The New Puritans by By Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic

I’ve written that today’s culture is governed by people straight out of the Victorian Age with their humorless morals and judgments on anything previously found fun or enjoyable.

They are admittedly a strange bunch of Victorians since they condone a variety of gender identifications and sexual practices not tolerated even forty years ago.

I think it is the constant judgment, condemnation, and trumped up indignation that they share with the Victorians.

Anne Applebaum argues that these people are acting more like the Puritans. Okay. I’d agree.

Her article is a must read in The Atlantic (external link) These joyless, self-righteous, and politically active people are after your health, your mind, your job, and the education of your children.

They may have been hunting witches back in the day but now they are after you. It is easy to see that they will become the Thought Police envisioned in 1984. If they haven’t done so already.

Some of the article . . .

Except, of course, they aren’t. Right here in America, right now, it is possible to meet people who have lost everything—jobs, money, friends, colleagues—after violating no laws, and sometimes no workplace rules either. Instead, they have broken (or are accused of having broken) social codes having to do with race, sex, personal behavior, or even acceptable humor, which may not have existed five years ago or maybe five months ago. Some have made egregious errors of judgment. Some have done nothing at all. It is not always easy to tell.

Yet despite the disputed nature of these cases, it has become both easy and useful for some people to put them into larger narratives. Partisans, especially on the right, now toss around the phrase cancel culture when they want to defend themselves from criticism, however legitimate. But dig into the story of anyone who has been a genuine victim of modern mob justice and you will often find not an obvious argument between “woke” and “anti-woke” perspectives but rather incidents that are interpreted, described, or remembered by different people in different ways, even leaving aside whatever political or intellectual issue might be at stake.

There is a reason that the science reporter Donald McNeil, after being asked to resign from The New York Times, needed 21,000 words, published in four parts, to recount a series of conversations he had had with high-school students in Peru, during which he may or may not have said something racially offensive, depending on whose account you find most persuasive. There is a reason that Laura Kipnis, an academic at Northwestern, required an entire book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, to recount the repercussions, including to herself, of two allegations of sexual harassment against one man at her university; after she referred to the case in an article about “sexual paranoia,” students demanded that the university investigate her, too. A full explanation of the personal, professional, and political nuances in both cases needed a lot of space.

There is a reason, too, that Hawthorne dedicated an entire novel to the complex motivations of Hester Prynne, her lover, and her husband. Nuance and ambiguity are essential to good fiction. They are also essential to the rule of law: We have courts, juries, judges, and witnesses precisely so that the state can learn whether a crime has been committed before it administers punishment. We have a presumption of innocence for the accused. We have a right to self-defense. We have a statute of limitations.

By contrast, the modern online public sphere, a place of rapid conclusions, rigid ideological prisms, and arguments of 280 characters, favors neither nuance nor ambiguity. Yet the values of that online sphere have come to dominate many American cultural institutions: universities, newspapers, foundations, museums. Heeding public demands for rapid retribution, they sometimes impose the equivalent of lifetime scarlet letters on people who have not been accused of anything remotely resembling a crime. Instead of courts, they use secretive bureaucracies. Instead of hearing evidence and witnesses, they make judgments behind closed doors.

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2 Responses to The New Puritans by By Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic

    • What exactly is the point of that article? It references another article whose conclusion is more clearly stated in its subhead, “Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke.” So, the piece you reference is opposed to that view? Here’s what I think is the takeaway from the article you mentioned. It’s buried toward the very end.

      “They’re treating the oppressive culture of ‘political correctness’ that silences dissent and enforces conformity that we have always had as normal and sane, and treating the resistance to it–the flawed attempt to come up with new social norms that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable instead of vice versa–as though it’s the real sickness.”

      Can you help me out here? The “flawed attempt” to me _is_ the real sickness by its virtue of being flawed. If you are a moral reformer you must come to the subject with clean hands but these reformers are as deeply flawed as anybody else. The politician who tells you what to do invariably has a broken marriage, a mistress, or a weakness for little girls.

      We are all flawed. But the majority of us do not tell or legislate what others should do. As I have said before, no one would listen to Joe Biden unless he bought them a drink. But he forces people to listen to him and to go along with his view of “comforting the afflicted” because he is in power. NPR radio, for example, would go out of business tomorrow if it were not government subsidized. No one wants to listen, except for a tiny minority who think they know better and want to control your life with their flawed attempts.

      What is the takeaway in that piece for you?

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