Category Archives: Sethics vs. Cancel Culture

At the risk of getting Cancelled, Seth argues against Cancel Culture (despite Cancel Culture’s insistence that it doesn’t exist).

WHO DARE YOU?

Have I told you lately how much I detest Cancel Culture?

The mission of the Problematic People Wing of Cancel Culture is to remove bad people from roles in society for which they are perceived by the good people at Cancel Culture Central (CCC) to be morally unfit. This may sound sweet to you in theory, but the devil is in the practice.

Last year, I was excited as I learned that Harper’s Magazine had put forth a letter criticizing the alleged (by critics like me) censoriousness of our current cultural predicament. My merriment quickly dwindled, though, as I realized that, as ever, the most common response from CCC was to avoid discussing the principles under consideration (such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, cultural appropriation theory, the separation of art from the artist, and so on), and instead to focus on irrelevant matters such as who was making the argument.

For illustration of such an ad who-minem critique of the Harper’s letter, I’d like to look at an interview presented on the radio program, On the Coast (a Vancouver-based discussion show living on the airwaves of my ideological nemesis, and CCC council member, CBC Radio). In this case, the host Gloria Macarenko surprised my rolling eyes as she went off brand and asked a Cancel Culture apologist, Professor Hannah McGregor, some reasonable questions about whether the Harper’s letter writers might have a point. But, not to worry, the spinning academic quickly renewed my faith in my lack of faith in mainstream media discussions of these matters. While she didn’t directly call for restrictions on free speech, she did come precariously close. For instance, she said:

 “…maybe it’s a good moment for a lot of people who are saying, you know, ‘Oh, we need more free speech,’ to say, ‘Who’s free speech? Is it yours right now? Is that the speech that’s needed? Maybe somebody else’s speech would be better, and maybe our job right is to do a little more listening.’ ”

So, in protest, I asked my namesake and colleague at SethFM to retroactively add himself into the conversation so as to counter Dr. McGregor’s scary arguments. Feel free to like or dislike, but please don’t cancel.

THE OVERSHUN WINDOW

The philosopher John Rawls created the “veil of ignorance” as a morality check.

When contemplating ethics and justice, he suggests that we place said veil on our minds to imagine we don’t know what position in society we possess. From this veiled position Rawls argues that thinkers are then in a better frame of perspective to assess the reasonableness of moral proposals with less reference to our own current circumstances, and instead, in theory, we will aim for a moral infrastructure that will be fair no matter where we end up.

This idea can be illustrated in the classic example of the cutting of the cake. If two kids, say, Seth and Zaff, are dividing up a piece of cake between the two of them, and they both want as large a piece as possible, we would ask one of them—let’s say, Seth—to cut the cake, and then Zaff would get first choice of which piece he wanted. In that situation, Seth would try to cut as close to the middle of the dessert as possible, because he’s in the veiled position of not knowing which piece he would eventually get.

While such veiled thinking is not foolproof, I think it can be a useful exercise for building and critiquing one’s values.

Consider the case of free speech vs. protecting us from hate speech. You may believe that it is appropriate to restrict certain kinds of speech that you think are racist, sexist, or otherwise deplorable. However, before you jump to that happy conclusion, I request that you step back under Rawls’ veil of ignorance, and consider that the definition of what is hateful is always changing and subject to the assessment of humans who are occasionally fallible.

Take, for instance, the ever-changing Overton window, the theoretical concept of the current values that are morally acceptable in polite society. While you may happen to agree with where that polite moral consensus is currently located, are you comfortable with the possibility that the Overton window may be constricting, while its cousin—the Overshun window—may be expanding? With the veil of ignorance fogging up your vision of the future, are you satisfied that these two judgmental windows will always fit you and those you care about?

Again, maybe you are content to live with the judgments of those holding the steering wheel of our public morality. Maybe you think that hateful speech is so terrible that it must be legally limited. My only request is that, before you advocate for censorship, that you sneak back under the veil of ignorance to make sure you can live with where such restrictions may plausibly take us.

So, with that idea of looking at moral issues from an ignorant veiled position, I would like to examine the concept of “Cancel Culture.” A friend of mine suggested that we can do better than the now set expression “Cancel Culture” so, for this essay, I offer the alternative term, “Socially Demanded Extrajudicial Role Eviction,” or SDERE.

While I’m not sure if SDERE captures the phenomenon formerly known as Cancel Culture as crisply as the latter did, the exercise of trying to re-name it was useful to me in identifying exactly what I think we mean by SDERE.

As I see it, SDERE comes about when there is a call to steer a person out of a role because of perceived moral failings of that person.

SDERE is not related to someone being fired from their job for workplace-related failings. For instance, if someone showed up late to work every day, and they were disciplined for it by their employer, that person has not been a victim of SDERE. Instead, they have lost standing in their job because of a possible defect in their actual performance at work.

Nor is SDERE criticism of a person in society for perceived wrongdoing. SDERE only occurs when there is a society-based call for a person to be removed from a role because they are perceived to be morally unfit for it.

Let’s say, for instance, that an employee is suspected of cheating on their spouse. Now it is not illegal to be unfaithful, but it is certainly morally questionable, so based on an extrajudicial assessment, some members of society might call for such a person to be evicted from their job.

In assessing whether such a firing is justified, I ask that you re-apply the veil of ignorance.

Do we want our employers to be assessing our outside-of-work conduct, at the behest of the public, and then potentially disciplining or even firing us on those grounds?

Before you land on your answer, please consider that both the public and employers have throughout history used the morality of their times to make decisions that most of us now register as unethical (and sometimes evil). You may think that we’ve evolved to produce a superior morality now that has no reason to provoke such retroactive cringe, but look at how rapidly public mores are changing. Are you certain you’re comfortable that you would pass every test of tomorrow’s leading popular moralists?

Pierre Trudeau famously said the government has no business in the bedrooms of our nation. This was to protect gay and lesbian Canadians from being prosecuted for their sexuality. Do you want our employers in those same bedrooms?

I’m not arguing that, because mores change, that there should never be consequences for doing something bad. But I do contend that the punishment should stay in its jurisdiction. If someone cheats on their spouse, that is a private matter between the people involved. If someone is accused of a crime, then it is up to the justice system to look into it. But personally, I don’t want our employers deciding what we can do or say outside of work, do you?

Perhaps you think I’m creating a moral panic about a moral panic, and that in reality SDERE only ever goes after the most extreme of bad behaviour. But, again, I ask you to go back to your veiled position. Even if you think a particular behaviour or idea is wrong, do you want a society in which people who allegedly have the wrong values, but haven’t committed a crime, are sentenced to the margins of society?

Recall McCarthyism. I happen to believe that, in practice, communism is a terrible idea, and I think we should criticize the concept whenever it pops up. However, I also think that Senator McCarthy and his allies were wrong to punish people for allegedly believing in a flawed ideology. McCarthyism created an environment of fear and suspicion, and an inability to freely associate and freely discuss ideas. Therefore, from my veiled position, I propose that we would be better off criticizing ideas and even people we don’t like, without exiling them for their alleged sins.

Again, you may be satisfied with where the Overton window is right now, but when you apply your veil of ignorance, are you sure you’ll agree with society’s future judgments?

TEN WAYS TO A MORE CANCELLED YOU

In studying the various works of Cancel Culture, I believe I can narrow its prime purifying works down to ten leading values:

(1) Punishment must be consolidated. If someone does (or is accused of doing) something wrong in one aspect of their life, then the punishment for that moral failing ought to be applied to every aspect of the wrongdoer’s life.

Corollary: All artists and their art are synonymous. If an artist is determined by Cancel Culture to be guilty of an offence, then so too is their art, and so both should be removed from public consideration.

(2) All morally problematic opinions are produced by bad people. Therefore, if you are on the wrong side of a moral disagreement with Cancel Culture, then you yourself are unfit for polite society.

Corollary: Cancel Culture has a strict no-nuance policy; any attempt by a troubled thinker to consider distinctions, exceptions, or gradations in a moral failing are just as evil as promoting the worst version of the allegedly unethical behaviour.

(3) Silence is violence. It is not sufficient for a person in the public eye to simply not state the wrong opinion; they must also publicly acknowledge the correct opinion.

Hint: When Cancel Culture does receive the correct opinion from a problematic celeb, the no-nuance policy still applies, and the previously violently-silent person can and should be micro-critiqued for any deviations in language or tone from Cancel Culture’s guidelines for correct thinking.

(4) Context doesn’t matter. If a contemptuous phrase seems innocuous when surrounded by introductory statements and explanations, those clarifying portions of the message will be removed so that the unclothed result can be broadcast on mainstream and social media.

Corollary: historical context doesn’t matter either; no matter how much “positive change” a historical figure might have brought forth in their historical circumstances, their entire existence will be checked against our modern mores.

(5) Intention doesn’t matter. The worst possible interpretation of an enemy thinker’s meaning is always the right one.

Hint: Cancel Culture curators are invited to conjoin Intention not mattering with Context not mattering for super cancelling power.

(6) Privacy is for the righteous. While privacy is a vital right of all good people, if you are recorded saying something offensive to your spouse, you are not a good person, and so Cancel Culture shall judge you as though you were speaking at a public convention.

Hint: Combine the right to judge private moments with Context and Intention not mattering for best results.

(7) You are your worst moment. If you’ve ever done (or considered doing) something morally questionable, that bad behaviour (or thought pattern) defines you for life, and repentance is never sufficient.

Exception: Cancel Culture reserves the right to forgive the very worst in society on condition that they unconditionally support Cancel Culture’s currently approved opinions. So, if a reformed neo-nazi becomes an anti-racism trainer, they will be recognized as an infallible truth-purveyor.

(8) Association equals unconditional agreement. If a newly problematic thinker has ever been friends with, shared a stage with, or liked a Twitter post of a now cancelled thinker, that association can be used as evidence in a future cancellation trial.

Corollary: it is best to never converse with—let alone debate—thinkers on the wrong side of a moral dispute.

(9) Privilege denunciation. The race, sex, gender, sexuality, and other identifications matter when assessing the validity of a person’s arguments (as well as their art).

Exception: If a wrongful arguer’s identity matches that of a group that Cancel Culture has entrusted themselves with protecting, then the inconveniently-raced-or-gendered person will be ignored, or if necessary, criticized for betraying “their own people.”

(10) Cancel Culture shrugging. It is best when speaking publically that Cancel Culture members downplay the power of Cancel Culture. Instead, Cancel Culture agents are advised to treat the effects of Cancel Culture as minor inconveniences which powerful people experience when they do evil things.

THE GASLIGHT SIDE OF THE FORCE

Cancel Culture has claimed another trophy on the flimsiest of arguments. Star Wars: The Mandalorian star, Gina Carano, has been fired from her job of playing a soldier in a far, far away fictional universe, because she expressed an opinion (while not on the job) that has been diagnosed as immoral by her former employer, The Walt Disney Company.

That is, in a Twitter post, Carano captioned a gruesome historical photo with commentary that:

“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors… even children. :(”

Then she added in quotation marks [which I take to mean she’s quoting someone else as she says]:

“Because history is edited, most people don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

Now, you might argue that this parallel is simplistic, and that holocaust comparisons in general are overwrought and perhaps even insensitive (I, myself, found Carano’s use of an unhappy face emoji to be rather crass), but clearly, by making the genocide the villain of her analogy, Carano is positioning herself as anti-holocaust.

As far as I can infer from her subsequent comments, she’s arguing that we should be careful of dehumanizing our neighbours just because they disagree with us, because history has proven that dehumanization can lead to catastrophic results.

Yet somehow, the leaders of Cancel Culture were able to take this pro-tolerance, “love thy neighbour”-style argument, and gaslight Disney into viewing it as anti-Semitic. Thus the corporation said on the day they released Ms. Carano from their employ:

“Her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

How in Disney’s digitized brain can they possibly interpret Carano’s neighbours-before-haters argument as denigrating of any cultural group?

This baffling reinterpretation of an individual’s argument so as to have them removed from their job is (once again) evidence that there is no limit to Cancel Culture’s appetite to control our public (and private) conversation by threatening our livelihoods if we don’t follow its demands.

My personal moral position on Cancel Culture is straightforward. If you say something with which I disagree, I may dislike you; I may even publically criticize you for it. However, I submit that it is unethical for any employer to punish us for our outside-of-work opinions (or non-work-related behaviours). Otherwise, we will find ourselves living in a corporation state where our employers can tell us not only what to do at work, but also after work. If that sounds okay to you because you think that employers are generally pretty good judges of morality and would only ever excommunicate us for extreme ideas or actions, I ask you to double check your findings.

Please consider that the Cancel Culture Hall of Shame features a long history of various mainstream morality police going wild with such powers (from religious persecutions, to witch trials, to policing of sexuality, to McCarthyism). Even if our present day employers would prefer not to overstep their purview, they are in constant threat of being hounded by a small group of self-appointed social media officers who are in charge of outrage at Cancel Culture Central. It is a digital mob that is scaring corporations into firing their employees for wrongthink. And that unnerves me more than any individual’s dumb or even abhorrent arguments ever could.

When any opinion—no matter how extreme—can make one unfit for employment, then all opinions are in danger because—as we saw in Gina Carano’s post—with the right filter, even the most love-thy-neighbourly of sentiments can be reframed as hateful.

THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND WORK

To paraphrase Bill Maher, the offender described in the following argument may not be worth defending, but his rights are.


As I argue in THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND PLAY, I believe it is unethical for companies to fire employees for morally suspect actions committed outside of the organization’s domain (unless those bad acts are undeniably relevant to the functioning of the company and/or the safety of the company’s staff or clients). My reasons for such censure of employer-delivered justice are twofold:

(1) Employers frequently make their decisions at the behest of perceived popular opinion, i.e. mob justice (or social media mob justice these days), and so are often going to get their moral judgments wrong (as in the past when the public catastrophically believed that same-sex and interracial coupling was immoral). And:

(2) Even if we felt the employers were infallible morality police officers, I think it is actually harmful to society to disown bad actors from all social spheres.

For instance, if someone says something racist in their non-work life, then exiling that person from places where they didn’t exhibit racism, such as their workplace, or perhaps their community centre, is not going to reduce their racism—it is going to nurture it.

I have heard many interviews with reformed KKK members, and they always explain their racist genesis in the same way: they were angry about something in their life, and they found camaraderie and acceptance in a racist cult, so they signed onto racism. So, if we truly want to reduce racism, then we should try if we can to criticize the behaviour within racist incidents (and punish it if it involves illegal acts) without universally disavowing any potential humanity in the offenders.

However, when we say that—because a person did something wrong in place X—they are restricted not only from returning to place X, but they are also no longer welcome at their workplace, and are ineligible to return to their favourite watering hole, we are exiling such flawed beings to the murky boundaries of society where their resentment will be given sanctuary.

My argument is not that bad behaviours never deserve punishment. Criminal actions—depending on the severity—earn one the right to temporary or even permanent exile from the general population. And, when one does something immoral, but not illegal, then—along with criticism—sometimes the bad behaviour may justify sanctions.

For instance, if you’re verbally abusive to the staff at your local medical clinic, then maybe you’ve forfeited your right to return there, but that doesn’t mean that you should be banned from every medical facility in the country and fired from your job for failing to live up to the values of your employer. Instead, my submission is that punishments should stay in their jurisdiction. If you behaved badly in X place, then X place may have good reason to limit your return to X place.

In contrast, most modern mainstream pundits (and their social media betters) presume that morality policing is the “right thing to do.” (See my analysis of a CBC Radio Q panel and their impenetrable confidence that it was morally right to fire Roseanne Barr from her fictional TV show Roseanne because of improper things non-fictional Roseanne said on social media.) In fact, such termination-seeking commentators suggest that any employer who is silent on the dishonourable outside-of-work actions of their employees is complicit in—or at least condoning of—those behaviours.

But consider this morality tale: let’s imagine that a person has cheated on their spouse. In my view it is up to that cheated-upon spouse to decide whether to exile their lesser half from the arena in which that poor conduct is relevant, i.e. their marriage. However, while the general public may rightly believe that infidelity is morally precarious, do we really think that the cheater’s local grocery store, rec centre, and place of employment should be weighing in not only with their opinion of infidelity, but also with a punishment for it? Obviously not. To stay out of such a dispute does not mean that the employer is necessarily anti-fidelity: it just means it is not the employer’s business to investigate and pronounce judgement on what goes on in the bedrooms of their employees.

With that example, the notion of employers acting as outside-of-work morality police is, in my opinion, settled.

Recently, though, a more difficult question has landed on my ethics desk:

Should you be fired from your current job for bad actions you are presently discovered to have committed in your previous employment?

My instinct is to say No for the same reasons as above. Yet, convention has long allowed potential employers to assess our work with previous employers. That is, our work with another company is relevant to our prospective employment with a new one because it is likely to be predictive of our future work behaviour. So the question becomes: Is there a major difference between such pre-employment combing through of our past work conduct, and post-employment retroactive analysis? I think there is a distinction worth keeping in mind, but I’m not certain.

Consider the case of Bill Peters, the now former NHL hockey coach, who has been accused of (and admitted to) bombarding one of his ex-players (Akim Aliu) with racial slurs 10 years ago (in response to the player serenading the team dressing room with rap music). Peters was then coaching a different team, in a different league, than the one he was coaching when the allegation rose up into our consciousness. Upon receiving the charge, Peters’s team (the Calgary Flames) suspended Peters from duty stating that they needed to investigate the veracity of the complaints (with the assistance of the NHL).

Shortly after that first allegation, Peters was additionally accused by a former player (Michal Jordan) on his penultimate NHL team, the Carolina Hurricanes, of punching and kicking him and another player during a game. Peters hasn’t publicly admitted to this violence, but former players on the team as well Peters’s then-assistant coach (Rod Brind’Amour) and then-General Manager (Ron Francis) say that it happened, and that it was “handled directly” by the organization at the time (and both of these ex-colleagues say they are not aware of any other abusive events occurring after that).

Meanwhile, before Peters’s confession to the racist incident, the Calgary Flames acknowledged that, if true, such racist utterances were “repugnant,” but that they needed time to investigate. However, some in the pundit class—who are used to the efficient work of Cancel Culture—claimed to be befuddled that it was taking days to come to a conclusion on a matter that seemed so clear.

In fact, when the racist incident was still in that accusation phase, and Peters hadn’t yet conceded the point, TSN That’s Hockey pundits Frank Seravalli and Gino Reda merrily leapt to presumptions of Peters’s guilt by discussing how awful the incident must have been for Aliu. Yes, Misters Seravalli and Reda, of course being a victim of racism is dreadful (and, if the experience derailed Mr. Aliu’s career as he is arguing, then I think he should sue the culprit), but presumptions of guilt have been one of the great tools of racism, itself. So let’s not leap to judgment.

In response to such itchy trigger fingers, former lawyer, ex-NHL GM, and present-day pundit, Brian Burke, courageously defended the Flames for not pronouncing immediate judgment, and instead conducting an exhaustive investigation first.

“I think you’ve got to make sure that it happened. The allegations aren’t true until they’re proven. And I think the way Calgary has gone about it is very workmanlike, very businesslike. We’re going to find out if it’s true, ‘cause you’ve got to remember, first of all, a person who is accused of doing something wrong is innocent until proven guilty. So you’ve got to verify the accuracy of the allegation.”

I admire Burke for making such a sinful suggestion in our present day accusation-equals-presumption-of-guilt culture, and to its credit, the Cancel Culture has yet to come for Brian Burke Esquire.

Not long after that, before the Calgary Flames announced their official decision on Peters’s fate, the disgraced coach resigned his commission. To my appreciation, at the team press conference revealing this result, one courageous reporter, Jermain Franklin, risked his reputation to ask Flames’ General Manager Brad Treliving:

“Was there any possibility at the beginning of the week of Bill continuing on as the coach with sensitivity training, and whatever he needs to go through to make him a better person moving forward, and did that change as things continued to mount?”

The GM quickly retorted that he would not deal in hypotheticals, and that was an end to it.

I can understand why GM Treliving avoided this Catch 22 of a question; it is not obvious that it would have been legal to fire the coach for bad acts on another organization’s watch, but it is clear that there was no way the team could have kept the coach amidst public pressure—or at least pundit pressure—to the contrary. Thus, I think it is likely that the two sides reached a settlement that the coach would resign in exchange for some sort of consideration. In fact, when asked if Peters was retaining any salary after his resignation, GM Treliving declined to comment.

But, with Peters’ resignation, our question remains unanswered:

Is it ethical to fire an employee for bad conduct on another team’s watch that the employer has no evidence has returned under their purview?

To my sarcastic surprise, the majority of pundits that I encountered on this matter found that to be an easy one:

If true, these bad actions automatically oblige an employer to fire the employee no matter how much time has passed.

Indeed, seeing no reason to question the consequences of such a position, Hockey Night in Canada instead decided to lecture their audience with a new grand assumption—that Peters’ racist incident was evidence that hockey culture in general is a hive of scum and bigotry. To that virtuous end, the eloquent long-time HNIC host Ron MacLean led us in “#TheConversation” in which he and we were “to listen [and] to learn.”

MacLean explained:

“We’ll just sit and we’ll talk. And for most of us, we’ll actually learn.”

That is to say, those with race-based criticisms of hockey culture were to be treated with faith-based deference, while those who might be skeptical and/or on the wrong side of pigment (such as Ron, himself) were to listen and perhaps note—as Ron put it—their “white, male privilege.”

I would love to be on the virtuous side of this issue. But, in their zest for righteousness, many of these sure-headed pundits simplified the moral question at hand to its lowest common denunciator.

For instance, National Post columnist, Scott Stinson, argued against the inevitable defences that he imagined would try to rescue Bill Peters. Yet, the defences he invented for himself to take on were idiotic. For instance:

“What about [Peters’] freedom of speech?” Stinson claimed some would argue. To which he answered himself, “Sigh… free speech rights don’t extend to being able to say whatever you want in a professional setting without any consequences form your employer.”

Yes, that’s right, Mr. Stinson, you have brilliantly vanquished your imaginary enemy there. But, of course, no reasonable free speech advocate would actually claim that one’s right to freedom of expression in private and in public extends to one’s workplace where one has a multitude of limitations that don’t apply when one is off duty.

The true moral and legal dilemma provoked by this situation, Mr. Stinson, is whether an employer should be allowed to fire a person for remarks not said when at their workplace, but instead offered ten years before in the walls of a different employer (in a different country).

Once again, the answer isn’t obvious to me either, but we will not succeed in our pursuit of a solution if we simply take on easier questions than are at hand.

It seems likely to me that such these “fire first” pundits are trying very hard to make sure that everyone knows that they are personally opposed to racism (and, to a lesser extent, physical abuse), and so they have lost the ability to critically consider these issues out loud.

Indeed, it appears to me the hockey pundit class in general is unquestioning of the notion of retroactive punishment because they are afraid that such skepticism would make them appear unsympathetic to victims. Such fear is understandable given that our “social justice” mafia culture eats wrong-thinking talking heads for breakfast, and tends to require full obedience in their calls for cancellation.

There was, however, one pundit, Ashley Docking, who risked her career to take part in the following conversation with our friend, Brian Burke:

DOCKING: Do you feel that people should be held responsible for things that they did [in the past]…?

BURKE: Yes.

DOCKING: Is the problem for the Calgary Flames in your opinion, Brian, that they’re asked to potentially hand down a punishment for something that happened within a different organization?

BURKE: No, I don’t think that’s a risk at all. This conduct, this language is unacceptable in any timeframe, in any place… If they verify that these statements were made, this coach is in trouble. These values did not fit with… [Flames’ General Manager] Brad Treliving, they do not fit with Flames’ ownership, they do not fit with the NHL.

While I don’t question the sincerity of Burke’s response here (he is not a known virtue signaller), he has once again answered an easier question than the one that was asked. Yes, of course, racist remarks go against the values of the Calgary Flames (and every team in the NHL). And so, if Peters were found to have uttered racial slurs to his players on his current team, then I’d write the pink slip, myself. However, with the evaded question here, we are again reminded of the crux of this matter:

Do we want a society in which our current employers can retroactively study our past conduct with previous employers to determine that—although we have been good employees for them—our past sins make us unfit to continue our current contracts?

I am still not sure.

The axe ‘em if you got ‘em argument would be compelling to me if it were based on a concern that the formerly bad employee was likely to repeat their offences, but no such a case was made explicit by any of the pundits in this scandal. And I’m not sure if such an argument would be persuasive here given that there is no indication that Peters has continued either of his previous malpractices with his new employer. According to all sources, if Peters hadn’t been found out to have been a rotten actor in the past, the Flames would have merrily continued his employment (and would have instantly fired him had they learned from his players of any abuse today).

According to former NHL player and current Carolina Hurricanes’ coach, Rod Brind’Amour, the players know now that they can speak up if something unprofessional happens to them or around them:

“I think the players have way more power now, and they realize that. I think it’s important for them to speak out about whatever they think is important because the times have changed. They definitely have more power and they need to speak up.”

So, correct me if I’m wrong, pundit class, but it seems that the excommunication today of Peters for bad actions committed in the past is meant as a punishment for those previous sins. He was once guilty of racism, and therefore he is unfit to be employed today.

Again, this is a tempting conclusion, and even as I type these words, I want to join the ongoing condemnation. My concern, though, is with the notion that people who do bad things are to be forever discarded.

It is a thin line that I am attempting to traverse because, if the racist and violent incidents happened as described, Peters should have been fired immediately in both cases. Moreover, it would have been reasonable for a new team to resist hiring Peters on the grounds that his prior bad behaviours were likely to be predictive of future bad behaviours.

However, the distinction I see here is Mr. Peters somehow avoided dismissal on the occasions that he behaved badly. That was surely unjust at the time, but in essence—to paraphrase the philosopher Thomas Nagel—Peters was morally lucky. I think most of us can relate to catching such a moral break. That is, most of us have at some point in our lives made a moral error for which we were either not caught or not penalized as much as we could have been. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that such unpunished moral blunders should follow us for the rest of work our lives.

In contrast, had Peters rightfully received serious consequences for his lousy choices if and when they occurred, he could then have attempted to rebuild his humanity and reputation. But, when our bad deeds follow us into the future indefinitely (whether we received adequate reprisal for them or not), it seems to be assumed that we cannot learn and better ourselves into morally decent creatures.

Of course, some crimes—murder, rape, child abuse—should not be pampered with any statutes of limitations. Even though murderers, rapists, and child abusers may in theory be capable of turning over their giant leaves, their crimes are so harmful that we must protect society with an arm that reaches far into the future. The purposes, to my mind, of such unblinking justice are that

(A) even a tiny risk of recidivism is too high to justify second chances, and

(B) we must deter such crimes by letting any would-be participants know that, once they take part, the law will never stop searching for them.

So my question to all of us is this:

Are Mr. Peters’s alleged crimes of crop-dusting his hockey dressing room with a racial slur, and physically assaulting two of his hockey players so serious that they must follow his career indefinitely into the future, regardless of whether he has changed his bad ways?

Perhaps, the answer is Yes, and I can live with that. However, my concern is that these questions about retroactive justice do not seem to be considered in the public conversation whenever we discover bad deeds in a public figure’s past. In this case, the media covering this discussion almost entirely resisted noting a distinction between firing an employee for present day bad actions committed on their current job, and firing them for bad actions committed under previous employment. Former NHL star, current NBC broadcaster, and self-appointed racism-detection expert Anson Carter says:

“This is not a witch hunt. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to worry about.”

But once again the case of Bill Peters is not about him doing something wrong; it is about him having done things wrong many years ago. That may be a fine line, but if we erase it, we may all be in trouble.

TO ACCUSE A MOCKINGBIRD

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

—Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is the first movie in my childhood viewing experience in which a happy outcome failed to punctuate my viewing enjoyment. Instead, collective bigotry overpowered justice, and Tom Robinson, a black man in an anti-black time and place, was found guilty of a rape that his lawyer, Atticus Finch, provided compelling evidence he did not commit.

As I grew up, I came to believe that this cautionary tale, while profound in its rendering, was unnecessary in our bigotry-fading times. Mob justice was something of which our fore-parents were guilty, not us moderners. Indeed, as I further learned about long-ago alleged witches subjected to drowning tests to see if they were witches, I recall feeling relieved that I had chosen a more just time in history to be born.

What I did not realize was that, even though our culture had come through an impressive collection of enlightenment, we still carried the same genetic disposition towards mob justice. It is in our nature to judge others by the instructions of our emotions, assumptions, and most powerful of all, our group consensus. Most of us want to believe ourselves to be morally righteous, and so when our friends, neighbours, and activists all have their fingers pointed in the same accusatory direction, it is not easy to resist the pull of their conviction. In turn, I suspect that the many mob jurists who once convicted real life Tom Robinsons in that anti-black time and place did so not because they were amoral, but because their peer pressure and prejudiced emotions had manipulated them into believing they were protecting their society (women, in particular) from evil.

Today, I believe the #MeToo style of justice being called for by advocates and pandered to by pundits and politicians utilizes the same emotional trickery, whereby those countering it with calls for due process are accused of being complicit in “rape culture.”

It is not an easy charge to allay. After all, due process necessarily means that some violent criminals will not be found guilty. Until, that is, humans acquire omniscience, our justice system will forever be unable to prove every case of evil it encounters.

Nevertheless, I thought our society was settled on the notion that it is better for ten guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be sent to prison. And, consequently, to be considered criminally guilty of a crime, a person must be found so beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe in such a system of justice not because I don’t care about victims, but because I think our society has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it cannot be trusted with a lower standard.

For those with faith in our modern brains, I refer you to the curious cases of Jian Ghomeshi and Brett Kavanaugh, both alleged sexual predators, and both presumed guilty by mob jurists. In Ghomeshi’s encounter, not only was there no corroborative evidence that the former CBC pontificator was guilty of the crimes of which he was accused, the communication between Ghomeshi and his accusers post “incidents” strongly indicated that he was innocent.

Undaunted by reason, though, a feminist mob chanted outside the Toronto courtroom (and on the streets of my own far away city) that the accusers should be believed, because, after all, they were members of a gender too pure to ever lie. And, yes, I know, mobs will be mobs: surely the society at large was not so deluded by the sexist rantings of evidence-resistant protestors. Maybe so, but many influential journalists, pundits, and celebrities (including literary legend, Margaret Atwood, and Ghomeshi’s own former bandmates) publicly helped themselves to a presumption of Ghomeshian guilt. And, even though Ghomeshi was found by the court to be not guilty, two years on, the fired radio host continues to be in public exile for crimes he is assumed without evidence to have committed.

Meanwhile, during the recent Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings for his spot on the US Supreme Court, the Senate called Professor Christine Blasey Ford to testify that the judge had sexually assaulted her 36 years ago. Now, even if we were to adopt the feminist standard of justice where one automatically believes the sincerity of female accusers, the case would still be a daunting one to prove. While Kavanaugh and Ford evidently spent some teenaged time in nearby circles, there is no corroborative testimony from either’s friends that they knew each other. So, it is perfectly possible that the 15-year-old Ford met someone who looked like the Kavanaugh she may have seen in passing and mistook him for the genuine Kavanaugh.

Even so, if the police were able to find credible evidence to verify Dr. Ford’s accusation, then the justice system should be free to pursue a conviction.

However, what happened here—senators asking their questions of Kavanaugh and Ford, mixing in partisan, faith-based pronouncements of justice—was trial by political peer pressure.

It is a token victory for due process that the Republican partisanship overruled the Democratic partisanship and approved the accused judge. But neither side, not even Kavanaugh, himself, pointed out that it was unjust for them to be guessing at the veracity of a criminal accusation.

As many have already said, Kavanaugh seemed rather unjudgely in his avoidance-testimony of  Democratic senators’ questions about his teenaged drinking habits, and whether he was ever drunk to the point that he might have unknowingly done what Ford had claimed. His response was to ask a questioning senator if she had ever gotten black-out drunk. While this obfuscation was unfitting of a judge, the spirit of Kavanaugh’s evasive manoeuvre is understandable. It is already difficult to prove any negative—that one didn’t do something—but it is especially daunting to prove that approximately 36 years ago at an unnamed place and time, one did not do something. There was no good answer for Kavanaugh. Given that he admits he drank a fair amount in those years, he likely does have a compromised memory of the parties he attended, but if he admits that, then he’s acknowledging it’s theoretically possible that he committed the assault. That, of course, is not actual evidence that he was a sexual assaulter, but faith-based jurists don’t care. In their emotion-led minds, failure to disprove a negative is proof of guilt.

By contrast, in courts of law where due process is in effect, there is no requirement of the accused to prove their innocence; instead, the state is obligated to prove guilt.

So, instead of obfuscating these questions, I wish Judge Kavanaugh had answered his senate interrogators with a soliloquy on due process. That asking him to prove that it was impossible for him to have committed the crime of which he was accused was like asking a witch to prove she was not a witch. That even though alleged victims of violent crime deserved access to justice, faith in accusation without due process and corroborative evidence was a dangerous precedent that he would not stand for. That he would not answer their questions regarding accusations of a crime that should be brought before a court of law or not at all. And that if this refusal disqualified him from their confirmation, then so be it, but he would not sacrifice his or anyone else’s due process for personal gain.

As it was, by answering the senators’ unjust questions, Justice Kavanaugh legitimized them. And so the mob jurists outside, and in the media, continued without resistance to pronounce their verdict that the system had “failed women.”

I am envious of these advocates for faith-based justice; unlike childhood me, #BelieveWomen activists can witness To Kill a Mockingbird with a smile as Tom Robinson’s conviction grants them a happy preview of the sort of justice they are seeking.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO II: Artistic Servitude

CBC Radio is a publicly funded broadcaster in Canada. Yet, in SethBlogs’ daily listening, their temperament is to present every story they encounter from a politically “progressive” vantage point. Against that pious bias, SethBlogs’ funded SethFM to the rescue.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE (you are here)
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER


I’m jealous of the progressive journalists, pundits, and their hybrid offspring who roam the airwaves of my intellectual nemesis, CBC Radio. The Canadian public broadcaster has constructed a safe zone for progressive ideas to run free without fear of contradiction. In this protected environment, the broadcaster’s journalists and pundits cheer on any progressive notions which claim to be combatting racism, sexism, and other notorious isms.

I’m jealous because I, too, am opposed to bigotry, and so I would love to enjoy the good feelings that come with allying oneself with all programs that promise to overpower prejudice; but, sadly for me, I suspect that many progressive policies (such as, say, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender quotas in his government) are ethically dangerous, themselves.

I do not mean to suggest that my skeptical conclusions are always right, nor that modern progressive thinking is always wrong, but instead that—by affixing their anti-bigotry labels so confidently to their tunics—progressive advocates and pundits have relieved themselves of the obligation to critically consider the consequences of their favourite ideas. Sometimes they may be right, and sometimes they may be well reasoned, but there is no requirement of those features in order for them to dogmatically present their views on CBC Radio, where their faith-based resolve will never be tested.

Last month, for instance, the Montreal Jazz Festival cancelled its musical production of Slav in belated response to protests regarding the race of the presenters not matching the race of the black slaves they were depicting (five of seven singer/performers were white).

In celebration of this artistic reduction, CBC Radio’s curator of cultural conversation, Q’s Tom Power, interviewed musician, Pierre Kwenders, one of the vanquishers of the unusual production. As ever, our Mr. Power refused to signal anything but progressive virtue as he gently asked his guest for a report of his feelings about his censorious achievement.

While my instincts sympathize with the protestors’ criticism of the production’s strange casting, I am unable to cheer on the halting of art (even when people say they are offended by it). Thus, in deference to the skeptical inquiry that I (jealously) wish were present on CBC Radio, I offer my best impression of an artistic freedom fighter here in another edition of SethFM.


SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE (you were just here)
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO I: The Fusing Of Art And Artist

CBC Radio is a publicly funded broadcaster in Canada. Yet, in SethBlogs’ daily listening, their temperament is to present every story they encounter from a politically “progressive” vantage point. Against that pious bias, SethBlogs’ funded SethFM to the rescue.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST (you are here)
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER


Once again, I call upon Oscar Wilde to set the scene.

“The artist,” says he (in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray), “is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”

I wonder what Wilde would have thought of our society’s current preference for the opposite. As our 2018 moral consensus runs, if a person is accused of a crime or witnessed saying something deemed offensive by the Twitter intelligentsia, then we accuse the offender’s art of guilt by association, and erase their work from further consideration.

I do not mean to suggest that such a moral argument is ridiculous; I can understand the impulse to exile the work of bad people to avoid the perception that we approve of their bad behaviours.

Nevertheless, I contend that the separation of art from the bad deeds of its engineers is essential to an enlightened society. Just as we would not tear down great works of architecture due to the personal failings of architects, we must let art stand for itself.

Perhaps I am wrong about this, but what scares me is how easily our society has given into the dogmatic puritans who insist that good people do not enjoy the artistic output of bad people.

Thus, I offer the following sprinkle of resistance to the storm via my affiliate Seth at SethFM.


SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST (you were just here)
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS VII: The Shame Of The Game

“A person who only knows their own side of an argument knows little of that.”

—SethBlogs paraphrasing social psychologist and Heterodox Academy co-founder, Jonathan Haidt, paraphrasing philosopher and free speech defender, John Stuart Mill.

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

I: I MAY AGREE WITH WHAT YOU SAY BUT I’LL FIGHT TO THE DEATH YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT.
II: NO QUESTIONS ASKED

III: ONE OPINION FITS ALL
IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE
V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2)
VI: THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK (2 of 2)
VII: THE SHAME OF THE GAME (you are here)


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 (as I described in WIRED FOR OFFENCE) 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.

CONCLUSION: 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.

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.


THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

I: I MAY AGREE WITH WHAT YOU SAY BUT I’LL FIGHT TO THE DEATH YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT.
II: NO QUESTIONS ASKED

III: ONE OPINION FITS ALL
IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE
V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2)
VI: THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK (2 of 2)
VII: THE SHAME OF THE GAME (you were just here)

ORWELLING UP II: Featuring CBC Feminism

The warnings of George Orwell play a significant role in the official philosophical anxiety of SethBlogs.

ORWELLING UP SERIES:

I: FEATURING DJ MORALS

II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM (you are here)


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


In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four “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 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:

(A) 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

(B) 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, likely chosen for that apparent sincerity). But, if 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. Deacon played a clip from the comedian’s special, Baby Cobra, in which the then 7.5 months’ pregnant comic noted 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 a 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 housewife… 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.


ORWELLING UP SERIES:

I: FEATURING DJ MORALS

II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM (you were just here)