Friday, 7 December 2018
Silencing dissenting voices. How the left threatens freedom.
A letter signed by academics calls for Cambridge University not to give Dr Noah Carl an academic position because (they state but don't evidence) Dr Carl's work is racist. Now, since I haven't read much of Dr Carl's work, it's tricky for me to know whether or not this statement is true. I am also certain that, despite what they've said in the letter they've signed, few of the 200 hundred or so academics who've said Dr Carl is racist have read any of his work either.
This seems an isolated incident but it represents a trend in our society. Intelligent people, mostly who hold left wing views of one sort of another, collect to silence dissenting views. Dr Carl is a dissenter whose failing is that he is right wing (he challenges this assertion) and researches links between intelligence, politics, race and economic development (this is a simplification). More importantly, I suspect, is that Dr Carl is a prominent and outspoken critic of leftist bias within academia and especially in his own field of sociology and social psychology. It is this criticism that lies behind the academics' letter not the essentially spurious allegations of 'pseudoscientific racism'. Right wing voices must be either silenced or placed in a carefully quarantined box labelled "dangerously wrong ideas".
Don't misunderstand me here, I don't think there's a vast conspiracy of critical theory scholars and sociologists plotting in some university common room to silence voices arguing for conservative, classical liberal or libertarian ideas. It's rather that there's a consensus that these ideas are "wrong", that people who hold them are either sinister forces or misled by sinister forces, and that rather than engage with the ideas the motives of those promoting such dangerous thoughts must be questioned or else their character smeared (sometimes both).
We see this in the "who funds you response" directed (amongst anti-foreigner and misogynist slurs) to young female voices from organisations like the Institute of Economic Affairs, Adam Smith Institute and Taxpayers' Alliance. We saw it in the damning mischaracterisation of Toby Young as an eugenicist, in the selective misquoting of Roger Scruton following his appointment to chair as government body looking at aesthetics in architecture. And we've seen it in the bizarre conspiracy theories of George Monbiot and Carole Cadwalladr - a world where well known libertarians giving money to a libertarian-inclined think tank is "dark money" and where someone turning down the offer of a deal is proof positive of their collusion with the makers of that offer.
The problem - and it is a real one - is that too many left wing people simply believe nobody can support free markets, capitalism, free speech and economic liberty without being 'shills for corporate lobbyists'. This viewpoint is now firmly embedded right across the left of politics and academia, from the mildest of Blairite establishment figures through to the communists who work for Jeremy Corbyn - people are right wing because they are making money from it or thick or 'gaslighted' by those funded by "dark money" into backing ideas against their interests.
Dissenting voices - whether it is old-fashioned conservatives like Scruton or left-libertarian ex-trots like the folk at Spiked - cannot be tolerated. Hence calls for the BBC to stop having people from the IEA or TPA ("who funds you") presenting their work - it's not about the funding, it's about the ideas they promote. These ideas - conservatism, classical liberalism, free markets, open societies, free speech - are what the newly intolerant left want to silence and attacks on motives, slurs, misrepresentation, whataboutery and orchestrated calls for sackings or no platforming are justified by the need to either silence or discredit right wing thinking.
I don't offer a resolution, more a question and something of a warning. The question is how, when the centre-left and progressive mindset is so pervasive across the media, do we create a sense of balance? By way of example, the IEA is routinely referred to as a 'right wing' think tank when its researchers appear on broadcast media, yet when people from think tanks like the IPPR appear they are seldom introduced as from a left wing think tank. This imbalance reinforces the idea that right wing is problematic in a manner that left wing isn't. It is a moderate version of the manner in which communists and fascists are treated with the former allowed space and time and the latter excluded.
The warning is that, without freely expressed voices in support of freedom, we will lose that freedom. You don't have to be a supporter of the capitalist model (many libertarians aren't) or a believer in free markets (lots of conservatives aren't) to recognise that the manner in which such voices are excluded, discredited and demonised by the dominant mainstream left, especially in academia, represents a dangerous trend and a threat to wider freedoms. If one set of voices - many essentially moderate (there's nothing remotely threatening about the work of the Mercatus Centre but George Monbiot sees it as park of his nexus of "dark money") - are excluded, it's only a short step to the exclusion of other voices. This is already happening in academia, through deliberately orchestrated actions like trying to get Dr Carl sacked and through the manner in which the training, recruitment and appointing of academics is conducted as well as by the raising of mobs to shout down dissenting voices when they appear. If we want to be free we will have to challenge this illiberal progressive mindset so the ideas of freedom are heard.