Returning from Cyber Exile - Bruce
"Cyber exile" is a relatively new concept.
I never thought it would happen to me. I'm an "ideas" guy. I like debate and find the free flow of intellectual discourse to be one of the most enjoyable things about being alive. That, apparently, is no longer in vogue. That ideas are to be banned from the public square is a relatively new concept in the American psyche. It seems to have gained traction, as my experience attests to.
I've been associated with the National Havurah Committee [NHC] secondary to my membership in an affiliated congregation. Thus, I've been a relatively quiet member of their electronic listserv for many years. Periodically I would post an article I found interesting and thought others would find interesting as well.
(Note: a "listserv" is an electronic bulletin board/mailing list that distributes emails to subscribers. It is not unusual for organizations to use listservs to facilitate communication among its members.)
It's not that I didn't know most NHC listserv members were very liberal and left wing. Of course I did; some of them are my friends. It's that I severely underestimated how much the world has changed...how much ideas can be shunned. Or rather, I was to be shunned.
Jonathan Tobin has called this phenomenon "...the twenty first-century's version of Puritan New England's stocks where the public could mock and pelt offenders with garbage for violating community norms."
It began innocently enough on December 21st, 2016. I read, enjoyed and posted a piece I thought worthy of consideration on the National Havurah Committee listserv.
Even now the piece strikes me as intellectually sound and interesting. The scholarly article was called "Celebrating Orientalism" by Richard Landes. It was published in a journal called Middle East Quarterly [Winter 2017, Volume 23]. Click HERE to view the article.
In my email to the NHC listserv I introduced the article as follows:
Dear Cyberspiritualists, I just read a rather lengthy article, that lays out a fresh intellectual reframe for understanding the MidEast. Worth printing, reading and debating over Shabbat. Many on the left have a strong distaste for religious triumphalism...except when it comes to the religious triumphalism of Islam. This piece offers an analysis of that tendency and its dangers. For those averse to long pieces, allow me to tempt you with this gem: *"It took a millennium of constant and painful efforts for Western culture to learn how to sublimate man's libido dominandi to the point of creating a society tolerant of diversity, one that resolved disputes with a discourse of fairness rather than violence, and one where positive-sum encounters are a desired norm. To insist, as many liberals do, that this exceptional achievement be considered the default mode for mankind regardless of how far the "other" is from this cherished goal, and to exempt enemies of democracy from the civic responsibility of self-criticism even while redoubling its burden on oneself, is to undermine the freedoms Western civilization has built up over centuries."* See: http://www.meforum.org/6400/celebrating-orientalism Warmly, Bruce Xxxxxxxx :}
The avalanche that followed my post was not to be believed. In the hundreds of email postings that followed, I was accused of Islamophobia, racism, white supremacy, fascism and bigotry. It should be noted that many listserv members, even those disagreeing with the piece I posted, defended me.
Nonetheless, two days later I was removed from the listserv, receiving this simple notification banishing me to cyber-Siberia:
There was enormous pressure on the NHC Board of Directors from the membership to reinstate me. Despite this pressure, it was almost a year before I was reinstated.
As I reflect on this experience, it is not hard to chalk this up to an increasingly polarized polity and a partisan divide that has worsened significantly over the last decade or so. Tolerance for opposing views is limited by an elevated sense of political correctness gone amok. The First Amendment, while still intact, has been socially chipped away at by accusations of "hate speech" that have been applied so liberally [no pun intended] as to be rendered almost meaningless.
As fate would have it, an early mentor of mine just died as I'm writing this. David McReynolds, a pacifist and long time socialist, was a friend and a strong influence on me in my 20's and early 30's. His New York Times obituary stated:
Even David McReynolds, a morally centered soul from the left wing intelligentsia, could not escape politically correct cyber exile!
I don't mean to compare myself with such a great thinker as David McReynolds, but the irony is poignant.
I am sad to say that my cyber exile was quite effective. I no longer identify with the NHC community.
I am planning to leave the NHC listserv...this time voluntarily.
[Bruce's MidEast Soundbites]