Remember Justin Carter? Last I checked, he was being tried for making a joke on Facebook, because of the culture of fear and speech monitoring created by the irresponsible hysteria over guns and terrorism. He faces prison time. That this is a freedom-suffocating societal illness that threatens any and all of us is chronicled in Ken White account, and accompanying commentary, on the astonishing mistreatment of Bergen Community College Professor Francis Schmidt by the school, which was sent into a frenzy of terror because he posted to Google+ “a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat.” Inside Higher Ed reports what happened next:
“But one contact — a dean — who was notified automatically via Google that the picture had been posted apparently took it as a threat. In an email, Jim Miller, the college’s executive director for human resources, told Schmidt to meet with him and two other administrators immediately in light of the “threatening email.”Although it was winter break, Schmidt said he met with the administrators, including a security official, in one of their offices and was questioned repeatedly about the picture’s meaning and the popularity of “Game of Thrones.” Schmidt said Miller asked him to use Google to verify the phrase, which he did, showing approximately 4 million hits. The professor said he asked why the photo had set off such a reaction, and that the security official said that “fire” could be a kind of proxy for “AK-47s.” Despite Schmidt’s explanation, he was notified via email later in the week that he was being placed on leave without pay, effectively immediately, and that he would have to be cleared by a psychiatrist before he returned to campus. Schmidt said he was diagnosed with depression in 2007 but was easily cleared for this review, although even the brief time away from campus set back his students, especially those on independent study.”
Incredibly, the school refuses to acknowledge that it acted rashly, excessively, ignorantly and in disregard for common sense, human dignity and proportion. Safety, you know. Children. All those guns. Violence. Bad people thinking bad thoughts. Ken lets loose with a typically resonant attack on the trend:
But Bergen isn’t an anomaly. It’s not a collection of dullards and subnormals — though Jim Miller and Kaye Walker could lead to think that it is. Bergen is the emerging norm. Bergen represents what we, the people, have been convinced to accept. Bergen is unremarkable in a world where we’ve accepted “if you see something, say something” as an excuse to emote like toddlers, and where we’re lectured that we should be thankful that our neighbors are so eager to inform on us. Bergen is mundane in a world where we put kids in jail to be brutalized over obvious bad jokes on social media. Bergen exists in a world where officials use concepts like “cyberbullying” to police and retaliate against satire and criticism. Bergen exists in a world where we have allowed fears — fear of terrorism, fear of drugs, fear of crime, fear for our children — to become so powerful that merely invoking them is a key that unlocks any right. Bergen exists in a country where our leaders realize how powerful those fears are, and therefore relentlessly stretch them further and further, so we get things like the already-Orwellian Department of Homeland Security policing DVD piracy.
And may I add my own, somewhat more specific quote from my original post on Justin Carter, whose offense was no more of a crime than the professor’s T-shirt and whose life, not just some classes, have been disrupted for almost a year:
“The people who have done something terribly, unforgivably wrong, in fact, are President Obama, Vice President Biden, the hysterical exploiters of Newtown, the Justice Department, the IRS, the NSA, the members of Congress and the media who make excuses for the secret and excessive gathering of personal private data to “keep us safe,” and every other voice urging a nation founded on individual freedom and liberty to give up that core element of the American soul in cringing capitulation to fear that death is lurking around every corner.”
The majority of the public doesn’t have to be cringing in fear and determined to bring all non-conforming (that is, risky) individuals to heel, either. A silly Canadian busybody was all it took to ruin Carter’ s young life; a single pop culture-ignorant fellow-faculty member was enough to make the little girl’s T-shirt the equivalent of an empty backpack along the Boston Marathon route. This kind of environment gives the weak, the officious and the censorious the power they crave. Says Bergin,
“In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern.”
Translation: “We don’t care who get hurt or what injustices result, what creativity gets lost or what liberty is stifled. Safety. Security. Freedom from risk and offense is the only freedom that matters.”
The real fear that matters, then, is the fear of the individual, who risks colliding with the bureaucratic determination to treat all variance from the norm as strange, and thus threatening to the security of all and warranting investigation, harassment, and punishment. If is isn’t a bureaucrat doing the enforcing, it’s the mob. Tell the a joke on Twitter that is a little too sophisticated, and you are too dangerous to have in the workplace: the Twitter mob gets you fired. Contribute to a cause that bucks political correctness, and the your employer will be pressured by another mob to terminate you. Defend the rights of a criminal defendant that a union mob hates, and those ignorant of the justice system will pronounce you a menace, as those responsible for making the laws capitulate. Courage, principle, innovation, dissent, self-expression, individualism, protest, political debate, humor, art and whimsy are all secondary to fear in a society like this, hostage to it, and crushed by it.
There are only two sides in this struggle, and they aren’t liberal and conservative. It is fear versus liberty, don’t deceive yourself. As far as I can see, fear is winning.