[Question] Have epistemic conditions always been this bad?

In the last few months, I’ve got­ten in­creas­ingly alarmed by leftist poli­tics in the US, and the epistemic con­di­tions that it op­er­ates un­der and is im­pos­ing wher­ever it gains power. (Quite pos­si­bly the con­di­tions are just as dire on the right, but they are not as visi­ble or salient to me, be­cause most of the places I can eas­ily see, ei­ther di­rectly or through news sto­ries, i.e., lo­cal poli­tics in my area, academia, jour­nal­ism, large cor­po­ra­tions, seem to have been taken over by the left.)

I’m wor­ried that my alarmism is it­self based on con­fir­ma­tion bias, trib­al­ism, catas­tro­phiz­ing, or any num­ber of other bi­ases. (It con­fuses me that I seem to be the first per­son to talk much about this on ei­ther LW or EA Fo­rum, given that there must be peo­ple who have been ex­posed to the cur­rent poli­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment ear­lier or to a greater ex­tent than me. On the other hand, all my posts/​com­ments on the sub­ject have gen­er­ally been up­voted on both fo­rums, and no­body has speci­fi­cally said that I’m be­ing too alarmist. One pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for no­body else rais­ing an alarm about this is that they’re afraid of the cur­rent poli­ti­cal cli­mate and they’re not as “can­cel-proof” as I am, or don’t feel that they have as much lee­way to talk about poli­tics-ad­ja­cent is­sues here as I do.)

So I want to ask, have things always been like this, or have they ac­tu­ally got­ten sig­nifi­cantly worse in re­cent (say the last 5 or 10) years? If they’ve always been like this, then per­haps there is less cause for alarm, be­cause (1) if things have always been this bad, and we mud­dled through them in the past, we can prob­a­bly con­tinue to mud­dle through in the fu­ture (mod­ulo new x-risks like AGI), and (2) if there is no re­cent trend to­wards wors­en­ing con­di­tions then we don’t need to worry so much about con­di­tions get­ting worse in the near fu­ture. (Ob­vi­ously if we go back far enough, say to the Mid­dle Ages, then things were al­most cer­tainly as bad or worse, but I’m wor­ried about more re­cent trends.)

If there are other rea­sons to not be very alarmed aside from the past be­ing just as bad, please feel free to talk about those as well. But in case one of those rea­sons is “why be alarmed when there’s lit­tle that can be done about it”, my an­swer is that be­ing alarmed mo­ti­vates one to try to un­der­stand what is go­ing on, which can help with (1) de­cid­ing per­sonal be­hav­ior now in ex­pec­ta­tion of fu­ture changes (for ex­am­ple if there’s go­ing to be a literal Cul­tural Revolu­tion in the fu­ture, then I need to be re­ally re­ally care­ful what I say to­day), (2) plan­ning x-risk strat­egy, and (3) defend­ing LW/​EA from ei­ther out­side at­tack or similar in­ter­nal dy­nam­ics.

Here’s some of what I’ve ob­served so far, which has led me to my cur­rent epistemic state:

In lo­cal poli­tics, “ask­ing for ev­i­dence of op­pres­sion is a form of op­pres­sion” or even more di­rectly “ques­tion­ing the ex­pe­riences of a marginal­ized group that you don’t be­long to is not al­lowed and will re­sult in a ban” has ap­par­ently been an im­plicit norm, and is be­ing made in­creas­ingly ex­plicit. (E.g., I saw a FB group ex­plic­itly cod­ify­ing this in their rules.) As a re­sult, any­one can say “Policy X or Pro­gram Y op­presses Group Z and must be changed” and no­body can ar­gue against that, ex­cept by mak­ing the same kind of claim based on a differ­ent iden­tity group, and then it comes down to which group is rec­og­nized as be­ing more priv­ileged or op­pressed by the cur­rent or­tho­doxy. (If some­one does be­long to Group Z and wants to ar­gue against the claim on that ba­sis, they’ll be dis­missed based on “be­ing to­k­enized” or “in­ter­nal­ized op­pres­sion”.)

In academia, even leftist pro­fes­sors are be­ing silenced or kicked out on a reg­u­lar ba­sis for speak­ing out against an ever-shift­ing “party line”. (“Party line” is in quotes be­cause it is ap­par­ently not de­ter­mined in a top-down fash­ion by peo­ple in charge of a poli­ti­cal party, but in­stead seems to arise from the bot­tom up, which is even scarier as no one can de­cide to turn this off, like the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party did to end the Cul­tural Revolu­tion af­ter Mao died.) See here for a pre­vi­ous com­ment on this with links. I don’t re­call read­ing this kind of sto­ries be­fore about 5 years ago.

The thing that most di­rectly prompted me to write this post was this (the most “recom­mended”) com­ment on a re­cent New York Times story about “can­cel cul­ture”:

Hav­ing just grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Min­nesota last year, a very liberal col­lege, I be­lieve these ex­am­ples don’t ad­e­quately show how far can­cel cul­ture has gone and what it truly is. The ex­am­ples used of dis­as­so­ci­at­ing from ob­vi­ous ho­mo­phobes, or more clas­sic bul­ly­ing that teenage girls have always done to each other since the dawn of time is not new and not re­ally can­cel cul­ture. The can­cel cul­ture that is truly new to my gen­er­a­tion is the full block­ing or shut­ting out of some­one who sim­ply has a differ­ent opinion than you. My ex­pe­rience in col­lege was it mor­phed into a cul­ture of fear for most. The fear of can­cel­la­tion or pun­ish­ment for voic­ing an opinion that the “group” dis­agreed with cre­ated a cul­ture where most of us sat silent. My cam­pus was not one of fruit­ful de­bate, but silent ad­her­ence to what­ever the most “woke” per­son in the class­room de­cided was the cor­rect thing to be­lieve or think. This is not how things worked in the past, peo­ple used to be able to dis­agree, de­bate and some­times feel offended be­cause we are all look­ing to get closer to the truth on what­ever topic it may be. Our prob­lem with can­cel cul­ture is it snuffs out any de­bate, there is no longer room for dis­sent or nu­ance, the group can de­cide that your opinion isn’t worth hear­ing and—poof you’ve been can­celed into oblivion. What­ever it’s worth I’d like to note I’m a liberal, voted for Obama and Hillary, those who par­ti­ci­pate in can­cel cul­ture aren’t liber­als to me, they’ve hi­jacked the name.

I went to the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton (cur­rently also quite liberal, see one of the above linked “pro­fes­sor” sto­ries which took place at UW) in the late 90s, and I don’t re­mem­ber things be­ing like this back then, but some of the replies to this com­ment say that things were this bad be­fore:

@Cal thought­ful com­ment, how­ever, i grew up in the late 60s-70s and what you de­scribed was go­ing on then also. the tech­nol­ogy of course is differ­ent to­day, and the is­sues differ­ent. we never had a name (“can­cel”) for it, but it ex­isted.

This sounds a lot like my col­lege ex­pe­rience in the late 80s and early 90s. I think when peo­ple get out into the “real world” and have to work with peo­ple of vary­ing ages and from vary­ing back­grounds, they re­al­ize they need to be more tol­er­ant to get by in the work­place. I re­mem­ber be­ing afraid to voice any opinion in liberal arts classes, for fear it would be the wrong one and in­ad­ver­tently offend some­one.

So LW, what to make of all this?