Earlier this month I posted part of a Spiked magazine panel featuring Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. In that clip, Pinker talked about how political correctness winds up creating its own opposition. Today, I’m reaching back a bit further for another clip from the same series of Spiked magazine discussion panels. This panel took place last November at New York Law School and features former Evergreen State College professor Bret Weinstein along with Professor Laura Kipnis (who I wrote about here), Professor Angus Johnston (who I mentioned here), and author Brendan O’Neill.
The question posed to the panel was “Is the left eating itself?” Of the four panelists, Bret Weinstein was the last to give his opening statement. Two of the people preceding him (O’Neill and Kipnis) answered the question in the negative, with O’Neill arguing that the campus agitators are actually authoritarians disguising their reactionary impulses in left-wing language. Professor Johnston, the panelist most supportive of the campus activists, argued that the more moderate left should try to embrace the activists who are getting a lot of negative attention for their behavior.
At this point, Weinstein answered the central question in the affirmative. “I think there are a couple of ways to answer this question. One is yes. Another would be, ‘Yes of course it is,'” he said. Weinstein added that the answer seemed so obvious to him that he felt the need to move on to a more interesting question: Why is this happening?
Weinstein suggested any such debate would come down to semantics, i.e. what constitutes ‘the left’ but where previous speakers have argued that the campus activists aren’t really leftists, Weinstein argues that the definition of what constitutes the left is currently “in flux.”
“The first thing that I would suggest is that we may have a basic problem with the game theory of progressivism,” Weinstein said. He added, “It is quite possible that what is taking place is that the left has a bad actor problem that arises out of some of the fundamental assumptions of progressivism.”
Turning to his experience at Evergreen, Weinstein said, “I recognized that there was a hidden dichotomy between two populations within the left.” He continued, “One of those populations earnestly wishes equality, and there can be some debate over what it is that is being equalized, but virtually everybody on the left would say that they are for equality of opportunity.
“Then there is another population that does not wish equality of opportunity, what it wishes to do is to turn the tables of oppression. And the problem for us is that when these two populations are intermingled they sound alike until the point that you reach something like equality of opportunity, and we are nowhere near that point. At that point, they would clearly diverge and you would discover that some of the people who had been pursuing some nominal version of equality were really about some radical version of inequity with new people at the head. And I do think that is what we are facing.”
Weinstein goes on to say that he believes many of the people on the left are unaware that they are part of something which contains these extremist tendencies, which he describes as “unholy and un-American.”
Near the end of this opening statement, he points out that this hidden population of extremists is best viewed as an insurgency, one that uses public deception to cloud some of its own radical goals. “If you recognize it as an insurgency and you stop listening to what it says it is attempting to accomplish, it will be much clearer what is taking place,” he said.
It’s interesting to hear Weinstein, who is a biology teacher, frame this discussion in terms of population ecology. If you think about it, the form of his answer is appropriate given the question the panel was asked, which is about competing populations eating one another.
My own take, and the reason I wanted to highlight this, is that I believe Weinstein is basically correct that the activist left is an insurgency which is attempting to assert dominance over the left. It is currently seeking to spread its own quasi-religious ideas (intersectionality, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, etc.) paired with authoritarian tactics (shouting down opponents, no-platforming, mob violence) and if it succeeds we will be well on our way to finding out what the authoritarian left’s idea of equity really looks like.
Here’s the clip of Weinstein’s statement. If you want to watch the full panel, it’s here.