“…Bret Weinstein tweeted last week: “We are witnessing the sabotage of the core principle of a free society — rationalised as self-defence.” He is a left-wing former biology professor at Evergreen College in Washington state, who objected to white students and professors being asked to stay away from the university for a day on the grounds that this was a form of racism. For this he was confronted by a mob, and the university authorities told the campus police to stand down rather than protect him.
The statue-toppling mob has now turned its wrath on Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. In a display of “virtue signalling . . . written with the sanctimonious purity of a Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution”, as the biologist Jerry Coyne puts it, a Harvard academic has written in The Guardian that Crick’s name should be removed from the Francis Crick Institute because of some things he once said about eugenics.
The no-platforming, safe-space, trigger-warning culture is no longer confined to academia, or to America, but lies behind the judgmentalism of many social media campaigns. Every writer I know feels that he or she is one remark away from disgrace. A de facto blasphemy prohibition has re-emerged in western society and is being enforced not just by the Islamists who murder cartoonists, but, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the black, feminist victim of female genital mutilation has experienced, by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which called her an anti-Muslim extremist.
The enforcement of dogma is happening everywhere. Members of a transgender campaign group have refused to condemn an activist for punching a feminist. Anybody questioning the idea that climate change is an imminent catastrophe, however gently, is quickly labelled a “denier” (ie, blasphemer). How bad is this spasm of intolerance going to get? Perhaps it is a brief hiatus in rationalism, a dimming of the hard-won secular enlightenment, which will soon re-brighten after doing little harm. Or perhaps it is like China’s Cultural Revolution: a short-lived but vicious phenomenon confined to one part of the world that will do terrible harm then cease.
I am fairly certain that the Enlightenment is not over, that discovery and reason will overwhelm dogma and superstition. Seven years ago my book The Rational Optimist set out a positive vision of the world. But the spread of fundamentalist Islam, the growth of Hindu nationalism and Russian autocracy, the intolerance of dissent in western universities and the puritanical hectoring of social media give grounds for concern that the flowering of freedom in the past several centuries may come under threat. We have a fight on our hands…” Is The Enlightenment Dimming