamelessly clings to its Pulitzer. Many in our media enjoy the freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment but are doing their best to rip the freedom of speech from those of us not in the mainstream media’s political fold.

Fukuyama saw liberal democratic or republican rule as the “end of history,” the end state that all of history leads to. The death of Soviet communism was his cue. But history didn’t end with the fall of the Soviet Union, then the greatest threat to human liberty. Communism still stands in China, for one thing, and that threat is growing. The threats to any classically liberal order manifested in Islamic terrorism two decades ago and then in woke intolerance now, which is based on a deep and stubborn ignorance of history prior to the day before yesterday. Woke intolerance is leading to deplatforming not just conservatives, but also Glenn Greenwald, Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and Matt Yglesias, among others. This should not be happening. But it is.

Do I agree with everything any of them say or write? Nope. That’s exactly why I’m defending their right to speak.

There are Americans making lists now, to name and destroy other Americans over political disagreements. CNN, the Washington Post, AOC, the blue-checkmark mob on Twitter…they’re the baddies now whether they realize it or not. They want freedom of speech and thought but only for those who agree with them at the moment. Agreement with them is always subject to change with no notice. They cannot abide the competition of ideas. This doesn’t end well. It never ever does.

But they should know that Joseph overcame and the shogun didn’t kill off Christianity entirely in Japan. Christians went underground. Today, if you tour Nagasaki, you can see how the crypto-Christians in Japan built little false walls and floors in their homes to hide their relics until the ban was lifted — notably, after America re-opened Japan to the outside world in 1853. Japan finally recognized full religious freedom after its defeat, led by the United States, in World War II.

But it all took more than 200 years of suffering.

If today’s deplatformers do win, and they might for a while, where does freedom go? Deplatforming in the networked world can have catastrophic effects right down to the ability to make a living.

How long before today’s list-makers find themselves toxic and facing their own woke judgment?

Sooner than any of them thinks possible. The only way to win the deplatforming game is not to play.

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