Abigail Shrier: In Defense of Political Escalation
How can we get back to normal? Those waiting for the pendulum to swing back will be waiting forever.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis earned uncommon rebuke from conservative pundits last week, when he indicated he might sic Child Protective Services on parents who take their children to drag shows.
“I’m a very big fan of DeSantis and very not a fan of kids at drag shows,” writer Bethany Mandel wrote on Twitter. “But conservatives have to recognize the Pandora’s box we’re opening by involving CPS in judgment call parenting decisions. It’s not abuse.”
Mandel is right: Child Protective Services should not be sent after these families. Parents ought to be free to make all kinds of decisions regarding what ideas to expose their children to, how and when—especially with regard to matters that we typically consider private and deeply personal: Religion is one. Sexuality, another.
But here’s the hitch: as with so many of our institutions, CPS has already become thoroughly politicized and weaponized by the left. Dozens and dozens of loving parents have told me over the last two years that CPS showed up at their homes or threatened their custody or even testified against them in court, all for the sin of failing to “affirm” their minor child’s newly-announced gender identity or vetoing the kid’s immediate medical transition.
In California, matters head from bad to worse: a new bill aspires to transform California into a “sanctuary state” for gender-swapping youth, making it possible for even a non-custodial parent to run to California to transition her child against her ex-spouse’s wishes.
Here, then, is the question: If our ultimate goal is returning to a normalcy in which government agencies and corporations treat all Americans fairly regardless of viewpoint, how are we to achieve this? At a minimum, we must acknowledge that these institutions are already weaponized and their artillery points only in one direction: against the opponents of the left. Acknowledge further that an ever-increasing tyranny is ratcheted upon those who dare criticize the encroachment of gender ideology into all spheres of public life. The playing field is about as level as San Francisco’s Filbert Street.
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This week, conservative writers Ryan Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis lost the ability to offer pre-orders of their new pro-life audiobook when the book’s distributor dropped them—on ideological grounds, of course. One year ago, Anderson’s critique of the transgender movement, When Harry Became Sally, was effectively vaporized—deleted by Amazon on the specious grounds that it “framed an LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” (It’s nearly impossible to speak of gender dysphoria without reference to its inclusion in the DSM-5, psychiatry’s most authoritative manual of mental illnesses; indeed, the word “disorder” is in the title of the DSM.) Even third-party sales of Anderson’s book were banned from Amazon and all sites they control. Given that well over half of all U.S. book sales flow through its channels, Amazon’s actions represent an issue entirely different from Masterpiece Cakeshop (the difference is scale), as I’ve written before. An Amazon deletion is a death sentence for a book.
Not to be outdone, this week, PayPal and Etsy shut down the accounts of biological realist and writer Colin Wright for his persistence in arguing that there are only two sexes. Etsy permanently disabled Wright’s account—where he sold his “Reality’s Last Stand” merch promoting his newsletter—on the grounds that Wright “glorif[ied] hatred or violence toward protected groups.”
That’s a lie. Wright never did.
Wright is a biologist who made the grievous error of knowing a thing or two about biology and refusing to genuflect before the Torquemadas who insist he parrot their phony gender science. But of course, while Wright pays this price for his harmless (and, honestly, inoffensive) t-shirts and mugs, Etsy continues to list for sale stickers and pins and other bric-a-brac emblazoned with messages like “Fuck TERFs,” “TERFs can choke,” and “Shut the Fuck up TERF” with an anime creature pointing a semiautomatic handgun at its presumably female interlocutor.
Those of us who dare express skepticism of gender-affirmative care are routinely censored, denied Twitter verification, suspended from social media, or have our online fundraisers shut down—all for the sin of telling truths that the left wishes never to hear. Like those living outside the Free World, we adjust our behavior, which of course is the aim: We edit our tweets a little more carefully. We refrain from “liking” the tweet of anyone who’s been sent to the frosty exile of Twitter suspension. We don’t want to do these things; most days, we fight like hell. But no independent journalist can easily promote her articles without Twitter or earn a living without the benefit of Stripe and PayPal.
Two years ago, Target deleted my book, Irreversible Damage, from its catalog until public outcry caused it to reverse the ban, only to re-reverse and delete the book when it decided no one was watching. Public outcry over cancellation or book-banning only lasts so long before predictably dying out. And we’re all growing a little tired of the 24/7 umbrage. Like the characters who inhabit the America of Fahrenheit 451, there’s a point at which we simply accept a censorship so woven into the warp and weft of American life. Ultimately, we stop noticing it at all.
GoFundMe dipped its toe into the waters of censorship two years ago, when it shut down the fundraiser of parents who dug into their own pockets to advertise my book via billboard. GoFundMe has since shut down at least five separate conservative fundraisers. At some point, this will stop making news because it will stop seeming “new.” Wrongthinking friends are kicked off of PayPal and Etsy and Twitter, of course, with increasing frequency. We critics of Gender Ideology are left to wonder: When will I swipe my credit card and find my payment’s been denied? Or attempt to rent an Airbnb, only to be told my money’s no good there either?
And it isn’t only corporations weaponized in this way. It’s CPS. And professional sports. And of course, public school, where desperate parents rush to school boards and plead to stop the indoctrination and gender confusion of their children.
This past week, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley produced documents revealing that President Biden’s Disinformation Governance Board had indeed planned to surveil and censor American social media users. Specifically, the Administration had planned to target speech relating to the “the validity and security of elections” and “disinformation related to the origins and effects of the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.”
After this speech is thoroughly suppressed, what next would be found offending? Censorship, like all tyrannical instincts, has no self-limiting principle; it will continue to expand unless and until it is made to stop. And the censorship that haunts American life has only one target: Those who oppose the left.
Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams—both of whom have thrown shade at the validity of election outcomes—need not fear the Disinformation Board (or any successor government board of similar devise). No, the very raison d'être of this new agency was to target Americans with conservative or non-woke views.
Here is the problem: Almost every liberal will be content to allow our institutions and corporations to punish conservatives as long as they themselves remain unscathed. They may feel a pang of discomfort watching books deleted from Amazon, but until it is a book of theirs, they will continue to show a remarkable disinclination to speak up. (Yes, with the important exception of brave souls like J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. And the moment liberals speak out against such censorship, they are accused of being right-wing and lose the left’s protection.)
As long as Amazon never deletes books by Rachel Maddow, Bob Woodward, Ezra Klein, or Paul Krugman, America’s large and powerful center-left has proven itself all-too-willing to allow the censorship to proceed. As long as only the left weaponizes every available corporation and government agency, America will continue its decade-long shrug.
Those waiting on the mythical pendulum to “swing back,” should stop holding their breath. The gender activists are True Believers, akin to jihadists: no amount of reasoning diminishes their resolve, no appeal to data brings them pause, no urge to consider the sanctity of American liberties will convince them to cool it.
This point was best put to me by a high school teacher in Texas, a gay man, regularly hounded by his school administrators to teach gender ideology to his students. Here’s the remarkable thing: He doesn’t want to, doesn’t think it’s a good use of his time, and doesn’t believe encouraging his students to obsess over their sexual orientation during class is anywhere near as helpful to high school students as the material he trained to teach them. But he also doesn’t think passing a law banning gender ideology will make the slightest difference.
I try to tell parents, if you’re considering pulling your kids out of public school—do—because you can go to as many school board meetings as you want and complain. There’s still going to be people who are going to teach whatever they want.
If the woke continue to gain ground, where will we skeptics go to educate our children, transact commerce, find fair adjudication of our custody disputes? Where will we publish when not only the New York Times has a “gender director”—when every publication does?
That is the worry that likely motivates DeSantis, the first politician to “weaponize” the Florida tax code. He brought its hammer down on Disney to punish that one company for using its immense corporate coffers to lobby against parents’ rights in Florida. In principle, it’s a move I’m leery of. (And in the case of sending CPS after moms and dads who take their kids to drag shows, it’s a move I would oppose.)
But the gist of this stratagem—escalation—may be necessary. Indeed, it already seems to be working. Playing offense, even raising the stakes, may be the only means of achieving a much-needed truce. I’m out of better ideas. How about you?
This piece originally ran in The Truth Fairy, Abigail Shrier’s newsletter.