The article has been automatically translated into English by Google Translate from Russian and has not been edited.
Переклад цього матеріалу українською мовою з російської було автоматично здійснено сервісом Google Translate, без подальшого редагування тексту.
Bu məqalə Google Translate servisi vasitəsi ilə avtomatik olaraq rus dilindən azərbaycan dilinə tərcümə olunmuşdur. Bundan sonra mətn redaktə edilməmişdir.

In New York there is a secret club of 'thought criminals' who lost their reputation and career for careless statements.


Lyudmila Balabay

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Each month, over 200 journalists, scientists and intellectuals are invited to a private meeting in New York - the Thought Criminals Gathering. There are only two rules. First, the invitee must be prepared to communicate with people who have been socially ostracized (“abolished” in society) for voicing their opinions that differ from mainstream politics. Among the guests are well-known people who were fired or “verbally beaten” for incautious statements, and those who were not public figures, but lost friends, jobs or feel like an outsider in a society where excessive tolerance has become the norm.

The second rule of the meeting is that the guest must be liked by Pamela Pareschi, the organizer of the meeting. Pamela is a 56-year-old Chelsea psychologist who has spent her life among intellectuals in Illinois and Colorado. In early 2019, while Pareschi was in New York, a friend forwarded her a dinner invitation from journalist Bari Weiss. The invitation began with the words: "Dear thought-criminals." Pareschi loved it and adopted the idea of ​​such dinners during the pandemic. Now the meetings are held monthly, each gathering from 10 to 60 people. A journalist from the publication attended one of the meetings The New Yorker.

Hiding so as not to be "undone"

Pareski deliberately spent most of her life in the shadows. She fears that public attention could make her a target for those who don't like her ideas, and then she herself could become a victim of a "cancellation" culture.

On the left, fears of a "cancellation culture" are exaggerated, with some insisting that such a culture doesn't exist at all. But Pareski considers this phenomenon a real threat, and is trying to fight it.

Her writing, which is frequently published in Psychology Today, focuses on the social dynamics of ostracism. She was the lead researcher and editor of The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) by Greg Lukyanoff and Jonathan Haidt on safe spaces. As part of this project, Pareschi coined the term "security" to refer to a culture that prioritizes physical and emotional security over other practical and moral needs. For four years, she worked with Lukyanoff for the advocacy group Fire, which promotes free speech on college campuses.

Pareski emphasizes that none of the guests of her club is a real criminal, although "even criminals deserve to be loved by someone."

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Thought criminals are gathering all over New York. They sang at Marie's Crisis Cafe, a West Village piano bar frequented by gay men. They took a river cruise down the East River, which was paid for by a non-profit organization whose name Pareski does not want to advertise. One day, they find themselves in a mansion on the Upper West Side with a group of financiers and artists who also meet alone to discuss controversial topics. From time to time the party takes place in another state.

The group most often meets at the Olive Tree Cafe, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. This place is a hotspot for all sorts of dissidents in the city. Scandalous artists often perform there.

Very different guests

Many members do not want to advertise their participation in the club. Others, notably Michael Thad Allen and Samantha Harris, co-owners of a law firm who jokingly refer to themselves as "Lawyers for the Canceled," are more open.

One of the meeting guests is Joshua Katz, a former professor at Princeton University who wrote a controversial essay in 2020. In it, he called the anti-racist protest group the Black Justice League "a small local terrorist organization". In 2021, Katz and his wife Solveig Gold began traveling to New York to attend Pareska's meetings. In 2022, Katz was fired from Princeton after the university said the scientist, among other things, did not cooperate during an investigation into his alleged sexual relationship with a student in 2006 and 2007.

Some of Pareska's guests are old friends and former colleagues. For example, they met Sarah Rose Siskind at a party. In 2012, while Siskind was at Harvard, she wrote an article criticizing the affirmative action program. This program made it easier for African Americans to get into college. Siskind insisted that such programs lead to the fact that people who do not have a sufficient academic background are admitted to the college. After this article, her friends stopped talking to her, strangers criticized and called her names.

Now Siskind is 31 years old. She is a stand-up comedian and owner of a science-based communications business. But she says the experience at Harvard had a profound effect on her: "I fucking hated myself." It took her many years of therapy and medication to accept herself.

Siskind has been attending Pareska meetings for several years now, usually once every two months. She is very concerned about how society perceives calls for discussions on difficult topics. She mostly likes the people she meets at thought-criminal meetings, but many of them suffer because of what they've been through when they just had the courage to say what they think.

Among the guests is Tyler Fisher, an actor and comedian who makes parody videos, including ones that make fun of Dylan Mulvaney, the social media star, who talks about the process of gender reassignment. Of course, jokes about the topic of gender reassignment caused a lot of criticism. But Fischer admitted that the criticism only increased his desire to joke about sensitive topics. This eventually led to "a cornered rat feeling when I end up saying things I never would have said."

Also in the cafe is Kim Jones, the mother of the Yale swimmer who lost to transgender athlete Leah Thomas last year. Jones founded the organization ICONS (Independent Council on Women's Sports). She advocates for the principle that transgender women should not be allowed to compete in women's sports.

Jones does not consider herself "cancelled", she is sure that "99% of people agree with almost everything I say." But Pareschi retorts: "How many of them are willing to openly declare this?", and Jones agrees that not much.

Selection to the club of “thought-criminals”

Pareski noted that, say, Harvey Weinstein would not be welcome at her meetings, but there are no clear selection parameters. The decision to invite someone to the meeting is made by her, the other guests do not dispute this invitation. Therefore, sometimes people with an extremely dubious reputation appear in the club.

At the start of the pandemic, writer Stephen Elliot invited Pareschi to a Zoom dance party. She ended up inviting him to a meeting of thought-criminals.

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Elliott is the founder of the influential literary website The Rumpus. He was included in a list of "shitty media men" circulated to women in the industry in 2017. The list was a spreadsheet of women making anonymous allegations against the men they worked with. On this list, Elliott was accused of rape. He later sued the table's creator, Moira Donegan, for defamation, drawing condemnation from his publisher, Graywolf Press, as well as friends and colleagues. Donegan agreed to settle the lawsuit, and Elliot received compensation.

But there were also public allegations against Elliott. Writer Claire Way Watkins said that Eliot once visited her and insisted on sleeping in her bed. Marisa Siegel, who worked for Elliot at The Rumpus, said that one night he showed up unexpectedly in her hotel room and didn't leave even though she asked him to. The writer denies this and writes it off as a misunderstanding.

A torrent of accusations ended Elliot's literary career, but led him to the mind-criminals, although not everyone in this club likes him.

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