The clip below is from The Lives of Others (2006), an unforgettable film. Please see it if you have not already done so. Set in communist East Germany during the 1980s it documents how the regime effectively imposed itself on the way its subjects not only acted, but on how they thought. This scene take place in the cafeteria for the Stasi, the country's secret police organization.
Since the controversial memo on Google's diversity program that resulted in the author's firing was actually solicited by the company as part of its internal discussion, and only became public when circulated externally by those who were offended by it, one is also put in mind of the Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom Campaign of 1956, run by Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Communist Party. That campaign solicited critiques of the country and the regime's programs, supposedly as a way to guide improvements. Instead it was used encourage dissidents to expose themselves so they could be punished with prison or execution.
What is happening at Google is tied in with some large societal trends. In a recent Wall St Journal article Mark Lilla, a Columbia professor, and well-known liberal Democrat, wrote about this change:
As a teacher, I am increasingly struck by a difference between my conservative and progressive students. Contrary to the stereotype, the conservatives are far more likely to connect their engagements to a set of political ideas and principles. Young people on the left are much more inclined to say that they are engaged in politics as an X, concerned about other Xs and those issues touching on X-ness. And they are less and less comfortable with debate.In a New York Times piece shortly after the presidential election (which I wrote about), Lilla first made his argument against identity politics, and its increasingly repressive and authoritarian nature, and was attacked by many progressives, including a professor at Columbia Law School who likened him to David Duke. His critique is perceptive but I doubt it will gain much traction with 21st century progressives.
Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X…This is not an anodyne phrase. It sets up a wall against any questions that come from a non-X perspective. Classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. What replaces argument, then, are taboos against unfamiliar ideas and contrary opinions.
Who are the brain police? I think I know.