Is this the return of the Thought Police?
By Phyllis Chesler
December 12, 2018
In 1984, George Orwell wrote: “The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. When people ‘disappear’ no one is allowed to mention it, no one is mourned, no one person is important, only the Party and Big Brother are important.”
Today, Orwell’s Thought Police are, rather ominously, everywhere. There is a definite intellectual chill in the air. Reason and civility are all but gone in the public square. In its place, we have insults, shaming, censorship and self-censorship that is meant to “pass” for thought. Hotly internalized propaganda rules the day online. We have met Big Brother, and he is us.
In my view, people seem to develop some kind of psychoanalytic transference to their Listserv groups. In a way, the connection is an umbilical one. The darker side of this connection isn’t hard to find. Internet Listserv groups bully and purge dissident members—this has happened to me and to many others. Sometimes, a small group of people (teenage “mean girls” and their mothers, academics, journalists,) attack the same person over and over again, day after day, for months, even for years. Meanwhile, hundreds of onlookers remain silent. No one stops the attacks or calls for a more civilized fight.
Unlike in-person mobs, attackers on social media attack and instantly disappear. Often, people attack one by one, one after the other, in sequence, even when there are hundreds of them. As a result, individuals in cyberspace may continue to see themselves as individuals rather than as members of a lynch mob or as contributing to an atmosphere in which people are systematically demoralized or silenced.
This New Intolerance and the New Censorship that online mobs zealously enforce is narrowly focused, in ways that are hard to miss when you are a member of a targeted group. In my experience, being the object of mob opprobrium has everything to do with where one “stands” on ethnic bigotry towards the Jewish people, on Israel/Palestine, and on Islam. Meanwhile, Sunni-Shia fratricide, African genocides, worldwide sexual slavery, war-zone atrocities, the persecution of dissidents and infidels in the Islamic world go largely unremarked upon. This is by design. The only events that matter are those that might feed pathological obsessions with the Jews.
Once you’ve taken the “wrong” stand on Israel or Islam, your reputation precedes you. No matter what other subjects you may be talking or writing about, (gardening, cooking, grandchildren, feminism, the Crimean War), these positions will forever haunt you and block your path. This too is by design; it is a deliberate strategy to inhibit argument and free thought by directing the mob to attack those who dare to step out of line. This is why so few people take such stands. They can clearly see what happens to those who do.
Last week, I was being interviewed by a genuine, not a faux, feminist, who praised my work but then said: “Yes, but now I must ask you to explain your position on Israel.” Israel had nothing to do with our conversation, but it was now an important subject of the interview. What I was expected to “explain” was my failure to conform to a party-line norm. Until I did so, nothing I said on any other topic could legitimately be heard or praised.
About a month ago, the editor of a left-wing magazine said that the only reviewers he could find for my new book, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, insisted on using my memoir of feminism in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s as an opportunity to challenge my position on Israel/Palestine.
“But I don’t write about it in this book,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter. I cannot get anyone to review you without taking this into account.”