Sunday, November 25, 2007

Being Conservative in a Liberal Profession

Actually, he isn't a conservative so much as a centrist hawk (I'm approaching the same point), but Hollywood screenwriter and blogger Roger L. Simon recently published a highly thoughtful essay on the Pajamas Media web site. In the article, which is an excerpt from an upcoming book, Roger discusses whether his open support for George W. Bush has hurt his career in the film industry. His answer, put simply, is that "to what extent my political switch or supposed switch...hurt my movie career, I simply don’t know."

Voicing right-of-center views in a left-of-center profession is a topic near and dear to my heart. Of course, there are vast differences between Hollywood and librarianship. Still, when I read Roger's description of the stultifying liberal groupthink that permeates the film industry, I couldn't help but relate at least a little:

So I have not lost sleep worrying whether I have been blacklisted. Still I am sure this new form of Blacklist exists, but not nearly to the formalized extent of the original list of the forties and fifties with its Red Channels and dramatic hearings in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, featuring ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ witnesses. Times are different and the system functions in a very different manner. Now it operates through an almost invisible thought control caused by a post-Orwellian “liberal” conformity so pervasive a formal Blacklist is not necessary, indeed would work against itself. In some ways, this new, less overt, list is more ominous than its predecessor, because there is nothing concrete to rebel against, no hearings, no committees, no protest groups pro or con, no secret databases that I know of. There doesn’t need to be. There is no there there, in Gertrude’s immortal words – only the grey haze of a mindless received “liberalism”, the world as last month’s New York Times editorials, half-digested and regurgitated, never questioned or even analyzed, going forth forever with little perceived chance of reform, as if it were the permanent religious text of some strange new orthodoxy.


If you don’t agree with this particular weltanschauung, even if you dissent from its orthodoxy just a tiny bit, you have but three choices: One, you can argue, in which case you are almost certain to be dismissed as a fool, a warmonger or a right wing nut (all three, probably) and therefore have little or no chance at the writing or directing job that brought you there. Two, you can shut up and ignore it (stay in the closet), in which case you feel like a coward and experience (as I have) a dose of existential nausea straight out of Sartre or, three, you can stop going to the meetings altogether, in which case you have blacklisted yourself.

Is there a blacklist in the library profession? No. There is no organized effort to harm the careers of librarians who are right-of-center politically. Not that there aren't a few people who wouldn't like to do something like that. Still, I have never had any problem expressing my opinions, but I attribute that primarily to having the right coworkers and the right work environment.

On the other hand, I have heard from plenty of others who do feel like they will pay a price if they express conservative views around other librarians. For a few examples, see the comments posted in response when my article first appeared. Based on the feedback I received, some conservative librarians genuinely fear professional retaliation if they express their opinions. See also Greg McClay's experiences in SRRT, or John Berry's sputtering rage directed at those librarians who dare to disagree with leftist orthodoxy.

Even though there is not a blacklist in the library profession, just the fact that liberals and leftists are so numerically dominant makes those who don't share their views highly reluctant to say so. This problem is exacerbated, as I noted in the Chronicle and numerous times since, by ALA's de facto functioning as a liberal advocacy organization. It is one thing to disagree with most of your coworkers; but when the major professional body in librarianship passes partisan political resolutions and invites a steady stream of Democratic politicians and liberal pundits to be its keynote speakers, a message is sent that those with opposing views need not apply. This is an important reason why partisan politics should be kept out of ALA and other professional venues.

As I wrote in the Chronicle, the point is not that liberal and leftist librarians should stop being liberals and leftists. Instead, the goal should be to either leave politics out of the work environment, or to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions. As a profession that talks about intellectual freedom, we need to practice what we preach.


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