Robert Young is Probably Wrong. Trump Neutrality Endangers Resisters. And That’s Why Scientists Should March on Washington

The more people who peel off, the more dangerous it becomes for those remaining in the streets who resist. So this is hard for me to read. I post a link to the below article by Robert Young, not because I agree, but because I want to think about it some more. I’m wondering how his piece will read six months from now. Four years from now.

My first response is: stop pretending that scientists won’t have to resist what’s coming; that they can adopt an above-it-all neutrality that will be effective against a Putin-like authoritarian supported by sophisticated propaganda and the levers of the state. Before this is over, scientists are going to be arrested, lose jobs, and may even be killed (either by rogue enthusiasts for Trump, as with the Quebec shooter, or by the state itself). Scientists are going to have to fight alongside the rest of us, and take the slings and arrows of malicious accusations surrounding the so-called “politicization of science.” It comes with the territory of our growing crisis. The alternative is silence. Stop pretending neutrality is possible in this environment. Of course scientists will be on the side of the Anglo-French Enlightenment vision of humanity, the First Amendment, and reason. Of course.

And there’s a psychological passivity at work in adopting a neutral position that does Trump’s bidding, and perhaps serves an unconscious wish for Trump to prevail. It’s the same attitude that some (most?) in the military are taking at the moment. It’s how we ended up, after WWII, with the Nuremberg defense (“I was just obeying orders”). At some point people who pride themselves on being neutral professionals will have to join the rest of us in the streets–or see a dwindling resistance movement culturally isolated and ultimately mown down in the streets. We will hang together, or hang separately.


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, atomism, Bernie Sanders, brexit, climate change, david hume, donald trump, hillary clinton, Lucretius, Politics, science, Ted Cruz, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Robert Young is Probably Wrong. Trump Neutrality Endangers Resisters. And That’s Why Scientists Should March on Washington

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Some anti-Trump person takes a shot. It becomes the justification for more cracking down. I predict this happens this year. I think calling congress is the way here, not in the street movements. I worry about the energy making some fanatics act out in ways that are used to destroy the opposition’s credibility.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      That’s a problem for any mass resistance movement. A gunshot can come from the group, or the shooter can be a plant deployed to justify a crackdown. The distinction is that, if due process still functions, then you can’t imprison people for guilt-by-association (simply being in proximity to someone who acts violently).

      Whether due process survives the Trump era is an open question.

      I was at the LA Women’s March last weekend, but not at LAX this weekend, and of course the range of individuals in attendance was broad: from the youthful poor, to college students, to middle class families, to the rich, to the eccentric. I had a physicist friend who would have gone with the group of people I went with if he didn’t have a contending juggle of priorities that weekend. And in the group was another friend–who happens to be a NASA engineer.

      I think all forms of nonviolent resistance need to be deployed, as well as all forms of speaking out. I’m pessimistic. I’m guessing that Frum’s scenario (see link below) is the one that plays out, but that doesn’t mean we don’t maintain solidarity and with our voices “grab back” in a way that is in keeping with our human dignity. The most life-affirming chant of the Women’s March was “Pussy grabs back!”–and I think of the risks that “Pussy Riot” runs in Russia (see other link below). There may come a point in America very soon where people will try to express public, nonviolent protest–as Pussy Riot attempted at the Winter Olympics–and others will try to take photographs of the protest–and they will be met with a dispersal whipping or worse.

      I don’t feel emotionally ready to go to jail at some point over the next four years to resist an authoritarian undermining our Constitution and Republic–and putting the planet at risk from nuclear war–but it may come to that, and sooner rather than later. Carthage wasn’t destroyed in a day. Trump, however, is upending the nation’s norms at an alarming clip. He’s transforming it into something else–or trying to. My conscience won’t let me stay out of the fray of this, even if resistance ultimately fails. It’s dispiriting to me that, when I look over my shoulder to see who has my back, that a scientist like Robert Young has his arms folded on the sidelines, discouraging the participation of others. It’s the wrong place to be right now.

      These words of Gandhi cut to my heart right now, in which he wrote that nonviolence “is the only permanent thing in life, this is the only thing that counts, whatever effort you bestow on mastering it is well spent” (Nonviolence in Peace and War, Volume One, Posthumous 1948). It can be raucous to protest, but resistance in a good cause can also be a spiritual discipline, not just a calculated political act (whether it’s participating in the Civil Right movement, Indian independence, or resisting the undermining of our First Amendment).

      If an authoritarian wants you out of the streets, then the place to be is in the streets.

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