Notable Denunciations in History
Denunciation did not start or end in Communist societies.
In the 1500s and 1600s the air of Europe was rank with the acrid tang of burnt witch.
In ancient times Socrates was offed for ‘perverting the youth’, or, in modern parlance, being a bit of a smart ass.
There are occasional reports from the most primitive regions of the world (Nigeria, Papua New Guinea etc.) of people being stoned or otherwise coming to a sticky end for the crime of causing a miscarriage, making the crops fail or getting up the nose of the wrong big man (or his senior concubine).
The human passion for denunciation flowered in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. Denunciations led to torture, which led to further denunciations. Officials frantically denounced anyone they could think of in order to avoid falling under suspicion themselves, or to take revenge against old rivals. The culprits were executed and their families sent to gulags. By the time the Nazis moved against the USSR, few military commanders still drew breath and an old, Tsarist general was pulled out of retirement. The purge eased but there were occasional trials of enemies of the people until Stalin’s merciful death in the 1950s.
The carnage served its purpose: to reinforce Stalin’s position and to render impossible opposition to his murderous reorganization of industry and agriculture, especially in the Ukraine. The shootings of thousands allowed the starvation of millions.
To the People’s Republic of China. Our old friend Mao, he of the charming mole, unleashed the Cultural Revolution to reinvigorate his flagging political fortunes. Teachers, former landlords (and their progeny) and intellectuals were condemned, publicly humiliated, beaten and often murdered. Working class customs were promoted as superior to the bourgeois values now rare in the PRC. These values, such as gentle speech, queueing (instead of pushing), and refraining from public spitting and urination, have been preserved in Chinese diasporas like Taiwan and Singapore, much like the Byzantine preservation of Roman civilization in the Middle Ages.
I digress, and will do so again if it provides an opportunity to taunt the mainland. We needn’t worry about all this, right? The purges have slipped into the past; the stench of witches has long since dissipated in the exciting wind of Enlightenment. We (well, most of us) can freely live our lives without fear of persecution. Right now, I could jauntily stroll over to the town square, perch myself precariously upon a cheap plastic seat and pontificate on those issues upon which I feel tetchy. I could scream and yell if I wanted to. Who would stop me? So long as I didn’t break the civil or criminal code, or encourage others to do so, there would be no consequences whatsoever.
Seriously, rack your brains, my fellow brain-rackers. What could I say that would get me into trouble these days?
Well, here is a list of things you can’t say:
- there are differences in the average IQs of various ethnicities and nationalities.
- sex differences, on the average, lead to somewhat different psychological characteristics
- ethnic and religious diversity leads to distrust
- Jews wield disproportionate influence over various sectors of Western society
- women are imperfect
- gays, on average, lead a much more debauched and high-risk lifestyle than heterosexuals
- different races, on average, enjoy different levels of sexual attractiveness in the eyes of other humans as a whole
- Ta-Nehisi Coates has no clothes on
- jokes about any of the above, or about any sensitive topic whatsoever
The penalty, thank heavens, is no longer fire, the gulag or being beaten to death by one’s students.
What happens instead? Oh, you know the drill. They hound and stalk the villain online, causing them to shut down all their connections. Because the offense has, of course, occurred online, not in a town square. The righteous shun the hater and encourage others to do so. They bombard the blackguard’s employer until he is dismissed, as he always is. Google ensures that he will never work again. Unstable elements harass his family. In short, the crowd do anything they can aside from torture or execution – because they’re not allowed to do those things any more. But it’s fair, because the rascal chose to utter words of hate.
So, like in Communist China, the law clearly states that one may speak freely on any topic, but a fellow must endure the social consequences if he goes spouting rubbish.
The Wisdom of Elenchus
I used to think that we had freedom of speech – I could write firm but polite letters to the editor or to politicians themselves. I could lobby polluting businesses or condemn bigotry on my AngelFire blog. I could take direct action by protesting outside the halls of power or distributing leaflets in the city center. I enjoyed the feeling of freedom even as my heart pained at the world’s injustice. I pitied the poor chaps still under the thumb of despotic regimes.
And then, as is the case with many old men, my views on some topics changed. I read with alarm evidence that supported some of the HateThoughts above.
I watched with carefully hidden concern when the great and mighty were silenced for voicing what, to me, were simply unwelcome truths. I became less verbose – the circle of friends with whom I can speak freely is now very small. In fact, it numbers two. Even though I am very careful about what I say at work, a poorly-received joke can cause panic and make me fear losing my job and all future prospects. I would like to say that I don’t care; that I shall shout truth to power anyway. No. Timid by nature, I am a trembling wreck. A mistimed comment, irony missed, has me consulting my savings and researching which third-world countries offer the cheapest accommodation lest I join the Underclass. We live in an age where people are eager to take offense and will therefore find it anywhere they look, just like they had no trouble uncovering spies and witches in times past.
But is this a problem? One shouldn’t discuss politics at work, anyway. It’s bad manners. But you know how it works. Sitting in the pub together on a Friday afternoon, those with correct views can rant and rave as much as they like, about politicians they find vile, public hate figures who ought to be held in contempt, and so forth. We know who the legitimate targets are: jokes about men or white people or Christians are acceptable. Other groups are off limits. So while the correct people pontificate, the crimethinkers sit silent, maintaining a patient poker face. What do you think, Nikolai?, they might ask. What do you think?
Well, this is what I think. I think a whole lot of shit that would make your hair turn green. I don’t just think it, I know it and can prove it with evidence and rational argument. I want to shout it out loud. If it’s wrong, I want my enemies to disprove my evidence, presenting instead their own. I want them to demolish my arguments. Or, through the elenchus, I want my views to be reinforced and strengthened.
But none of that will happen because first, I wouldn’t dare say it, and second, if I did, the only response would be . . . denunciation.
One final thought before I slam my computer shut, have an angry shower and trundle off to a date with a Romanian girl who will stand me up. You might be thinking, well, the situation is such because you are wrong and others are right.
Maybe I am wrong. Even so, consider earlier denunciations:
Those shot in secret, Soviet prisons really were reactionary spies and enemies of the people.
Those men and women burnt at the stake or drowned really were witches.
That old Nigerian lady really did ruin the crops.
And old Socrates, the bearded recalcitrant, really did corrupt the youth.
The devil take them all.
Update: I am now free so I am becoming, ever so gradually, more daring.
Next: White Man’s Burden
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