Shutting Down the Culture of Shut Up
by Casey Breznick
How many arguments and disagreements do you have a day? How about in a week or a year? A lot, I would venture to guess, because disagreement with others is part of the human condition. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to just shut up anyone whose opinions you find annoying or abhorrent? A big red button with “Shut Up” on it that disabled the vocal cords of anyone who dares not to share your opinions would be nice.
Last I checked, such a button cost about 50 million human lives in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China under Mao, but slightly less at about 20 million in Nazi Germany. Granted, these are instances of the crusade for intellectual conformity taken to the brink of human capacity, but when it seems the tidal wave has receded, know it is only due time before it comes crashing down against us once again in one form or another, with varying levels of intensity but with the same end-game.
The Culture of Shut Up
Writers and pundits have recently begun to use the term ‘Culture of Shut Up’ to describe the increasingly popular phenomenon of leveraging mass outrage over certain voiced or practiced beliefs to enforce ideological conformity. It’s an apt term much better than the terribly overused “War on [insert group or idea of your choice]” mantra. It’s also a term, or an idea, that is literal in its meaning, unlike the silly war metaphor. The newest mass movement political tactic—no doubt derived in part from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals—is literally about forcing people not voice their opinions before even trying to convince them to adopt new ones.
Examples of the culture of shut up include the campaigns for and against former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich and Phil Robertson of AEM’s Duck Dynasty, as well as numerous situations playing out on college campuses across the country where anti-Israel and anti-“white privilege” movements are attempting to silence opposition in any way possible. These college crusades are particularly effective and damaging due to the social nature of college: everyone wants to be liked, and so no one will stick his or her head out to not shut up and keep talking the way he or she truly feels. Fear of slipping from the graces of social hierarchy due to non-conformist mindsets trumps common sense, free thought, and individuality. The diffusion of leftist ideas among the younger generations is also faster, since most young people are always accessing social media sites, the preferred medium of shut-up-propaganda communication.
Alas, the purpose of this article isn’t to delve into an all-encompassing analysis of the culture of shut up. There are many articles on line that examine it as an idea and many that examine specific instances of its employment. The purpose of this article is to explain a few facets of the culture of shut up that aren’t touched upon elsewhere.
Pinning Down ‘Shut Up’
The origins of the culture of shut up are indistinct. For sure, without the pervasiveness of political correctness shut-up culture could not have developed. Political correctness is in itself a schizophrenic mode of thinking. It requires you to constantly second-guess your choice of words and refine them to betray their actual meaning in order to avoid the ultimate sin of offending someone. Shut-up culture is the manifestation of the so-called “PC Police,” but on the (seemingly) grassroots level. That is what is most terrifying. Under a tyrannical government, you usually already know what can and cannot be said, but shut-uppers are sleeper cells operating at a whimsy. Out of nowhere they rise from the obscure, dark alleys of social media or pop-news websites and douse their followers with the fuel to light the fire of hate, shaming, and conformity. They will not stop until their target shuts up, usually accompanied by an apology, being fired, or suffering humiliation. The silence of forcibly sealed lips and minds is only punctured by the deafening clamor of the court of public opinion’s slamming jail doors
How to Shut Up
The culture of shut up is decentralized. There is no hierarchical structure of leadership and no single leader. No one calls upon the mindless masses to churn the wheels of shut-up, though opinion leaders (e.g. political leaders, talk show pundits, etc.) usually egg on particularly large campaigns. After the initial outbreak of outrage and the corresponding movement to shut someone or some group up begun by a nobody-leftist, the fever spreads like wildfire across social media and news outlets—first the highly partisan and then the more mainstream—until it has reached mass saturation. Then, the campaign evolves. As more and more are sucked into its throes, the campaign’s central idea is developed and further “theorized” upon until it practically becomes fact to those who champion it. For example, the “white privilege” campaign that grew out of college campuses (the hotbed of the culture of shut up) has, in light of the Eliot Rodgers shooting case, evolved into “half white privilege.” Fractional racial privilege—what began as the brainchild of some leftist college kids trying to explain certain statistical correlations between race and prosperity has now become a pillar of the institutional Left.
The culture of shut up is derivative of political correctness, but the two are entirely separate beasts. Political correctness is about manipulating and changing language and words to manipulate and change the way people think. Shutting people up is about denying people the ease and freedom to think and speak however they want, and may or may not be based in political correctness. For example, in a February editorial on the subject of academic freedom printed in the Harvard Crimson, Harvard senior Sandra Korn writes, “Let’s give up academic freedom in favor of justice.” University policy should ensure that “research promoting or justifying oppression… do not continue.” While this seems sensible on the surface, what Korn really wants is to purify her school of any sources of dissent with leftism by creating policy that would forbid the dissent—shut them up, in other words.
To engage in any type of debate with the shut-uppers is usually futile. They gravitate toward beliefs, usually codified in laughable slogans like “check your privilege,” that are non-falsifiable by virtue not of the idea itself but of the characteristics of those attempting to falsify it. Case in point: Men have no say in anything related to debate or discussion regarding “rape culture” because they are men. Anything they say that is contrary to the leftist narrative is automatically discredited due to the genetic makeup. Similarly, white people can’t talk about “white privilege,” the affluent about the minimum wage or welfare, or Americans about non-Americans unless they share the same beliefs as the leftist zeitgeist. Anyone else is told to shut up.
A Game Anyone Can Play
I admit I’ve mostly pinned the culture of shut up on leftists. While they certainly employ it more often, shut-up culture knows no political boundaries. Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and pretty much any group can try to shut up its opponents granted it has a substantial grassroots base, like-minded media outlets for propagation, and national thought-leaders who can carry the campaign into the mainstream. For example, many so-called conservatives forgot that AEM had no legal obligation to guarantee its employee’s free speech. While the movement to reinstate the fired cast member did not reach shut-up culture levels of intensity and ridiculousness, it got dangerously close.
When we conjoin existential beliefs about ourselves concerning our existence, our purpose in living, etc. with our political beliefs, any disagreement about the latter automatically becomes personal. In fact it becomes hyper-personal. In the case where someone discredits a deeply held political belief that is tied up in the very fabric of one’s existence, the disagreement transcends the often-times minutia of policy particulars or philosophical precision into what is perceived as a serious threat. These types of people, it seems or is in fact the case, translate a statement to the effect of “I disagree with your political belief X” to “I disagree with your existence.” This way of thinking is not necessarily bad, it is just extreme. The intensity and passion is equally applicable to freedom fighters as it is to the agents of tyranny. We should refrain, however, from applying the sliding scale here. The sliding scale is the idea that “right makes might,” or even more aptly, that “more right makes more might.” In other words, the amount of righteousness of one’s cause is positively related to the morally ambiguous intensity one can fight for or defend it—i.e., the more righteousness, the more moral transgressions that are permissible. This idea is often applied to situations in wars, but it applies to the political battlefield as well.
The shut-uppers have dubious intentions, often fighting for, even if they claim to be conservatives, some sort of collectivist, conformist end-game. What they all fundamentally have in common is this hyper-personality where political beliefs and existential beliefs are one-in-the-same, or at least blurry.
The only way to combat the culture of shut up is to refuse to shut up. Shut-uppers’ arguments are often designed such that you can’t expect to win an argument because they have an irrefutable trump card. Whether it’s your race, wealth, or gender, there will almost always be something inhibiting you from winning a debate. However, the worst thing you can do is admit the shut-uppers are right. By refusing to shut up their strategy falls apart; they have nothing to fall back on. This is the only way to shut down the culture of shut up.tweet