This letter is a response to Albert Reymann's December 2 article entitled "We need to talk."
There's a sense of paranoia. A paranoia in which the boogeyman has struck even before he was seen. A paranoia in which the “social justice warriors” have infringed on everyone's ability to express themselves.
Really dude? Dr. Matt Taylor had to apologize for wearing a shirt full of stripperific images of women to a science press conference and now there's “a new kind of assault on civilized discourse”?
What civilized discourse is Mr. Reymann talking about?
Nostalgia is an inherently regressive stance because the past that we long for never truly escapes our rose-tinted reconstructions of it in the present. Like comedian Hennesey Youngman so eloquently put it:
“Which good ole' days do you mean? Was it the good ole' days when people owned slaves? Maybe it was the good ole' days when niggas was free and couldn't vote? Or maybe it was the good ole' days when children worked in factories? Or maybe you mean the good ole' days when the only people who were literate were priests?”
The point is that there never has been a completely equal and free-flowing space where all people were free to speak their minds. This is what Mr. Reymann misses completely in his letter — many have always been and continue to be silenced. That the good ole' days he pines for were only good ole' days for people like him. He forgets that he is paving over history at his whim, a history that has seldom included the voices of women and people of colour in its definition of “our” and those who were considered part of and allowed to speak for society.
Mr. Reymann quotes from Nietzsche that those fighting the monster should take care not to become one. But he seems to have forgotten the rest of Nietzsche's lessons: Behind words lurk the struggles of politics. In his masterpiece — The Genealogy of Morals — Nietzsche showed that the words for “good,” for example, has its etymological ancestors in the words for “noble” and “aristocratic.” In addition, the words for “bad” had quite the opposite roots such as “common” and “low." His point is that concepts denoting political superiority become sedimented into ones denoting moral superiority. Mr. Reymann's seemingly noble appeal to a nostalgic, "free society" is itself a political move no less Machiavellian than those of the activists he criticizes. A move that tries to “help” us forget how the hands of history have been continuously trying to cover the mouths of those who are just beginning to find their voices today.
Brent Lin is a recent graduate of the Sauder School of Business