Politics & Policy

Small Acts of Cowardice Are Destroying Our Culture

(Dmytro Konstantynov/Dreamstime)

Early this morning I was reading Rod Dreher’s blog at the American Conservative and stumbled across yet another dispatch from the utterly absurd bathroom wars. One of his New York City readers wrote in to say that her 14-year-old daughter had just finished dressing in a city locker room when a grown man stepped from the showers wearing only a towel. Girls as young as seven were present, and they were staring at the man with “concerned expressions.” The reader ends her e-mail with, “It sucks to be a parent these days.”

And indeed it does suck, especially when you know that even your friends and alleged allies are simply too timid to act. Dreher describes speaking to parents who tried to organize resistance to new “trans” bathroom policies but found they “couldn’t get anybody interested.” I’ve had the same conversation with other frustrated parents. They look for help in the fight — even from people who they know oppose this idiocy — and no one will stand up.

This is how culture wars are lost: through the slow accumulation of individually defensible but collectively unjustifiable decisions not to resist. It’s the decision that objecting during diversity training simply isn’t worth the hassle. It’s the decision not to say anything when you see a colleague or fellow student facing persecution because of their beliefs. It’s a life habit of always taking the path of least resistance, keeping your head down, and doing your best to preserve your own family and career. The small fights don’t matter anyway, right?

I recently spoke to a mid-level executive at a major corporation who had been forced to sit through mandatory “inclusivity” training. The topic was transgender rights, and the trainer proceeded to spout far-left ideology as fact, going so far as to label all who disagreed with the notion that a man can become a woman “transphobic.” I asked if anyone objected to any part of the training, and the response was immediate. “Are you crazy? No one wants to deal with HR.”

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On campus, liberal students find no shortage of progressive professors who are willing and eager to enable their advocacy, and even join in campus protests. Conservative students, by contrast, find that their few ideologically sympathetic professors tend to shun controversy. Even fellow conservative students largely stay out of campus battles, preferring to keep their heads down, graduate, and join the “real world” with their records intact.

#share#The contrast with the Left is profound. For progressives, no issue is too small to address and there is no such thing as just letting an injustice pass. The result is an unrelenting, grinding, one-way campaign of social change, conducted with an air of moral superiority and cultural condescension. It remains daunting right up until enough people put aside their cowardice and reasonable resistance prevails.

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And when that happens, it can be wondrous to see. I remember an Army counter-terror briefing in which a trainer was detailing all the ways soldiers can protect themselves and their families from off-duty, domestic terror threats. Notably missing from the briefing slides was a recommendation that service-members — each of whom is trained in the use of a weapon — obtain concealed-carry permits or use personal weapons in any way.

As the training droned on, a hand shot up. “Sir, why are we not being told to purchase a weapon for self-defense?” The response was instantaneous and politically correct: “Because that weapon is more dangerous to yourself than your attacker.” The room erupted, and within minutes, the trainer had backtracked and admitted that he carried a handgun when off-duty. It was a tiny victory in the grand scheme of things, but cultures are won and lost through tiny victories and defeats, and for a generation, the vast majority of then victories have gone to the left.

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I’ve often found myself thinking of William Butler Yeats’s classic poem, “The Second Coming.” In it, Yeats ponders societal collapse, writing: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” In our nation, the center didn’t even try to hold. The “reasonable” people made the easy choice to go with the flow of cultural upheaval. These are the “best” people, those with good jobs, good families, and sensible thoughts. But, as Yeats understood, there are times when the so-called best fail. They “lack all conviction,” surrendering the field to the worst, those “full of passionate intensity.”

We see this reality before our very eyes, as an intolerant Left does battle with its doppelgänger, a crass Right that cares little for individual liberty or for reason itself, enthralled instead by the sheer act of resistance and the love of offense. All the while, respectable people are aghast, still oblivious to the fact that their own timidity created the world we inhabit. So, sure, sit quietly in the face of indoctrination and intimidation. But know this: Unless you enter the fray, our cultural conflict will likely have a depressing result. Heads they win; tails you lose.

— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.

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