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Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the Future of Liberalism by Russell Blackford

The Tyranny of Opinion: Conformity and the Future of Liberalism by Russell Blackford is an examination and critical assessment of what many are labeling as call-out culture and public shaming that has been prevalent over recent years. Though Blackford covers a lot of ground here, the main point of the book is how non - government pressure has led to censorship and damaging personal attacks on individuals relating to all manner of speech, expression and art. I found the book to be both engrossing and important. I very much agree with most of the author’s assessments.

Blackford is an Australian philosopher, legal scholar and literary critic. He has written numerous books and articles on such topics as religion, atheism, ethics and morality, science fiction and more. I am a fan of his Twitter activity, which tends to reflect a lot of what this book is about. 

I think that it is important to understand where the author starts from in regards to political and social issues. Blackford holds ideas that are mostly characteristic of the political and social left. He has previously written articles and books where he has vigorously criticized the right and, in particular, right-wing extremism. Nevertheless, most, but not all, of what Blackford is talking about here is coming from the left. 

On the issue of challenging behavior in the current atmosphere that is mostly coming from his own side, Blackford writes, 

I’m afraid. Like many people, I’m afraid to speak up and say exactly what I think. I’m afraid to contribute to public debate with total frankness. I’m more afraid of allies than I am of opponents, since the latter can do me less harm (though if they’re so minded they can probably do enough!). I’m not afraid of my closest friends, the people who love me, who have my back and will keep my secrets, but it gets more frightening as soon as I step out into wider circles of colleagues and acquaintances.

He goes on to say,

I’m afraid, as a matter of fact, that this very book will lose me friends (no, not my closest friends; but still … ) and get me ostracized in some circles, but I’ve taken a deep breath and started writing.
  
In the first half of the book, Blackford covers a lot of philosophy as well as social science relating to freedom of speech, conformity, the definition of liberalism, etc. He relies heavily of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. He also refers to many other philosophers and social scientists who were active in the past as well as in our current times. He covers areas such as the difference between government versus non-government censorship. He examines the concept that some speech may indeed be harmful and rightly banned. He talks about the difference between traditional liberalism and what he calls revisionist liberalism or identity liberalism. What Blackford refers to as identity liberalism is roughly analogous to what I have called the postmodern left in some of my previous writings.  The two terms are not entirely congruous, but more less overlap on many issues. I should mention, however, that when I have discussed this issue previously on this blog, I was referring to people who engaged in civil disagreements and differences of opinions.   Much of the behavior that is referenced in this book is unethical and has been harmful to individuals and to the general concept of free expression. Blackford describes identity liberalism as valuing the fight against oppression over values such as freedom of speech, due process, democracy, etc. 

Throughout this first part of the work the author sprinkles in his own opinions. He is more or less a moderate on these issues and, in a few cases, even goes further than I do in terms of being receptive to the government and other platforms banning some forms of hate speech. Blackford also lays out a strong case that censorship by non-government actors, such as employers, academic institutions, social media mobs, etc., is harmful to individuals and to society. 

Later in the book Blackford describes many individual cases that illustrate the problem that he is talking about. He cites multiple examples where scientists who have shown results that run counter to identity liberal ideology have been exposed to personal attack and slander. Unfair charges of racism and bigotry abound.  These scientist sometimes come under fire for theorizing that negative aspects of human behavior, such as rape and other forms of violence,f have an evolutionary biological origin. Next, he looks at several college campuses where students have harassed and threatened professors to the point of resignation. The case of Erica Christakis is a perfect example. Christakis was professor at Yale. She wrote an email directed at students relating to the issue of Halloween customs that might be offensive. The text of the email can be found  here. It clearly was a moderate and reasoned couple of paragraphs that was an attempt to find common ground. It sparked a firestorm. In ensuing weeks both Erika Erica Christakis and her husband Nicolas Christakis, who was also a Yale professor, were subject to a torrent of outrage, misrepresentation of their positions, physical intimidation and harassment. They both ended up resigning from their positions, citing a hostile work environment. This is just one example of many. Once again, ludicrous accusations of racism sparked the fury. 

The book turns its attention to the Young Adult book industry and online community where several authors have been harassed, slandered and exposed to actual and attempted censorship prior to or following the publication of books. The authors, who are themselves usually very liberal, are often attacked because they do not share the same nationality, race or sexual preference as the characters that they have created. Some now consider this an act of bigotry in and of itself. Other times the authors draw the ire of the social media mob because they do not portray the issues in line with certain identity left dogma. Social media mobbing relates to many of the cases that Blackford discusses. This is especially true when authors have been attacked as  writers tend to have a large social media presence.

Though obviously not covered in this book, over the past two weeks or so, two writers, Zoe Marriott and John Boyne, had social media mobs come after them. Marriott's fault has been to depict an Asian character in her new book, The Hand, The Eye and the Heart. The fact that Marriott is not Asian in generating the fury at her.  Boyne's upcoming book, My Brother’s Name is Jessica was intended to be a sympathetic portrait of a transgender person. However, several readers of advanced copies as well as many people who have admitted to not read the book, have taken exception to parts of the novel. Boyne has pulled all his social media accounts due to threats originating from this controversy. 

One common thread to most of these cases is that the targets were usually liberals who were expressing traditional liberal views. These views are described by Blackford as enlightenment values but that conflicted with identity liberalism. Usually, charges of racism are made. The charges spiral into a whirlpool of outrage. Blackford writes, 

In its current form, what passes as the political Left eats its own, or if not exactly its own…at least people who could be helpful in the Left’s contemporary social struggles.

The author also talks about a right-wing outrage machine that has also mobbed people on social media and engaged in campaigns of slander and attempts to get their targets fired from their jobs.  As mentioned above, Blackford has been very critical of bad behavior on the right in other writings. He does take certain elements of the right to task here. However, the particular problem that the author highlights in this book seems, at least at the moment, more pronounced and growing on the left. He also tends to mostly focus on cases where liberals have been targeted by the identify left. I think that it is important that we not ignore cases where conservatives, and even some folks on ideological fringes, have been the subject of censorship, slander and harassment. I wish that Blackford had devoted more pages to discussing these cases. However, illustrating how so many folks on the left have been attacked highlights how the problem has become so extreme. Also, and this is based on personal observation, when one is attacked by one’s own “side,” it is often worse. Support from like-minded people is less likely to come. Targets are often bewildered and are at a loss as to how to respond. 


What harm has all of this done? Blackford details people who have lost jobs, reputations and more.  Justine Sacco is just one egregious example.  She was a non-public figure who had less than 200 Twitter followers. She Tweeted a joke that was slightly controversial, Blackford describes the incident and result,

The tweet that she sent…said, ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ She was then subjected to a viral Twitter attack. It evidently began when Gawker journalist Sam Biddle retweeted the Sacco tweet to his 15,000 followers at the time, after it was sent to him by one person among Sacco’s much smaller group of followers. From there it spiraled out of control into an orgy of spite and glee. Justine Sacco’s name was googled 1,220,000 times from that day until the end of December. She lost her job and became an international laughing stock.

The book details so many other examples. 

Books, particularly in the young adult genre, have been pulled before publication. There has been a stifling of speech and thought. The fear that the author talks about is pervasive. I have heard many people, particularly in academia, who have expressed a hesitancy to express opinions or write articles and books for fear of a backlash.  This is a known and growing issue that is affecting people and free discourse on a large scale. Throughout social media, people are also fearful to express opinions. 


Since I have been interested in this subject for awhile, I was familiar with many of the cases cited. I have read articles and opinion pieces in reference to these issues.  I have witnessed the Twitter mobbing that is described here and even had online debates and discussions with people in the midst of the some of these attacks. I have had online discussions with some of the targets.  I have been putting together a post focusing on the topic of the social media backlash aimed at young adult writer Laura Moriarty and her novel American Heart.

As readers of this blog probably know, like Blackford I identify as a liberal. Also like Blackford, I have observed what he describes as call out culture and I am appalled by it. I see it as part of a something bigger  that has been growing on the left. I, along with some others, have been calling it this trend postmodernist leftism. It relates to a rejection of ideals such as a belief in freedom of speech, defense of science and reason, treating people of all ethnicities equally, opposition to oppression even when the oppressors are not white men, etc. As I continue to read books on related subjects, I will have more to say about all this. 

Blackford is extremely balanced and tries to at least understand all sides. He presents the arguments of many people and groups that he criticizes and is often at least partially sympathetic to them. Many other critics of the phenomena described here have become fierce opponents of social justice movements and the left in general. That is not the direction that Blackford takes. In fact, in many ways he is more liberal and sympathetic to social justice causes than I am. 

Blackford offers possible solutions. He makes some suggestion as to what social media platforms and even government can do. More importantly, he calls for people of all political and social beliefs to stand together to resist this nastiness and suppression of speech. He provides a list and commentary on other books that discuss this topic as well as a list of worthy books that have been the subject of these suppression campaigns.

I tend to shy away from books such as this that are very tied to very current events. As I have written in other posts, I usually read books that I consider to have universal appeal and that will be relevant far into the future. I made an exception here for various reasons.  It is a topic that I am very interested in. It relates in all sorts of ways to other issues that I delve into in this blog. In terms of the book, I found that the first half was a universal examination of various issues, such as free speech, conformity, liberalism, etc. The second part did focus upon current events however. 

It seems to me that this is an important book. I think that anyone interested in the general discourse on politics, social issues, art, etc. will find a lot of value here. No matter where one falls on these issues, the future of discussion communication affects us all. Even those who might disagree with Blackford will likely find him a nuanced thinker who makes a real effort to at least understand those who he disagrees with. I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in these topics.





37 comments:

mudpuddle said...

great post... the mob situation has been certainly exacerbated by the invention of the internet. formerly, small groups of dissidents made violent impact on society, but in a fashion once removed form what we see today... the mob effect can suck in millions now, instead of hundreds as it did in the sixties for instance... i really wonder about the basic psychology driving people to behave in such intolerant ways: mass inferiority complexes, or what? complex subject perhaps never to be entirely understood...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Muddpuddle. The internet has indeed made so much of this worse. A sizable percentage of this stuff happened online. But I think that there are some other things going on. Much of what is going on in colleges is not over the Internet. The book talks about how some folks no longer value things like freedom of speech. Also there is a tendency to believe that certain social justice issues have led to a state of emergency where any action is appropriate

Low self esteem may indeed be driving some of it.

baili said...

a very powerful review dear Brain!

i found the writer daring and wonderful

the very first passage is really sensitive and i can relate to his fear for saying or writing something

internet has contracted the world and this thing is effecting world positively as well as negatively


people with evil mind and extreme thoughts find it amusing to show outrageous reaction upon such issues

they actually wait for it as it is way to release their anger and hatter against intellectual and insightful people

the incidents you shared here are incredibly painful

In one of our province a young boy was killed by group of such ignorant extremists and matter was only that he said he doesn't believe in religions .

what else can worst than this ?

that one can get hurt for speaking his mind

i truly loved the topic writer chose and deeply thankful to you who shared it as brilliantly like always!

God bless You My Friend!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Baili. The incident that you mention with the young boy is so tragic.

I think that People join mobs for various reasons. Maybe decent people sometimes get inticed to join in sometime?

I believe that the internet is s net positive. However there are downsides and negatives too. This book illustrates some of those downsides.

thecuecard said...

Hi Brian: good topic & review. I know Lindy West and perhaps Lionel Shriver are two authors who've had social media mobs after them. Whether one disagrees with them or not, I think it is pretty disgraceful and does cut back on discourse of all kinds. People are afraid to engage b/c of the mobs. I keep a low profile myself on social media b/c of the negativity out there. Maybe the platforms can reign in the hate mobs but I don't think I see it going away or decreasing anytime soon.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - Online mobbing is Indeed part of problem. I remember something of the two incidents that you mentioned. No one should be mobbed, but the motivations of the lastest groups seem to be getting crazier and crazier. I have gotten it from moderate sized mobs on Twitter myself.

Sue Bursztynski said...

There is indeed some pretty dreadful stuff going on on-line these days, indeed, from both sides of politics, but I generally don’t bother with debating the jerks these days, I tell them what I think of them and block. Decent people might be bystanders, out of fear of bullies, but don’t, in my opinion, join mobs. If they do, they lose any claim to decency in my eyes.

I read a lot of YA. It can be a bit strange. If you don’t include diverse characters you are doing the wrong thing. If you do, and you don’t happen to be a POC or in a wheelchair or whatever, you are appropriating. You can’t win. So I am all in favour of “own voices” and any “diverse” characters in my fiction are not the main characters, or are based on kids who have been in my classes. I accept that I don’t know enough to write properly about them. I’m not afraid, just respectful.

John Boyne wrote a children’s novel set in a concentration camp. He is not Jewish. He got away with it, I guess, because his main character was the son of the concentration camp commandant. And dear me, all those awards and a film which I didn’t see. I thought it “meh”, personally. But I’m not going to have a go at him for appropriation, as long as he doesn’t claim to be an expert.

Dear me, our Russell has come a long way from the author of The Tempting Of The Witch King! His wife Jenny still writes SF.

James said...

Thank you for your insightful commentary on an important book and the issues it addresses. I agree with you wholeheartedly; I am especially distressed by the attacks on free speech and the growth of the "identity" police. As a classical liberal I revere the opportunity for the free and open sharing of ideas - something that seems to be slipping away due to increasing attacks from extremists both left and right.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James. Hopefully the fact that Classical Liberals, old fashioned liberals, humanists, moderate conservatives, etc. are pushing back, might help quell the censorship. Free speech is indeed a principle worth preserving.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sue. There really is bad stuff going on out there. It is not just online as it is also going on at collage campuses and elsewhere.

I think that “own voices” is fine as long as it is about encouraging people to write about thier own groups. If people only write about thier own groups I fear that we are heading towards a kind of cultural segregation. This flies in the face of many universal values that humanity has been striving for a long time.

I believe that in some of Russell’s other books he ties his philosophy to science fiction. I want to read more of his work.



Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, great summary of this book. You really lay it out well about the times we find ourselves in and when you consider what's taking place right now on college campuses and the publishing trade you wonder if for some on the left its easier to work oneself up into disingenous outrage than to focus on the real threat right now coming from the Oval Office?

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. Indeed, one wonders why these folks are focusing thier attention on this when we have a populist authoritarian movement in control of the White House. There are many implications to this. I think that the far right and far left are feeding into each other. Having been exposed to a lot of what is going on in regards to the far left, there are major philosophical differences between these folks and traditional liberals. Many reject the basic tenets of democracy. Many reject science and logic. Many reject traditional notions of treating everyone equally. So there is a natural conflict between this postmodernist outlook and traditional liberals and just about everyone else. I am not trying to demonize. Some people that I am close to adhere to these beliefs. But in terms of ideas, we are very far apart.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Great review! Very objective and even.

It does seem like the snake is beginning to eat its own tale. Somehow the slippery slope is gaining momentum. First it was about freedom of speech even if it was grossly offensive to some (think cross in urine as art). Then it became "cannot tolerate intolerance" so freedom only applies to those who fit with our moral paradigm.

Therefore, redefining good and evil, anyone who disagrees with "me" is not wrong; they are "evil" and "phobic" etc...we call it hate crimes and therefore need to be forced into bankruptcy if they refuse to serve us (think wedding caterers and photographers). Or if they serve us, we still need to boycott them because they won't celebrate and financially support our lifestyles (Chik-fil-A).

Eventually, it comes around to our own back door and we discover that our beliefs, because they do not conform, are no longer allowed.

Isn't that how people end up in Gulags?

Judy Krueger said...

Interesting stuff here, in the book, your review and the comments. Horrific as it is, I see all this mess as the growing pains of a fairly new medium (the internet) and the rising awareness of the injustice towards marginalized persons along with that rising awareness giving voice to the marginalized. I think that in some of the novels mentioned, the authors are sincerely trying to promote conversation between all kinds of people. It is a conversation well worth having but will also stir up long held angers and therefore retaliation. Freedom of speech has always been a contentious idea. Just thinking aloud here, but I wonder how many countries have such an idea in their constitutions.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon- You bring up some interesting points.

I think that the urine as art stuff, while certainly not to my taste, should clearly be protected expression that is open to criticism but should otherwise be left alone.

I do think that if there is a difference between actions and discrimination and speech and opinions. If a business outright refused to serve gay folks that would be discrimination and I think that should be prohibited and castigated. However, my understanding of several of The wedding industry cases involved situations where wedding cake makers and photographers were asked to produce cakes, photographs or other art or artisan work, that reflected the nature of the same sex marriage. So in those cases I think the rights of the cake makers and photographers would be violated if they were forced to do this. I believe that there were a few cases where outright discrimination was involved however. There have also been cases that are borderline between these situations. I would not support a public boycott unless there was a clear cut case of discrimination and there was a general problem of gay folks not being able to obtain wedding services, which I do not think there is. I agree that in at least one case, there was a certain meanness and vindictiveness behind the boycott.

I thought that the issue with Chick - A - Fill donated money to anti - same sex marriage causes. I know they also spoke out against same sex marriage. While I think that is a terrible position I also would not boycott the restaurant. I may not know all the facts about that case however.

The tendency to demonize those we disagree with is a problem that I have written about before. Both the right and left do this. Some actions are indeed unethical and speak to character, but I think that we need to be careful about labeling people as bad too flippantly. Taken to an extreme, it does lead to people being jailed or in camps.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Judy - Without a doubt, the internet is part, but not all of what is driving this. I agree some of it is growing pains as we learn to grapple with the new medium.

Having observed some of the attacks on authors, some were trying to promote conversation. Several were blindsided as they violated rules that seemed to spontaneously pop up after they wrote their books.

The anger over marginalization gets to the heart these issues and some of the social and intellectual disagreements that I have been referring to. There are reasons for the oppressed and disadvantaged to be angry. That anger should not be easily dismissed. But it gets very complicated. It is a fair question, where is most of the anger comping from? A lot seems to be coming from well off collage students and academics. Some from apparently well off people on social media. Some marginalized people, such as Liberal Muslims, Muslim reformers, victims of Islamism, etc. have been expressing a lot of anger at the PC movement and intersecttionalists for abandoning them and even siding with their oppressors. So it is going both ways. I will have more on this in future posts as I continue to read books on these subjects.

Marian H said...

Brian, what a fascinating review! I really respect your willingness to talk about this difficult subject.

I consider myself a right-leaning independent. That said, I am genuinely afraid to talk about my views - or frankly, any views - in public or on the internet. I'm afraid of both the far left and the far right, not just because they have loud voices, but because of how they are trying to influence the moderates and normalize their own extremism. Frankly, though, I don't care if they voice their views - it just disturbs me that I could be putting my career on the line to voice mine.

The question is - why DO people find speech so dangerous? Is it because we don't know how to have an actual conversation anymore, just Tweets and newspaper headlines? Or are we trying to hide the fact we are a polarized country? Nobody wants to split up, but we may need to seek out a peaceful option before things totally erupt. You can't make people agree by force.

Anyways, I definitely want to read this book. Thank you for sharing!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Marian- I agree, thier attacks on people’s jobs and careers are the most chilling. I think that different factions fear and attack speach and opinions for different reasons. I think the far right believes that that they do not like influences people to behave in ways that are antisocial. What I hear from the far left is that speech that they do not like is harmful, I guess in a mostly psychological sense, to marginalized people. I have heard them say that speech that they do not like is violence.

Whispering Gums said...

Thanks for this Brian. Although the author is Australian, I hadn't heard of this book. I appreciate the way you have articulated the ideas here, because I must say that charges of "racism", the criticisms of "identity politics", make my head spin. It is sometimes really heard to sort out what I really think (I know what I think but I mean what I think in any particular case) from the noise that surrounds it. This book sounds like it would elucidate it nicely for me.

As a lit blogger, I worry about the idea that authors can't write certain characters and experiences. I am sensitive to the issues of oppression that some groups have operated under, and understand their sensitivities, but I think we need to talk more, explore more, rather than explode more as seems to be happening. So little time is being given to thought as people try more and more to yell at each other and score points. So sad. And, as you say, the left is not being rational about it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi WG - When I was reading the book I was thinking of you do to Blackford being Australian.

I agree that one needs to be careful and examine each case individually. Sometimes things are not what they seem.

I also do not agree with the proposition that one needs to belong to a group to write about it. I also agree that we need to listen to people who have experienced racism and oppression. But I think that. I think that we need to be careful there too. Sometimes members of marginalized groups are more conservative then expected. Sometimes they are critics of identity politics themselves. I find that sometimes when people call for listening to members of these groups, they really want us to listen to the the members of that group who adhere to the ideology that they approve of.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,
Fascinating sounding book and topic! I enjoyed your thoughtful commentary.
There are no quick and easy answers to the complex issues you present here. However, along with the right to free speech is a responsibility to be careful and sensitive, especially in this age, where posts and tweets (etc.), can "go viral".

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - I think that one issue is that most people are on social media to one degree or another. Folks are occasionally going to say insensitive things occasionally. I think to some degree if everyone takes a deep breath and tried to be a little less angry then it would help.

The Bookworm said...

This is definitely a thought provoking book. It's amazing how social media has affected us so much over the years. Having that public forum to post opinions on can be both good and bad. Some people abuse it, they take the cowardly way and say things online that they would never say in person to someone.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - Though the problem transcends social media sometimes, Social Media is definitely driving this in many cases. The digital age has changed the world and there are some downsides.

Tracy Terry said...

Hmm! Given that its something of a hot topic at the moment I'd be interested to read his stance on censorship by employers, academic institutions, social media mobs and the like being harmful to individuals and society. Thanks for a great post and bringing this book to our attention Brian.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - This is a very debated topic these days. It is s very engaging book.

Stefanie said...

This sounds like a really good book. Your write up is very good too. It seems that what was once seen as someone being stupid/offensive/making a mistake is now blown all out of proportion by social media as things get tweeted and retweeted and everyone feels like they need to be outraged about something. I remember hearing about the Sacco tweet and its consequences astonished me. I am certain the majority of the enraged have said something equally as stupid/racist/biased at some time but had the fortune not to do it on social media. Let he who is without blame cast the first stone and all that.

I had not heard about the Christakis. I don't see anything so egregious about her email. So sad that both she and her husband were forced to quit their jobs at Yale.

Does Blackford speculate at all why this has become such a problem? Fear? Growing tribalism? Some sort of liberal evangelical righteousness springing from a desire that we should be able to live without ever being offended? It's really baffling to me.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Stephanie -The nature of social media and outrage is indeed a problem.

Blackford sees two problems that has driven this. First, a portion of the left has abandoned liberalism and substituted it for an extreme form of identity politics. Second the perception that the situation involving racism and sexism is such an emergency thaf anything goes when it comes to opposing it.

The situation with the Christakis‘s was terrible. A similar situation occurred at Evergreen college that may have been worse. This piece describes what happened there:

https://areomagazine.com/2019/03/15/teaching-to-transgress-rage-and-entitlement-at-evergreen-college/


Carol said...

Hi Brian, I hadn't heard of this Aussie author before. Great commentary & very interesting thoughts generally. I'm always surprised by the levels of abuse on platforms such as FB - and I'm talking about community pages like local services - a simple comment can get blown out of proportion by someone taking offense for some obscure reason.
Funny, my blog been blocked by FB because someone reported it as abusive?? I have no idea how that came about but it's a weird feeling that some random person can make a complaint & you have no avenue of redress & no idea of what might have caused the offence.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Carol. Social media is one, but not the only factor driving this. Ironically, some folks could not post this blog because Facebook was seeing my entire site as spam. Strange things go on with the social media platforms.

Stefanie said...

Thanks for the link to Evergreen College article. I don;t recall hearing about that. Truly frightening.

HKatz said...

I agree that this is an important book, and your review does an excellent job covering its main points. Over the years I've read authors from the Soviet Union who describe a kind of fervor to denounce, to pay lip service to high principles while engaging in deceitful actions, and it's eerie how similar some of the online behavior is. Only, what's behind it? In the Western World, there are no orders coming down from the government, no brutal punishments meted out by the government or religious authorities over 'wrong opinions' online. Is it a natural tendency, combining hunger for power with self-righteousness? There's definitely a kind of appeal to it in that you don't need to think. You can just say, "X is a traitor/bigot" and that's that.

You mention illiberal left and illiberal right feeding off each other, and I agree - nowadays, the main divisions I see in politics are less left/right and more liberal (or moderate) vs. authoritarian.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Hila - Sadly there are parallels between communist confession - coercion and this stuff. I have had people on social media demanding that I admit my “privilege” and becoming infuriated when I would not acquiesce.

Blackford talks about the difference between government coercion and public coercion and the philosophical and historical implications of the difference.

The extremists are indeed feeding off one another and both would wreck the pillars of our civilization.

Sandi said...


I think it is backfiring. Maybe all of this will lead to a Great Age of speaking up.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for stopping by Sandi. It would be good if all this actually had the opposite effect in the long run, It is at least generating a backlash.

Caroline said...

Such an importnat topic. the book sounds excellent. I find all this very upsetting and, sorry, am glad, I live in Eurpe because it's not like this here at all. It's beginning to look similar but we're still far off.
If I was a student in the US, I'd be so worried. Worried to say what i think and that it will be misunderstood. This creates an atmopshere of mistrust and fanaticism that's even harder to deal with when you're still very young. Maybe people use all this to forget about the most threatening problems like overpopulation and climate change. When you're riled up you focus on one tiny thing and can forget about the big picture.
I'm sorry for those who end up in a hate storm.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline- It is interesting how things are so much worse in this regard as opposed to the rest of the world. As you point out, on top of it all it seems that these folks tend to focus upon the trivial. I believe that there is ideology behind all this. An extreme form of intersectionalism and critical race theory sees all of society as a kind of conspiracy of racism. On the positive side, I think that not all universities have gone off the deep end.