Canary or Lab Rat?

The incomparable Dexter Van Zile wrote an excellent piece about how the current spreading campus culture of censorship and violent intimidation to enforce ideological conformity had its origin in the ways Israel and her friends have been treated on college campuses for more than a decade.

To understand the full impact of what Dexter is talking about, it’s worth considering his insight in the context of another phenomenon first articulated by the late Senator and former UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan which he called “defining deviance down.”

When Moynihan first introduced the concept, he was referring to mainstreaming behaviors once considered taboo.

Clearly not all changes to societal norms should be considered bad.  Replacing contempt for women, minorities and gays with open mindedness and respect represents obvious improvement, for example.  But toleration of other behaviors (like drug use and casual sex), while liberating for the individual, have personal and societal consequences (addiction, AIDS, etc.) which are hard to even discuss (lest one come off as “reactionary”) before their full negative consequences emerge.

With regard to campus shout downs and censorship, the targeting of Jews with those tactics clearly preceded their current much-wider expansion.  But correlation does not mean causation.  So might we be able to identify a mechanism (and historical precedent) whereby starting with one group (the Jews) served as a similar warm-up act for a much wider (and sinister) agenda?

Because the BDSers are such a reactionary bunch, it’s easy to dismiss any progress they make as the result of ruthlessness and relentlessness vs. innovation.  But this would be a mistake.  For the community of which the BDSers have always been a part has proven itself to be remarkably inventive when it comes to thinking of ways to either seize power or get others to relinquish power to them.

Seizing control of human-rights machinery created to make the world a more peaceful place and turning it into a weapon of war, while ghastly and immoral, is also a remarkable breakthrough in propaganda “technology,” as is the rhetoric needed to convince progressives that supporting a repressive society (the Palestinians and their Arab allies) aligns with their principles better than supporting an open one (Israel).

The Prophetess Ruth Wisse, in her analysis of anti-Semitism as a political ideology vs. one of many forms of bigotry, identifies the reason why totalitarians first targeting the Jews on their way to terrorizing and ultimately controlling or destroying everyone else.

As described in this piece (which is part of this longer series), the gap between Jews’ perceived power (or omnipotence, in the eyes of the anti-Semite) and their highly limited actual power (and willingness to use what power they have) becomes an open invitation to the would-be tyrant.  For if you want to convince the public that you are arming yourself against an all-powerful threat with near 100% certainty that this “threat” will not hit you back, your best choice of target are the Jews.

We’ve seen this kind of behavior with the last century’s totalitarian movements.  Think of Hitler arming his supporters and organizing secret police forces to ferret out the Jews controlling the planet, creating machinery that was later used to set that planet ablaze.  Or Saddam Hussein who hung Jews in the public square to demonstrate his resoluteness with regard to this urgent Zionist “threat,” after which he got around to placing that noose around the neck of the entire nation of Iraq.

So what we have seen over the last several years is not just an attempt to shut down voices of just one opinion (support for Israel) but an experiment to see how far the system can be pushed in allowing a small, loud minority to control discourse and, eventually, the campus as a whole.  And because not enough people did anything when the problem was just “the Jews” the brutes have now come for all of us.

Many people examining this phenomenon incorrectly describe it using the image of “the canary in the coal mine.” But the coal-mine canary, which alarms miners of deadly gas by graciously dying before humans can be harmed. is just an early warning system.  In contrast, the role we Jews play in this ugly game of tyrants is that of experimental lab animal.

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