History is not static and it does not progress linearly. There was more free speech and unimpeded expression in 5th-century Athens than in Western Europe between 1934-45, or in Eastern Europe during 1946-1989. An American could speak his mind more freely in 1970 than now. Many in the United States had naively believed that the Enlightenment, the U.S. Constitution, and over two centuries of American customs and traditions had guaranteed that Americans could always take for granted free speech and unfettered inquiry.
That is an ahistorical assumption. The wish to silence, censor, and impede thought is just as strong a human emotion as the desire for free expression — especially when censorship is cloaked in rhetoric about fairness, equality, justice, and all the other euphemisms for not allowing the free promulgation of ideas.
George Orwell devoted his later years to warning us that while the fascist method of destroying free expression was easily identified (albeit only with difficulty combatted), the leftwing totalitarian impulse to squelch unpopular speech was far harder to resist — couched as it was in sloganeering about the “people” and “social justice.” It is easy to object to the speech codes of a self-interested, corrupt dictator in sunglasses and epaulettes, but difficult to fight censorship that allegedly helps the poor, minorities, and the helpless.
We can all but write off today’s university as a place of free expression. In the age of Obama, zealots in the university have clamped down on any thought deemed reactionary. “Trigger warning” is a euphemism for trying either to censure literature or to denigrate it. “Safe space” is another term for the segregation of campus areas by race, class, or ideology. “Hate speech” has become a pejorative for uncomfortable truth.
So try a thought experiment. If Professor A in various fora — before the academic senate, at the “free speech” area of the quad, during student advising, in a faculty meeting, or during class — announced that on-campus, Christian student groups practiced hate speech and thus should be monitored or silenced, or he declared that due to white privilege he was holding private tutoring sessions only for people of color, or he urged that global warming deniers should not be allowed to spread their heresies in class, or he insisted that the nature and propriety of sexual intercourse should be post facto defined only by the female participant, he would be hailed, and many of those proposals would be taken seriously if they were not already part of campus protocol.
But if a bookend Professor B in the same venues announced that he found Muslim groups equally suspect, or that, due to constant deprecation of white males, he was holding tutoring sessions only for his European-American students, or that he was hosting a campus conference on the unscientific nature of the global warming movement, or if he urged the university to insist that any allegations of rape follow strictly the rules of evidence and procedures as outlined in the U.S. Constitution and state laws of criminal jurisprudence, he would find himself in a great deal of trouble, if not fired.
A pre-Enlightenment Age is not just the absence of uncomfortable free expression. It is also a sort of groupthink acceptance of a lie in place of the truth on grounds of social utility. Forensic evidence, testimony, and logic have shown that “hands up, don’t shoot” is a complete myth. Michael Brown, fresh from committing a robbery, walking down the middle of the street, apparently under the influence, lunged at a policeman, grabbed for his weapon, fled, turned around and charged, before being shot and killed. He was not shot in the back. Nor did he halt and put his hands up, begging the policeman not to shoot him. Yet the president of the United States often invokes generically “Ferguson,” as if it were proof of police brutality. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is analogous to “the earth is flat” or “the sun revolves around the earth.”
“Mattress Girl” is a Columbia University co-ed who had post facto regrets about once sexually hooking up with a young male student. She then recalibrated their pairing as a forcible rape, and yet was not able to demonstrate to either the university or the police that her allegations were valid. Yet she became a cult-hero. The progressive world embraced her as a feminist icon, as she lugged around a mattress and made an explicit sex tape, to further a narrative that could not be proven true. If one assumed that 2,500 years ago Socrates destroyed for good the notion of moral relativism in his take down of the Sophists, think again. The subtext of Mattress Girl’s whine is that even if she is lying, her cause still furthers progressive agendas and thus is not really a lie after all.
Current popular culture is not empirically grounded, but operates on the premise that truth is socially constructed by race, class, and gender concerns. Imagine if Mattress Girl’s male sexual partner had alleged that, in fact, he was coerced into sex, and then he carried his own 50-pound mattress around campus to draw public attention to her coercion. Certainly, he would be ignored or laughed at. Science, logic, probability, evidence — all these cornerstones of the Enlightenment — now mean little in comparison to the race, class, and gender of those who offer narratives deemed socially useful.
Eric Holder called the nation “cowards” for not holding a national conversation on race. But Holder did not wish a freewheeling discussion about the break-up of the black family, the epidemic of violence and drug use, the cult of the macho male, the baleful role of anti-police rhetoric and rap music — in addition to current racism, a sluggish economy, and the wages of past apartheid. Instead, the ground rules of racial discussion were again to be anti-Enlightenment to the core. One must not cite the extraordinary disproportionate crime rate of inner-city black males, or the lack of inspired black leadership at the national level. One most certainly does not suggest that other minority groups either do not promote leaders like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or do not seem to have a need for national collective spokespeople at all.
In our current Dark Age, logic is ignored in lieu of ideology. Hillary Clinton is declared a populist and — Presto! — she is a populist, railing about everything from hedge-fund operators to Wall Street hyper-profit making. No one seems to care that her egalitarian rhetoric simply cannot be true for a variety of reasons: Mrs. Clinton’s daughter, without any financial experience, worked for Wall Street investment groups and reportedly is now worth $15 million. Chelsea’s husband is a hedge-fund operator. Bill and Hillary Clinton have made over $100 million parlaying their public service into quid-pro-quo speaking engagements. The Clinton Foundation is little more than a clearing house that allows hundreds of millions of tax-deductible dollars from foreign grandees to be funneled into the Clinton machine in hopes of future crony capitalist advantages — as the foundation pays for everything from Clinton jet travel to sinecures for temporary, out-of-work political operatives. By any empirical standard, Hillary Clinton is an elitist manipulative multimillionaire, who with her husband mastered the revolving door of pay-for-play lobbying.
The California drought is the locus classicus of 21st-century know-nothingism. In a nutshell, periodic three- to four-year droughts are not abnormal in California. They can be predicated on little-understood changing oceanic temperatures, mostly known as “El Nino,” that involve the heating and cooling of central Pacific Ocean currents, which in turn adjudicate the number and nature of productive storms heading down the western coast of North America. Such droughts and the role of El Nino predated man-made concerns over global warming.
No matter. The president of the United States not long ago flew into Fresno, declared the dry spell the wage of global warming, and flew out to the environs of Palm Springs to golf.
The drought problem is not just that the state cancelled the later phases of the massive California Water Project, but that it also diverted precious stored water from reservoirs out to sea, in service to unproven theories about fish restoration. The Enlightenment idea would have been to make prior arrangements for the periodic absence of El Nino currents, by building more reservoirs, curbing releases of stored water for green experimentation, and matching population growth with new infrastructure. The un-Enlightenment preference is to freeze reservoir construction, to damn farmers as water-wasters, to claim that immigrants are being scapegoated for the drought, and to ignore El Nino facts in preference to global warming theories.
A final symptom of an un-Enlightened age is the assumption that lies are truth because untruth offers collective benefits, while veracity disrupts social justice. Take Obamacare. Almost every promoted tenet of the Affordable Care Act proved false: premiums went up; so did deductibles and co-payments. Millions lost not just their doctors but their existing health care plans as well. The much ballyhooed health care website proved dysfunctional. Newly passed mandates were unlawfully suspended to enhance the Obama reelection effort.
Nationalized health care did not per se reduce the deficit, nor will its protocols contain escalating costs without radical curtailments in service. Mandatory electronic record keeping did not free physicians up to spend quality time with their patients, but often resulted in the very opposite with doctors typing into computer screens while distracted from patients’ inquiries. Again, no matter. Obamacare is now hailed as the president’s “signature achievement” and is becoming institutionalized in the manner of Social Security.
The country is terrified about having a rational and logical discussion about almost every great issue of our times: unsustainable national debts and deficits, the new nexus between leftwing plutocracy and populism, the viability of Social Security and Medicare, deteriorating race relations, the Soviet-style American campus, global warming, and the deterioration of medical care. Instead, to preclude honest talk, we offer perfunctory charges of sexism and racism, and seek cover in “fairness” and “equality.”
The redistributionist, equality-of-result state — fueled by a national progressive ideology — is the new deity that determines what is free expression. Blasphemy is now defined as daring to use logic and evidence to expose the state’s failed, deductive tenets.
This descent into the Dark Ages will not end well. It never has in the past.