I’ve been looking at the parallels of the cancel culture, riots, and looting of today in the U.S. to other times and places in history.
Numerous times I’ve mentioned Gulag Archipelago both on this blog and in private conversation with my children and others. The survivors of those times wrote of the truth not being “politically correct” and to speak the truth could result you being “reeducated”, sent to a slave labor camp, or being executed. But, as far as I know, they lacked the riots, thuggish mobs, and looting.
In Nazi Germany the removal of all Jews from government jobs and universities warrants at least a mention. The Brown Shirts, thuggish mobs, and looting ignored by the government certainly are a good match for what we are seeing today in some locations. But the removal of people from their jobs wasn’t because of their political beliefs and/or speech.
After reading Bari Weiss’s letter of resignation from the New York Times (via email from Paul K. and Reason Magazine which has a good article on the topic) another potential parallel was brought to my attention. From Weiss’s letter* (emphasis added):
The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people. This is a galaxy in which, to choose just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program is lauded for its “diversity”; the doxxing of teenagers in the name of justice is condoned; and the worst caste systems in human history includes the United States alongside Nazi Germany.
Even now, I am confident that most people at The Times do not hold these views. Yet they are cowed by those who do. Why? Perhaps because they believe the ultimate goal is righteous. Perhaps because they believe that they will be granted protection if they nod along as the coin of our realm—language—is degraded in service to an ever-shifting laundry list of right causes. Perhaps because there are millions of unemployed people in this country and they feel lucky to have a job in a contracting industry.
Or perhaps it is because they know that, nowadays, standing up for principle at the paper does not win plaudits. It puts a target on your back. Too wise to post on Slack, they write to me privately about the “new McCarthyism” that has taken root at the paper of record.
McCarthyism certainly cost a lot of people their jobs (watch The Front, if for nothing other than the credits at the end which are incredibly sobering). And it was about political correctness of a type. But the thuggish mobs, riots, and looting are missing as well as the political persuasion of the villains being anti-Marxist rather than pro-Marist as we have in the circumstances of today.
The fictional dystopia of 1984 could be considered a match in many ways but it takes place deep in the depths of the fierce suppression of speech, written word, and even many thoughts are forbidden. Something closer to our present circumstance and non-fictional is preferable.
I’m left with less than great matches. Sunday evening I suggested to my children they read Gulag Archipelago. Kim eagerly asked for the spelling but Jaime protested that unless it offered a solution then she didn’t want to get even more depressed and upset by our current situation. That’s a valid point. And furthermore, without great parallels how can I shed light on what to expect next or what to suggest as a remedy? And then there are so many variables such as our technology lending itself to vastly superior suppression of free speech than the previous examples. On the other side of that coin is that same technology also can also be a tool for the enabling of free speech and punishment of the evil doers. And, of course, 100s of millions of guns and billions of rounds of ammunition in the possession of the persecuted also is a variable not present in any of the historical scenarios.
The McCarthyism parallel is by far the least tragic of the outcomes, but it is also the worst match so I’m going to dismiss it.
The conclusion am am left with is that the all the reasonably good historical parallels lead to really bad situations. We must do our best to avoid going in that direction.
I keep thinking that with more and more evidence such as Weiss’s letter, the lessons learned from CHAZ/CHOP, and the continuing destruction in other cities, Portland Oregon in particular, that there is a good chance of a political turn around in the November elections. We should work at making a political solution the most likely outcome while ensuring a 2nd Amendment solution is a last resort and crystal clear that if needed it will be used and will be overwhelming successful.
* I intended to extract a paragraph of the letter for a QOTD but nearly every paragraph would have qualified. I would like to suggest you read the entire letter.