This week on The Critic podcast I spoke to a charity founder who was sacked from the one he set up with his own redundancy money to help disadvantaged kids after he wrote a blog criticising Black Lives Matter. I also spoke to a physicist who faced a disciplinary hearing after a list of tweets he had ‘liked’ on Facebook was sent to his employer.
I also spoke to Toby Young, the founder of the Free Speech Union who told podcast listeners that when he set up the FSU in February they were getting around six requests for help per week from people who had got into trouble at work for expressing a view on a hot topic. Now, he says, they are receiving about six per day and about half of them are from people who have criticised the claims made by BLM.
But what is going on, and what can be done about it?
Some commentators link the rise of the social justice movement to our rejection of grand narratives. In his book The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray argues that as we reject religion and other explanations for why we are here, people have found meaning by focussing on niche issues and waging a war against those who seem to be on the wrong side of them.
Others have likened the phenomenon to an auto-immune disease. In the absence of genuine and widespread hardship within a society, the body politic suffers hysteria and begins to attack itself, convinced that its own institutions are riddled with disease.
But a problem understood is not a problem solved, and for those who are at risk of being sacked or denied work for expressing a political opinion, they want to know how to survive.
If you feel like your career is at risk of destruction it can be easy to fall into despair, but it seems unlikely that things will improve unless you seek help. When Nick Buckley, the founder of charity Mancunian Way was sacked for criticising BLM, he began to believe he had been in the wrong. He told me he put his head in his hands and asked himself, ‘what the hell have you done?’ A petition to remove him had been circulated online, and the trustees of his charity had fired him unceremoniously via email. But it was only after he gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday that the tide began to turn and he got his confidence back. Buckley said messages flooded in with people offering him money and even new job opportunities. It was at this point that the 52 year old realised he wasn’t in the wrong and decided to fight back.
Resisting makes it harder for them to get the dopamine hit when they get someone fired
When physicist Mike Mcculloch faced a disciplinary hearing after an anonymous staff member complained about his Twitter feed, he informed his followers that he was at risk of being sacked which is how he came to join the Free Speech Union. Toby Young provided him with a lawyer who asked Plymouth University, his employer, what rule he was supposed to have broken and informed them that the lawyer would be attending the hearing too. The University backed down and cancelled the disciplinary hearing.
For now, until another grand-narrative fills the void or a genuine catastrophe shocks the West out of its unhealthy introspection it seems cancel culture is here to stay, but there are ways to mitigate it. Asking basic questions like ‘what rule have I broken?’ and getting support from organisations like the FSU or the private sector press can help save your job, but it probably serves a wider purpose too. Making it harder for the mob to remove somebody from employment for expressing an opinion means you make it harder for them to get the dopamine hit when they’re successful. Fighting back means you’re weaning the addict off their drug. You’re altruistically doing them good too: it’s not just self-preservation.
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