This is a guest post by Michael Towns.
In 1971, seminal English rock band The Who released a classic entitled “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which includes these words: “Meet the new boss….same as the old boss!” For decades, it’s been interpreted in a political context. Nixon was viewed as not that different as Johnson – both escalated military actions in Vietnam and thus the “new boss” was the same as the “old boss.”
There is a troubling aspect to contemporary social discourse. It goes something like this: you don’t agree with the social, political, or religious beliefs of a person or a group of people, yet instead of meeting those beliefs from a position of mutual respect in the marketplace of ideas, you label the person or group using a catch-all epithet designed to so marginalize your opponent that the labeling party essentially can claim a victory before the battle has even started. The labeling party views this result as perfectly condign to the crime of talking about certain topics. Meet the New Bigotry. It’s the same as the Old Bigotry.
In a way I can see the logic of such a tactic. By anathematizing the “other”, you can insulate yourself from having to wrestle with your political or social conceits. By marginalizing those who believe differently than you, you can supposedly remain perched upon your moral tower while ensconced in your blissful echo chamber. It frees you from having to engage in the rough and tumble of debate. But let me be perfectly blunt about it: doing so makes the person a complete anti-intellectual coward.
In the marketplace of ideas, people should be free to bring up historical aspects of …oh….say “slavery”… without being labelled a racist. People should be allowed to bring up potential negative side effects of feminist policies without being labelled a misogynist. And so on and so forth.
It is profoundly troubling that people resort to these cowardly tactics. I should know, because I’ve had these weapons trained on me, and it’s a most unpleasant experience. Yet it seems that the adherents of such cowardice fail to notice the hard irony of their own bigotry while standing as the supposed watchmen of bigotry in others. Yes, it is bigotry to call other people racist when they haven’t said a discriminatory thing. Yes, it is bigotry to label an entire group with such an epithet when there are many individuals in that group who didn’t even have the conversation and are thus innocent. Guilt by association tactics have always been wrong and have no place in true intellectual conversation.
This new bigotry is no different than the old bigotry. It’s a mirror reverse of the shameful bigotry of the past, except this time it’s employed by folks who regard themselves as moral sentinels. A quote from C. S. Lewis comes to mind:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”
― C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)
I am asking for those on the other side who seem to have a proclivity for seeing “racism” in every tree and bush and shadow to lay down their weapons and stop attacking folks using words of destruction. I am asking them to rise above the atavistic hypersensitivity that anytime black people or slavery or discrimination is mentioned, that person who mentions it must therefore be a Bad Person. It has a chilling effect on speech. It has a chilling effect on intellectual discourse. It is harmful. It is wrong. And it needs to stop. Now.