Friday, May 11, 2012

Censorship by the Mob

I remember the days when liberals would stand on the barricades proclaiming that though they may despise what you say they'll defend to the death your right to say it. That seems like such a long time ago. Today liberals are much more likely to cave under even the mildest pressure and fire someone who voices any opinion that aggrieves any member of an approved minority group.

That's what happened to Naomi Riley at The Chronicle of Higher Education who had the insolence to scoff at the academic frivolousness that typifies so much black studies scholarship. For stating out loud what most people already know and thereby rousing the ever-alert liberal speech police who read the Chronicle, Ms Riley found herself thrown unceremoniously into the street.

There was no discussion about whether what she said was actually true - truth is irrelevant in these matters, you understand - it's that many readers found it offensive that she would actually poke fun at a field that is, in fact, eminently pokable, but which is a refuge of liberal black intellectuals who probably couldn't succeed in a legitimate academic discipline.

Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard has the details:
Late last night, in a shameful example of editorial cowardice, the Chronicle of Higher Education fired Naomi Schaefer Riley. Naomi is a good friend of mine, a sometimes contributor to The Weekly Standard and a fine writer. And the story of what happened to her is highly instructive....

Last week she wrote about the world of “Black Studies” in a post titled “The most persuasive case for getting rid of Black Studies? Read the dissertations.” You should read the whole thing, because it’s only 520 words, but here’s the gist of Naomi’s argument:
I just got around to reading The Chronicle’s recent piece on the young guns of black studies. If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.

That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.
Naomi then went on to dissect two other incredibly silly “Black Studies” dissertations. One of these was written by TaSha B. Levy. Here’s how the Chronicle itself—not Naomi—described Levy’s work:
Ms. Levy is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have “played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.”
Chronicle readers were outraged. Not that a graduate student was earning a doctorate by claiming that Sowell, Thomas, and McWhorter are threats to civil rights. Oh, no. They were outraged because Naomi would dare poke fun at such insanity. Because, you know, that’s racist.

Eight days and 497 comments later, the Chronicle’s Liz McMillen fired Naomi.
You should follow the link to read McMillen's rationale for firing Riley. It's a wonderful profile in pusillanimity. What McMillen says, without saying it, is that she succumbed to the pressure of the outraged mob to silence a voice with which they disagree.

I wonder if Riley had been a black blogger writing about, say, the superficiality of the religious beliefs of white liberal protestants if she would have been fired. I know. Silly question. Liberals don't fire anyone for offending whites, especially religious whites, and besides, white liberal protestants don't take their religion seriously enough to be offended by a someone poking fun at it anyway.

In the Cathedrals of liberal academia there's only so much tolerance for dissenting opinions, and those who show themselves guilty of the heresy of making fun of a sacred scholarly endeavor, like those unfortunate Muslims who have the temerity to blaspheme Islam by parodying its dogmas, must be put to the sword, so to speak.

Nowhere do we find more intolerance than among those liberals for whom tolerance is supposed to be the highest virtue.