Say the wrong thing and your career might be seriously damaged - if not over. There's no court where the allegations against you are made out, no court where you can seek redress. Cancel culture is the new Stalinism.
Nobody takes responsibility for your plight. Think that's unfair? Yes it is, but it is worse than that. You're deemed responsible because you said the wrong thing.
A recent example in London highlights how far we have moved from being a society where a fair go means something. A British academic, Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, was due to speak at a Rethinking Education Conference on indoctrination in education and how to avoid it. Her opportunity to speak was cancelled. She founded a campaign group called Don't Divide Us which has as its mission the task of challenging the idea that the UK is systemically racist. Ironically, the cancellation means the woman of colour was blocked from speaking.
For clarity, she is not a fringe extremist pushing ugly angry thoughts. She has a PhD in the sociology and philosophy of education from Cambridge University. How does someone with those qualifications get cancelled from speaking at a Rethinking Education Conference?
Apparently just seven speakers and delegates to the conference said they wouldn't feel safe speaking with someone from Don't Divide Us. It is a ridiculously unfair and stupid way to decide who can speak at a conference. Those who say they feel unsafe don't have to make a case against the speaker they allege makes them feel unsafe. Their feelings are enough. Let's put that another way. You can shut people out of opportunities to speak just by announcing you're worried about your feelings. You can cause harm to another person by just saying you don't feel mentally safe around the views they express. No consequences for you. An easy hit.
The hit however is not just against the speaker with whose views you disagree. The hit is against all of us. It happens in a number of ways. First, we condone harm being caused to one of us by people who do not have to answer or take responsibility in any way for their actions. That is a very bad precedent to set. Second, we are all harmed because we lose our right to hear the speaker's view. Yes, you may not like their view, some of the rest of us may not like it either but surely we have a right to hear it. We have the right to decide for ourselves and not have that arbitrarily taken from us by a few people just announcing they don't feel safe around those views.
Third, we all lose, whatever our view of the speaker because we lose the capacity to exercise our mental muscle, both individually and collectively. It is the mental muscle that pushes humanity forward. It is incremental and there are disagreements along the way but public debate and discourse is the lifeblood of a civil society. If we forget how to think critically, because we are in effect told what it is OK to say and think then life as we know it is over.
We are critical of autocrats and despots who cancel their opponents and yet we let people do effectively that right in front of us. Just because you don't get locked up or tortured doesn't mean your life as you want to live it isn't seriously damaged. The new Stalinists have to be stopped.
Dr Cuthbert's crime was to do some research and discover schools in the UK, around 100 of them, that in cohoots with other organisations were teaching aspects of critical race theory, including white privilege and not acknowledging that these theories are in fact contested. Her argument is that the United States is a very different place with a very different history and to simply transplant aspects of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd incident to the UK is not good theory. Britain's history of policing certainly seems from a distance to be very different from that in the United States.
MORE AMANDA VANSTONE:
Even in the United States critical race theory has its opponents. Condoleezza Rice, a former Secretary of State, grew up in a segregated neighbourhood. She's grateful her mother taught her to just be who she was and be the best she could be without concerning herself with what others said. Rice says it's wrong to make kids today feel guilty about what others did in the past. Surely that is the right view.
Is there anything to be gained by asking primary school children to write letters expressing their sorrow and grief for what others did in the past, by making them feel guilty for what others did? Perhaps a better question is 'Are we harming kids by doing this'? If we discover we are, who would take responsibility? Let me help you with the answer: no one.
The ultimate insult however was the explanation offered to Dr Cuthbert by a conference organiser. It also revealed the depth of stupidity you can swim in and still hold a responsible job. The organiser said :"In seeking to re-imagine an education system where all young people and adults can flourish and thrive, I strongly believe that we need to have difficult conversations and that people should be prepared to subject their ideas to scrutiny and challenge." That is a good point. However it is completely negated by the next remark. "However, psychological safety is a precursor to free and open debate and the need to subject ideas to scrutiny."
The new Stalinists need to be called out for what they are.
- Amanda Vanstone is a former Howard government minister and a regular columnist.