The intolerant left, then and now

The intolerant left — the ones who approve of “free speech zones,” speech codes, shouting down speakers, and in some cases violent suppression — reminds me of certain campus factions when I was a student in the late sixties and early seventies. We can learn from the similarities and the differences.

In the “sixties” (which stretched into the seventies), it was mostly hard-core socialist groups who opposed free speech and tried to silence opponents. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) loved to intimidate and shout down speakers. Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF) handed out fliers declaring that “Fascists have no right to speak!” By “fascists,” on that occasion, they meant libertarians opposing rent control.
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Collective identity politics

The term “identity politics” is missing an important word. It’s collective identity politics. Who you are is an individual matter, but the culture is full of claims that your identity is your group membership. If you subscribe to identity politics, you’re supposed to think not for yourself, but according to someone’s group stereotype. You have to follow only your own group’s traditions; adopting and enjoying other people’s is “cultural appropriation.” It’s supposedly a great revelation when you stop thinking of yourself as a human being and start thinking of yourself as a member of a race.

Lately we’ve seen identity politics taken to its logical conclusion, with white nationalists coming out of the woodwork. In Washington, DC, Richard B. Spencer declaimed, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” In German, that would be “Heil Trump! Heil unserem Volk! Sieg heil!” He was answered with applause and Nazi salutes. (YouTube video; may be nausea-inducing.)
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Talking about mass deportation

A lot of people have only one thought about mass deportation: “These people are here illegally, so they must be removed.” The reasons their presence is illegal or the consequences of removing them apparently don’t concern them. They’ll gladly help with any program of removal. Finding a way to discourage them, at least to reduce their enthusiasm, could save lives.

The left’s favored approach is to yell “Racist!” at them repeatedly. No doubt people think this ought to work, but so far its effectiveness has been limited. The election itself shows that.
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Freedom and the art of persuasion

If you look at Twitter and Facebook, it appears that Democrats are convinced that Trump beat them by tapping into rage more effectively, so they’re trying to catch up. They’re denouncing anyone who skipped the election and anyone who voted for a minor-party candidate. They’re saying anyone who voted for Trump is a “collaborator,” regardless of their reasons. By this logic, anyone who voted for Clinton, for any reason, must also be a “collaborator” with her militarism, with her hostility to free speech, with her “Manhattan project” for breaking secure communication.

It’s a perfect achievement. If you were eligible to vote, you’re evil. Everyone’s evil. Except them.

But that’s Twitter and Facebook. They’re practically designed to encourage fury and promote echo chambers. Talking with people in person, I’ve found considerable common ground, even if it’s just that Trump is very dangerous. It’s possible to reach people with a lot of patience. (Which I’ll freely admit is a virtue I’ve never been strong on.)
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Political violence in New Hampshire

Porcupine 'Dont tread on me' flag
This morning I came across a disturbing news article. Two people were arrested for assaulting a man in Manchester for displaying a flag with a porcupine and the words “Don’t tread on me.” The report says:

The man shot on the West Side over the weekend, apparently over a dispute about a flag bearing a porcupine symbol, is active in the Free State Project, according to movement leaders.

Jarrod Ean-Dixon, 36, was on the ground early Saturday morning when he was kicked in the head and then shot multiple times in the abdomen, according to a police affidavit filed Monday in Manchester District Court.

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How to respond to bicycle haters

A few people out there really hate bicycles. It’s just one more manifestation of tribalism; people need something different from themselves to despise. Their vehicles have four wheels and a motor. I have a vehicle with two wheels and no motor.
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Trumpism as alternate reality

Trump can tell the most absurd lies without suffering in the polls. When he declared that “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” it was obvious that he is a totally dishonest person. No one who had followed the news or Trump’s campaign at all could believe it.

Or could they? It depends on what you mean by “believe.” To a rational or mostly rational person, belief means regarding a claim as conforming to reality. If a friend says, “I went shopping yesterday,” I believe her if I think she went shopping yesterday. My only evidence may be that she’s honest and has no motive to lie, but it’s still the reality that counts.

But there’s another kind of belief, where it’s not reality but the authority making the statement that governs. If there’s a disagreement between the authority and reality, it’s reality that’s wrong. This is the belief of the “true believer.”
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Penn Jillette and liberalism

I wish everyone I know would watch this video by Penn Jillette. It opens on a silly note, but then gets into some very important points. He talks about atheists from Muslim countries who are stuck between the hostility of their own culture and Americans who hate them as “Muslims.” He distinguishes strongly between regarding an idea as wrong and hating the people who hold it.
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The cliff of force

When people resort to force to defeat other people’s views, they aren’t starting down a slippery slope. They’re stepping off a cliff. It doesn’t matter how strongly they feel, how contemptible the opponent is, or how carefully legal they are. Resorting to force to silence an opponent means substituting muscle for reason.

Many news outlets reported that “violence broke out” at a white supremacist rally in Sacramento on June 26, but are vague on who engaged in violence. This isn’t necessarily unreasonable; it can be hard to sort out where things started, especially if both sides are spoiling for a fight. All the evidence I see, though, indicates that it was a gang of “counter-protesters” who launched the first attack.
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Student lunacy, in the sixties and today

When I started at MIT in 1969, there were two student movements. The larger one was motivated mostly by opposition to the Vietnam War and fear of being drafted into it. A smaller but noisier group actually supported Communism, cheered dictators, and sometimes engaged in violence. In MIT’s Building 10 lobby (under the Great Dome), one of them punched me in the nose hard enough that I bled. Near Harvard Square, where I was involved in a pro-freedom demonstration, an attacker used an improvised incendiary device to set fire to a 13-star US flag we carried, and the fire spread to my sweater. (I wasn’t hurt, and the assailant was later convicted.)

Melissa Click pointing angrily at somethingToday we have a different kind of student lunacy, with people assaulting Trump supporters, calling for muscle against journalists, but mostly whining that everything is traumatic to them. They suffer feelings of intense distress over chalked political slogans, independent news coverage, and even grades.

The anti-freedom movement of the “sixties” (which extended into the early seventies) wasn’t admirable in any way, but at least it was an enemy worth opposing. They envisioned a world in which “people’s” revolutions would take over one country after another, seizing private property and imprisoning or killing those who stood in their way. They loved mass murderers like Che Guevara and Mao Zedong.

Today’s movement is about trigger warnings and fear that they might hear something uncomfortable, about having “safe spaces” where they’re safe from dissenting views and controversy. This attitude has even spread to spread to science fiction conventions and one filk convention, where speech codes prohibit saying anything derogatory about anyone.

If the anti-freedom student movement of the sixties was Darth Vader, today’s movement is Kylo Ren.

Today academics teach students that conformity of thought is mandatory. The president of Emory University expressed horror at hearing “about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” My most satirical filk songs have never topped that for irony. Nicholas Kristof has published a followup to his earlier piece on progressive intolerance (which he grants the undeserved title of “liberal” intolerance) in which he learned that many academic progressives regard people who disagree with them as “idiots” who are guilty of “hateful, hateful bigotry.” I’m now convinced that the obsession with physiological diversity is a desperate attempt to keep themselves from realizing that they want nothing but orthodoxy and conformity.

It’s almost enough to make me long for the good old days of wearing a burning sweater.

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