A Generational Threat to Free Expression

A Generational Threat to Free Expression. By Eric Kaufmann.

Today’s culture wars pit advocates of equal outcomes and special protection for identity groups against defenders of due process, equal treatment, scientific reason, and free speech. Our political map is taking shape around this new divide between what I will call cultural socialism and cultural liberalism.

Cultural socialism, which values equal results and harm prevention for identity groups over individual rights, has inspired race-based pedagogies and harsh punishments for controversial speech. Rooted in the idea that historically marginalized groups are sacred, this view is no passing fad. Letters, associations, universities, and media defending free speech notwithstanding, the young adherents of cultural socialism are steadily overturning the liberal ethos of the adult world. …

Survey data … show the scale of the challenge. While the American public leans two-to-one in favor of cultural liberalism, a majority of Americans under 30 incline toward cultural socialism. For instance, while 65 percent of Americans over 55 oppose Google’s decision to fire James Damore for having questioned the firm’s training on gender equity, those under 30 support the firing by a 59–41 margin. Similar gaps separate young and old people on similar instances of cancel culture, such as the oustings of Gina Carano (an actor fired from Star Wars for social media posts) and Brendan Eich (the former CEO of Mozilla forced out in 2014 for opposing gay marriage in 2008). …

Older people take freedom of speech for granted. Younger people often don’t even think it should exist:

Young people are especially afraid of cancel culture. Forty-five percent of employees under 30 worry about losing their jobs because “someone misunderstands something you have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from your past online.” Just 29 percent of those over 55 have the same worry. …

A recent study found that seven in ten students say professors should be reported if they say something offensive.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s two-wave sample of 57,000 undergraduates shows that nearly eight in ten students would oppose their school allowing a speaker onto campus who argues that Black Lives Matter is a hate group or that transgenderism is a mental disorder.

Indoctrination via education — it worked!

The classical liberal inheritance that underpins our legal system does not live in the hearts of younger generations because it has not been brought to life in stories, film, or education. We urgently need to revive this lost tradition—but the hour is late.

Our society developed free speech in order to keep the peace and for better ideas to rise to the top through competition. But now leftist educators keep students in the dark about the past evils and the censorship that caused our society to evolve free speech. The consequence is that now we have to live through their censorship. Great.

Of course, some of the ideas of the new censorship are just plain factually wrong, and will run aground on the rocks of reality. For example, not all large groups of people have the same statistical characteristics. Society will have to be dumbed down and reorganized an awfully long way to ensure that all groups are equally represented in all walks of life. Obviously merit, fairness, and the pursuit of excellence will have to go.

Rod Dreher, on a recent speech by Kaufmann:

Kaufmann’s main point was that conservatives have to make fighting the culture war their most important goal — more important than economics, taxes, or anything else. Why? Because his research on the attitudes of younger generations shows that they are illiberal leftists who don’t believe conservatives have the right to participate in society. “I don’t think we are ready for what’s coming,” he said. …

Kaufmann said that American conservatives are pretty good at talking about culture war issues, but terrible at coming up with effective policies to fight wokeness. …

He praised activist Christopher Rufo and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for bucking the habit of conservative complacency about the culture war.

Kaufmann added that conservatives have to have plans to retake public institutions, as well as to bring political scrutiny to public institutions (e.g., universities) to force them to be fair and neutral. …

He made it very clear that, based on his research, conservatives are going to face a fight for their right to exist within institutions and in the public square.

Kaufmann later added, in the Q&A period, that conservatives are either too “stupid” (his word) to see the seriousness of the threat to wokeness, or are too stubbornly distracted by the things they prefer to talk about (like cutting taxes) to recognize that if we lose the culture, we will have lost the opportunity to argue for anything else. …

American conservatives have to try some new things. They’re probably going to get Congress back this fall, owing to Joe Biden’s failures. But for once, they ought to try deserving power by using it to do big things — none more important than fighting back hard against wokeness, with positive legislation.

hat-tip Stephen Neil