I. The Problem of Censorship and Suppression
The “woke”— who I’ll call Critical Social Justice (CSJ) advocates—are dominating the culture, not by their numbers, but by their ability to pressure academic, corporate and government organizations to appease them all while intensely suppressing thoughtcrime. Outspoken dissidents are met with intense hostility, but the thing that makes people afraid is that anybody could become a target.
There are many weapons in the CSJ arsenal, but guilt-by-association is a favorite. The most tenuous of connections will do; even failing to disavow, censor or snitch is sufficient grounds for cancellation. Nobody wants to be associated with a person who was publicly denounced, including brand-conscious employers and so they’re willing to terminate employees that catch heat from the mob.
When public denouncement for nonconformity is treated like a virtue, we end up with an excess of dogma and a scarcity of disagreement. They can’t cancel anywhere close to everyone, but because of the randomness of their attacks, there is still a major chilling effect on intellectual discourse. There is still online anonymity, but it is both precarious and stifling.
One possible path to freedom in a censorious intellectual culture is obtaining a tenured position at a university. But in order to achieve tenure, you have to go to graduate school, become a professor and publish a lot—a process which could take somewhere between one and two decades. Few succeed. If you want to actually go against the orthodoxy, you need to hide it for those one to two decades or face discrimination. If you were to achieve tenure and begin publishing research with the wrong conclusions, you might be ostracized by your department, other professors or student activists.
II. A Possible Alternative Solution to Academia
The financial independence, retire early (FIRE) community is a group of people who are willing to reduce their consumption in order to retire before 65 by achieving financial independence—a situation where your wealth generating assets are greater than your expenses. The stereotypical FIRE case is someone who is able to save a lot by having a high income but not succumbing to the type of lifestyle inflation common among high earners. Most want to get away from their work in order to pursue other passions or have more leisure time.
Rather than trading consumption now for consumption or leisure later, I’m recommending trading consumption now for safety from the cancel mob. What you are getting is a shield from the financial consequences—like an insurance policy. One benefit this has over the tenured professor route is that you get to choose your social group if you don’t have to work. You aren’t tied to a job that potentially has people who are going to treat you poorly because of your political opinions.
Granted, achieving FIRE could take longer than the one to two decades it takes to get tenure, but if you are smart enough to become a tenured professor, you probably have a decent chance of having a high enough income to FIRE. And if you are interested in academia but cautious because you are worried about political discrimination, you are already likely willing to make large sacrifices to obtain a rich intellectual life.
Thanks for reading Parrhesia’s Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.