In 2021, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, in agreement with Brazil’s neo-fascist President Jair Bolsonaro, signed a law allowing college students to record professors to detect any ideological bias. As long as it wasn’t the true ideology—his.
In December of that year, DeSantis signed another bill that was going to “give businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination,” which aims to give a re-reading of history from the point of view of the marginalized groups. For fanatics, taking a five-year-old child every week to a religious temple or planting them for hours a day in front of the television to consume mercantilist propaganda is not indoctrination. But if a 20-year-old enters a university where she might learn some new idea, then that is “indoctrination” and “brainwashing.”
The law prohibits an open discussion on because young whites could feel uncomfortable studying slavery and discrimination. Another law from the same office prohibits public high schools from speaking about the existence of gays and lesbians in the name of a fight against “gender ideology.” The dominant gender ideology for centuries, machismo (toxic masculinity), is not under discussion. On the contrary, it must stay protected with the force of extreme ignorance and law.
A specialty of the so-called "champions of freedom" is to prohibit everything that does not suit their interests. Their repeated “free speech” means “freedom to harass and censor.” This tsunami of prohibitions in education and academia is only the continuation of the prohibition of dozens of books started earlier in the United States, in the best banana republic style. Sooner or later, they were going to come through the universities. It is the biggest resentment of Successful Businessmen and their butlers. Culture and universities have not been easy to buy, although corporations have done a good job of commercializing education and research.
According to conservative fanatics, universities are strongholds for liberals where youth are indoctrinated. They complain that most of the professors are “leftists” and that, therefore, legislation must be approved to balance the proportion of conservatives. There is no such proposal to balance the ideologies in the most powerful churches, in the multi-million-dollar corporations, in the stock markets, in the powerful lobbies of Washington or in the unlimited donations to the political parties.
The natural solution to balance the political trends in universities is for conservatives to start studying seriously. But of course, if someone loves money and power, he will hardly spend decades doing research for free. Above all knowing that, after decades of efforts, when the results appear, the Successful Businessmen are going to kidnap all those achievements immediately and in the name of Freedom.
In theory, fascism and liberalism are opposites. However, decades ago neoliberalism managed to put a diverse menu in the same electoral combo. Thus, in the same party, the most radical capitalists and warmongers went together with the Christians who had nothing to do with the Jesus of the Gospels, but rather with Judas, someone who could sell his friend for thirty silver coins. Thus, defending Jesus implied defending the merchants expelled from the temple, putting the damn camel through the eye of the damn needle, and saluting the empires that crucified other rebels like Jesus. The money lords, the corporate boards that spread banana dictatorships all over the world and legalized dictatorships in their own countries, all in the name of freedom and democracy as in the times of slavery, managed to unite the two opposing ideologies. The neoliberals of the last half of the 20th century are the libertarians of today, drinking at the bar with neo-Nazis and neo-fascists in complete comfort.
In August 2022, U.S. Federal Judge Mark Walker (temporarily) blocked Florida’s “Anti-WOKE” law, arguing that “under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves”. A month later, DeSantis swept the elections. He was re-elected governor and positioned himself as one of the strongest Republican Party candidates for the 2024 presidential elections. This shows, once again, that we continue walking towards a new Middle Ages. All with the silence, shyness, or complicity of the academy and what was once the heroic resistance for Civil Rights.
While some academics are too preoccupied with a model to explain inflation in the Maldives or how to quote Socrates in a magazine no one will read, the Big Businessmen continue with their plans to neutralize or take over one of the last corners of society they still cannot fully control, despite the commodification of education. I’ve heard that “Well, that’s the professor’s job.” That is, they should not deal with big politics. It’s not their thing. The same is not said of a successful casino owner or a pillow salesman who aspires to be governor or president. No, because Successful Businessmen are accustomed to commanding orders and being successful… Shamefully, not a few professors remain silent, fearing what is repeated in assemblies and in corridors as “fear of retaliation,” just for saying what they think. Even the tenured professors are afraid to protest. Why?
Tenure was created in 1940 to prevent professors from being fired for their radical ideas or inconvenient opinions. For this very reason, tenure has been under attack in this country for years. Not only is the business ideology trying to eliminate it, but it has been reduced to a minimum, with a double purpose: 1) to make academic work more precarious; and 2) to silence inconvenient theories for the dominant dogma.
But even tenured professors fear other forms of retaliation. For example, the reduction of their salaries, something that later the (businessmen) authorities cannot explain without resorting to childish excuses based on some dominant dogma such as the Law of supply and demand... As if that law were not overloaded with politics.
In this subtle but very efficient way, we professors are also neutralized in our ethical commitment to the rest of society, with transformative knowledge, with the challenge of established norms, and with the fight for a better society and world.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jorge Majfud.