randombio.com | political commentary
Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015

Are Americans becoming more cowardly?

Yeah, I guess so, but stop triggering me or I'll cry.

I zech President Miloš Zeman, discussing the 2014 murder of four people by Islamic jihadists at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, once said “There is a term, political correctness. This term I consider to be a euphemism for political cowardice.”

This is a profound insight. It stands in contrast to much of the dialogue, sometimes nuanced, sometimes strident, but too often motivated by fear, that we're hearing today.

Of course, it's easy to taunt one's political opponents by calling them cowards. The goal is usually to goad them into supporting some repressive action that one wants—to stampede the herd into banning this or that.

Often it's done by pundits who have no actual argument to make. They merely accuse the opposition of being cowards. Some of them are young people whose ideas have never been tested. One blogger on gawker.com, a left wing opinion site, wrote an 1100-word article calling every person he could think of who disagreed with his opinions a coward. He did not make a single argument as to why his position was better; the whole article was nothing but name-calling.

I won't bother linking to it; you can find hundreds more easily enough. These types of articles are the equivalent of whacking a dog on the nose with a newspaper. Only a person afraid of being called names—a coward—would be convinced by it.

Yet it does not change the fact that there really is such a thing as cowardice. It may be seen in our schools and universities, where the mere act of drawing a picture of a gun or a little boy innocently kissing a little girl on the cheek can get a child arrested. Our colleges set up “safe spaces” with baby toys for college students to run and hide when they're confronted with some idea that is so scary they can't handle it. School administrators know this is silly, but say nothing. What other term can describe that besides cowardice?

Then there are those cities who are so afraid of the Black Lives Matter activists that they're removing Confederate flag icons from their flags, tearing down statues of Confederate generals, and even digging them up from their graves.

In the 19th and early 20th century Americans were a lot tougher. As a gesture of reconciliation President Andrew Johnson granted Confederate soldiers amnesty on May 29, 1865. (He later got impeached.) In 1900 Congress decreed that Confederate soldiers are officially American war veterans. They were willing to work for national reconciliation. That took courage.

Now those men are long dead, and some people feel so threatened by just the symbols that they've decided to renege on the deal and systematically expunge the symbols rather than face the facts of history. How cowardly does one have to be to be afraid of a symbol of an extinct movement?

It is nothing new. Way back in 1984 students at Brown University in Rhode Island demanded that the school stock up on cyanide tablets so the students could all commit suicide if a nuclear war should break out. Back then school administrators still had a trace of common sense and refused. Perhaps today they'd just be cowering behind their computer monitors, afraid to make any decision at all. Or maybe they'd commit suicide themselves.

New and radical ideas are so important that a tenure system was invented specifically to protect college professors from any untoward consequences of expressing them. Yet now they have to write articles under a pseudonym telling us how terrified they are of their own students, many of whom have become stridently intolerant of any hint of dissenting opinion. What we are most afraid of is ideas.

What is going on? Has the tenure system failed? Can we ascribe it to emotional reasoning, perhaps caused by poor education or absent fathers? Or maybe as we become more urbanized are there fewer opportunities for children to learn to take risks? People become more and more risk-averse, so we have parents being arrested for leaving their children in a playground or letting them walk home from school—afraid to take even the slightest risk, and severely penalized for trying.

Or perhaps as universities turn into businesses, administrators adopt a customer-is-always-right philosophy, and accommodate any student initiative, no matter how loony and bizarre, to protect their sources of revenue.

This seems plausible, too; our corporations have long acted the same way. We never expect corporations to have much honor and courage, and are surprised when it happens. In the past those that demonstrated it, as Chevron did many years ago on the paraquat issue, got precious little credit for it. Perhaps this is why, as Brendan Eich of Mozilla and many others discovered, corporations today seem have become mindless slaves to political fashion.

But it can't be a coincidence that cowardice has spread the farthest in those areas that are dominated by left-wing progressivism. There is something in leftist ideology, which holds that aggression and terrorism are just cries for love and sympathy, that turns many of them into appeasers.

It is the administrators who must stand up to intimidation. If the universities turn into idea-free trade schools, their status will drop more than the professors', and they are far more expendable. That they don't take a stand means either they agree with the students' demands, or they are cowards, or both.

If it were merely confined to the sociology-crit lit-womens-studies side of the universities, no one would much care. But it's starting to affect things that actually matter. One of Britain's top cancer researchers, Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, was driven out of his faculty position for making a harmless remark that upset feminists. He and his wife have since moved to Japan, a country that still values merit over conformity.

That people seek refuge from conformity in Japan is an indication of how far the West has fallen. A society that rewrites its own history will soon find itself with no past. A society that cowers in fear will find itself with no future. It will deserve to lose both.

dec 20, 2015

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