During one of our recent weekly segments, John DePetro mentioned a conversation that he overheard while attending the infamous rally at which Governor Gina Raimondo dove into the crowd (husband in tow) showing no concern for the COVID-19 rules she was imposing on everybody else. Shortly before that incident, while the crowd prepared to violate the government’s curfew, John heard a young woman on the phone with her mother.
The responsible youth was calling home for permission to violate the curfew and be arrested. Really, Mom, it’s just a $25 fine and some time singing protest songs in a jail cell.
To be clear, as a political conservative with a natural distrust of government, I find it encouraging to hear of teenagers following the higher law of the family. That’s how it ought to be. Follow the law when it is just and when you must, but remember that there are higher authorities.
Nonetheless, two facts add a different sense to this anecdote. First, the organizing forces of the insubordination (as John reported) were big-government progressives and their government-union allies. And second, the curfew was not actually enforced. Just as the precautionary measures that shut down our economy and forbade precious life experiences seem only to apply according to a political judgment, so too do the terms of acceptable insurrection.
As I’ve noted before, our education system has become in some respects a training ground for activism. That could be to the good if it were properly oriented. If children and young adults were being taught how to think independently and how to cope with uncomfortable ideas and disagreement (rather than to force the world to conform to their comforts), then rebellion would be a matter of conviction and not easily herded toward orchestrated stampedes. If activism were understood to require a sense of proportion and gradual escalation, beginning with persuasion and maintaining throughout a respect for the rights of others to disagree, then ringleaders couldn’t so easily announce targets. But that isn’t what’s happening.
For a recent example, consider Ed Achorn’s thoughts on the targeting of a blogging acquaintance of mine, Cornell University Professor and Rhode Island resident William Jacobson. Achorn suggests that universities should be about “free and fearless intellectual inquiry,” but at Cornell, Jacobson is encountering threats against his career for criticizing Black Lives Matter as a political organization. This, writes Achorn, is evidence of a new model:
The new model — which is, in truth, an ancient model — is to shame, harass, frighten, and punish those who diverge from (an ever-changing) orthodoxy. Heretics are not burned at the stake or shipped off to re-education camps, at least not yet, but a clear message is sent to those seeking academic careers: conform to one point of view, or else. …
… the issue was not whether Mr. Jacobson said anything untrue or did not have a right to pursue the truth under the protections of academic freedom. Rather, he cast “aspersions on the goals of those protesting for justice for Black Americans.” This is about politics.
If one speaks out against what one finds to be the use of false propaganda, anti-Semitism, beating, and looting — which happen to be classic tactics of fascists — does that now violate the values of Cornell Law School? If one believes, as Martin Luther King Jr. did, that the arts of peace — the rule of law, nonviolence and open debate — advance social justice better than mob violence and destruction, does that now violate the values of the Cornell Law School? Are the supposed “goals” of a political group that is favored by the dean all that matter to the Cornell Law School? What if that dean-favored group engages in illegal or immoral activity to advance those goals? If so, what, then, is the point of the law?
The new “rule of law” is that the powerful will tell us when the rules apply… and when they don’t. The new “tolerance” depends upon the identification by the powerful of what must be tolerated… and what must not.
Our educational and cultural institutions are not creating the conditions for independent thought and resistance against pockets of power that may be wielded unjustly. They are becoming training grounds and accelerants for foot soldiers and mobs pushing the ideology of the powerful.
It would be pleasant to hope that our society still has the backstop of higher authorities, such as the family, but the warning literature from our past discourages us from leaning too much on that hope. The young lady whom John DePetro overheard faced only a $25 fine and a good police-station story that college admissions boards would actually favor because her cause was officially approved.
If the cause had been disfavored, there would have been more-severe consequences in store for daughter and mother alike, up to the possibility of being branded as pariahs, which would be a stain they could never fully escape.