• After my rant last week versus CBC Radio and their use of an unreliable moral compass, the broadcaster has been kind enough to immediately vindicate my accusation. In particular, CBC Radio Vancouver’s The Early Edition—which brands itself a champion of anti-racism—cheerfully interviewed an alleged anti-racist, Masuma Khan, who had helped herself to a race-based criticism of white people, and now defended herself by claiming that it is impossible for someone of colour in Canada to be racist against white people.

    Now, it may seem that I am enjoying a bounty of low-hanging fruit by taking on such a silly notion that only certain races can be racist. However, I have accepted the challenge because this “can’t be racist” argument is catching on with certain “progressive” groups who enjoy essentializing race. More importantly, I notice that our hoped-for-defenders in the mainstream media rarely point out the obvious troubles with defining racism by race. As ever, I find this lack of critical response to be worrying: without interrogation, bad ideas surely have a better chance of flourishing.

    And so my fingers ranted out an email to CBC Radio’s Early Edition criticizing both Ms. Khan for crimes against the dictionary, and her interviewer, Rick Cluff, for not raising a single eyebrow of skepticism towards her creative vocabulary.

    As usual, I have not received a response from CBC Radio to my criticism, so I publish it here.


    Dear Rick Cluff:

    On November 28th you interviewed University of Dalhousie Student Union executive member Masuma Khan who had been accused by her university of racism after she had publicly used the term “white fragility.” She defended herself in your discussion by arguing that:

    (1) She cannot have been racist, because “We know… racism [against white people] doesn’t exist in a North American context.”

    (2) The criticism she received demonstrates a double standard against her because of her race: “freedom of speech,” she said, “has been all too selective, and… freedom of speech really only counts for those who are privileged.” And:

    (3) Since her “fragile” commentary, she was threatened on social media, and this proved the very insult that started the controversy. “White folks…” she explained, “they just showed how fragile they were with the way that they responded to my message.”

    I understand that your interview style is to be polite to your guests and rarely to challenge them, and I appreciate that easy-going presentation. However, I think that, as a publicly funded broadcaster, you have a duty to ask a skeptical question or two of someone who advocates race-based criticism, and yet denies not only that she participated in racism, but also that she could ever be a racist because her race makes it impossible.

    Those are some extraordinarily claims that should not be taken on faith. So, for the record, I would like to provide a few counterarguments to Ms. Khan’s.

    (1A) The stated notion that it’s impossible to be racist against white people [in North America].

    In the week before this friendly interview, you spoke with a farmer who said that he and his cohort were having trouble with thieves who, he surmised, probably think it’s no big deal to steal from a big farm. And you replied, “But theft is theft.”

    Theft—the taking of something [without permission] that is not lawfully your own—is indeed theft. That is the fact of the word. Of course, such thieves might argue that stealing from a farmer, or better yet, from a big corporation, is not as bad a type of theft as, say, helping oneself to the wares of a small convenience store. Indeed, in spite of repeating your aphorism, “But theft is theft” several times, you asked the farmer if he thought perhaps some of the thieves took from his bounty because they “needed to.” So you were making a distinction regarding the level of moral failing based on the possible poverty of the thieves. Yet, you did not relent from your insistence that theft is theft. And I submit that, in spite our society’s celebration of mythical figures like Robin Hood who steal from the rich to give to the poor, most of us, like you, are unwavering in our insistence that we call a thief a thief. This I believe is because we realize that if we start claiming that stealing is only stealing if it’s particularly harmful then we will find ourselves at the top of a slippery slope that may send us into moral and legal (not to mention linguistic) chaos.

    By that same instinct, I am bewildered by your unwillingness to gently question the equally untenable notion that certain races cannot be racist towards others. Racism is racism. Ms. Khan criticized a group of people on the basis of the colour of their skin and so, I’m afraid, the racism app has, by definition, been activated.

    Now, as with ranking the wrongfulness of different types of theft, Ms. Khan is welcome, if she likes, to argue that racism against a “historically privileged” race is not as harmful a brand of racism as that which insults a race whose member faces do not tend to decorate our money. But that cannot negate the fact that demeaning a particular group of people on the basis of their race is racism. To argue otherwise—without any hint of push back from an interviewer from Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster—is to bring us closer to Orwell’s warnings against doublespeak, where “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and now “racism is anti-racism.”

    (1B) The implied notion that it’s not a moral flaw to be racist against white people.

    Ms. Khan is attempting to ridicule her cake and eat it, too. She wants to criticize a particular race of people without having to wear that annoying label of being a race-based critic. It is an intellectual cheat that we would not allow in any other context:

    “Hey, you just punched me in the face.”

    “No, I didn’t. I’m smaller than you, so we know for a fact that it is impossible for me to punch you in the face.”

    I refuse to give up my dictionary so easily, and instead I would like to respond to the claim Ms. Khan is trying to hide within her doublespeak: that racism against white people isn’t so bad because, after all, white people are privileged, so they can surely handle the occasional slur and still have plenty of advantages left over.

    I cannot deny that modern anti-white racism in Canada is currently insignificant when compared to, say, Jim Crow segregation laws formerly in place in the United States. Yet, if we allow racism against white people to go not only unchecked, but unacknowledged, we are playing with a flammable agent. We already live in a world where the NDP who lead British Columbia and the “Liberals” who lead Canada discriminate against white candidates for office. You’re of course welcome to defend racial quotas based on what I assume is your moral position that governments should look like their citizens, but the problem is you didn’t need to make any argument to defend those racially discriminatory practices. The Canadian media has asked almost no critical questions about this renunciation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” of “a nation where his children would “not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

    It is not my contention that white people experience more racism in Canada today than other races do, but I am noting that racism against white people is not only mainstream (“Oscars so white”), it is systemic (“Preference given to candidates of colour”), and vicious: we often hear comedians and pundits merrily dismiss many important (and diverse) thinkers because they are “Dead white men,” or if such men are inconsiderate enough to still be alive, “Old white men.” Such essentializing is a powerful manoeuvre in the game of racism, as it reduces complex beings to a single supposed flaw (in this case, that white minds are antiquated). Such demonization of a particular race keeps our compassion for its members at bay, and allows us to expand our dislike for the lot of them without the discomfort of guilt.

    (2) The notion that Ms. Kahn experienced a racial double standard against her freedom of speech.

    Despite my contempt for Ms. Khan’s race-based arguments, I support her calling upon her right of free speech to defend herself against her university’s attempt to discipline her. Unless Ms. Khan was bullying individual students in her charge and/or discriminating against them in action (i.e. excluding them from participation in events), elected university student leaders should be free to express whatever opinions their electorate will tolerate. And the university’s attempt to quash her for expressing morally suspect notions is worrying: if universities are not a place where ideas can be freely expressed, where can such open dialogue occur?

    But, while I defend Ms. Khan’s right to free speech, her claim that she was treated worse by her school because she is not white baffles incredulity. I was, I admit, surprised to see a Canadian university (usually a stronghold of “progressive” politics) hold to their misguided “hate speech” restrictions even though it was against a person of colour. But they still eventually dropped their claim. Mr. Cluff, can you really, within the deepest honesty of your heart, believe that if a white Student Union executive member had uttered a race-generalizing remark towards people of colour that he or she would have made it to the end of their sentence without being removed from office?

    If you’re struggling to accept the obvious answer, please ask yourself this: if you were to describe people of colour with any negative word on CBC airwaves, do you think—in today’s climate where just criticizing the racially “progressive” notion of “cultural appropriation” is taboo on CBC—you would have a job the next day?

    In contrast, you gave a sympathetic interview on Canada’s public broadcaster to a woman who openly uses the phrase “White Fragility,” and, correct me if I’m wrong, but your livelihood remains intact. This isn’t to say that I think you should lose your job for being nice to Ms. Khan, but I do contend that Ms. Khan’s claim of a mainstream double standard against her brand of racism is self-evidently false.

    (3) The notion that threats by individual white people says something about white people in general.

    I am sorry Ms. Khan received threats: she did not deserve them.

    Violent threats against anyone for their choice of language is, of course, morally disastrous. However, if you speak with Ms. Khan again, could you please let her know that receiving threats is not uncommon for people who are publicly controversial (it happens, I’m afraid, to people from every corner of the political rainbow). Nevertheless, such violent language against Ms. Khan no more redeems her racism than white nationalist Richard Spencer was redeemed by the so-called anti-Nazi who punched him the face.

    The good news is most people do not threaten those with whom they disagree; unfortunately, it only takes a small percentage of citizens to use violent language to make one feel as though we live in a violent society. But I hope Ms. Khan can take some comfort in knowing that most Canadians—even those who don’t like her choice of language—do not approve of the violent rhetoric she received.

    Regardless, Ms. Khan’s contention that those threats “from white people” prove the very fragility she was accusing white people of, is more racism. She is generalizing from the bad acts of individuals to accuse the racial group to which they (allegedly) belong. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you surely would have condemned such generalizing bigotry if it were aimed at people of colour, so the fact that you did not question Ms. Khan’s anti-white generalizing once again disproves her argument that there is a double standard in Canada against her version of racism.

    My hope here is not to persuade you to blacklist the Masuma Khans of our society. I think the public discourse would benefit from CBC Radio talking to more people with controversial opinions. And I’m not suggesting that you change your style to a more combative one that argues with your guests; however, I do contend that, as a publicly funded broadcaster, you ought to at least put forward these most basic of counter arguments when you’re speaking with those who are attempting to renovate not only our moral compasses but also our dictionaries.

    Sincerely,

    Seth McDonough


    SETHBLOGS NOTE: If you’re interested in reviewing the source material for this essay, I have set up my transcription of Mr. Cluff’s interview with Ms. Khan as the first comment on this post. You can currently also listen to the interview on The Early Edition‘s Archives starting at 2:20:49 on November 28th.

  • SETHICS 13.11.2017 3 Comments

    In my cranky opinion, our friends at CBC Radio are unprincipled. They will, that is, trade their favourite principles for their antitheses any time political correctness is in need.

    For instance, CBC Radio is assertively opposed to drug addiction stigma. This is demonstrated by their many gentle interviews with advocates who inform us that drug addiction is a disease and never the responsibility of the addict. CBC Radio makes an instant moral switcheroo on this position, though, the moment the addict is a public figure (especially, it seems, if they’re a rich, white male), such as, say, the former mayor of Toronto.

    Now, I don’t mean to suggest that one principle must always fit all situations: distinctions between cases and/or moral hierarchies can leave us with alternate answers in different scenarios.

    For instance, maybe the reason CBC Radio is pro stigmatization of celebrity drug addicts is not because CBC Radio is bigoted against rich white males, but instead because they believe we cannot afford a buzzed driver at the wheel of major affairs.

    My criticism of CBC Radio, though, is that, when they trade principles, they never seem to point out a nuanced distinction that justifies the alteration. Instead, like a flipped switch, they go from all in to all out the moment a principle yields a politically incorrect result.

    I’ll provide three examples to justify this accusation.

    1. FEAR

    Two of the guiding moral positions of CBC Radio are that when there is an Islamic terrorist attack (A) we must not give into fear, and (B) we must be careful of blaming all Muslims for the cruel actions of a few.

    To my mind, both are understandable values. If we allow fear to rule our attitudes and public policy, we may diminish some of the great achievements of our free society.

    Nevertheless, I also empathize with fear-based policy because I do believe there is something significant to fear here. And the value of better protecting ourselves from terrorism (whether that’s giving in to fear or not) is at least worth considering. Ultimately, all safety measures are fear-inspired, so the question is not whether we yield at all to what scares us, but instead how much we weigh and protect our individual rights along the way.

    That does not mean that I dispute being wary of letting fear take us into an Orwellian apocalypse. However, my objection to CBC Radio is that they do not consider these moral questions from the principled position that they claim for themselves (always weighing rights over fear). Instead, they value human rights and freedoms when they align with PC tastes, and they ignore them when they don’t. Consider when a mass killing is committed not by an Islamic terrorist, but by a Westerner. Suddenly, far from cautioning us against letting fear intervene upon our freedoms, CBC Radio is open to discussing not only how we can change laws to protect us, but also the flaws in our culture that may have provoked the violence.

    Indeed, if there is a murderous attack on a mosque by a Westerner, CBC Radio will convene a panel on Western Islamophobia (after all, we Westerners are complicit in provoking an individual zealot to act). In contrast, if there is an Islamic terrorist attack on Westerners, CBC Radio will also convene a panel on Islamophobia (after all, we must remind ourselves that most Muslims are peace-loving).

    I don’t object to either sentiment in principle. Checking our culture for bigotry is worthwhile. And reminding ourselves that not all members of a group are guilty of the worst acts of individuals is also worth doing to reduce the above bigotry. But why does CBC Radio always seems to treat Western culture as guilty of the crimes of its worst citizens, and Islamic culture as separate from its members’ worst actions? Is there not some nuance available in both cases?

    As ever, there may be legitimate distinctions between the types of fear CBC Radio does and does not approve for motivating public policy. However, once again CBC Radio never dwells on such intricacies. Instead, they take their seemingly fundamental principle of “not letting fear influence us because we can’t let the bad guys win” and they turn it off any time that fear is oriented in a politically correct direction.

    2. DUE PROCESS

    CBC Radio shares a hotel room with the progressively correct movement “Black Lives Matter” (or BLM), which contends that the United States (and BLM Toronto and BLM Vancouver claim Canada as well) has a significant police racism problem against black citizens.

    I don’t know if BLM is right or not. Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer offers us research which shows that black people are more likely per interaction to be handled aggressively by police, but also that white people are actually more likely per previously non-violent encounter to be shot. Neither of these points proves BLM right or wrong just yet, but they do indicate to me that this is a complicated issue worthy of further study.  And, if CBC Radio had any true principle, they would look into BLM’s claims with an open, but skeptical mind. But for CBC Radio, any questioning of a claim of racism is racist, itself. Consequently, whenever CBC Radio interviews a pundit who supports BLM, they treat the commentator as a prophet for due process and anti-racism whom they shall not trouble with critical questions.

    However, amazingly CBC Radio once again drops the principles of due process and anti-racism in cases where the accused is not of progressive concern. For instance, if a white police officer is accused of mistreating a black suspect, CBC Radio treats the police officer as guilty, by definition. And, if the alleged victim of a crime is female, CBC Radio substitutes the principle of due process for the progressive notion to automatically “Believe Women.” This faith-based system of justice allowed CBC Radio and other morally vacant media outlets to shame Toronto police and prosecutors into charging Jian Ghomeshi of crimes for which there was neither physical nor circumstantial evidence.

    CBC Radio’s anti-due process sentiment is especially evident in sports where the broadcaster has signed onto the baffling argument that athletes accused of crimes should be suspended by their teams without proof of guilt. (As I wrote in THE SEPERATION OF WORK AND STATE, I’m opposed to athletes being suspended even if they are found guilty of crimes, but I’ll settle for a moratorium on suspending employees on accusation alone.) In fact, the NFL has suspended several black athletes accused of violence against women in the last couple of years. But strangely neither BLM nor CBC Radio has raised a finger of concern.

    3. FREEDOM OF SPEECH

    In the last year, several black NFL players endorsed BLM by kneeling during the American anthem before games. Ever shy, US boss Donald Trump then criticized those athletes, stating that it would be grand if NFL owners would fire them for their anthem antics.

    Consequently, numerous NFL players and many pundits argued that the president was threatening the players’ freedom of speech. I’m not sure if Trump’s customarily brash argument was technically suggesting a limitation on freedom of speech. When one is at work, one is not necessarily free to express anything one likes in the same way that one is when off duty. Nevertheless, as a free speech fan—who has become worried lately about this vital resource—I was pleased to hear free expression discussed and defended in the media, including on CBC Radio.

    Nevertheless, I once again noticed that CBC Radio only seems willing to positively discuss free expression when the speaker in question is supporting an ideal that CBC Radio already favours. Far from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s ideal, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” CBC Radio apparently prefers to think of free speech as a conditional. If a citizen says something CBC Radio deems worthy, the speaker can have all the speech they like; but, if the speaker crosses CBC Radio’s righteous opinion, then he or she must accept the suppressing consequences.

    For instance, a few months before Trump ascended to his thrown, Canadian singer Remigio Pereira, a member of the group The Tenors, added the phrase “All Lives Matter” to a pre-game anthem performance in the US. This was clearly intended to contrast the “Black Lives Matter” argument. While I didn’t object to Pereira’s dissent, I also had no quibble with his bandmates firing him for making such a controversial statement during a performance without their consent. They were hired to sing the national anthem, not to make a political argument while on the job.

    But I notice that CBC Radio—who currently claims that it is paramount to allow pro-BLM athletes (and now pro-BLM anthem singers) the right of free expression even when they’re at work—felt no inclination to defend the opera singer’s right to sing his mind. Quite the opposite: they cheered on his fall from the podium as the karma-inflicted consequence of his “racist” utterance.

    As with all of my examples, I’m happy to hear arguments that suggest a distinguishing factor between these cases. But I am ever dismayed by CBC Radio’s apparent lack of awareness of these seeming contradictions.

    I recognize that CBC Radio has gone too far down the rabid hole to be neutral on these issues, but, if they would consider acknowledging a smidge of complexity when commenting on ethical quandaries, maybe they could find a way to bring some enlightenment to the moral questions of our time. And that’s a principle that even CBC Radio could stand behind.

  • Welcome to The Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs! Confused? Click here for The Anti-Misandry Blog Introduction. Intrigued/enraged? Click on the “Anti-Misandry” link in the CATEGORY section to the right of this post for further episodes.

    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE XV

    I watched Wonder Woman last week, and I’m pleased to admit that I enjoyed it. The film featured plenty of humour (albeit standard, fish-out-of-water comedy, as in Wonder Woman being awestruck by her first encounter with ice cream), back story (which is my favourite kind of super hero story), 3-Dimensional characters (although, I saw the movie in 2D), and an unusually clear rendering of action (in fact, Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazonians had an inventive fighting style that was entertaining to my non-video-gamed eye).

    Most impressive of all, the movie was not overrun by an infestation of “Girl Power.” This may sound like a contradiction since Wonder Woman is a girl with lots of power. However, by “Girl Power,” I mean the “Because I’m a girl” attitude that is exhibited increasingly often in movies (and advertising) these days where a person of female persuasion is treated as extra powerful by the very definition of her being a girl, as opposed to her particular circumstance and character having led her to that powerful place. In the case of Wonder Woman, her position of power is not parachuted in by her gender, but instead is explained by her supernatural back story and training.

    And, while the film occasionally panders to its feminist godmothers (comparing a 1910’s female secretary to a slave), it is not as blatant in that gendered agenda (“agender,” if you will?) that so many rival mega action franchises are today. Consequently, I found it to be relatively refreshing.

    Nevertheless, the media portrayal of this movie has been much more Girl-Powered than the movie, itself. For instance, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin Texas decided to have a women-and-girls only showing of the film on opening night (and women-only staff of it), and when a few equal-gender-defenders criticized the policy, they were dismissed by many mainstream pundits as sexist simpletons.

    I believe the following soliloquy from a Mashable.com commentator fairly sums up the pro-women-only argument:

    “Sounds like a good idea, right? Women getting together to celebrate a strong, empowered, three-dimensional female superhero on the big screen. Of course. It makes perfect sense. But, as we all know, we can’t have nice things… The Drafthouse received hundreds of comments from angry men who felt ‘excluded’ from the event… Of course there were also many people who loved the idea who understand that this film is a celebration of women finally being included in the world of superheroes and finally being represented on the big screen. Let’s hope these dudes can get themselves together…”

    I’m happy to hear arguments in favour of the discriminatory screening, but it is daunting to listen to such smug commentary, which seems to imply this controversy is merely about whether countering perceived injustice is worthy or not. Such “of course it makes sense” pundits are either unwilling or unable to consider the possibility that direct discrimination based on sex, no matter how noble it may be in intention and platitude, is an ethically dicey enterprise.

    It’s not obvious to me whether men or women on average deal with more real-world discrimination in the West today, but it is indisputable that men are the only sex that is currently the victim of open discrimination for which there is no recourse. I recently attended a BC Human Rights workshop in which I learned that it is illegal to discriminate in the workplace against a person on the basis of sex (and other irrelevant traits), unless of course you’re working on a special project to uplift a group that is historically disadvantaged. And, since we all know that the official gender policy of our society is that it is only women who have ever been disadvantaged (forget about wars, coal mines, and parental custody disputes), that means you can discriminate against men so long as you provide clear evidence that you stated that you were empowering women in the process.

    Political parties are doing it, too. From Justin Trudeau’s quota-based promoting of women to cabinet positions “Because it’s 2015,” to the BC NDP limiting the number of men allowed to run for office, it is clear that our society not only wants to ensure equal access to powerful positions, but also to discriminate against men along the way. The defenders of such policies, as well as those defending the Women-Only screening, seem unable to consider the possibility that a principle of discrimination might be dangerous even it is supported by a pleasing symbolic message.

    Indeed, my neck hurt from shaking my head as the hosts on a local Vancouver radio show, “Steele and Drex,” could apparently not comprehend why anyone would have any issue with a fun opportunity for women and girls to celebrate their potential.

    Thus, I penned the following letter to those local pundits, but as ever, I did not get a reply, so I am posting it here. Some might see my argument as melodramatic and overstating the impact of a tiny incident, especially as I ponder a hypothetical autistic man who might’ve been excluded from the theatre. However, as our modern, anti-“privilege” discrimination unveils new examples each day, I think it’s vital that we at least consider the possibility that by leaving people out because of their sex, race, or sexuality (even if they are of the demographic that is presumed to be advantaged), we are playing with ethical fire. Despite our best intentions, when you tell any person that they are less worthy because of what they are, instead of who they are (to paraphrase Youtube star, Sargon of Akkad), we are setting a worrisome precedent.

    As it is, not only do our mainstream pundits not consider the downsides of “affirmative” discrimination, but also, when they do learn of dissenters, they accuse such skeptics of being cranially-challenged bigots. So the counter conversation is not just ignored, it is ostracized. Perhaps I’m wrong in my assessment that the current level of popular discrimination is dangerous, but if we do not openly discuss this delicate subject now, how will we know when such exclusion has gone too far?

    And, with that, I give you me in epistolary form:

    Some friendly wonderings about the Wonder Woman Policy:

    Dear [guest host] Jody [Vance] and Drex:

    I wonder if you would consider a friendly counter argument to your analysis yesterday regarding the appropriateness of having a women-only screening of Wonder Woman (hereafter the “The Wonder Policy”).

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you both seem to be arguing that a business restricting its audience to women for one occasion is benign, and just a fun thing to do given the circumstance of the movie being about a female superhero.

    Personally, I dislike the Wonder policy on principle, not because I’m opposed to fun and creative ways to take in movies, but because I’m opposed to discrimination based on sex (even if that sex is male). I suspect that most defenders of the Wonder policy would be less willing to support a men-only screening of Superman, and the distinction they would likely make would be that it’s okay to discriminate against men in this way because they are the historically privileged group.

    For the record, I do not think that assumed truth is as clear cut as we’re told; it seems to me that both men and women have been discriminated against in multiple different ways for a long time. For instance, women got the vote later than men, but it is only men who were drafted into wars.

    Nevertheless, even if it were clear that women have been significantly more oppressed than men throughout history, are you so sure that is still the case today? There are many categories today in which men are more often doing worse in North America than women (for instances, homelessness, workplace death, suicide). That does not necessarily mean those men are oppressed, but it does mean that the question of “male privilege” is more complicated than most gender scholars will allow, especially given how many more resources, advocacy groups, and scholarships are currently focussed first on women.

    But, even if I were to stipulate that in North America today, men are privileged, I still find the women-only movie viewing to be ethically suspect. The Wonder Policy is not just saying, “Yay, girls!” It is implying that the experience of seeing Wonder Women for the first time would be losing something if the boys were there, too. Every time you say, “X People Only,” you are saying, “Y People are NOT welcome.” And, while it may seem fun and benign in the moment because we generally don’t think of men as victims of discrimination, if you look for it, you can see male-excluding language and sentiment has become ubiquitous today in politics, advocacy, academia, and even the media (examples available upon request). The Wonder Policy is just one more pronouncement that it’s okay to discriminate against men because, well, there’s something different about them that makes it okay to exclude them.

    Maybe there’s an autistic man who’s loved Wonder Woman since he was a kid, and wants to attend the movie on opening night with his best friend in the town where the Wonder Policy is in place, but he’s going to be turned away, because he has the incorrect gender for that viewing. Are you sure such a scenario doesn’t make you question for a tiny moment whether the Wonder Policy is morally correct?

    I don’t anticipate that I have convinced you, and that’s fine if we have differing moral codes on what constitutes unethical discrimination. But I wonder if you would be willing to consider the possibility that, just because someone has an ethical objection to the Wonder Policy, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a sexist. Maybe some of us, on principle, think the policy is sexist, and would equally object to a hypothetical Superman Policy.

    Yours in Wonder,
    Seth

  • My adversary today is what I’ll refer to as PC-shame culture.

    If you are an advocate of political correctness, fear not, I come not for your hopes for a kinder society. Admittedly, I am a critic of political correctness because I believe it stunts conversations, disallows nuance, and causes “ism”-fearing people to agree to policies they would otherwise argue against. Nevertheless, I believe that many advocates of political correctness make their case not because they want to hinder dialogue, but because they hope to promote a voluntary, respectful standard in that conversation. And that’s certainly a value that I support, even if I don’t think PC culture gets it right every time.

    My argument today, then, is not with political correctness, or at least the goal of kinder conversation, but with its leading enforcement mechanism, that of PC-shame culture, which demonizes those who don’t follow its edicts. This shame culture is especially powerful because our usual watchdogs in academia and the mainstream media—clearly afraid to be shamed, themselves—rarely investigate PC shaming attempts with the depth they would a less dangerous topic.

    I believe that shame culture instigators can be produced by any ideology (including my own favourite values). However, given that identity-based political correctness is currently the point of view with the most ability to shame (since almost no one wants to be seen as a bigot), it is PC shame culture that I am focussing on.

    I see seven leading ways in which PC shame culture is dangerous to our society’s health.

    1. CONTEXT ELIMINATION

    Those in the forefront of PC-shaming are not big fans of context. Recently, Evergreen State biology professor Bret Weinstein criticized supposed anti-racism activists for the 2017 version of their “Day of Absence.” Dr. Weinstein says he had always supported their annual protest, in which students and teachers of colour continued a 1970s-initiated tradition of taking a day away from the campus to highlight issues of race. However, in this particular case, he argued that the updated Day of Action policy was racist because it called for white students, in particular, to absent themselves from campus to make room for the activism.

    Weinstein has been charged with racism by the activists, who gathered outside the professor’s in-progress classroom on the day of action, and called for him to resign for his “racist” comments. Yet, if one allows oneself a few moments to check for context, and reads Weinstein’s offending letter, there is nary an iota of racism, just a criticism of one of the methods utilized by the group claiming to represent anti-racism.

    As I’ve argued before, criticizing a person or group, who purport to be the official champions of anti-bigotry, is not the same as supporting bigotry, itself. But, for PC shame culture, the context and details within criticism is irrelevant. You are either with us, or you’re a bigot.

    2. POISONING THE EXISTENCE

    Once again, I ask you to consider the case of Nobel Prize recipient, Dr. Tim Hunt, who, during a speech in which he was promoting women in science, made a joke about women in science.

    A feminist in the room twittered the joke to her followers, and the shame culture brigade soon had him fired from all of his scientific positions. Far from intervening on rude and/or even bigoted language by criticizing it, PC shame culture dismisses the offending speaker’s entire existence as broken. Even if Dr. Hunt’s joke was intended to sincerely belittle women scientists, it is dangerously disproportionate that one flawed remark overruled Dr. Hunt’s career contribution to cancer research.

    3. HIGH ACHIEVERS MAY SOMETIMES HAVE QUIRKS

    Unfortunately, the best and the brightest are not always the most socially adept. Consider Dr. Matt Taylor who led a team of scientists to land a spacecraft on a comet. During the press conference, he wore a shirt decorated with skimpily dressed cartoon women.

    The shame culture response to this shirt, led by TheVerge.com’s, “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing,” resulted in Dr. Taylor having a second press conference in which he tearfully apologized for “[making] a big mistake.”

    Again, whether or not one thinks Taylor’s shirt was sexist and/or inappropriate, PC Shame Culture’s dichotomy is scary: you either perfectly align with PC values in everything you say and wear, or you are unfit for participation in public life.

    4. PRIVACY IS ONLY FOR THE MORALLY VIRTUOUS

    PC-shamers do not limit themselves to that which is said in public. Recall NBA owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded by his girlfriend stating a racist opinion during a private conversation. He was subsequently removed by the NBA as an owner after his former paramour published the results.

    I don’t doubt that Silver is a morally questionable guy, and if there’s good evidence his racist heart has shown itself in his NBA dealings, then by all means the NBA should have kicked him out. However, as it was, Silver was dismissed for his private contemplations.

    If that doesn’t make you check on George Orwell’s grave to see if he’s rolled over, think of the most politically incorrect thing you ever said in private to someone close to you, and imagine that utterance was recorded and played in your future job interviews.

    5. ALL YOU HAVE TO BE IS PERFECT FROM BIRTH

    (A) In the last Canadian federal election, two political candidates were dropped for comments they had made online in their young adulthood. I don’t object to scrutinizing people for words they freely expressed in public even if they were naïve at the time. But there seems to be no room for personal development in this politically corrected society.

    Instead of, “Hey, I see you said this controversial thing before you were politically active. Do you still support it? If so, why? If not, what changed your mind?”, we go with, “Hey, I see you previously said this controversial thing. You’re off the team.”

    (B) Along with disallowing young adults to make stupid mistakes (in a social media world where one’s mistakes are increasingly public), such a policy also limits good faith public introspection. That, is if one questions or criticizes values they’ll later adopt, their career is over before they get a chance to have their epiphany. This means that all members of the public discourse must arrive on the public scene with all of their views in perfect condition. That’s going to cost us otherwise valuable contributors, particularly those with the ability to think outside the soap box.

    6. THE END OF NUANCE

    Notice that, as the PC Shame Squad becomes more powerful, their restrictions are growing more general. It’s not just directly bigoted comments that cause one to be exiled, it’s also any statements that do not conform to politically correct conclusions.

    Recall General Lawson, who had the “wrong” opinion regarding the genesis of sexual harassment in the military because he suggested such faulty characters were formed by nature and not nurture. This was found to be “unacceptable,” not because Lawson was making a nihilistic claim that sexual harassment wasn’t bad, but because he wasn’t falling in line with feminist theory that nurture (by which they mean our allegedly patriarchal society) is always to blame. Even if Lawson was himself oversimplifying his argument, there was no evidence that he was using his perspective as a basis for not taking sexual harassment seriously.

    So, instead of provoking a useful discussion calling upon experts to weigh in on the balance of nature vs nurture, no further contemplation was necessary: Lawson was a transgressor and nothing less than his unconditional apology would suffice.

    7. SELF CENSORSHIP

    The more we don’t allow people to ponder out of bounds, and consider the intricacies of settled moral questions, the more we risk ignoring legitimate trouble spots in our best intentions.

    For instance, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a quota system to select his cabinet in 2015 (consequently elevating 1 out of 3 female MPs compared to 1 out of 9 male MPs), the only question I heard the media ask him was the soft-as-pudding query, Why did he think a gender balanced cabinet was important? His home run response was, “Because it’s 2015.”

    Even if one believes in quotas, surely we can acknowledge that discriminating against/in favour of people on the basis of race, sex, and other immutable traits is serious business deserving of some critical questions from our vital protectors in the media. A simple, “What evidence do you have that women et al are discriminated against in Canadian politics today?” would have been a decent start.

    I am sure there are good people who support quotas. However, if we are to hold onto our claim of being an enlightened society, we must allow the discussion of such weighty issues to take place without demonizing those with the opposing, politically incorrect opinions as unfit to take part in the conversation.

    HIS BITE IS NOT AS BAD AS HIS BARKLEY

    When I was a youngling, superstar basketballer Charles Barkley was quoted as saying, “That’s why I hate white people.” I recall that I wanted to exile “Sir Charles” as a racist, partly because I thought he should be treated to the same condemnation as a racist white public figure would have been. Yet, after receiving a few “Tsk, Tsk”s from the media, Barkley was left alone. And so, irritated by the double standard, I often noted in my conversations that he ought to be demonized.

    However, when Barkley retired and became a broadcaster, I noticed that—in spite of my shaming bias—he was a rather likable fellow, and never again showed any evidence of racism. So I’ve come to appreciate Charles Barkley, and am glad he wasn’t cut from the conversation per my hopes at the time of his indiscretion. I suspect now that there was context to Barkley’s racist remark that would make it less despicable. But, even if there wasn’t, I’m glad that his entire existence was not measured by that one utterance.

    THE HIGHER ACHIEVING YOU ARE, THE HARDER YOU FALL

    Humans, including the best and the brightest, are fallible. So, when public figures say things that we find objectionable, I suggest that—instead of destroying them—we simply criticize their words and arguments, and allow them to live to reconsider their ideas (or even provoke us to reconsider ours).

    If kindness is at the heart of political correctness, then I appreciate it for that worthy motivation. But PC shame culture—like McCarthyism before it—requires us to sacrifice all that enlightens our society to enforce it. And that’s a shame.

  • Welcome to The Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs! Confused? Click here for The Anti-Misandry Blog Introduction. Intrigued/enraged? Click on the “Anti-Misandry” link in the CATEGORY section to the right of this post for further episodes.

    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE V

    A CASE STUDY: HEADS YOU’RE SEXIST; TAILS I’M NOT SEXIST

    Last month I heard on my local Vancouver radio a discussion about allegedly low male parenting expectations wherein we celebrate dads for standard parenting behavior. While it was a gentle and playful prodding at men, it was ultimately still a criticism of men for having it so easy.

    It struck me as a poignant example of our society’s double standard in the way we interpret double standards (which I first pointed out in THE DOUBLE STANDARD OF DOUBLE STANDARDS). In most mainstream conversation, when there is a perception that we expect less of women, that’s called sexism against women; meanwhile, as in this case, when there is a perception that expect less of men, that’s also described as sexism against women.

    Thus I keyboarded the following letter to the lead host of the show. I did not receive a reply, so I publish it here now. I’m not identifying the hosts (one male and one female) of the broadcast because I do not want to make it seem like I think those two people, in particular, have ill-will towards men. Instead, they seem like good-natured people who have trouble seeing the feminist lens that informs their viewing of double standards.

    Here, then, is my letter to an anonymous lead radio host, mildly redacted:

    Dear [Radio Talk-Show Host]:

    I was intrigued by your discussion on Thursday February 9 in which you asked, “Do we expect too little from dads?”

    Nevertheless, I wonder whether your parenting philosophy duo is over-simplifying this matter.

    I must acknowledge I was startled to hear about your (and your callers’) observation that men are treated like overachievers when they’re just out being parents; if this indeed occurs frequently, I agree that it is a double standard, but—correct me if I’m wrong—you seem to be implying from the tone of your conversation that it is evidence that our society treats women unfairly (because we have lower expectations of men, thus putting greater demands on women).

    Another way of looking at your observed result, though, is that it is an indication of sexism against men that we don’t expect them to be as capable parents as women. That is, maybe we see men as inferior in this arena. So—as when we see a 4-year old doing something beyond our expectations—we pat them on the head and say, “Good job!” for something that would be simple for a female parent.

    It’s also possible that this double standard is unfair to both genders. Maybe it’s condescending to male parents, while simultaneously contributing to a higher demand for female parenting perfection.

    For comparison, consider how we view similar double standards in the workplace. If one looks at popular media discussions these days, it would be difficult to dispute that we often celebrate female professionals’ achievements disproportionately to men’s. For instance, a female scientist in a high-percentage male field is viewed by most pundits as doing something exceptional because she has been outnumbered by the opposite gender. But, women also outnumber men in the stay-at-home parenting role, so why do we object to the “You go boy” remarks in the parenting case, but think it’s okay to cheer “You go girl” to women who achieve success in a high-percentage male workplace?

    Now, one might argue that there’s a difference here: women, one might say, are actively discriminated against in STEM fields, while men are not actively discriminated against in parenting.

    However, there is lots of evidence (available upon request) that today’s gender disparity in professions is not the consequence of gender discrimination, but instead is primarily the result of the different career choices the genders tend to make based on their personal preferences and aspirations. (For instance, while there are more men than women currently graduating in engineering, there are more women graduating in medicine.)

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the comparison, I see several ways in which male parents are treated worse than female parents:

    (A) In family court, women are still assumed to be best parent for the job.

    (B) While perhaps not given as many pats on the head, single moms are provided more resources than single dads. Recently, for instance, the YWCA and the city of Vancouver opened a new shelter for “single moms and their children,” yet I did not hear any Vancouver media pundit ask why single dads and their families were excluded. Even if the majority of poor, single parents are female, imagine a similar on-the-books exclusion of women in the workplace (or any other arena). Would the media have been equally as accepting of that kind of official, government discrimination?

    (C) To my perception, the emotional connection between mothers and children is given more deference in our society than any other bond: for instance, other than creating a poignant acronym, why do we have an organization called Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, instead of all parents equally opposing the early demise of their children?

    (D) Note that you talked about “macho” male culture, which one of your callers said used to cause some men to fear being seen taking care of their kids. And maybe that was and is sometimes the case, but notice how the blame goes towards men for giving into pressure to be “masculine.” But when there is perceived pressure on women to be more “feminine,” we blame society, and never the women themselves. Why this double standard?

    I do not mean to suggest that double standards only hurt men. However, with every double standard, both genders are being treated differently, so I think it’s worth considering the benefits and disadvantages for everyone in each case. As it is, our public discussion tends only to see the benefits for men and disadvantages for women any time a double standard is observed.

    Consider one of greatest movies of all time, The Princess Pride. Its lone imperfection, to my eye, is the scene in which Wesley is attacked by an ROUS (rodent of unusual size), and his true love, Princess Buttercup, seems only to care about her own safety. Although she grabs a stick to protect herself, she doesn’t help Wesley fight the beast until it approaches her feet. I would bet my entire argument that you, [Radio pundit, who’s a child of the 80s], are also a fan of this movie, but were equally as annoyed by this scene as I was, and that like me, I suspect you found this female characterization to be evidence of sexism towards women (that the writers thought her incapable of both courage and action). But, if we’re right that that was sexist towards women, then why do we see similar condescension towards men (in the form of low parenting expectations) as sexism towards women as well?

  • Welcome to The Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs! Confused? Click here for The Anti-Misandry Blog Introduction. Intrigued/enraged? Click on the “Anti-Misandry” link in the CATEGORY section to the right of this post for further episodes.

    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE XIV

    Imagine you’re a reporter for your public broadcaster covering this story:

    During the recent fentanyl overdoes epidemic, the BC government has been criticized for not doing enough to combat the suffering. On January 24th, the province, along with Vancouver Coastal Health, announced that they were making available 38 new beds exclusively for women looking for help with their addiction.

    With those facts, you might be wondering why beds were being opened up to just one gender for a problem that affects both. The answer given by CBC reporter Farrah Merali was this: in 2016, of the 914 British Columbians who died because of overdosing on drugs, 176 were women.

    Now, maybe the government-funded discrimination is justified: perhaps there is evidence that one or both of the genders fare better in segregated addiction support; and perhaps there are an equally proportioned number of men-only beds.

    But, if you were a reporter for the CBC—i.e. the taxpayer-funded broadcaster that’s supposed to represent all of us—might you not quickly ask why the group who is making up a minority of sufferers seems to be getting special treatment?

    If so, you would be the rarest of all CBC commentators. In my many years of listening to CBC radio, I have discovered that it is standard procedure never to question the word of women’s advocates.

    In keeping with this tradition, Merali did not mention the men who would be ineligible for the new treatment spaces. After all, we have a crisis affecting women 19% of the time, so it makes sense to create beds exclusively for women.

    Sometimes, I’m sure, journalistic skepticism is daunting when the claim being made is subjective, such that bias and evidence are difficult to disentangle. However, in this case, our reporter had objective information that men were dying at four times the rate that women were, yet women were now getting exclusive treatment opportunities. The skeptical question should have written itself:

    “Why are we segregating?” And, “If segregation has been shown to be beneficial, what are we doing for the other 81%?”

    Again, I am open to the possibility that the government’s gendered plan is justified by the science. But there is no excuse for a reporter from our national broadcaster failing to look into the counter-intuitive discrimination.  Such critical questioning could have illuminated whether the politicians and advocates might have missed a few people in their consideration.

  • As someone who has been resistant to the omni-tentacled powers of social media, I am pleased with myself for noticing something that social media does with more audience consideration than mainstream media.

    As with all topics, this one can be best understood by travelling far, far away and backwards in time to the Star Wars galaxy. I recently watched a documentary, Rogue 1: A Star Wars Story, which examines the events just before the historical time period of Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope.

    20161126_205558

    Worry not, I am aware that these characters are living in a fictional galaxy, but I jest because I am obsessed. I adore my Star Wars, so when new episodes arrive to fill in gaps in my favourite patch of fictional history, I am as excited as a Sith lord finding a new apprentice.

    But there is one tiny chink in my Darth Vader armour: the movie reviewers that I observe in mainstream media are often disrespectful of movies, such as these, that are meant to entertain.

    First, as I’ve discussed before, many reviewers are only capable of appreciating films that match their deep and dark genre sensibilities. If you’re not depressed or confused by the end of a screening, they’re not loving it. Consequently, they fail their movie reviewing duties because not all of us go to the cinema solely to cry and deconstruct opaque symbolism. There are other genres we like to imbibe, and many reviewers are unwilling to examine those movies’ abilities to live up to their genre requirements. For instance, if I’m looking to see an action film, and my reviewer treats Die Hard (an obviously brilliant offering in its category) and The Matrix (not so much) as equally “brainless collections of violence, stunts, and special effects,” then they will not have aided me in selecting between the two.

    Second, and more importantly in this case (since I do not need a critic’s help to inspire me to see Star Wars), many of the mainstream reviewers, with whom I have a begrudging one-sided relationship, have an annoying a penchant for spoiling the movies they discuss by giving away too much plot in their critiques. As in my first criticism, I think the leading causes of this aggravating habit are that the reviewers are arrogant and inconsiderate. Notice that, as they babble freely about the plots they’re exposing, they enunciate their unwelcome delivery with a patronizing tone of voice that implies, “Come on, in a movie like this, obviously that character was going to turn out to be that character’s dad. And, then obviously…”

    This condescending inconsideration is amplified by the reviewers’ distance from their audience. When my Friday afternoon movie reviewer, Katherine Monk, gives away too much of a movie in her Friday afternoon reviews on CBC Radio, she is not aware of me yanking my head phones out of my ears to protect myself.

    In contrast, then, after a trilogy of viewings of Rogue 1—which is a fantastic companion to A New Hope, and a superior installment, in my opinion, to its most recent rival, the pleasing, but troubled Episode VII: The Force Awakens—I craved more contemplations than my own about the new addition to the family. And, while I no longer had to fear the spoiling tendencies of the mainstream media, I was also aware that they were not going to consider my hobby with the nuance I was seeking. Therefore, I cranked up my internet, and dove into the wild space of Youtube, where I was greeted by individual and group conversations, featuring humour, intelligence, and appreciation for the subject. These youtubers were reviewing this Rogue 1 movie because they loved the Star Wars franchise, and even if they didn’t positively perceive this Star Wars story and collection of characters as much as I did, they had gone into the film—quite in contrast with our mainstream movie rebukers—hoping to like it. As a result, where it failed to delight them, I was open to their critiques because they hadn’t treated the movie as intrinsically irredeemable before they’d starting watching it.

    Now, I had visited in Youtube before, so I should acknowledge that I reviewed these reviews anticipating this level of respect. However, what I wasn’t expecting was that every Youtube reviewer that I surfed upon expressed concern about spoiling the movie for their audience, and so offered both a “non-spoiler” and a “spoiler” analysis of the film. In the latter service, every youtuber that I encountered reminded their audience at least twice that they were about to unleash vital plot details, so, if the viewer hadn’t yet seen the movie, they were invited to leave then or forever hold their complaints.

    I assume that this sort of consideration was motivated initially by the democratic nature of Youtube, wherein one starts with a tiny audience, which one can diminish or increase rapidly with every right or wrong turn of phrase. Regardless, the result is that such respect-for-audience has for now become a feature of Youtube culture: even the large, popular Youtube channels that I took in offer this same spoiler protection service.

    While Youtube has its vices (never read the comments: the many anti-social creatures who ply their crassness there will leave your belief in humanity scarred), this fantastic, spoil-resistant result has me pleased with the You-niverse. They have achieved a compassion for their audience that many mainstream reviewers have not even sought. In short, they have gone Rogue, and I like it.

  • SETHICS 31.08.2016 6 Comments

    In the first episode of ORWELLING UP—which I wrote while I was reading George Orwell’s 1984I questioned the notion of excommunicating artists for behaviours in their personal lives. Now, upon finishing Orwell’s dystopian imagining, I’ll peak in on what I increasingly perceive to be CBC Radio’s Orwellian policy on “thought crimes” against their patron ideology, feminism.


    ORWELLING UP: CASE II:

    In George Orwell’s 1984 “nothing was illegal,” but, if you were caught doing something aberrant (i.e. outside the undefined but easily inferred Party lines), “it was reasonably certain that it would be punishable by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced labour camp.” Similarly, CBC Radio never speaks of a feminist policy. However, the consequences of drifting from CBC feminist party lines are undeniable:

    (1) If you are have incorrect opinions you will generally be excluded from this grand, publically funded conversation. And

    (2) If you do Houdini your way through that first barrier, but you nudge a toe out of feminist line, you will be challenged by the normally gushing hosts.

    Meanwhile, the benefits of colouring neatly between the feminist lines are equally obvious:

    (1) If you never question feminism and always treat individual feminists as infallible equality-seekers, you will have a much greater chance of being promoted to valuable hosting and guest roles, regardless of your talent and intelligence in the areas you are discussing. And

    (2) If you say something that is evidence and/or decency free, you will be supported with adulation, so long as it supports the orthodoxy of feminism.

    In this blog, I have criticized what I perceive to be examples of CBC’s unstated but relentless pro-feminist slant, and how its hosts never question feminist dogma. Such yielding to this particular Big Sibling is understandable given both the risks of being pushed out of CBC for “thoughtcrime,” and—if I may offer a matching Orwellian term—the benefits of demonstrating virtuethink.

    But these pressures to conform are never officially acknowledged. Indeed, if questioned, the host would likely say they were always expressing their own opinions. And they’re very convincing. Many of them probably are sincere (they were, after all, chosen for that apparent sincerity). But, if the feminists are right that their excommunicated hero, Jian Ghomeshi, was a long closeted misogynist, then they must admit that any of these other beloved feminist personalities might also be faking their commitment to the faith for the benefits of such conformity.

    This unstated but ever-present thought policing is a disservice to both critics of feminism, as well as proponents, who are able to release morally and intellectually inept statements into our public airways without challenge. And, while that surely feels good to them and their congregation at the time, it deprives them of the scrutiny we all need to improve our thinking. Meanwhile, those outside of the margins of correct feminist opinion are nearly always dismissed as sexists and/or misogynists because they hint at opinions that feminists have already deemed incorrect. CBC Radio thus treats intellectual debate as unnecessary (and potentially harmful) in such cases.

    In this episode of ORWELLLING UP, I consider a June 20th CBC Q interview in which both the throughtcrime and virtuethink styles of silent feminist influence took turns leading a discussion. The conversation starred the ever warm, eloquent, and feminist-flavoured Gill Deacon interviewing Ali Wong, a rant-and-dirty-joke-wielding comedian who had both pleased and displeased feminist pastors.

    Wong’s correct thinking was itemized first. A clip of the comedian’s special, Baby Cobra, was played of the then 7.5 months’ pregnant comic noting that male comedians just having a baby can merrily “get up on stage a week afterwards, and they’ll be like, ‘Guys, I just had this baby. It’s so annoying and boring. And all these uppity dads in the audience are like, ‘That’s hilarious. I identify.’ And their fame just swells. Because they become this relatable, family funny man all of a sudden.” Meanwhile, Wong hollered, just-becoming-mom comedians are a little too “busy!” producing and nursing the baby to return to the stage so quickly.

    I thought this was a fair diatribe, which seemed to me not so much a hostile complaint about men as much as playful, old-style, battle-of-the-sexes teasing of them.

    CBC interviewer Gill Deacon, though, helped herself to a feminist reading of the comedy, marking the rant down in her Approved Feminist Grievance column as she celebrated it as a “fairly spot on” identification of a “double standard.”

    I heard no evidence, nor claim, from Wong that she had been accosted by a double standard. A double standard implies that she was being dealt with by a different standard than her male rivals. That would mean her business and/or audience was not open to her pregnancy-or-post-pregnancy comedy in the way they would be if she were male. She made no such argument. As far as I can tell, she’s just claiming that it’s extra difficult for soon-to-be or just-become mothers to do stand up comedy. Fair enough. That doesn’t mean that there is sexist discrimination going on in this case; it might just mean that pregnancy and nursing needs can be hard on one’s comedy career. And, given that women are more often pregnant and nursing than men, they have that burden more often.

    Curiously, then, after Deacon rewarded Wong for a feminist claim that she had not made, she scolded the comedian for some decidedly unfeminist material. Consider this interaction:

    DEACON: You are a very professionally accomplished woman… You also joke a lot… about wanting to be a house wife… Is that really a fantasy of yours? You kind of make it seem like housewives are the geniuses of our time.

    WONG: …I’m joking, because I obviously really love doing stand up. The desire, though, to not work anymore is real…

    DEACON: And there’s no bells of concern that go off for you at all when your mind starts to go there?

    WONG: No, I mean I think that’s real. I think a lot of my other friends, who are professional women, are like… “What the Hell am I doing?” when they see women who have super rich husbands… It’s all a fantasy…

    DEACON: You say that feminism’s ruined it for us. Now we’re expected to work. Have you heard any complaints from women in any of your audiences with jokes like that?

    WONG: Not really. I think most women understand that I’m joking…

    DEACON: It doesn’t come across that clearly that you’re joking, I have to say. I found myself going, “Hmm, does she really think this? It’s hard to tell.”

    WONG: Um, yeah.

    DEACON: It sounds like I wasn’t all wrong. You kind of… do believe in the fantasy.

    WONG: Yeah, part of me believes in the fantasy. But part of me also knows that it’s a fantasy. And the reality of it comes with consequences…

    DEACON: ….At the end of your special, you do twist things around a little bit to sort of prove that point. But do you worry that men in your audience might think that they’re seeing what women actually secretly think?

    WONG: I don’t really worry about that. I’m worried about if they’re laughing. I’m not worried about what really they’re thinking. …I’m not a teacher. I’m not a politician. I’m a stand up comic.

    Notice that Wong had not only committed the speechcrime of joking about having blasphemous thoughts, but, with a little prodding, Deacon detected that Wong was doing more than just joking. Wong was admitting to taking genuine pleasure in imagining something unfeminist. She had committed a thoughtcrime: she had coveted an unapproved feminist lifestyle! If this weren’t bad enough, she had allowed men-folk to overhear her forbidden dreams.

    So, far from being a freeing ideology that allows people more choice in their lives, this version of feminism is telling women not that they can be career-oriented if they choose, but that they should be. And not only should they be, but they should never enjoy dreams of greater leisure. That would clearly be fantasycrime! And, if you’re going to have these evil fantasies, the least you could do is not let the drooling men hear about it: men are too simple to understand that one woman’s favourite imagining neither means it automatically overpowers her simultaneous desire to have a career, nor does it represent all women at all times.

    Next, Deacon “pushed [Wong]” for telling her audience about sexual desires that were also not feminist approved.

    Wong responded to these shake-of-the-head questions by pointing out that her comedy is not a TED TALK: her goal, she said, is to just make people laugh.

    Deacon did not seem impressed to hear it. “So it’s just going for the laughs?” she asked.

    Wong had clearly once again committed both a thoughtcrime (the desire) and a speechcrime (talking about it).

    I’m not objecting to Deacon questioning anyone’s moral justification for their creative renderings. If Deacon wanted to explore the social implications of an artist’s material, that would be fine. However, my greatest trouble here is that Deacon and her fellow feminist interviewers at CBC are incapable of nuance both in their support and condemnation.

    First, there is rarely exploration into the details and/or veracity within feminist—or, in this case, feminist-seeming—arguments. I have little doubt that pregnant women and new mothers have a particularly daunting time in stand-up comedy, but a good interviewer might have explored why the comedian thought that was so, and whether it was, as Deacon diagnosed it, a double standard, or an unavoidable consequence of biology, or something in between. Instead, in CBC Feminism’s world, any claim that a woman is treated worse than a man is approved without question or contextual consideration. Essentially, You have said something that confirms the Party doctrine, therefore I agree.

    Then, on the disapproving side of the conversation, if ever someone says something that doesn’t coincide with the correct feminist opinion, the blasphemer is first given the option to renounce the position, and when, in this case, the comedian held onto her incorrect thoughts, there was no exploration of whether the comedian was nevertheless morally justified in her comedy. Instead, Deacon simply pointed out that Wong really did seem to be sincere about her wrongthink, and moved onto the next question.

    This lack of nuance suffocates these conversations. We are left with vacant approvals and accusations without any moral foundation to hold them up. Instead, CBC Feminism (intentionally or otherwise) relies on fear of Party excommunication to keep their members from diverging too far from virtuethink.

  • I have been enjoying the Star Trek “reboot”* movies.

    *I think the films in this new series are more aptly described as “requels,” since the previous stories still “happened” in a prior timeline, but—after an incident with a wormhole and its resulting butterfly effect—those iconic tales are now being recorded over with new adventures of the same people.

    As I previously argued (against an eloquent but confused New Yorkerian attack), the first effort, Star Trek, was a brilliant combination of humour, adventure, and homage to the voyages that brought it. And the sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, continued that charming work well.

    I have now taken in the third, Star Trek: Beyond, and while I once again had a nice time hanging out with it, I think it was a small step for mankind less brilliant than its prequel requels, and I have a thought about why. As with most current big movie writers, the authors of Beyond (Simon Pegg and Doug Jung) fell into the unnecessary compulsion to always go bigger than anyone has gone before. For Star Trek writers, that means, if you’re not saving the world, your story’s not worth telling. In both Star Trek and Into Darkness, that was fine since the world-saving fit reasonably well into the larger plots.

    However, in many movies these days, the convention to go big is a narrative-distorting forced add-on to a smaller story that is (or could have been) thrilling on its own. Consider, in contrast, Die Hard, one of the greatest action movies humanity has ever conceived. The plot took place almost entirely in and around one skyscraper, where our hero, and the innocent building dwellers he was trying to protect, battled bank robber invaders. Had the Die Hard makers insisted on adding an attempt by the villains to blow up the earth, I think that would have undermined the smaller story that grabbed us.

    In Beyond, the crew is in year 3 of its 5-year mission to explore strange new worlds (i.e. they’re at lest few light days away from home), so it seemed Captain Kirk and crew were destined for an adventure that would not involve earth-saving tasks. Early on in the movie, though, we discover that they are making a scheduled stop at a Federation base (“Starbase Yorktown”).

    Yorktown is an atmosphere-containing orb city, which is both awesome (literally) and confusing. As someone who likes to imagine human-made civilizations in space, this one is as impressive and imaginative a rendering as I’ve seen. Nevertheless, upon first meeting it, my Spock-wannabe eyebrows rose up in confusion because Yorktown (circa 2263) seemed—to my uneducated, 3D-glasses-wearing eyes—to be more technologically advanced than the Federation would be producing more than a hundred years later in its base-based spinoff, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (circa 2369). Despite my confusion, I was enjoying myself too much to realize that this amazing civilization was to be playing the role of the world-in-distress that would need saving during the end-of-movie chase scene.

    I’m not intrinsically opposed to movies about saving space stations, but, in this story, this extra task is of the variety of forced add-on, which cuts into the compelling smaller project of Kirk and friends. Nearby the station, there is a bermuda-triangle-like nebula that has recently captured a ship, so Kirk and crew warp in to investigate. Once inside the nebula, our enterprising team is ambushed by a voracious hive of mini-ships, and so are forced to crash land on a nearby planet where the hive’s leader has imprisoned crews from various ships over many seasons.

    It’s a wonderful idea for a Star Trek story, with lots of opportunities for creative uses of technology and moxie as our stars try to escape the bad guy’s evil plans. Sadly, though, in order to shove in the requirement of saving the nearby space-city into the overall plot, the writers had to shorten and simplify that brilliant adventure. And the subsequently squeezed in world-saving finale is so rushed that it was difficult for some of us in the audience to follow. Indeed, the complicated climax could have been stretched out to an entire movie on its own, but because it had to be packed into the final 10 minutes of the film, it is instead a jumble of frantic energy.

    Beyond is, I think, a fine movie overall, but its insistence upon limiting itself to the current “Go Bigger or Go Home,” trend is disappointing. For all their futuristic imagination, the creators of this film were unable to go beyond contemporary convention. Hopefully, in twenty years, when they three-boot this franchise, they’ll resist that temptation.

  • SETHICS 30.06.2016 8 Comments

    The warnings of George Orwell play a significant role in the official philosophical anxiety of Sethblogs. I am currently reading Orwell’s most famous contemplation of a thought-controlled society, 1984, and as I read about Winston Smith and his work at the Ministry of Truth, I find myself increasingly perceiving Orwellian thoughts and policies around me.


    ORWELLING UP: CASE I: 

    On the May 1st “Stepping up and speaking out” episode of CBC radio’s Unreserved, Rosanna Deerchild interviewed Deejay NDN (Ian Campeau), who says he now restricts the content he plays (and listens to) on the basis of two moral maxims:

    (1) If the lyrics are “oppressive,” and/or (2) if the musician is “oppressive” in their personal life, then Campeau will not play the associated tunes for his audience, nor will he keep them on his personal playlist.

    For instance, when it comes to sexism, Campeau says, “I guess it was kinda just like waking up to the idea of misogyny, and how I fit into the role of perpetuating it… And, you know, playing specific artists who have [been] known to have been misogynistic or have been harmful to women. I just choose not to promote them anymore. And it’s just kind of, you know, I just don’t align with those ideas anymore.”

    Maxim 1 is, I think, an understandable rule of play. I can appreciate why a DJ would not want to lend their volume to content they believe is unethical.  Yet I think this is a delicate and potentially damaging code of curation; if we’re not careful we may find ourselves excommunicating music that seems unethical, or tiptoes near the promotion of harmful ideas, but is actually commentary that is morally and/or artistically beneficial. As Campeau says:

    “I try to not listen to any music that’s oppressive in any sort of way… it’s been a real learning curve and real, you know, prioritizing of values.” For instance, “…you have things like Kendrick Lamar’s last album, which was incredibly racially advanced in the way he was discussing topics… but he was still misogynistic within it, so as much as he was trying to elevate his community, he was still oppressing half of it.”

    I see a few moral quandaries that will be difficult to solve here, but ultimately I think it’s reasonable for a private curator not to propagate art to which they are morally opposed. Regardless, my concerns are doubled in the second maxim, so I’ll focus my criticism there.

    Maxim 2 calls for the DJ to assess the moral merits of people whose artwork they would otherwise endorse. For instance, Campeau says he’s “not going to play Chris Brown anymore after what happened with Rihanna, that was a really easy choice…” (Brown was charged with assault and making criminal threats towards Rihanna, and he pled guilty to “assault with intent of doing great bodily injury.”) But, Campeau says, this culling of his playlist “…gets really, really tough when you start realizing how all of your heroes are not exactly what they appear… There are so many… things like David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Africa Bambaataa… like, there’s all these people who have done harm, it seems that everybody seems to be okay with that as long as they make good music?”

    Campeau’s  (hereafter DJ Morals’) code of ethics calls for a purity of artistic souls, which—if it catches on as an ethical maxim—will unduly limit the art we’ll be able to experience.

    BILL: Are you going to see the new Hamlet production?

    TED: Haven’t you heard? It’s been discovered that Shakespeare once said something sexist, so he’s officially been removed from the Approved Artists List.

    BILL: Seriously? Damn, I liked him.

    TED: I know. So did I. But we can’t very well endorse that kind of sexism by enjoying his so-called art.

    BILL: Of course. You’re right. To be sexist, or not to be sexist, that is the question.

    TED: Um, even alluding to one of his quotes is kind of sexist. Sorry, I can’t be friends with you anymore.

    BILL: Fair enough.

    Now, dear DJ Morals, I’m not saying you shouldn’t criticize behaviour that you think is harmful (I’m doing so right now ;). I’m arguing that, unfortunately, artistic and moral merit are not always linked. And so, to limit your catalog of musicians to those who have lived perfect moral existences will clip the wings of the music you play.

    There may be enough “moral” musicians (or at least potentially “immoral” ones who haven’t been caught yet) for individual DJs to still put out good stuff, but since DJ Morals is making a moral argument (he said he’s aiming to “end racism in Canada” and “to change society…” such that his “daughters [feel] safe walking home alone at night”), he’s arguing others should follow his lead. And, since he is clearly a member of the movement of so-called “social justice” which currently dominates popular media, his policy could conceivably be confused for good ethics and become the common moral code of music appreciation.

    Consequently, as our ethics become more nuanced over time, there may be increasing numbers of artists (including the next Beatles or Wayne Gretzky) who will be ineligible to perform for us. And, if it’s the case that historically oppressed cultures are more likely to be uneducated, perhaps they’re more likely to be caught on the wrong side of the moral law, and so DJ Moral’s policy may disproportionately affect the artistic output of the very communities he argues need “elevation.” Moreover, while our ethics may be improving over time, our public moral consensus is still fallible, and so if we limit ourselves only to the artists who are currently morally correct, we may be closing our minds to new moral considerations.

    This moral purity requirement for performers isn’t a far-fetched fantasy/fear. As I discussed in THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND STATE, there are many popular pundits who already demand that sports leagues suspend players who are accused of crimes. Blasphemously enough, I don’t think workers should be suspended for anything outside of work that doesn’t make them a danger to their co-workers, but at the very least, I am baffled that even those who are still legally presumed innocent should be excommunicated from their profession on the grounds that they are believed by the public to be guilty.

    Even more drastically, recall that Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC, not for illegal acts, but for admitting to his bosses that he took part in consensual sexual behaviour that they deemed immoral. If the rumors are true that, along with being a doubleplus sexual wrongdoer (to use Orwell’s “newspeak”), Ghomeshi was a workplace bully, then that would have been an understandable reason to fire him. But the CBC has no place in the bedrooms of its hosts.

    Nevertheless, the CBC and DJ Morals are burgeoning Big Brothers. They seem to believe it is their duty not simply to discuss morality with their audience, but to punish those they believe have crossed moral lines in their personal lives. This would be dangerous enough if the CBC and DJ Morals were infallible ethicists, but what if they’re moral morons? The CBC daily demonstrates their eligibility for such a description with their sexist policy on all gender discussions. Meanwhile, DJ Morals is an admitted former enjoyer of misogynistic rap music. (I have always despised such lyrics, so, by his moral math, it seems I get to announce that I am a better person than he is.)

    Our ongoing attempts to improve our ethics have potential for much good. But we must be careful in our zeal to promote good behavior to avoid becoming thought police who not only challenge the ideas and behaviours with which we disagree, but also vaporize anyone who disagrees, or is accused of terrible actions or words outside of their artistic life.

    ORWELLING UP: CASE II coming soon to a Sethblogs near you.

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