Tuesday Heather Heying and her husband Bret Weinstein co-wrote a piece for the Washington Examiner which walks through their experience at Evergreen State College, culminating in them settling a lawsuit and agreeing to resign their long-held faculty positions. If you’ve been reading Hot Air over the past year you’re probably very familiar with what happened to Weinstein but if not I’d encourage you to read their entire piece. It does an excellent job summing up the situation they found themselves in, placing most of the blame on president George Bridges and other members of the faculty who encouraged a mob of students to gradually take over the campus.
What I want to focus on is not the story itself but the lessons Weinstein and Heying have drawn from it. Both of them are still committed progressives but they admit what happened at Evergreen is closer to the right-wing take on the topic than they like to admit:
We come from the Left, and our values and worldview have not changed. But our understanding of the landscape has, as has our understanding of who is most likely to be interested in pursuing democratic goals through democratic means. A democratic system needs intelligent dissent, which means that it must create and protect the conditions in which people can learn how to think critically, and how to critique ideas and proposals. Those are longstanding values on the Left, but today, they are hanging by a thread.
At Evergreen, a small fraction of students was the face of the protests, some even going so far as to patrol campus with baseball bats, threatening people, and vandalizing property. But the vast majority of students were not part of the protests. Some were yelled at, insulted, assaulted, even battered. Some left the school. Some graduated. Some are keeping their heads down, angry and scared, until they, too, graduate, while they wonder why their experiences are apparently of no interest to the college administration.
What of Martin Luther King’s dream? Why are we being advised by the social justice crowd that we shall not focus on the content of our character, but instead must focus primarily on the color of our skin (and our gender identification, sexual orientation, and various other signifiers of intersectional oppression)? This would be MLK’s nightmare. Why is it being handed a megaphone?
Heying and Weinstein leave this question hanging but there is one obvious answer to why this is happening now or, at least, to who is leading this charge: Black Lives Matter. The group that formed in the wake of two shootings cases (Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) created an environment in which accusations of racism are more important than facts. Indeed, many people still believe some of the media-driven myths that surrounded these two cases, “Hands up, don’t shoot” being just the most obvious.
The same movement has also been helped along by author Ta-Nehisi Coates who once suggested a backlash to the Trayvon Martin case was in response to President Obama (rather than the collapse of a series of false claims about the case).As we’ve seen recently, there are some real incidents that are worthy of outrage, but those calls for social justice need to be driven by the facts. What happened at Evergreen is just one example of what happens when activists seize the bludgeon of racial accusations without the underlying facts.
So, is this present uprising Maoist? Are the inmates running the asylum? Has the extreme Left gone off the deep end? A bit, a bit. But with apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien, we offer a different analogy: One script to rule them all, One script to find them, One script to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
For today’s social justice warriors, only one narrative shall be allowed. It is unquestionable. Those who dissent are guilty. The “equity and inclusion” movement, cloaked in words that sound benevolent and honorable, is a bludgeon. To the outside world, Evergreen’s implosion looked like a student-motivated response to conditions on the inside. But the terrible conditions don’t really exist, and the real power dynamics, between administrators and faculty, were obscured by a narrative constructed to make resistance impossible.
I have a lot of respect for Weinstein and Heying as progressives who refused to succumb to this nonsense despite the fact that it would have been much easier for them to just go along with it and keep their jobs. But I think they underestimate just how close some of what took place at Evergreen is to the kind of recurring left-wing authoritarianism that they dismiss as a “Maoist uprising.”
To be clear, I’m not saying the students who identify as SJW’s are Maoists (or insane for that matter). What I’m saying is that leftists have succumbed to a kind of zealous exuberance to be on the side of righteous societal change many times in the past. It was true not just of Mao but of Pol Pot and Stalin and Hugo Chavez and all the way back to the French Revolution. This exuberance is not limited to a time or place and we definitely haven’t seen the last of it (again, see the Chavistas and their gangs of motorcycle riding colectivos).
Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying saw a bit of the ugly side of this impulse when they were warned to flee campus, but it doesn’t necessarily stop there. People who endorse violence to achieve political ends (on either end of the political spectrum) are capable of much worse. There’s no guarantee we’re close to the end of this particular nightmare.