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A geophysicist’s unconventional guide to surviving campus witch hunts: Show love

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It takes guts to suggest showing “love.” First, the context:

In the fall of 2020, I became the target of a cancellation campaign after I’d suggested that the best policy for a university seeking to support underrepresented groups, while staying true to its mission of producing knowledge, is to ensure that hiring and admissions decisions are based on merit. It’s an idea that directly reflects bedrock principles advanced during the Civil Rights movement, and which are still supported by a large majority of Americans. But to the mob, I was just an irredeemable enemy of progress and social justice. As part of the now-standard playbook, my attackers formed a Twitter mob and wrote a denunciatory public letter, cynically misrepresenting my views, demanding that my research and teaching at the University of Chicago be restricted, and urging that my department formally denounce me. Fortunately, at a crucial juncture in the proceedings, the Free Speech Union launched a change.org petition in my support, which was signed by more than 13,000 people. (The list probably includes many readers of this essay. Thank you so much for your support!) My university president, Robert Zimmer, subsequently issued a strong statement defending freedom of expression on campus. As a result, I seem to have survived my cancellation.

Dorian S. Abbot, “More Weight’: An Academic’s Guide to Surviving Campus Witch Hunts” at Quillette

Okay, now about love:

When you are being targeted by aggression, hostility, and hatred, a natural impulse is to want to fight back as hard as possible, and exact revenge. But love—and yes, I use that word—for your students, friends, family, and the society we inhabit more generally should be your motivation for standing up to the excesses of modern ideological movements. If a mob starts attacking you, remind yourself that this mob is composed of human beings who are themselves worthy of dignity and respect, then try to return their hatred with love. Ultimately, I think that cancel culture presents a case study in what Desmond Tutu summed up with the book title, No Future Without Forgiveness.

Or put in less lofty terms: We shouldn’t fight cancel culture with more cancel culture. Because I took this attitude, when I look back at my attempted cancellation, I am proud of the way I reacted. When people lied about me and slandered me, I tried to smile and let it slide. When the Free Speech Union posted my letter of denunciation as part of the change.org petition, I asked that the names of my denouncers be blacked out to prevent them from suffering their own online attacks.

The way we win this fight is by being unyielding in our beliefs, which also means sometimes being willing to suffer abuse, then forgiving our attackers when appropriate and trying to move forward together as an academic community.

Dorian S. Abbot, “More Weight’: An Academic’s Guide to Surviving Campus Witch Hunts” at Quillette

Let’s hope it continues to work for Abbot. A couple of difficulties: 1) It’s not clear that Cancel Culture is an academic community, as opposed to a mob running an academic racket. 2) Many Cancelers will interpret efforts to be nice as evidence of weakness, more or less as wolves do.

But so long as the strategy really works, go with it.

What mainly saved Abbot is that his university president wasn’t a typical coward.

See also: In Big Tech world: The journalist as censor, hit man, and snitch. Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in media toward misrepresentation as well as censorship. When an institution is no longer needed, its sense of its mission usually changes. The type of people attracted to it change too.

4 Replies to “A geophysicist’s unconventional guide to surviving campus witch hunts: Show love

  1. 1
    EDTA says:

    Respond to hatred with charity and love? Hmm…wonder where that idea may have originated…

  2. 2
    BPS from AZ says:

    “But so long as the strategy really works, go with it.”
    Properly understood, it’s not a “strategy”. It’s a way of being.

  3. 3
    Concealed Citizen says:

    Love… love under power.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Interesting . . . my previous comment was posted and is now gone. More problems with the software?

    -Q

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