There has been a lot of discussion lately about what various people’s “Woke Breaking Point” was — what was the moment that ‘radicalized’ you on the threat posed by the woke mob? It’s clear there was some breaking point over the past 7 or 8 years where the insanity on campus metastasized and became a genuine threat to life and liberty, but it’s as difficult to pinpoint exactly when that transformation happened as it is to pinpoint the exact moment a tumor changes from a local irritation to a life-ending catastrophe. You can only estimate the time point based on its effect on phenotype — hence, we can ask, when did your average dissident reach their breaking point, and if we see that many reached that point at a certain key time, we can perhaps figure out what changed on a broader social level.
For me, the breaking point came in November 2014, when a mob of social justice warriors reduced scientist Matt Taylor to tears because he wore a tacky shirt on the day his fucking spaceship landed on a comet. I had been seeing this guy on social media for a few days because he was obviously photogenic — lots of tattoos, weird clothes, and obviously a genius — and he was closely connected to a truly amazing feat of scientific and engineering wizardry. Unsurprisingly I saw him as “one of my people” — a countercultural weirdo who had gained a foothold in the academic world despite not fitting the stereotypical physical model of the “eminent scientist”. Not only that, he’s almost exactly the same age as me and he’s apparently also a metalhead (his Wikipedia article mentions Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse, fuckin awesome). But where he should have been greeted with accolades, he was instead greeted with a Twitter mob because he wore a Hawai’ian shirt with Barbarella-style sci-fi babes on it. Within 24 hours he was reduced to a tearful and humiliating apology for his (completely awesome) wardrobe choice, which of course did him no good. Looking just now I couldn’t find any information about where he’s at now — which means he’s either been drummed out of science or else demoted to invisibility. In other words, cancelled.
Remember, fellow dissidents: never fucking apologize. Never bend the knee to these savages — once the mob comes, your fate is sealed for better or for worse, and your only choice is whether to go out looking like a crying chump, or to keep your chin high and provide a role model for the next poor bastard.
So the shear injustice of what happened to Taylor — and, for 2014 me, its suddenness and unexpectedness — woke me up to what was going on. This guy was basically a better version of me, and if they could ruin him in a day, what could they do to me? Within less than a week of Taylor’s cancellation, I spent my 40th birthday having dinner with fellow academics — I have detailed the experience previously on this blog — and experienced an epiphany of sorts. Basically, I had been underestimating the degree of prejudice and outright hate in academia toward people like me. I felt sick to my stomach — as I recall I was unable to finish my meal. Partially the issue was a feeling of looming threat, but more than that was this sudden, cataclysmic deflation of the respect I had previously felt for so many people. I remember having a similar feeling when the whole steroid scandal broke in baseball — this whole world that I had previously had an almost worshipful respect of was a fucking scam, and not only that, it was leaking its poison into the rest of society. In other words, not only was my profession compromised, it was the source of a great evil — and by keeping my mouth shut about it, I was complicit.
So I pretty much decided to suck it up and not be afraid of the mob. I don’t think I would have been capable of being quiet even if the sensible part of my conscience had wanted it. In fact, this whole recollection was inspired by a quote I read from James Watson — quoted by Steve Sailer in his book review of Walter Isaacson’s biography of the brilliant Jennifer Doudna:
“I think my blunt and contrary nature helps my science, because I don’t simply accept things just because other people believe it,” he says. “My strength is not that I’m smarter, it’s that I’m more willing to offend the crowd.”
Yeah, that’s pretty much me — I have maybe even more in common with Watson than with Taylor. Well, they cancelled Watson too, but it doesn’t make him wrong. My understanding of my own thinking suggests that my contrariness has always been the source of my skill in science, but of course it’s not the sort of thing one can turn on and off. I’m simply not capable of lying about anything important, even when society demands it. Matt Taylor’s shirt was cool. Jim Watson was right. And the people who cancelled them are boring and evil and can go fuck themselves.