Meet the Censored: Abigail Shrier
Where is the line between boycott-based activism and corporate censorship?
Abigail Shrier of the Wall Street Journal has been in the middle of two major international news stories in the last year. One involves transgender identity. The other, the subject of this article, is about censorship.
The history of campaigns to suppress books pre-Internet America is not littered with successes. Techniques ran the gamut, from school systems pulling The Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, and Toni Morrisson’s Song of Solomon, to parent-led campaigns against individual schools teaching The Color Purple, to libraries removing A Clockwork Orange, to the U.S. Postal Service declaring For Whom the Bell Tolls “un-mailable,” to the firing of a teacher who assigned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to dozens of other episodes.
Most such efforts failed. The typical narrative involved a local conservative or religious group arrayed against national publishers and distributors, although there were instances of campaigns instigated from the other political direction (e.g. calls to ban or boycott books like To Kill a Mockingbird and American Psycho for offensive portrayals of women and minorities). These efforts however were usually opposed by a consensus of intellectuals in politics, media, and academia, all of whom tended to be institutionally committed to speech rights.
The increasingly concentrated nature of digital media, combined with changing attitudes within the intellectual class, has reversed the geography of speech controversies. Campaigns against books now begin at universities, newsrooms, and the offices of companies like Amazon and Google, and have success; anti-censorship campaigns tend to be local and poorly funded, and fail.
No book exemplifies these new dynamics more than Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.
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It may be that a lot of folks are unfamiliar with Regnery, but I always found it most astonishing that Shrier had to go there to find a publisher for her work. 20 years ago if you had told me someone with Shrier's worldview would get her work published there I would have said "No way." As I look at my shelves, Regnery publications/reprints are from people like James Burnham and Claes Ryn, i.e. rather crunchy paleo-cons, and a world away from the Shrier's of the world. Yet, here we are in 2020, in a world so back-assward and repressive that it requires the Regnery's to pick up the civilizational slack.
It seems clear to me the reason they have gone after her and her work so hard is that she is right and they know it.
I also find it interesting that you make the connection to the idea of "repressed memory". It was the parallels to RM that made me pick up Shrier's book in the first place. She doesn't really make the connection in Irreversible Damage as she focuses on the similarities to cutting and anorexia, as they are also health concerns for girls, but anyone who witnessed how RM could destroy family members, as it did a beloved aunt of mine, can't help but see the same story playing out again only with a different cast of characters and different victims.
I swear this New Yorker excerpt is on point. Scientists seeking to learn what happened in an an ient “mass death event” in the Himalayas, first needed to find out whose these people were, and where they came fro. So they reached out to their peers in the Genetics department. “Not so fast!” screeched woke bystanders. And the wheels of research froze in defensive fear. Research into human origins and the differences between populations is always vulnerable to misuse. The grim history of eugenics still casts a shadow over genetics—a field with limitless appeal for white supremacists and others looking to support racist views—even though, for half a century, geneticists have rejected the idea of large hereditary disparities among human populations for the great majority of traits. Genetic science was vital in discrediting racist biological theories and establishing that racial categories are ever-shifting social constructs that do not align with genetic variation. Still, some anthropologists, social scientists, and even geneticists are deeply uncomfortable with any research that explores the hereditary differences among populations. Reich is insistent that race is an artificial category rather than a biological one, but maintains that “substantial differences across populations” exist. He thinks that it’s not unreasonable to investigate those differences scientifically, although he doesn’t undertake such research himself. “Whether we like it or not, people are measuring average differences among groups,” he said. “We need to be able to talk about these differences clearly, whatever they may be. Denying the possibility of substantial differences is not for us to do, given the scientific reality we live in.”
In 2018, Reich published a book, “Who We Are and How We Got Here,” about how genetic science is revolutionizing our understanding of our species. After he presented material from the book as an Op-Ed in the Times, sixty-seven anthropologists, social scientists, and others signed an open letter on BuzzFeed, titled “How Not to Talk About Race and Genetics.” The scholars complained that Reich’s “skillfulness with ancient and contemporary DNA should not be confused with a mastery of the cultural, political, and biological meanings of human groups,” and that Reich “critically misunderstands and misrepresents concerns” regarding the use of such loaded terms as “race” and “population.”