• Book Review: Cancel Culture And Campus Totalitarianism

    November 16, 2023
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    Doral, Florida - Greg Lukianoff has been litigating in defense of free speech for over 20 years. He is a founder of FIRE—the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which was initially called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, because their defense of free speech started in colleges and universities. They are the leading defenders of free speech, and foe of Cancel Culture, in America.

    Now he has written a new book, The Canceling of the American Mind, on how Cancel Culture undermines social trust and threatens our free speech culture. His co-author is Rikki Schlott, a young columnist for The New York Post who has written eloquently in support of free speech on college campuses. Last week they visited Miami as part of their book tour.

    We are in the middle of an attempt by woke progressives, and the institutions they control, to fundamentally transform America from a free constitutional republic into a totalitarian socialist tyranny ruled by our administrative state. This transformation has been growing since the Progressive movement in the early 1900’s, continuing through the New Deal of the 1930’s and the Great Society of the 1960’s.

    Emotional Fragility

    In this millenium, this transformation has accelerated, in part because of the emotional fragility of the new college generation, with their access to social media via their phones, starting around 2014.

    The authors describe the psychological foundations for why today’s college generation has succumbed to the totalitarian temptation of Cancel Culture: (1) Their emotional fragility and anxiety, caused by over-protective parenting. They believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. They are socially incompetent. (2) Their emotional reasoning. They always trust their feelings. And (3) They divide the world into permanently good and bad people, ignoring the insight from Alexander Solzhenitsyn that: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the hear of every human being.” See The Gulag Archipielago (1973). That dividing line has no respect for class, ethnicity or sex.

    Cancel Culture

    The authors explain that Cancel Culture constitutes the practice of canceling speech that is unpopular with a particular group. It started on college campuses, and has spread to elementary and secondary schools, medicine, corporations, publishing, journalism and all other institutions. In the view of the authors, Cancel Culture really started to thrive around 2014, when this fragile generation reached college and brought along their addiction to social media. They combined to create outraged mobs that demanded the cancellation of unpopular speech.

    The authors point out that Cancel Culture reached new heights during June and July 2020, in response to George Floyd’s death while in the custody of the Minneapolis police. Progressives declared President Trump a threat to their democracy, but when progressives refer to their democracy, they mean like in the German Democratic Republic, 1949-90. For example, your columnist has been deplatformed by LinkedIn for observing that the January 6 Capitol riot was mostly a false-flag operation, similar to the Reichstag fire in Berlin during 1933.

    Slide Left

    The authors represent approximately the center-left and the center-right on the ideological spectrum. However, the left has moved further left in this millenium, and become far left. The left is no longer liberal, but progressive, socialist and communist - - all totalitarian.

    For example, in 1977 the Illinois Nazi party won a court order allowing them to march in the mostly-Jewish suburb of Skokie. See movie The Blues Brothers (1980). In that litigation, they were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. Today, the ACLU would not protect such free speech. They only litigate for progressive causes, and avoid what they call “free speech absolutism.”

    Cancel Culture opposes free speech that produces what they call hate speech, which means speech that the woke progressive mob disagrees with. The First Amendment protects unpopular and minority speech. The right to free speech, protected by the Constitution, is an anti-democratic right, restraining the tyranny of the majority.

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    Tax-Exempt Hedge Funds

    The authors observe that colleges and universities are some of the wealthiest institutions in America. They are, in effect, tax-exampt hedge funds. They stand today in a position similar to that of the monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII of England in the XVIth century.

    Colleges and universities have become: (1) Increasingly expensive for students to attend, and wealthier from all types of sources, including student loans, research grants and donations (all sources subsidized by government). Also many have bulging endowments. They capture most of the benefit of student loans by raising their tuition cost. (2) More bureaucratic, with administrators often outnumbering faculty and students. (3) Ideologically homogeneous on the left and far left, enforced in recruiting, admissions, hiring and tenure decisions. Party registration ratios, comparing Democrats with Republicans, by academic departments range from: 1.6 to one for engineering and 5.5 to one for economics; to 8.2 to one for political science and 17.4 to one for history; and finally 48.3 to one for English literature and 56.0 to one for anthropology.

    The ideological foundation for Cancel Culture in colleges and universities was laid in 1965 by Herbert Marcuse in his essay “Repressive Tolerance.” In it he explained that the progressive revolution in America required the suppression of dissenting conservative speech. That is what progressives have been doing since then.

    The main challenge to Marcuse came in 1987 from Allan Bloom, professor at The University of Chicago, in his book, The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom argued that moral relativism on campus was undermining critical thinking. He advocated for a return to classical liberalism. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite to the production and transmission of knowledge.

    Political Commissars

    In colleges and universities, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) administrative bureaucracies function like the political commissars in the armies of the French Revolution and the Soviet Union. They enforce conformity with the dominant progressive ideology. They also rely on “bias response teams,” similar to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution on every block in Communist Cuba. Their remedy for hate speech and wrong-think is compulsory treatment and mandatory meetings; in effect, re-education camps.

    The authors report that both administrators and faculty blatantly discriminate against conservative candidates in admissions, grading, mentoring, research submissions, promotions and all other academic endeavors. Cancellation of professors peaked in 2021-22, and the demand for cancellations came from all sides: administrators, faculty and even students. The top issues calling for cancellation were: (1) ethnic inequality; (2) abortion; (3) gun control; (4) BLM, which stands for Burn, Loot and Murder, and also Buy Large Mansions; (5) transgender dysphoria; and (6) Wuhan flu vaccine and mask mandates.

    Cancel culture in colleges and universities also includes requiring DEI statements for admissions, hirings and promotions. They are focused on political litmus tests to enforce conformity with progressive dogma. They particularly target white supremacy, which is an oxymoron, because your ethnicity cannot make you supreme. Only your culture and character can do that, so their real opponent is bourgeois supremacy, which they do oppose.

    For example, prominent geophysicist Dorian Abbott, a professor at The University of Chicago, had his lecture on exoplanets cancelled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The reason was unrelated to his research, but because in 2020 he wrote an op-ed in Newsweek arguing that promotions should be based on merit rather than ethnicity.

    Colleges and universities have no tolerance for classical liberals, libertarians or conservatives, and especially not for believing Jews and Christians. The current pro-Hamas demonstrations on campus should not come as a surprise.

    Star Chamber

    In order to enforce Cancel Culture, colleges and universities have relied on procedures from the Star Chamber of the Stuart monarchies in XVIIth century England: they hold secret hearings, they do not allow the accused to confront his accuser, and they admit not only empirical evidence, but also emotional impressions and so-called lived experience. This is how accused witches got burnt.

    The authors confirm that faculty members are self-censoring their speech, and cannot rely on support for free speech from the the administration, fellow faculty or their professional associations. Administrators encourage faculty to avoid controversial topics. Ideological conformity trumps objective truth-telling.

    For example, the response to the Wuhan flu was a particularly egregious case of Cancel Culture on campus. During 2020 Dr. Jay Battacharya of Stanford teamed up with eminent epidemiologists from Harvard and Oxford on the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for targeted shutdowns, which they called Focused Protection. Their declaration attracted over a million signatures online. Nevertheless, they were cancelled on social media, as well as by the National Institute of Health, and received little support on campus.

    In another example, during March 2023 Federal judge Kyle Duncan, a social conservative nominated by President Trump, was prevented from speaking at a forum organized by the Federalist Society at Stanford Law School. When he started speaking, he was shouted down by protesting students, and the dean who had attended to supervise the forum, instead piled on and further prevented him from speaking. They accused him of engaging in hate speech. The dean who failed to protect free speech in this case was praised on the blog of the American Association of University Professors.

    See also the initiative by Stanford to eliminate harmful language.

    In addition, the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association all colluded this year to pretend that Mr. Will Thomas is really Ms. Lia Thomas, and therefore was entitled to participate in women’s swimming competitions. The truth cannot be mocked or ignored, and courageous students like Ms. Riley Gaines of the University of Kentucky have stood up to testify for the truth. She has been subjected to Cancel Culture in response

    Cultural Revolution

    The tactics of Cancel Culture practitioners in America resemble those in Soviet Russia, Mao’s China and Communist Cuba. They are attempting to carry out a cultural revolution in order to transform our country into a totalitarian socialist tyranny. As Andrew Breitbart reminded us before his untimely death, politics is downstream from culture.



    Eduardo Vidal

    Eduardo Vidal is a lawyer and political activist. His family brought him when he was nine years old from Cuba to the USA, but now the rule of law has been eroded in the USA as well, and we are turning into Cuba and the rest of Latin America.

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