With Enough Courage: Writers in the Age of the Cybermob

June 21, 2020

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

George Orwell, best known for his novels “Animal Farm” and “1984,” is often cited as the author of those words, but he may have never written or spoken them. Yet whatever their origin, they remain true.

We are living right now in a time of universal deceit, and telling the truth is becoming harder for writers, journalists, celebrities, sports figures, and the rest of us.

Over the years, I have often wondered how writers in dictatorships could express the lies of their masters and still look in the mirror the next day. For every Solzhenitsyn, for every Pasternak, for all those Russian poets executed or imprisoned for their political beliefs, scores of other Soviet writers produced novels, short stories, poems, and essays that echoed the party line and which are now long forgotten, regarded as the work of political hacks and propagandists.

Mobs and Fanaticism

At this moment in our own history, Americans are undergoing a censorship never before seen in their country. We don’t dispatch artists and writers with whom we disagree to concentration camps or put a bullet into the back of their heads. No—we simply declare them politically incorrect, sic the electronic mob on them, and cast them into obscurity and darkness. Some of them grovel and beg forgiveness, like political prisoners in China, North Korea, or other communist countries. Others simply retreat from the public square, never to be heard from again.

Our newsrooms are under assault by this same PC crowd. In just the past few weeks, an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Stan Wischnowski, lost his job for printing a headline “Buildings Matter, Too,” which many of his staff saw as an insult to “Black Lives Matter.” Almost simultaneously, an editor at The New York Times, James Bennet, resigned after he published an editorial by Republican Senator Tom Cotton calling for military action against looters and rioters. His own staff attacked him, claiming they now felt “unsafe.”

We see these same “cancel culture” assaults on television. “Cops,” a show so popular that it has run for 30 years, is now gone, apparently a victim of the “police bad” mentality. Other shows about the police are under review. Some radicals are even calling for the cancellation of “Paw Patrol,” a cartoon beloved by the younger set, including some of my grandchildren.

Literary Wars

Nor is our literary heritage safe from the PC marauders. Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” and Booth Tarkington’s “Penrod” for their depictions of African Americans, the “Little House” books for their portrait of American Indians, and other works from the past all have been criticized or bowdlerized for failing to meet our modern standards of political correctness.

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