How cancel culture keeps COVID-19 lockdown-doubters silent

How cancel culture keeps COVID-19 lockdown-doubters silent

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“Thank you so much for speaking out to open schools. I can’t do it myself, for obvious reasons.” “I completely agree with you about opening schools in September, but I’m afraid I’ll be targeted at my job.”

These were just a few of the supportive reader comments I received over the summer and fall, as I wrote column after column urging that schools be reopened. They opened a revealing window onto the mechanics of social control in the age of COVID-19.

My correspondents’ fear was obvious: Say the wrong thing online, and have your life destroyed. Cancel culture has permeated everything, including debates over how to deal with the pandemic. 

Schools had been open in other countries for months, and they were all reporting lower positivity rates than their surrounding communities. My arguments were measured and evidence-based: The data were making the case for reopening schools all by themselves.

Yet most of the rest of the media seemed determined to tell the story from only one perspective: that of lockdown hard-liners, not least teacher-union bosses. This paper aside, very few outlets pushed for school openings. 

On the left, the conversation is heavily policed, with clear red lines drawn around “unacceptable” opinion. Reopening schools was treated as “irresponsible,” even though the numbers said otherwise. It wasn’t until Oct. 9 when things began to shift. That’s when a piece headlined “Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders” appeared in The Atlantic. The piece didn’t exactly break new ground. What mattered is that it appeared in a liberal publication. That made it OK to believe and say what even many liberal parents knew but didn’t dare voice. 

A month later, The New York Times ran an article arguing “Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges” — thus ­“authorizing” the view that had been apparent to any layperson paying attention to the data. But by then, millions of kids had had their educations and lives disrupted, causing harm whose magnitude we haven’t begun to tally.

Our moment of woke conformity threatens anyone who even thinks about stepping out of line. The consequence in a pandemic is that dumb regulations are permitted to stand, because few dare question them. There is one right answer, one correct opinion, one acceptable position, and everyone on the left has to speak univocally in favor of it and against all others. 

Very few on the left have pointed out that, hey, these lockdowns don’t seem to be working at all. The groupthink on the left is fiercely enforced.

One liberal mom who frequently engages me online, anonymously, told me she’s afraid of having her livelihood targeted for speaking out on schools. “I will not use my real name and identity, because it is widely known that the activist community purposely baits people with racially charged statements, for the sole purpose of trapping someone and reporting their content to an employer.”

And it’s not just about schools. New York City restaurants remain closed for indoor dining, even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own statistics show they account for 1.4 percent of cases. Indoor dining ­remains open in the rest of the state, despite their case numbers being higher than in the city.

There has been no pushback against this, neither from liberal outlets nor most Democratic politicians. The “Believe in Science” political mantra trumps everything, not least actual scientific reasoning. There’s no introspection on why mostly locked-down New York and California have more cases than mostly open Florida. 

Free discourse is important, because it helps to prevent bad ideas from blossoming and spreading. But when people fear having their lives destroyed for just about any outlier opinion, we end up in the situation where elected officials have their awful, failing policies protected. No one wants to be accused of “sacrificing teachers on the altar of the economy.” 

And thus, the feedback loop between power and people gets broken. In 2021, let’s recommit ourselves to supporting free thought, speaking freely and backing others who do the same. If you find your tribe silences opinions, find a new tribe. We’re all in this together, goes the slogan. Let’s mean it.

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