A cornerstone element of the principle of free speech is that speech that one disagrees with, or finds offensive, must be as protected as speech one likes. Many have echoed this premise, with various forms of:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

It’s no secret that such liberty is an increasingly alien concept on our college campuses, in progressive circles, and across worryingly growing segments of a society whose foundational document leaves no ambiguity as to the matter. Speech that hurts feelings, or challenges recently minted progressive “truths,” or causes discomfort to supposedly adult students, is not only unacceptable, silencing it with violence is permitted. In academia, one errant word, even absent of malice or ill intent, can end an education or destroy a career.

Such totalitarian thuggishness would not last long without being dressed up in complex sophistry, because if it were left bare the resulting cognitive dissonance would be too much for most. Fortunately, academics and others with too much free time and too much useless education are quite skilled at crafting complex sophistry, especially when it also explains away the glaring failures of their beliefs, policies, and philosophies.

Columnist Heather Mac Donald explains how this complex sophistry is at the heart of the social justice movement.

It’s no secret that public education is failing poor minority kids, and that there’s a stark disparity in academic achievement between white and asian kids coming out of the system, and black and latino kids coming out of the same system. But, those in charge and those who’ve crafted the policies that produced these failures refuse to look at themselves as the causes. Instead, they’ve put forth a teratomatous theory called “disparate impact,” which basically says that if there’s a disparity in outcome from a given system or process or arrangement, the reason for that disparity is racism.

Taken to a natural conclusion, this results in an indictment of every element of the nation’s fabric. Including free speech, and even liberty itself. Mac Donald notes:

Objectivity, a strong work ethic, individualism, a respect for the written word, perfectionism and promptness are among the “white norms” that diversity and social-justice theory seek to deconstruct.

That individualism is being deemed a “white norm” should horrify us. Apart from the shock of a movement that has told us there are literally over a hundred genders arguing against individualism (but it’s obvious – you’re permitted to “be” different, but not to “think” different), requiring conformity to a decreed set of norms is the polar opposite of “the pursuit of happiness.”

Ditto for “a strong work ethic.” Even if we look past the notion that a society based on liberty calls for its members to put effort into seeing to themselves, you should be free to work as hard as you wish.

Four years ago, on these pages, I discussed the Scandinavian culture’s Law of Jante. It speaks of a cultural conformity, where excellence and achievement beyond certain parameters is frowned upon and where individualism is deterred. Perhaps not coincidentally, those cultures exhibit discomfiting degrees of racism, but hold that thought. Read Jante’s ten rules, and bear witness to the progressive agenda:

  • You’re not to think you are anything special.
  • You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  • You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  • You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  • You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  • You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  • You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  • You’re not to laugh at us.
  • You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  • You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

While Jante is about cultural conformity, Jante-on-Campus is about intellectual totalitarianism. It tells anyone who might think about arguing with the architects of social justice, “shut up. Not only do your contrary opinions not matter to us, you’re not even supposed to have them.” And, in typical intellectual cowardice, they put an exclamation point on that by calling anyone who won’t conform a racist.

Author Paulo Coelho encapsulated Jante as “You aren’t worth a thing, nobody is interested in what you think, mediocrity and anonymity are your best bet. If you act this way, you will never have any big problems in life,” and asserted, correctly, that a version of this exists in just about every society on the planet. ‘Don’t make waves, and you’ll get by’ is even woven into mid-level corporate culture in America. But, it is those who choose not to conform, who opt to make waves, and who strive to excel that achieve success, and the plethora of such in American culture and history, themselves born of a culture dedicated to liberty, that elevated America to the status of “greatest nation on earth.”

This success isn’t perfect, nor is it utopian. It also grates on people who reject Coelho’s version of Jante in their own way, in a combination of white-knight-ism (while hiding safely inside the stone fortresses of academia) and resentful pique that people of purportedly lesser wokeness and intellect have managed to achieve good or great things. So, they tear it down, propagate false ideas like “if you succeeded, it’s because you put someone else down” zero-sum-ism, and write a set of societal rules to which they demand and coerce compliance. There’s no liberty in that. When someone tells you how to live and how to think, he’s telling you that you have no freedom of your own. And, if you don’t listen, he’ll take the cheap shot of calling you a racist, because that immediately alters the argument dynamic, and puts all but those who are ready for it on the defensive.

More of us are ready for it nowadays, because it’s become a more common tactic, so its impact isn’t what it used to be. It’s a bell that is not easily un-rung, however, thus the crafting of complex sophistry. By “explaining” how core elements of liberty are racist, these horrible people hope and expect to make those under their influence instinctively shun anyone who might topple the narrative. And, in getting ever more aggressive about all this, they’re prompting more and more people to conclude there’s no bridging the (ever-widening) gap between their social-justice/identity-politics worldview, and the one rooted in individual liberty that many of us aspire to.

More and more people speak of two Americas, of a nation with a fundamental perceptional divide. When liberty itself is denounced by those on one side of that divide, I know which side I’m going to pick, should things break down further.

Which America do you want to live in?

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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