I took the #CouragePledge last week. Not because I am courageous but because despite being 20 years removed from my Asian Studies degree, I know Cultural Revolution tactics when I see them. Incriminating entire classes of citizens, forcing public apology after apology after apology for making reasonable but ideologically impure statements, and leveraging personal relationships to forward political ends sounds a lot like 1970 Shanghai.
It’s 2020 America.
Drafted by Sohrab Ahmari, who believes Americans will be “asked to acquiesce to ever more extreme positions, on penalty of their jobs, livelihoods, family relationships and their presence in the digital public square,” the Courage Pledge includes six tenets.
- I believe in the inherent dignity of all people.
- I will not submit to outrage mobs.
- I will stand for the truth, not your truth or my truth.
- I will not hang that sign on my office door, make that symbolic gesture and so on if I don’t believe in its message.
- I will not denounce my friend.
- I am not ashamed of traditional faith or the American flag.
The Cultural Revolution gives us a sobering picture of a society that abandons these principles. No dignity was afforded the bourgeoisie who were publicly tortured and humiliated. Ordinary citizens lived in fear of roving mobs of Red Guards. Young and old were forced to lie about the government, their neighbors, and even themselves. The policing and denunciation of friends and family were widespread, and despising the “Four Olds,” (any aspect of traditional China) was considered communist dogma. The result? Millions sent to labor camps, purged, and massacred in a bloody tumult that lasted years.
Of course, in the United States today, dissidents aren’t being sent to reeducation camps and intellectuals aren’t publicly flogged in the streets. But total government control doesn’t begin by imposing the death penalty on ideological opponents. It begins by policing the speech, and by extension the thoughts, of ordinary citizens. It calcifies when citizens comply with those tactics.
Jordan Peterson notes of the horrors of the Soviet death machine:
Solzhenitsyn laid at the feet of the Soviet citizenry the burden of the absolute catastrophes that characterized that system because of each individual’s propensity or proclivity within the state to lie and deceive constantly about what they thought and what they said. And to be afraid to speak and to be afraid to think and to be afraid to criticize.
Just as widespread violation of these six principles enabled Stalin and Mao’s tyrannical rule, upholding them is an individual’s best weapon against tyranny. But in today’s political climate, adhering to the Courage Pledge is not going to be easy.
Ahmari is “worried that we are going to see a rising tide of progressive repression engulfing ordinary Americans” and notes that “much of this pressure will come from private actors like corporate employers, against whom there is no constitutional defense.”
So, ask yourself: How are you feeling these days?
In the last week, you’ve likely faced pressure from friends, media, or your employer to submit to the new progressive orthodoxy. You’re driving past looted and boarded-up shops in your neighborhood while watching the media fib about the peaceful nature of some protests. You’re receiving emails from your child’s school district that “demand change to combat 400 years of anti-black racism” in America.
Many major companies have issued corporate statements supporting Black Lives Matter, making it difficult for employees to express support for black lives while rejecting the radical Marxist tenants of the movement. You’ve received pyramids from your HR department identifying phrases such as “why can’t we all just get along” and “there’s two sides to every story” as covert terms of “white supremacy.”
You’re being told “silence is violence” in one breath, and in the next told to shut up and listen. You’re being given handouts on how to raise anti-racist children, presuming Caucasian children are racist by default. You’ve watched people repent in cult-like unison of their “white sin” and seen newscasters resign after drawing ire for tweeting “ALL LIVES MATTER—EVERY SINGLE ONE.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear that resisting the “progressive” conformity being pressed down on ordinary Americans requires courage.
If you want to protest against the horrific violation of George Floyd’s inherent dignity, post a black square on Instagram, and display Black Lives Matter swag in your office because you genuinely believe in everything you’re saying and doing, then the Courage Pledge is for you.
The Courage Pledge is also for you if you refuse to display the Black Lives Matter decal because you reject their goal to dismantle the nuclear family. The Courage Pledge is for you if while recognizing the evils of slavery and Jim Crow you refuse to label America as endemically racist. The Courage Pledge is for you if you believe that police should be held accountable when they unjustly kill or use excessive force against black suspects, but also refuse to agree that white supremacy is the greatest threat to our black countrymen.
You may have already signed the Courage Pledge if you’re a Hall of Fame coach who refuses to pile on Drew Brees for venerating the American flag. You may have already signed the Courage Pledge if you are the Mayor of Minneapolis and, despite being surrounded by vocal protestors, you refuse to submit to their demands to abolish the police. You may already have signed the Courage Pledge if you’re a blockbuster author who refuses to bow to the twitter mob after recognizing that “people who menstruate” are called women.
You may have already signed the Courage Pledge if you’re the lone high school freshman I know who refused to stand during the “Black National Anthem” because you believe the Star-Spangled Banner is an anthem for all Americans.
Those familiar with totalitarian regimes recognize this “progressive” orthodoxy is a regressive movement. Instead of moving us forward, it takes us back to the moments which preceded the greatest human rights abuses of the last century.
If you’re concerned about the similarities between our current cultural moment and historic collectivist evils, I urge you to sign the Courage Pledge too.