flexing their social muscles

I remember when Donald Trump was elected, and for a while after the Yahoo news aggregator was filled with articles about lowly people–teachers, policemen, and the like–being fired for racism.  The charge of racism was always contrived (criticism or impoliteness toward a black person or a group that included some black people), but the point was made.  “Don’t imagine that this electoral theatre makes any difference.  We are still in power here.”  Around the same time (but less concentrated around the election), the was a spate of articles about people (school principles, policemen) being fired and ostracized for criticizing the immodest dress of teenage girls.  The message was again one of power–“Don’t dare enforce any of your local standards of propriety against women, or we will destroy you.”  Those cases of Trump officials being kicked out of restaurants and the like is the sort of thing one only does if one senses that the social hierarchy has one’s back.

In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court, we have once again a formal victory of the center-Right, which one could now say formally controls all branches of the federal government.  Again, it is stunning how this corresponds to no social power whatsoever.  It’s Mr. Kavanaugh’s supporting senators who are getting screamed at and being targeted by donors.  Myself, I cannot understand the strength of emotion on either side of that issue.  To me,  Kavanaugh’s guilt or innocence is clearly a disputable question, one on which reasonable people may disagree.  Then again, I would say the same about the exact value of the total climate feedback parameter and the exact body count of the Holocaust, so clearly I’m weird.  That’s not the point, though.  The point is which side feels sufficient control of the social space to feel free to express their anger.  Is there anyone who needs be afraid to admit that he or she opposed Kavanaugh?  In an alternate universe in which the Right held social power, I would expect us to scream and bully.  People do what they know they can get away with.

Similarly, I am struck by the recent affirmation of the Left by Taylor Swift and disassociation from the Right by Linus Torvald.  Their political beliefs are not themselves matters of intrinsic interest, but in both cases we have well-known people who have long been under criticism and pressure for so long staying out of politics, so regardless of their personal beliefs, one has the impression of powerful people caving.  The message:  “Neutrality will not be tolerated.”

I am vaguely worried to learn that the scientific collaboration of which I am a part will soon be adopting a code of conduct.  I have no objection to the thing as written, since it only requires that we treat each other professionally, but I’m well aware that the up-and-coming graduate students and postdocs read these things differently than I and my older colleagues.   Regardless of what they say, these things can come to serve as markers of ownership of social space, and Leftists have a way of redefining professionalism and civility to include acquiescence to their ideology.  I expect that my position in the collaboration will ultimately become untenable, but that I have several years to design a fully independent research program.  I’ve been wanting to do this anyway, and since I’ve got tenure I’m not terribly worried.

While on the subject of tenure and tenure-track positions, I’ve noticed that more assistant professor applications are requiring diversity statements in addition to research and teaching statements.  Neutrality will not be tolerated.

The goal of the Benedict Option is to own social space by retreating and creating it since conquering existing space is currently unfeasible.