I recently had a very disturbing discussion with a dear friend.
He is recently retired and enjoying his love of research and writing. He spent a career flying multimillion-dollar passenger jets, and now he is piloting Google to uncover information he finds lacking in the mainstream media. We get together weekly, smoke cigars and exchange ideas and review each other's research.
He is a diligent and creative investigator, combing through tons of websites and documents to get to the bottom of his inquiries. And I believe he is a very good analyst and writer. I have encouraged him to start a blog or write a book to share his ideas and his writing skills.
He shook his head. "Not going to happen"...
"Why not? You're talented!"
He said he had recently floated the idea with his wife, but she forbade him from publishing his work online. She claims his views would be considered "dangerous" and "embarrassing" within the academic community. It would put her in an untenable position at work.
And though he was hurt, he agreed to keep his work private.
He has been motivated by the media's preoccupation with identity politics and by the near universal portrayal of white men in television dramas, situation comedies and advertising as insufferable buffoons. And he is angered by the media's obsession with characterising America as systemically racist, so he has been focused on studying the history of black activism, and the intersectionality of feminism and male domination of Western culture.
Professionally, she is struggling with Pandemic restrictions requiring conducting classes online from home, and figuring out how to maintain important personal contact with her students and her colleagues. Additionally, she is concerned that his new hobby is making him bitter and resentful. The result is she feels increasingly stressed at work and at home.
They have always agreed to respect each other's political inclinations and to refrain from engaging in arguments about the current state of affairs. He knows what her positions are and vica versa. So he graciously agreed to honor her request.
But it raises a larger concern…When she said his views would be considered "dangerous" by her cohorts, he was taken aback. He was indirectly being censored.
"We live in America. Discussing civil and social events and policy is classically American" he said. "Any thought of censoring, or discouraging the free exchange of ideas is memorialized by the 1st amendment of the constitution. If I was encouraging violence or the overthrow of the government, she would be right to caution me. But all I am doing is asking questions, connecting historical data points and expressing my opinions. What's so 'dangerous' about that?"
I have always viewed academia as the petri dish of free thought. A place that encourages different points of view, and discussions about those ideas and conflicts. We are supposed to use schools to instruct people on how to think, not what to think. Her fear that the academic community would presume to label her husband's thinking as "dangerous" is itself a dangerous abuse of academic influence.
That kind of GroupThink undermines the American Dream: that citizens can feel free to express themselves without persecution. For an institution of higher learning, or any of those working within it, to in any way stifle public expressions that don't threaten other citizens, is antithetical to the 1st amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression and association.
In this case, it isn't a hill he wants to die on. It isn't worth putting her career and happiness at risk. Is it her job to stand up to such bullying when it could undermine her career and all of the good work she performs for her students? No.
But isn't it frightening to think that both people are capitulating to academic bullying?