Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fear of dissent, redux

This is from Richard J. Ellis's The Dark Side of the Left, published in 1998, in case anyone thinks the rift between activists and more moderate liberals is a recent invention:
Systemic data from Wellesley college supports these alarming, if anecdotal reports from the disillusioned. In 1990 the women's studies program at Wellesley undertook a self-study that focused, among other things, on the question of whether students felt pressured to give "politically correct" answers. (This survey was carried out before the term "politically correct" became a political football in the mass media, which explains why the Wellesley program was willing to ask such a question.) The self-study found that 30 percent of students in women's studies courses said they "felt silenced or at risk expressing unpopular opinions," compared with less than half that number among those in non-women's studies courses. In one particularly egregious case, nineteen of the twenty-five students affirmed that they felt pressured to give politically correct answers.
The only thing new is the delivery system. Social media allows people who would have never been heard outside a classroom the possibility of a large platform. This is a great thing. It's also a bad thing because there's this unspoken rule on the left that says the less privilege a person has, the more taboo it is to criticize them, and many purported allies care more about not looking racist or sexist or homophobic than actually not being any of those things. In a lot of activist-friendly spaces, there's very little room in which to fuck up. (And I'm big believer in growth and learning from fuck-ups.) And when these interactions are happening exclusively online where you're given a limited amount of data in which to work, it's understandable.