Naughty or Nice?

To date, 10,344 of my academic colleagues have added themselves to an open letter that they plan to send to Turning Point USA asking to be added to the "Professor Watchlist."

Their argument: 
You claim that by creating the watchlist you "fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish." But the creation of such a watchlist serves the opposite purpose. Such lists have been used since at least the 1930s to silence free speech, chill academic freedom, and harass faculty members.... The type of monitoring of professors in which you are engaged can only inhibit the process through which higher learning occurs and knowledge is advanced. We support and stand with our colleagues whose academic freedom your list threatens. Therefore, we, the undersigned, as that you add our names to the list.
Which is interesting, because my colleagues seem to spend a great deal of time adding themselves to other lists which could just as easily be used for precisely the purposes that they say the Professor Watchlist will be.

For example, this one, which almost 2000 colleagues and students at my own university have signed demanding that our University "be proactive in opposing President-elect Trump's proposed immigration policies and countering their potential effects on this campus community." Or this one, which over 100 colleagues have signed in support of the right of our graduate students to unionize. Or this one, which back in 2008 even I was foolish enough to sign along with over 100 colleagues protesting the foundation of the Milton Friedman Institute. Among other things my colleagues averred: "We are concerned that this endeavor could reinforce among the public a perception that the University’s faculty lacks intellectual and ideological diversity." (That's okay, I'll wait. I was young. At least younger--and much less well-read.)

To be sure, there is a difference between a list to which one adds oneself and a list compiled by someone else, say, a fat man in a red suit. But to judge from the letter accompanying the AAUP open letter, it seems that it is the mere fact of the list that is alarming my colleagues. They worry that anyone on the list will be subject to monitoring and harassment, thus their desire to confuse the list makers by swelling it beyond usability. To coin a phrase, "If everyone is special, then no one is." And yet, they have added themselves to the other lists, apparently unconcerned about the way in which those lists might be used to do the very things they say the Professor Watchlist will be: silence free speech, chill academic freedom, harass faculty members.

You think I'm kidding? What do you think will happen to me when enough of my colleagues realize I have not signed the more recent letters? Okay, I am probably exaggerating...but what would you do? What if a group of your colleagues sent round a letter like the one my colleagues circulated after the election because they were worried about the lists of our students that they expect the new presidential administration to compile? Not signing would potentially suggest you agreed with the worst possible outcome your colleagues imagine: our foreign national students rounded up and deported summarily whatever their immigrant status. But signing would potentially suggest that you agreed with breaking our immigration laws by establishing our university campus as a sanctuary. To sign or not to sign? With such a list, there is no middle ground. You are either on the list or off it. Naughty or nice.

One of my Facebook friends had an interesting reaction to the letter that I shared which was posted by Rod Dreher on his blog. "My fellow liberals, I'm tired of you," Dreher titled the letter one of his readers sent to him. In her words:
By all rights, I should be a member in good standing of [the secular liberal tribe], "liking" their Facebook posts and joining their candlelight vigils agains the evil Trump Administration. But November 8 and its aftermath revealed to me that I am just so tired of these people.... These are good people in a lot of ways. But there has got to be a better tribe.
Dreher's reader went on to describe how she found herself, much to her surprise, turning to the Christian Right: "It is no small feat, switching tribes. It feels stressful and weird to abandon your tribe for the Detested Other Side." To which my friend responded:
Well what I find sad about this is not someone changing their mind and looking elsewhere but the idea that there are only two options. Crazy liberal or righteous conservative. I wish the writer would have instead looked even deeper and discovered her own way instead of just switching tribes.
It is an appealing idea: why do we have to divide ourselves into binaries? Almost as if in answer, another of my friends was on another thread, protesting my use of the term "Social Justice Warrior" to describe the protestors at Milo's talks:
It is pretty shameful of you, Rachel, to adopt codes such as "SJW." If you begin raving about "The Frankfurt School" or "cultural Marxism", I will really know that you have lost it. It is quite easy to object to extremist and emotional expressions of *some forms of identity politics* without calling people "snowflakes" "SJWs" etc.... Nor does an extreme version of a position invalidate more central and moderate versions. (One can, to take a conservative example, believe in limiting the power of the state without being a Randian or treating Atlas Shrugged as scripture.)
Never mind that "Social Justice Warrior" is an almost affectionate appellation compared with some of the things his protestors call Milo ("fascist" is a favorite, followed closely by "white supremacist"), the root of the question remains: must there be only two tribes? Why can't there be a spectrum or, better, a polythetic set?

As an Ent, I should arguably agree. Just because I am not fully on your side does not mean I am fully on their side, nor am I sure that anyone (other than Milo) is fully on my side, although I am greatly encouraged by the response I have gotten from Milo's Facebook followers to my posts he has shared. Everyone is weary of having the most extreme positions on one or the other side of the political spectrum taken as representative of the whole. All liberals are not race activists. All conservatives are not white supremacists. Wouldn't it be better if we could all meet somewhere in the middle? All be on the same list? Why does there need to be a list at all?

It is not only Santa who puts people on lists. We put each other on lists all the time: "It is pretty shameful of you, Rachel..." (putting me on the list of the Shameful). "I wish the writer would have instead looked even deeper and discovered her own way..." (putting Dreher's reader on the list of the Unreflective). It is a primary function of language to create lists simply by naming names: "Social Justice Warriors." "Fascists." "Race activists." "White supremacists." "Liberals." "Conservatives." "Progressives." "Immigrants." "Americans." "My colleagues in academia." "Christians." Sometimes we agree with the names people give us, other times not so much. The third person pronouns "she" and "he" have become particularly contentious of late. One wonders whether the tension will spread to "I" and "you." "We" is already hopelessly compromised; "they" is almost unspeakable, implying an Other.

My colleagues in academia would prefer, it would seem, for there to be no "they," only "we." If we all sign the petitions, the "they" will go away. There will be only one list, the list of the Watched, the list of those wearing safety pins, the list of those opposing any change in the enforcement of our country's immigration laws. It is extremely important, their petitions would seem to imply, for all of us to share the same position, otherwise danger ensues. Free speech will be silenced, colleagues will be harassed, academic freedom will be lost. The country will be doomed if we do not all agree; there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth as the innocent are hauled away to be damned. Almost as if there were going to be a great judgment, dividing the good from the evil. The righteous from the unrighteous. The saved from the sinners. The sheep from the goats.

I wonder where on earth they could have gotten such an idea. Who would make such a list?

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