The closing, chaining, and welding shut of the American mind


Naomi Schaefer Riley is an author, and a trenchant critic of the educational establishment, as the title of her book would suggest: The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For. 

Riley was also, up until last week, a contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Brainstorm” blog.  When the print edition of the Chronicle published an article about up-and-coming graduates of black studies programs, Riley responded with a short, punchy blog post ridiculing the “collection of left-wing victimization claptrap.”  It was very much in the spirit of her book, which she published almost a year ago.

The whole post is still available at the Brainstorm blog, as of this writing, at the link above.  Here’s a sample of Riley’s snark:

But topping the list in terms of sheer political partisanship and liberal hackery is La TaSha B. Levy. According to the Chronicle, “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.’” The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights? Because they believe there are some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people they are assaulting civil rights?

Up with such an expression of forbidden ideas a chronicle dedicated to the principles of “academic freedom” could not put, so Riley was fired from the blog, after a reaction she described in a subsequent Wall Street Journal op-ed:

The reaction to my blog post ranged from puerile to vitriolic. The graduate students I mentioned and the senior faculty who advise them at Northwestern University accused me (in guest blogs posted by the Chronicle editors) of bigotry and cowardice. The former wrote that “in a bid to not be ‘out-niggered’ [their word] by her right-wing cohort, Riley found some black women graduate students to beat up on.” (I confess I don’t actually know what that means.) One fellow blogger (and hundreds of commenters) called my post “racist.”

Gina Barreca, a teacher of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, composed a poem mocking me. (It begins “A certain white chick—Schaefer Riley/ decided to do something wily.”) MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry spewed a four-minute rant about my post, invoking the memory of Trayvon Martin and accusing me of “small-mindedness.”

Oooh, they dropped the “white chick” and Trayvon Martin bombs on her!  Such enlightened discourse!  Much cruder accusations of racism were thrown at her with gusto, because she dared to not only criticize but mock black studies.

Incidentally, Mrs. Riley is indeed a female person of pallor.  She is married to Jason Riley, who works for the Wall Street Journal.  Would you like to guess what Jason Riley looks like?  I won’t spoil it for you.

A mob of over 6,000 “academics” swarmed to demand Riley be expunged for her thoughtcrime.  Incredibly, the website Gawker actually published a piece with the thesis “sometimes the mob is right.”  This was backed up solely by author Hamilton Nolan’s assertion that Riley is “stupid” because she dissents from leftist ideology.  For example:

Well, assuming that the civil rights movement benefited black intellectuals in the academy, then yes, people like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, and John McWhorter can reasonably be described as intellectually assaulting the civil rights legacy that benefited them. Yes, they can. That, too, seems very easy to grasp, in a way that cannot be automatically refuted by typing rhetorical questions.

Thomas Sowell did too benefit from affirmative action!  She should have known better than to argue with liberal dogma in a 500-word blog post!  OFF WITH HER HEAD!

The Left has from The Closing of the American Mind to chaining and welding it shut.  Increasingly, it seeks to “win arguments” by beating people into submission.  This is done by attempting to rule opposing viewpoints completely out of order, which is a much easier task than refuting them.  You are not allowed to hold those positions, at the risk of your very humanity.

The gay marriage debate is the most newsworthy example of this, since President Obama was apparently so rattled by the success of North Carolina’s traditional marriage amendment that he has announced the formal completion of his “evolution” toward open support for same-sex marriage. 

The drive to re-define marriage is currently presented as an absolute moral imperative, from which dissent by a loyal opposition is absolutely impossible.  You either support gay marriage, or you’re a homophobic monster who hates gay people.  The Twitter watchdogs at put together an amazing stream of pure hatred from Hollywood stars after North Carolina passed its marriage amendment, calling those who voted in favor “stupid” “homophobe” “barbarians” from a “backwoods old school state,” comparing them to those who banned interracial marriage in the 19th century, and telling voters that both they, and their children, should feel “shame.”

Most amusing was a Tweet from Bravo TV’s Patti Stanger, who fumed she was “so tired of the states using the legal system to ban gay marriage when the people have spoken that they want it.”  Of course, the people did speak in North Carolina, in an absolutely deafening voice, and passed that marriage amendment by a margin of 61 to 39.

People like Stanger aren’t stupid.  They’re totalitarians.  She knows the amendment passed with enormous popular support.  She just thinks those people don’t count.  They’re not fully human.  The consistent electoral failure of gay marriage initiatives does not faze her.  All that matters is the latest opinion poll, from some tiny sample of the populace, that reveals half the respondents didn’t want to tell pollsters they disagree from the manufactured consensus in favor of re-defining marriage.  Who cares what millions of idiots do in their silly little private voting booths?

Opposition to gay marriage is routinely described as a human rights violation by proponents, which makes it the equivalent of a war crime.  There is no legitimate dissent from what the anointed (to borrow from that legendary affirmative action beneficiary, Thomas Sowell) have decreed is good and right.  Wipe out all those illegitimate votes from backwoods hillbilly Bible-thumping hatemongering morons, and gay marriage wins in a walk!

An increasing number of issues are pushed by the Left in this manner.  There was no legitimate dissent from “global warming,” right up until the “deniers” – occasionally likened to Holocaust deniers in the depth of their evil – were utterly and totally vindicated by actual science.  Anyone who opposes higher taxes is a tool of the selfish rich, whose influence upon politics is intrinsically malevolent, unlike politically active left-wing billionaires.  Soros money good, Koch money evil! 

Only paid shills of the oil industry oppose Obama’s disastrous energy policies.  A vote to cut government money from any given program implies malicious hatred for its beneficiaries.  A vote against Barack Obama can only be motivated by racial animosity.

On and on it goes.  My advice is to harbor intense suspicion of any viewpoint that allows no possibility of dissent in good faith.  Of course the people who strongly advocate any given position believe they are right, and their opponents are wrong, but that’s different from pretending opposition is fundamentally illegitimate.  The mark of an open mind is its willingness to engage in the battle of ideas, not an appetite for ideological firing squads.  It’s never a good sign when an ideology is so fragile that it cannot bear ridicule.

It’s sad, and chilling, that the editors of a “Chronicle of Higher Education” need to have that explained to them.  They just fired one of the best teachers they could have asked for.  Pity they didn’t give some of the “young guns” of black studies an equivalent 500 words to respond to her instead.  That might have been interesting.