The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Why have the concepts of free speech and tolerance declined in the United States? Tonight’s midnight repost essay, from November 25, 2019, tries to answer that question.
A society run by mob rule
In the past week several ugly events have illustrated forcefully how mob rule now dictates who can or cannot speak freely in America. Worse, these events show that we are no longer a civilized social order run by reason. Instead, we have become a culture where whoever can throw the loudest tantrum dictates policy.
First we have the horrible events last week at the State University of New York-Binghamton.
- Aggressive, frenzied mob attacks conservative students, destroys their display
- Unruly campus activists shut down speech by ‘father of supply-side economics’ Arthur Laffer
To understand how disgusting and despicable the first story above is, it is necessary for you to watch the video below. Pay special attention to the taller girl in the fur-lined parka who at about four minutes keeps looking at the camera-person (whom I think is also a girl) and aggressively and repeatedly asking, “Why are you shaking so? Why are you shaking so?” The reason is obvious. The girl filming is one the conservative students, and she is justifiably frightened. The taller girl, hostile and irrationally angry because a conservative dared to advocate opinions she doesn’t like, is clearly being physically threatening. As are all of her leftist compatriots.
The response of the college administration to this atrocious behavior was even more vile, essentially endorsing the actions of the mob:
On Monday, November 18, Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Rose released a statement. He said the College Republicans and Turning Point USA did not have official permission to be tabling that day, that they twice refused to leave, and that their messaging and actions were “provocative.”
“The groups’ display included provocative posters with gun imagery, this being the same day as the Saugus High School shooting. Self-evidently from the nature of their display and their refusal to comply with procedures for reserving the space in question, the groups intended to be provocative,” Rose stated.
With that, the College Republicans may face some sort of consequences, Rose stated. “Had the group followed procedures, the University would have had the opportunity to plan for what was self-evidently a provocative presentation in a manner that may have facilitated expressive activity by both the tabling groups and those who wished to demonstrate against them. Any future action taken against the College Republicans will pertain to their violation of University and SA policies and procedures and not to the content of their message,” Rose stated.
He added the protesters will not face disciplinary measures: “There were also protesters who acted in a manner that may have violated University rules. In the context of the incident and in keeping with the principles and values noted above, the University did not seek to identify or charge any protesters.” [emphasis in original]
In fact, Mr. Ross’s statement is a lie. The conservative students had done nothing that violated school procedures, as many groups had routinely set up tables in this area in the past in exactly the same manner, with school approval.
What Mr. Ross has done, however, is signaled to this mob that they have his endorsement, that they can now with impunity attack conservatives on campus, in any way they like, whenever they wish, with no fear of punishment.
Then there were the events at Berkeley: Masked students and outside agitators block attendees from Coulter speech at UC-Berkeley.
This story is essentially a repeat of what happened in 2017 when other conservatives tried to give a speech at UC-Berkeley, with the exception that this time there actually was a police presence actually trying to prevent violence. A look at the videos (more available here and here) suggests that, though the speech went ahead, these police efforts were generally unsuccessful. The mob was going to get its pound of flesh, and knew that at most its members would only get a slap on the wrist for doing so.
This problem of mob rule however is not confined to leftists and fascists. We have become a global society that sets its political policy based not on reasoned debate and thoughtful analysis but instead on who can coordinate the largest political demonstrations.
Want to defend gay rights? Hold a parade! Hold lots of parades, in Washington, in Israel, in Atlanta, to name only a few, and even assign a defeated Democratic Party politician as grand marshal for one parade to protest her defeat.
Want to defend heterosexual rights? Hold your own parade in Boston. And to troll the gay community, make your parade marshal a conservative gay commentator!
Whoever carries the most signs and puts together the largest crowds is all that matters, nothing else. Sometimes the protests are caused by hate and a close-minded desire to silence all opposition, as in the first cases cited above. Sometimes they occur because of the oppressiveness of governmental control, as in Hong Kong and recently in Iran.
While the latter protests might be justified because the citizens of these oppressive regimes have little or no other option, the use of mob protests is merely a symptom of a society’s larger illness. Either it is not possible to use reasoned and open debate to settle society’s disagreements, or there is an effort to prevent reasoned debate from having a place at the table.
Nor is this mob rule limited to public protests. Consider the mobs that populate Twitter and all of social media. Say something someone doesn’t like on Twitter, and a crowd of self-righteous critics will pounce, working to not only silence you, but to get you fired from your job and ostracized from society.
None of this behavior really has anything to do with establishing justice or a civilized society. All these protests and parades really are are a gathering of a mob, screaming and yelling to demand its way. No one thinks much about anything during such events. Instead, they feel part of a greater cause, united in action, no matter what that action might be, or how violent or thoughtless.
In other words, it isn’t what you think that matters, but how you feel.
Sadly, this is what all modern political discussion has become. Do politicians and pundits thoughtfully analyze the issues of the day on television? Hardly. Instead they shout personal attacks, often based on no facts, simply to gin up ratings. Or they schedule Congressional hearings based not on any facts but on hearsay and slanders and fake charges, all for the purpose of blindly destroying their opponents.
In a sense these actions make them a mini-mob of one or a few, all focused on emotional attacks rather than looking at the issues in depth.
This is not how America used to function. I know from personal experience that the general public in the U.S. once frowned strongly on the use of public protest, not because they wished to silence opposition and dissent, but they looked at it as a childish and improper way to debate the issues of the day.
I sensed this social attitude during the first protest demonstration I ever attended, against the Vietnam War in 1966. After participating for several hours I increasingly felt uncomfortable about what I was doing. There was something about it that made me feel like a sheep. As we protested we had time to talk to each other instead of chant, and I found that my fellow marchers were not happy if I took an independent look at their positions. It wasn’t so much that I was disagreeing with them, but I was finding their level of knowledge about the Vietnam War to be woefully incomplete. They were simply glad to be part of that protest mob, unified in action, and didn’t like it if someone threatened their simplistic view of the issues.
They knew little about the history behind the war, the protest was doing nothing to educate them, and in fact was preventing them learning anything. It was instead fueling their ignorant and shallow emotions.
I did not like this, and decided it was time to leave. I quietly slipped away. I might be against the Vietnam war, but I was not going to be a sheep.
Part of the reason I was able to resist the peer pressure of this mob and make this decision was that in the 1960s I had read and heard more than a few opinions expressing these same thoughts. The culture did not oppose dissent; it just strongly believed that protests were simply not a good way to do things. This belief had struck a cord in my soul, especially after I had been a protester myself.
Since then I have participated in only a handful of other demonstrations, one in favor of Israel around 2005, and several Tea Party events in 2008 and 2009. Each time, I came away feeling the same. We had really done nothing but heighten the emotions, without enlightening anyone about the issues involved.
Unfortunately, my disdain of protests has become the exception to the rule. Americans now endorse the idea of protest as political debate. They might disagree with a demonstration, but their answer is to organize more protests in response. No one takes a breath and thinks. Instead, the goal is to gather a larger crowd with bigger signs and louder chants.
The result is consensus by mob, and decisions that are shallow, childish, and thoughtless. No wonder so many of our city and state governments are facing bankruptcy and lawless societies, while the federal government is bankrupt and fails in practically every task it tries to do.
Can this change? Yes, though I am doubtful and pessimistic. It will take an effort by every adult American, at all times, including accepting some sacrifices, such as giving up much of the worst types of behavior on social media.
American need to make an effort to once again become civilized adults, embarrassed when they find themselves doing childish things simply because it satisfies their childish emotions. That is not how a mature person behaves.
Or a mature civilization. There is a reason that “civil” is the central core of that word.
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