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When Academics Attack: My Piece Critiquing Academia Is Blocked by Lefties Complaining about Censorship

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June 14, 2017


Almost exactly two months ago, Current Affairs published my piece, “The Dangerous Academic Is an Extinct Species.” It has been widely read and disseminated here and abroad. But for some, it became the occasion to rail against me in very personal ways.  The invectives were nasty and brutish, and very long — Facebook lefties like Doug Henwood and their friends railed against me for hours and even days, focusing on my 300 words about George Ciccariello-Maher (in a 3000-word essay) and some prominent academics took the opportunity to throw mud at me, trying to see what might stick. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, for instance, insisted, in a thread since taken down from Ciccariello-Maher’s wall, that I was race-baiting him (without really explaining how, in a particularly deft example of race-baiting). Several others like Laleh Khalili, Greg Grandin, Tithi Bhattacharya, Susan Kang, Nikhil Singh, and Bruce Robbins, to name only a very, very few (the pieces really brought out many haters) engaged in criticisms that were anti-intellectual, implicitly racist and sexist, and outright hostile.

What, you might wonder, caused so many, and so many well-established academics who should, surely, be spending more time simply writing and teaching in their secure jobs, to rail against someone so many are apt to dismiss as a mere “blogger?”

Well, we shall see.  As you know, I’m writing a piece about the whole fracas, but I want to produce something that isn’t about me and my experience. Instead, I want this to be a diagnosis of the situation in a larger context. I want to write something that reveals and discusses this matter as a symptom of academe’s current state of high anxiety and neoliberal governance, and I want it to be written well (I’m a huge believer in the idea that the craft of writing matters just as much as its content).  So I’ll leave that for later.

But, in the meantime:  my piece was recently blocked on Facebook, as I found out when I tried to repost the link yesterday, something I’ve been able to do for much of the last couple of months, without a problem.  Someone or many someones (Facebook doesn’t reveal details) complained it was spam and/or contained material unfit for sharing, and I have been unable to post it publicly.  Several others who tried to do so ran into the same problem.  I’ve complained to Facebook and Facebook friends have done the same. At the time of this writing, it now appears that it’s only being allowed as a private posting for many people, but some people seem able to post it publicly. (UPDATE: Others are now being blocked from posting it).  On my own wall, I’m giving it 24 more hours before trying to post it again: I worry that too many attempts on my part will result in my account being flagged. For the record, I’ve also had trouble with Gmail blocking my mail, but that may or may not be due to the same kinds of spite (as someone put it in a forum somewhere, Gmail is the AOL of the twenty-first century).  And I encountered similar problems when I tried sending my newsletter via Tinyletter (which has a very unresponsive customer service department).  I may well have to move my weekly newsletter to a paid format like Constant Contact, which is too expensive right now but probably my best alternative at this point.


It’s ironic that people who railed against me for supposedly supporting the silencing and censorship of George Ciccariello-Maher (one of their many angry claims about my piece, alongside several vicious personal attacks on me, made as they claimed that my 300 words constituted a personal attack on him) are now uncritically reporting my article as spam in an effort to, well, silence and censor me.  But, again, nothing about the “left” surprises me these days. To those who wonder why I think it was someone on the left: as Fargo's Varga puts it, one can make excellent surmises. I doubt the Right is even interested in this. To those who insist that this is simply Facebook's algorithms causing a too-often posted piece to be blocked: Pieces go viral all the time without being flagged; that's in part the justification for social media. A link has to be flagged by actual humans before Facebook will designate it as spam.


I’m currently involved in writing one of my most exciting and challenging pieces to date, so I don’t want to spend too much energy dissecting this any further.  And unlike people like Ciccariello-Maher and Taylor, among others, I don’t base my career on the fostering of a constant sense of alterity. I’m not the sort who keeps insisting on how radical and hated I am in order to prove that my work matters: I prefer to spend a lot of time and effort in crafting work that actually illuminates radical alternatives in careful and conscientious ways.  I’ve never been interested in branding myself as a radical; I prefer to simply pursue radical thought and politics in my work; I write about the problem with perpetual alterity here, in "If You Think You Are a Nail, Everything Looks Like a Hammer." My point in detailing what just happened is only to forestall any further silencing of my work and my online presence, because my very livelihood depends on it.


I’m writing this to give people a heads up that they may have trouble reposting the link from Current Affairs, and I’m explicitly asking you to support me by reposting and sharing it as much as you can, with a public setting.  And if you should have any trouble on Facebook or Twitter, please write immediately and let them know, via their various “support” pages, that the piece is definitely not spam.  Again, I’ve been posting it fairly regularly for the last couple of months, so this is definitely something new, triggered by one of these “lefties” who finally just snapped and decided that silencing me outright was somehow appropriate; the irony of silencing a woman who was critical of someone who, they claim, was himself being silenced and censored appears to have eluded them. To be frank, I’m surprised they haven’t already got me banned entirely from Facebook and other forms of social media, under the pretext that I’m a spammer or that I produce “hate speech.” Henwood went so far as to demand to know why my editor, Nathan J. Robinson, had published the piece, which is akin to demanding a retraction, a sentiment seconded by Singh and others. The ironies abound.


For people like the tenured or tenure-track academics like Taylor and Ciccariello-Maher, social media is mostly fun and games, a way to garner a new kind of celebrity cachet — Ciccariello-Maher clearly takes delight in having angered right-wingers, though Taylor has recently learnt otherwise, sadly. But for someone like me, not being able to post and promote my work there, or not having access to social media is deeply damaging and disastrous: I stand to lose my entire living, without the comfort of a tenure-track position or an activist job to fall back on.  I’m not one of those who hates social media and uses it while pinching her nose in contempt; I love it for allowing me to stay in touch with distant friends and the many kinds of connections I can make, and I would use it even if my work didn’t depend on it so much.  But I’m also keenly aware of its many contradictions and dangers.  In this case, the lefties who have flagged my piece, and who encourage their minions to do so by railing against it as somehow unfit to be read as a critique of academia and who might well silence me completely by getting me banned entirely have only proven the point I strove to make: that the truly “dangerous” academic is indeed as dead as the dodo.  Today, academics are only dangerous to those on the left, like me, who dare question its fragile sense of self-worth and “danger.”


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Image: "The Storming of the Bastille," Jean-Pierre Houël, 1789.


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