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).

ACADEMIC FIEFDOM: Overcite vs. Oversight

The SethBlogs annual list of The Top 100 Under 100 Who Dislike Cancel Culture has come out, and I am pleased to announce that I, my very Seth, have qualified once again. I believe that cancel culture is unethical (because it uses intimidation to promote social conformity), cruel (because it dehumanizes those who don’t follow its codes), and unhelpful (because it divides us more than it yields the social improvements it claims to seek). While I’m not opposed to consequences for behaviours, my position is that punishments should stay in their jurisdiction. For instance, if you are alleged to have taken part in a crime, it is up to the legal system to take a crack at you as opposed to pre-trial panels of laymen announcing that you are to be relieved of your occupation.

Meanwhile, I have also landed on the SethBlogs Top 64 Reaching 6’4” or More Who Criticize Wokeness. I leave you to my official SethBlogs definition of wokeness for detailed reasons why, but, in short, I contend that political correctness is dogmatic (dismissing criticism as bigotry), duplicitous (employing sliding-scale standards of evidence), and punitive (utilizing a cancel culture division to deal with dissenters). To my mind, even if wokeness were correct in its one-dimensional assessments of our culture, the means by which it pursues those ends are dangerous to a free society.

One of my areas of particular anti-woke ranting is what I perceive to be woke studies within academia. (I listened to the woke PR firm, CBC Radio, for ten years, and in each of the many times that they invited a woke academic to the microphone, obvious holes in the supposed scholar’s reasoning were gaping despite the cuddly interviewer following CBC policy to never ask a “progressive” a challenging question. Examples available upon request.)

So, given my moral philosophy combo pack of anti-wokeness-in-academia and anti-cancel-culture in general, you can imagine my heartstrings being tugged in both directions when I discovered that Florida has cancelled certain woke academic programs. For instance, the New College of Florida has expelled its gender studies program.

To sort through the Sethical implications of such a restriction, let us first take a long walk on the general anti-woke side. I note there that a suspension of academic work does not necessarily fall into my definition of cancel culture if the program is being taken out by a legitimate academic authority because of clear and present anti-academic work product.

To that end, let us consider tools we might utilize to assess whether a gender studies program might be non-academic.

Popular-with-heterodox-academics journalist Jonathan Rauch suggests (in a discussion with social psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt) that we have an implied academic constitution:

“The constitution of knowledge… says that there are two things that [you’ve] got to do if you want to make knowledge. The first is: epistemically, I call it the fallible-ist rule which is anyone could be wrong, so no one gets to shut everybody else up and say we’ve reached the right answer—‘everyone go home.’ Second is the empirical rule, which says the way you make… objective knowledge is not by yourself in a room or not because you’ve had a divine revelation. You’re going to have to check with other people and do it in a very specific way… you’re going to have to go through a very disciplined process through institutions with other trained people… a lot of protocols, a lot of learning in order to establish that what you’re saying is actually true.”

Sounds reasonable. More specifically, I would say that if, within a scholar’s academic work product, they make mathematically illiterate statistical inferences, freely apply double standards, ignore alleged logical inconsistencies suggested by critics, and generally eschew the scientific method, and/or teach their students that their ideological opinions are truths (and they punish students for questioning those alleged facts), then they are failing to be academic in those cases.

I’m not saying that we should consider individual instances of not-so-academic work or teaching as an indication that a professor is a failed academic. (Even the biggest brains among us make intellectual errors sometimes. In fact, I’m told that academia works via a series of corrections zig-zagging back and forth, with a general trajectory of greater understanding of the material.) But if a thinker is clearly captured by non-academic reasoning in their work then I’m not sure how they can still be considered academic. The problem increases if particular fields of study are dominated by such pseudo-scholars. (In that case, the chance that the general direction of the discipline is towards better understanding is greatly reduced since the protective mechanism of criticism is not in place to encourage the discovery of errors.)

Whatever the measurement of academic standards, I believe we must demand that academia keeps its eyes on the goal of producing information and ideas that oscillate toward more accurate results. So certain disciplines that have announced alternate “ways of knowing” without, as far as I can detect, sending the new processes through rigorous skepticism would surely fail any reasonable test of academic work that we might imagine. (If such knowledge diversifiers had simply claimed to have discovered alternative “ways of thinking” that were worthy of exploration, I’d be happy to join the voyage myself. But, as it is, these parallel knowledge claims are running around their fields unopposed.)

This all may sound like mere speculation about gender-and-other-identity studies—Why don’t you write a DEI-stopian novel instead, SethBlogs?! (Not to worry, I did. And it’ll be coming soon!) But if you like my speculation, let us bolster it with some reader-sourced anecdotal evidence.

If you have spent any time in or near academia in the last few decades, you may have noticed that some professors—and, in turn, some disciplines—are more dogmatic about their arguments than others. For instance, while I was acquiring my philosophy degree, I met a sociology final exam that featured a multiple-choice question regarding the correct opinion of a certain sociological case. I don’t recall the exact question, but I can report it was not asking a familiarity-with-the-material question such as, According to X-ideology, what would be the most likely view on Y situation? No, it was literally claiming that there was an objectively correct moral interpretation of a scenario that could be checked via a multiple-choice question.

In contrast, in all of my philosophy classes, opinions were never facts. Instead, we were tested on our knowledge of previous arguments, our logical consistency in critiquing them, and our abilities to rationally construct our own case for anything we wished. On my favourite occasion, I wrote an ethical critique of Affirmative Action, and the professor poured red-inked criticism all over it, and yet he also gave me the highest mark I’d ever received on an essay.

And, yes, all of that’s anecdotal evidence. But anecdotal evidence isn’t intrinsically irrational. It depends on what it is intended to do. It should not be used in academia to prove a generality, but it can be used to persuade that a generality is worth considering (and perhaps even investigating). In this case, I would like to draw upon your experience and suggest that you too have been where I have been. I’ll bet your continued reading of this essay that you have encountered a demagogue ideologue of an instructor. And I’ll bet you’ve also met the opposite: the smile-provoking scholar who is not only open to contrary opinions but seems to invite them.

Now, if your memory does include such case studies, then I’ll thank you to stick around and take in my additional prediction that you have likely also noticed instances of my second, more vital claim that certain academic disciplines are waterlogged with unscientific scholars—and thus peer-review pressure to support all of their preferred ideological conclusions. And, if we’re right about that, those departments’ entire relationship with the truth-finding mission of academia seems to be in danger of sinking.

Consider again gender studies (née women’s studies).

[Gender is a fascinating topic worthy of many questions and hypotheses, but I think it’s simpler—and less dangerous—to aim this critique at gender studies’ most long-standing faith-based ideology, feminism.]

How many in gender studies’ feminist leadership have ever considered legitimate counterarguments and possible counterfactuals to their presumed conclusion that, say, we in the West live in an anti-female patriarchy? How many feminist professors have asked, for instance, If Western Society is built by men for the benefit of men—as is a popular feminist claim—why do men keep sending their favoured selves face first into wars as well as the most dangerous occupations? And how many women’s studies professors have raised their eyebrows at the corollary claim from public feminists such as Margaret Atwood and Hilary Clinton that women are actually the primary victims of war?

Furthermore, if you’ve ever taken a women’s/gender studies class or any other identity-honouring course, have you ever noticed a tendency in them to apply reasoning differently when it comes to the group they’re allegedly studying versus less welcome populations? For instance, when investigating, let’s say, negative stereotypes that women (in contrast with men) might encounter, do feminist academics design their survey questions to illicit a check mark from female respondents while not offering questions that might produce similar victimhood-confirming results from male respondents?

(If you’re still not sure, please refer yourself to any of the “privilege” tests available in academia-inspired DEI workshops. Do you think the questions cover an even-handed collection of positive and negative experiences associated with a variety of demographics? Or are they blatantly calibrated to match up with the sort of presumed experiences that will put specific groups in the hated “privileged” positions? It’s like creating a Dog vs. Cat Friendliness Test and asking the critters to step forward if they recall wagging their tails when they greet their humans and yet not asking the creatures to move forward if they purr upon receiving a neck rub—or whatever the vile felines like. I’ve even seen some privilege assessment tools that literally ask people to step forward towards the privilege guillotine if they match a particular identity marker, and then when those groups are found to be standing farther forward than others, the facilitators note they now have additional proof that those demographics are privileged! In our imagined pet friendliness appraisal, this would be akin to simply asking the dogs to step forward if they are dogs, and then saying, “Wow, dogs really are the friendliest! This isn’t something you cats should feel bad about—it’s just something you should be aware of so you can do something about it.” It may be the most baffling example of circular reasoning that I have ever witnessed.)

Along with your and my individual anecdotal experiences, evidence that pseudo-scientific work might be proliferating in academia can be found (as I’ve mentioned before) in the Grievance Studies Affair wherein three scholars—Dr. Peter Boghossian (from Philosophy), Dr. James Lindsay (from Mathematics), and Helen Pluckrose (from Early Modern Studies)—successfully pranked academic journals. First, the trio invented ridiculous conclusions that flattered woke-leaning descriptions of the world, and then our clandestine triad reverse-engineered ways to “justify” their wild claims. In other words, they produced deliberately bogus academic work to see if woke-seeming academic journals would evict them from consideration. Seven such papers—including a re-write of Mein Kampf in feminist language—were accepted, and more seemed to be on the path for the same, but the project was spotted by a nosey journalist first.

And then, from the other woke flank, peer-reviewed papers (such as by political scientist Dr. Bruce Gilley or psychologist and behavioural geneticist Dr. Mike Bailey) have been withdrawn and retracted respectively not because errors were found in their facts or reasoning but because woke individuals protested the PhDs’ controversial arguments.

Social Psychologist Dr. Cory Clark argues (in a discussion with social critic Chris Williamson) that changing priorities within new cohorts of academics has likely resulted in a larger percentage of researchers who view protecting people from unpalatable scientific findings as more important than truth itself.

“Some of the most prominent journals in all of science…” she says, “have put out a series of editorials over these past few years saying that they would not publish—and potentially would retract—science that has likely potential to, I think the phrasing was, undermine the dignity of human social groups.”

I can understand such an inclination to prefer one’s research to have a positive effect on society than for it to add new hurtful data to our collection. I too would rather be a net contributor to happiness than truthfulness. Yet, if scholars are no longer on a treasure hunt for truth, how can we be confident that they’re on the most-likely-to-find-goodness path? Indeed, if a rigorous checking of the evidence is not guiding our scholars (and, instead, they are censoring legitimate hypotheses and conclusions), then what intellectual legitimacy does academia maintain in its efforts to help us sort through our public policy questions?

Moreover, as Clark points out, how do we know that the presumed short-term positive benefits of suffocating uncomfortable results are a net positive for our well-being? Let’s say a study seems to demonstrate that a certain charity’s work doesn’t help those it claims to uplift. Such a determination might have an immediate negative consequence that, say, fewer people will donate to charities in general. Yet learning about the flaws of that one organization may also push public policy advisors to seek out beneficial new ways of helping people, which, in turn, may be a net profit for non-profits.

I submit that pursuing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is not only worthwhile for its own sake, but it should also be the prime motivating value of academia for the sake of assisting non-academia in selecting the most effective policies to pursue our ethical hopes.

Therefore, I think a case can be made for regulating professional academic standards in the same way that we do other professions.

Indeed, in most occupations, there is a range of practices that fall within and without what is considered to be professional practice. For instance, an on-duty lawyer can take on any side of any issue that they prefer. However, if the lawyer builds their case by suborning perjury or intentionally acting outside the best interests of their client, they may be disbarred for not following their professional oath. (This is not cancel culture, which occurs when a portion of a culture attempts to oust someone from a profession or other role due to actions outside of their work.)

And yet a major trouble with the notion of regulating academic work is that academic standards have an additional consideration beyond just producing quality material. As I understand it, we also include in our reasons for protecting professors the notion of academic freedom so that we can ensure that these leading minds are allowed to go wherever their insights take them without fear of social or financial de-incentivization.

[I define academic freedom as an unfettered right of scholars to pursue any topic, hypothesis, and/or argument that they wish. This includes the options to write about their findings, to be criticized for their assumptions, methodology, and logic, and even to be proven wrong, and perhaps, along the way, to present their arguments to their students to test them some more.]

Technically, I do see a theoretical pathway to regulating academic standards without annihilating academic freedom. Perhaps an academic department builds its arguments on the presumed correctness of controversial premises and the practice of rigor-free methods to then prove new claims that their professors will then describe to their students as “something we know.” I would contend that such work—and the sermony teaching it provokes—is not academic: it is an anti-intellectual faith haven that does not adhere to best academic practices. Therefore, regulating such anti-intellectual work is not necessarily the same as infringing upon academic freedom to pursue—and comment freely on—whatever line of inquiry interests individual scholars.

Nevertheless, telling academics they’re on the wrong side of academic methodology and best teaching practice is still dangerous because the line we cut to itemize what counts as academic work and teaching practice must be laser-sharp. Otherwise, we risk our own ideological bias sneaking into the oversight and taking out our enemies for points of view instead of points of order.

Al Capone was convicted for tax evasion instead of his more infamous activities because law enforcement had trouble proving he was responsible for deadly violence in Chicago. I don’t object to that: prosecuting Capone for lesser crimes that could be demonstrated in court was a clever strategy that had a clear ethical upside. However, I worry that the power of academic oversight could be used in a similar manner. I can imagine a case where the academic regulators dislike the political perspective (or irrelevant-to-work behaviours) of a scholar, so they help themselves to a few inadvertent and petty technical violations of academic-work policy so that they can legitimately cancel the problematic thinker.

Such an unintended means of taking people out is a risk with all oversight, but again academic freedom is, I suspect, a particularly vital component of academia, where our membership includes a wide variety of special, potentially earth-saving brains, many of whom run on various levels of genius, eccentricity, and curmudgeonliness.

Have you ever known the joy of meeting an eccentric, genius, curmudgeon professor? While such a scholar can frustrate one’s sense of fair contemplation, if a student can let go of the gruff delivery and learn to understand half of what the tough prof is saying, they’ll learn lessons of thinking, argumentation, and even style that they get to keep permanently on their own talent belt.

If we do attempt to evict the bath water in which clearly non-academic professors are swimming, do we risk losing our eccentric, genius curmudgeons in the process?

As you can see by the length of my argument defending the notion of defunding non-academic disciplines, my heart says the risk is worth the reward. Nevertheless, I fear that my long frustration with woke academia may be causing me to underestimate the unintended consequences of regulating faith-based thinkers out.

To be safe—in lieu of going straight to professor or department exile—I wonder if it would be reasonable to offer academic probation with various options for helping the unscholarly academics to reset their courses.

Perhaps, as in other professions, some professional-to-professional mentoring might be undertaken. If that sounds too punitive to the professorial ego, maybe professors proven to be utilizing the unscientific method in their academic work could be given the option to take part in an Adversarial Collaboration Project (as co-authored by Dr. Clark at the University of Pennsylvania) which gathers academics who disagree with each other to see if they can find some results in common. Finally going paper to paper with their critics might help the previously unmoored thinkers to see the value of looking in advance for vacancies in their own arguments.

In conclusion, I am technically ambivalent about the solution to the conundrum of non-academic proselytizing in higher education. But I hope that Western academia recognizes soon that they have a complicated problem that requires their big brains to balance academic rigor, academic freedom, academic eccentricity, academic oversight, and oversight protocols to keep the regulators, themselves, from wielding the same ideological bullying that they would be intended to eliminate.

If they can do that, they may just qualify for the SethBlogs Top 10 Over 10 Wonders of the World.

SIMULCAST ON SETHSTACKS

AN ANTI-WOKE DEFINITION OF WOKENESS

Before we begin, I want to admit that I’m on the anti-woke end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, I hope my definition of wokeness is still useful to those living to the woke of me. After all, unless you are Ibram X. Kendi or Robin DiAngelo, there will always be someone more woke than you. So if you find yourself yearning to critique the argument of a person who out-wokes you, I humbly submit this breakdown for your consideration in preparing for your endeavour.

I also hope this analysis is a useful reference point for those who would like to debate woke policies but are sometimes blocked from entering the discussion if they don’t have an exhaustive definition handy. In my view, such definitional demands on potential discussants are tools of avoiding genuine deliberation. Wokeness is like humour: despite being all around us, it is difficult to identify in words; yet I think we all know it when we feel it. Nevertheless, I offer you my hard-thought but surely imperfect definition of woke behaviour as an opening bid that might assist you in gaining access to those restrictive conversations.

PART I: DIVIDING WOKENESS

Among those who discuss the moral code of wokeness, I notice that we have a surplus of definitions. So, with arrogance in my heart, compassionate anti-woke bias in my soul, and clarity as my goal, I will now attempt to define what I think most of us intuitively mean by “wokeness” (or “political correctness” when it was run under previous management).

Those of us who criticize wokeness and those who abide by it seem to be speaking of two nearly distinct philosophies. According to the woke themselves, wokeness is alertness to injustice. (Wokeness sounds noble when they put it like that.) Yet, according to critics of wokeness, it is something like justice advocacy that determines who is eligible for its services via identity markers that are generally associated with historical maltreatment; moreover, it insists that all claims of injustice by—or on behalf of—those woke-protected individuals are undeniable; therefore, anyone who doesn’t agree to its descriptions and/or corresponding prescriptions must be punished socially, occupationally, and, where feasible, legally.

Sometimes both of these pro-and-anti-woke descriptions could be true at the same time: a woke person could have a fair point about a particular injustice and yet still be puritanical in how they make it. So, by criticizing woke assumptions, tactics, and recommendations, we anti-woke babblers are frequently presumed to be opposed to every stated goal of wokeness, including the most honourable ones, such as declawing racism. But, if I may speak for the majority of anti-woke thinkers, we tend to favour the enlightened values that woke activists claim in their titles but don’t, in our view, exemplify in their actions and arguments.

For that matter, it’s not just the anti-woke who are skeptical of woke tendencies. In my experience (and perhaps yours?), even defenders of wokeness admit that there is a point where they too see the woke elite “going too far.” (See political comedian/commentator Bill Maher who often irritates both sides of these debates because he cheers on certain woke talking points in one monologue only to mock woke gospel in another.) For instance, whereas a woke-inclined person may defend most ethnicity-related woke justice claims, they might be skeptical of the woke commandment to censure so-called “cultural appropriation.” Instead, such generally-woke-aligned-but-skeptical-of-particular-cases thinkers might assess the notion of certain cultures owning certain types of expression as extreme and contrary to their own value of cultures being free to influence and be influenced by each other.

So, if I’m right that even the woke-sympathizing among us view the influential moral disposition as sometimes overreaching, then we can conclude that almost all of us perceive wokeness as not identical to the simple call for justice, equality, and the humanitarian way. Wokeness includes bonus material beyond its gleaming self-description. By analogy, in my country, the party in current power is called the “Liberal” party. Yet I think the Liberal leader has some authoritarian (i.e. anti-liberal) habits. (For instance, in 2022, he said that approaching protestors possessed “unacceptable opinions.”) Nevertheless, despite my anti-Liberal-leader critique, I am fond of liberal values. When I criticize the capital-L Liberal Prime Minister, that does not mean I am opposed to small-l liberal ideals such as free speech and equal marriage access. Instead, I am a critic of particular policies and rhetoric that my Liberal government uses in the world, which I believe ethically contradict their title principles.

So I am pro-liberal and anti-Liberal at the same time. Similarly, by its own definition of itself, I am technically pro-woke: after all, I too am opposed to injustice. And yet I simultaneously disagree with nearly all of the arguments and tactics expressed by woke representatives.

So, when discussing wokeness, are we referring to the official definition of the thing or the way in which the concept is actually used? I believe that the public debate around wokeness is almost universally pointed at its actions and policies in contrast with its headline principle. For that reason, I will now attempt to define wokeness as I see it behaving as opposed to how its PR department portrays it.

PART II: DEFINING WOKENESS

Wokeness, I submit, is led by a maxim that identity groups can and should be sorted into permanent victims vs. permanent villains. Woke philosophy presumes, that is, that particular historical injustices have prominent and unyielding tentacles in every modern-day institution and social interaction. (See the woke’s use of bulk “privilege” diagnoses wherein all members of certain demographics are described as advantaged regardless of their particular encounters in the world.) And that irresistible notion inhibits the woke’s ability and/or willingness to consider instances where their analysis might go wrong.

If you’re a human reading this then you have likely at some point taken part in motivated reasoning and/or confirmation bias to guide you to a favourite conclusion. Such preference-guided thinking is not easy to avoid even among those with ironclad integrity. For that reason, the scientific method includes double-blind protocols to help the most logical of researchers avoid jumping for the unearned inferences that their brains want for them. The trouble that I see with woke moral reasoning is that it incentivizes us to disregard our own sleights of mind and instead to lean in to our prized assumptions. (See “The Grievance Studies Affair” by Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose in which they seem to have demonstrated anti-scientific woke bias within academia. To do so, they invented outrageous conclusions and then justified them utilizing woke language but no scientific evidence; the trio of authors subsequently had seven purposely “broken” papers accepted in academic journals. While the intentionally unscientific work couldn’t be supported with scrutiny, it aligned with the already-established inclinations of those publications, and it was rewarded.)

I have no doubt that certain woke premises and even conclusions sometimes have merit, but the woke method of justifying their arguments greatly reduces woke thinkers’ chances of spotting their own errors along the way. Unlike the scientific method which facilitates spotting leaps of logic, I contend that woke philosophy rewards faith-based groupthink, using three leading means to motivate us to defer to its pessimistic conclusions.

(1) Woke representatives insist that their descriptions and prescriptions represent unimpeachable virtue that only bad people would question. Given that wokeness has appointed itself the official spokes-value against many of the worst injustices of history, those of us who prefer to be good people (and/or seen as good people) are compelled to join a cause that claims to be on the opposite side of those moral catastrophes. (See how the woke refer to their openly discriminatory advocacy as “anti-racism.” Who, in their modern right mind, doesn’t want to be anti-racist?)

(2) Now under cover of their dogmatic insistence that they are the most virtuous among us, the woke announce revolutionary moral conclusions, seasoned with phrases that on first taste make them seem as though they are doing nothing more than protecting the demographic victims of history from further abuse. However, hidden beneath the woke’s flowering of sweet-smelling phrases, there lies in the soil not-so-fragrant machinations that are required to maintain the beauty above. (See the common woke incantation “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” which looks bright and cheerful on its surface, but which—through its equity call for demographic matching in the roles it targets—directly implies and leads to policies of “positive discrimination” against “over-represented” identity groups.)

Perhaps those unspoken components can be justified, but woke policy is to deny the existence of—and distract us from observing—any possible ethical quandaries and victims that come along with their effervescent platitudes. Consider Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 justification for using a sex-based quota to choose his cabinet ministers. (From 50 female and 134 male MPs, Trudeau promoted 15 of each to the top positions.) When asked why he did so, Trudeau explained “because it’s 2015,” suggesting that his discriminatory policy was, by definition, evolved to match the modern year in which we were living and that questioning his magnanimity would be akin to discriminating against women. Predictably, none of the reporters present dipped their toe into Trudeau’s linguistic trap, and he received no good-faith questions about whether there could possibly be an ethical downside to the government choosing its leaders—and excluding certain candidates—on the basis of sex.

And (3) once the woke’s policies land in our consciousness, they do not simply disagree with critics: they accuse them of being loathsome and irredeemable sinners who are unworthy of public participation. (See Canadian NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, who in 2020 put forth a bill to diagnose the RCMP as systemically racist. Only one of 338 MPs—across all parties—voted against Singh’s dogmatic conclusion, and, for the holdout’s skepticism, Singh accused him of racism too.) Such reflexive demonization surely then scares away other would-be critics who might have had some legitimate counterarguments.

All totalled, here is my one-sentence definition of present-day political correctness:

Wokeness is a virtue pyramid scheme that collects adherents, as well as casualties, via dogma, intellectual trickery, and intimidation.

My critique of wokeness as a doctrinaire and scary fraud is not meant to suggest that all woke-leaning people are evil and that woke moral conclusions are always wrong: I don’t doubt that there are well-intentioned woke-aligned individuals and that the woke have some worthwhile insights. My criticism is that wokeness is to moral philosophy what astrology is to science. Your horoscope may sometimes correctly point out something true about you that you might not have otherwise noticed, but, since the horoscope writer is using an unscientific method, we ought to be extra careful of using it to guide us in our daily decision-making.

So I would not count the late 20th and early 21st-century activism in the West that called for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples as woke. After all, those gay rights campaigners didn’t cheat in their arguments—perhaps because they didn’t need to: the discrimination they described was present and accounted for in the laws of most Western countries, so they were easily able to use good faith and reasonable arguments to arrive at their pleas for equality. Similarly, almost every modern moral thinker agrees that Martin Luther King was a hero of history who fought to undo clear American violations of equality and human dignity. Yet, the fact that the woke may agree with many of MLK’s conclusions doesn’t make King woke, just as a meteorologist who occasionally predicts the same weather as an astrologist is not necessarily using an astrological method to reach those results.

PART III: EXEMPLIFYING WOKENESS

In the hopes of validating in your mind the above three-part definition of wokeness as dogmatic, dishonest, and punitive, I will now attempt to show how wokeness consistently exemplifies that critique.

(1) Wokeness is Dogmatic:

This one’s the easiest to justify since it’s right there in the name. Being “woke”—i.e. morally awake—includes a metaphor for objectivity. Those who are awake are seeing what is truly there (in contrast with those of us in the dream state who are seeing a fanciful view of life). Such a claim of infallible access to truth is an essential component of woke rhetoric: any alleged injustice is always closed to disagreement. The woke are not merely making arguments about society: they are—according to their language and actions—truth holders. They are “educating” the rest of us as they replace subjective terms such as opinionperspective, and belief with objective reframes such as “My truth,” “Lived experience,” and “Different ways of knowing.” And, whereas the Western legal system is theoretically grounded on the notion of innocent until proven guilty, woke feminists have argued that we should “believe victims” independent of investigation.

The woke also insist that they possess infallible access to the minds of presumed perpetrators. Recall the infamous 2018 Philadelphia Starbucks case wherein two not-quite-yet customers tell us they were waiting for a business meeting at a table in the coffee shop without having purchased a beverage. According to even the woke-leaning New York Times version of the story, the might-eventually-be consumers were asked to purchase something or depart. Our soon-to-be famous fellows declined both options, and the manager subsequently called the police, apparently to have the unpatrons removed. The police then also asked the beverage-free table-dwellers to exit and were told No again, so they arrested the visitors on suspicion of trespassing. The story subsequently morphed into an internationally-discussed incident of presumed racism against the customer impersonators. Starbucks accepted the condemnation and shut down 8000 stores for a day to give their employees woke-approved “Implicit Bias” training. No evidence was supplied for assuming that the manager was motivated by racism other than the races of the alleged victims. In this and countless even more punitive examples, the woke successfully claim the talent of mind-reading among their powers of infallible perception.

(2) Wokeness is Dishonest

(A) Via Double Standards:

Whereas the scientific method of inquiry might see woke sociological claims as hypotheses that must be tested, woke philosophy notes that all contentions have already been proven by the “lived experiences” of the complainants. The woke need only point out cases where woke-protected individuals or groups fare worse in a situation to claim proof of present-day discrimination. As woke prophet Ibram X. Kendi puts it, “Racism… is a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.” Cancelling out the circular parts of Kendi’s definition, we are left with Racism is racial inequity, which is to say that any time two demographics have disparate results, we have proof of bigotry.

I disagree with Kendi’s oversimplified notion, but if divergent outcomes proved ongoing systemic discrimination, then woke scholars would have to admit many counterwoke examples where non-woke-guarded populations fare worse than woke-protected groups. For instance, men are more often victims of violence, suicide, murder, homelessness, and gay-bashing than women, but that is not the sort of inequity that woke thinkers are looking for.

(B) Via Word Games:

Wokeness uses several definition games to protect its arguments. For instance, one means by which woke philosophers avoid accusations of double standards is by defining themselves as morally infallible.

Consider feminism: when criticized for some of their women-first analyses, many leading feminists will note, “No, no, look at the dictionary: we are simply advocates for the equality of both women and men,” suggesting that, by their definition of themselves, they cannot be accused of favouring female people over male people (despite the contrary indication in their title). How feminists were able to achieve such a counterintuitive result in the dictionary, I do not know. But they are right: most dictionaries have given feminism that very feminist-guarding definition. Yet, in action and advocacy, almost all public feminists (save for the occasional Christina Hoff Sommers or Camille Paglia) seem to call for a double standard of care when considering the rights, protections, and dignity of female as opposed to male people.

On the one side of its advocacy, feminism claims that any alleged “microaggressions” against women are evidence of an anti-female society. For instance, feminists successfully cancelled medical researcher and noble laureate, Dr. Tim Hunt, because of his alleged misogyny after he uttered a joke (during a speech in which he was cheering on women in science) that women are more likely to cry in the workplace than men. Feminists are free to take offence to such attempted comedy and even to diagnose its sentiment as sexist if they choose, but why then—on the other side of their advocacy—do they promote much more severe insults of men, such as “toxic masculinity,” “mansplaining,” “manterrupting,” “the male gaze,” “the male ego,” “male violence against women,” “Teach men not to rape,” and so on?

Once again there is a clear distinction between the idealized egalitarian philosophy that feminism tells us about in its dating profile vs. the female-people-only advocacy that it shows up with on its actual dates. Referring to feminism as advocacy for equal treatment only to protect one sex from eyebrow-raising jokes while sending dehumanizing insults to the other is a form of ideological catfishing.

Similarly, woke advocates will sometimes announce that they have changed the definition of certain bigotries to exclude themselves. “Woke-protected race X,” they’ll say, “cannot be racist because racism equals power plus prejudice.” Power plus prejudice is certainly a useful concept worthy of its own term, yet its repurposing (dare I say colonizing?) of the word racism stops us from pointing at a specific and formidable villain of human history (the belief that a particular race is superior to and/or more deserving than another). This is not just a linguistic muddying of our words. By limiting racism to only certain genres of racial bigotry, the woke shield themselves from criticism when they cheerfully unleash pejorative terms such as “whiteness,” “white fragility,” and “white saviorism.” Under the original definition of racism, we could call such demonizing racialized language what it is, pure and uncut racism.

Ironically, of course, if racism were just prejudice plus power, then surely the woke would be identifiable as the most racist of all; what, after all, could be more powerful than defining yourself as infallible and then getting away with it?

Next, the woke manipulate our language by conjoining situations that are non-violent with words of violence. (See “microaggression,” “silence is violence,” and the call for “safe spaces [from ideas].”) Such blending of violent and non-violent concepts surely then creeps into our minds and creates an illusion that the woke are combatting a greater threat than may actually be out there. [The term “Concept Creep” was first expressed in 2016 by Psychology professor, Nick Haslam.]

(C) Via the Problematization Treadmill:

In King’s I Have a Dream speech, he was considering an idyllic, racism-free society. If achieved, it would mean that his goals had been reached such that, in theory, he could retire from that aspect of his activism. At present, however, it is not in the social or financial interest of woke activists to promote or acknowledge improvements for victim identity groups. Indeed, according to their own testimony, woke educators can never actually succeed in their woke work. Expensive diversity trainers, such as sociologist and White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, famously tell their congregations that the bigotry of white people (including from DiAngelo, herself) is not something they can turn off. The professional woke person’s job then is to educate the alleged perpetrators of the bigotry and, just as importantly, to undermine the notion that such training could ever fully reverse the socially-implanted prejudice of the problematic students.

Notice also that woke changes to our language are running a perpetual updating process that can never quite reach its destination. Once woke corrections to the language are accepted by the majority, those interventions themselves become “problematic” and are discarded in favour of new sets of phrases that will eventually succumb to charges of being “harmful” as well. [As early as 1994, linguist Stephen Pinker spotted the pattern of eternally adjusting acceptable language and referred to the phenomenon as “the euphemism treadmill.”] While in theory, woke linguists claim they are attempting to remove hurtful word choices from our common phrasing, their actual duty is to maintain their critique of society as hostile to particular victim identity groups. Therefore, if the majority uses woke words, those terms can no longer be considered woke and so must be re-critiqued.

(D) Via KafkaTraps:

Perhaps the current champion of woke manipulation games is their use of Kafkatraps in their rhetoric. For instance, the charismatic woke-scholar DiAngelo provides her troublingly white followers two options: they may agree to her critique that they are incurably racist, or—if they attempt to defend themselves—she accuses them of suffering from “white fragility.” The double-edged concept has caught on so well with DiAngelo’s self-accusing crowd that it is now available in feminist speak, allowing men to choose between a diagnosis of misogyny or male fragility.

In other lectures, the woke will give non-woke-protected individuals two options for how they would like to be demonized. If a “straight white male” would like to support a woke cause, they may still be accused of “white saviorism” and/or “mansplaining,” but, if they decline to take part, they will be told they are participating in “white male apathy” and that their “silence is violence.”

If a non-woke-protected person attempts to promote another culture’s designated pastimes, they will be told they are “culturally appropriating.” If, however, such a person does not take part in a variety of cultural products and instead succeeds in advancing their own assigned cultural works, they will be accused of being narrow-mindedly obsessed with their dominant and problematic culture. (See “centering whiteness.”)

The number of woke Kafka traps are too numerous to list here, but I think they can be summed up by the Tina-Fey-led television show Mr. Mayor in which Holly Hunter’s political advisor character attempts to undermine Ted Danson’s mayor character. After asking him if he had had the decency to put up a black square on his Facebook profile during the leading BLM protests, she remarks, “Either way, how dare you?”

(E) Via Gaslighting:

Perhaps the most startling aspect of woke trickery is its denial that it’s up to what it’s up to. Consider the woke’s frequent use of the infamous Motte and Bailey trick where they do something controversial (the Bailey) and then, when questioned about it by critics, they hold out their innocent palms and claim that they are merely trying to support something to which almost no one would object (the Motte). For hypothetical instance, it seems to some of us skeptics that there are many “diversity trainers” as well as university professors and high school teachers who “educate” workers and/or students utilizing far-woke interpretations of history and society (the Bailey), but then, when those educators are criticized for, say, over-racializing and essentializing their supposed learners via privilege tests, the demagogue pedagogues gasp and claim that all they want to do is teach society undisputed facts of, say, American history (the Motte), such as the existence of slavery and Jim Crow laws. If I may speak for the anti-woke, we wholeheartedly support discussions of the cruelties of history, but we have many times witnessed the woke instructors in these matters utilizing their personal ideological interpretations of sociology to guide them. [The Motte-and-Bailey as a metaphor for certain ideological warfare was first utilized by philosopher Nicholas Shackel.]

As always, in some cases, the woke may have a worthy moral point that they are defending, but it’s difficult to have a debate about, say, Critical-Race-Theory-inspired pedagogy in schools when its practitioners are only willing to discuss a heroic interpretation of what they’re doing.

(3) Wokeness is Punitive

Wokeness is so sure of itself that it calls for those who have ever been a critic, a friend of a critic, or a non-follower of maximum wokeness to be punished via shame, de-platforming, cancellation of professional relationships, speech restrictions, job insecurity, and reduced access to due process.

In keeping with its gaslighting policy above, woke advocates will often deny that they have a cancellation branch, pointing out, for instance, that eight-hundred-millionaire author JK Rowling (who is a critic of certain trans-advocacy) still has a job. But either unintentionally or (I suspect) intentionally, the woke are confused about what cancel culture means. The term does not suggest that every cancellation attempt will be successful; instead, it refers to a minority but influential group of people who attempt to punish—via de-platforming and job emancipation—those who have non-woke opinions, behaviours, and/or artistic productions. When Rowling offers an officially problematic argument, the woke call for boycotts of her artistic work. The fact that Rowling’s career has not yet fallen is irrelevant to the question of whether a culture of cancellation tried (and continues to try) to take her out. In turn, such hostile advocacy surely scares away many woke-skeptical offerings from writers who don’t have the protection of a globally-successful franchise on their resume.

Despite the dispute, I won’t try to prove the existence of cancel culture to you here. I believe the examples are too numerous and far-reaching to deny in good faith. (If you prefer to have a case study handy, please refer to the example I provided earlier of Dr. Tim Hunt, the medical research superstar who was fired from all of his positions for uttering wronghumour.)

To my ear, the unstated theory behind woke enforcement is that the person caught in the act of being unwoke has not merely made a philosophical error: they are illustrating an intrinsic failing of their humanity, which cannot be redeemed. Therefore, they must be excommunicated from polite society so that their impure thoughts cannot spread to others.

So not only is cancel culture a hostile project which attempts to destroy fellow humans for saying the wrong words, it is, I believe, contrary to the alleged goals of ideological wokeness. If the woke are truly afraid of anti-woke zealots becoming radicalized, the last strategy they ought to employ is marginalizing such people to the scratchy outskirts where they will disproportionately encounter other supposedly evil-minded people. If the woke want to persuade their fellow citizens to join their allegedly anti-racist cause, they ought to promote us mingling with each other, which, as Mark Twain notes, is “fatal to prejudice.”

PART IV: CONCLUDING WOKENESS

Once again, I must insist that not all people who align themselves with woke causes are woke in action. Perhaps you sincerely believe in many woke claims. Maybe you’re right; maybe you’re wrong, but if you make your case with humility (i.e. you don’t claim moral infallibility), intellectual integrity (i.e. when two of your positions seem to contradict themselves, you reasonably attempt to reconcile the apparent discrepancy), and humanity (i.e. you don’t aim to destroy anyone who disagrees with you), then I would describe you as a good faith moral reasoner who happens to share some conclusions with woke thinkers. However, if you are dogmatic, intellectually devious, and/or punitive in your defence of a woke position, then I submit that you are being a woke bully, at least in that moment.

As already indicated, uncritical thinking is not exclusive to the woke. Other groups—including the anti-woke—can take on any of the above-listed patterns. However, what makes the woke so scary, in my opinion, is that even though it is only a minority of people who advocate its teachings, a super majority of us are afraid of its power to punish us. Consider woke’s forename, political correctness. As the description suggests, it is not necessarily providing morally correct insights, but instead politically useful offerings (i.e. maxims that we’d best assent to if we want to politically flourish), regardless of our moral objections to them.

I think it is imperative (when safe to do so) to point out occasions where woke advocates are being dogmatic, intellectually dishonest, and hostile. If, for instance, they racially profile someone as racist, we should ask them if they can see into the mind of the accused. If they respond by noting they are using their “lived experience” to infer bigotry, we should ask them exactly how that standard of assessment is different from bigotry itself. If they point out they cannot be bigoted, because bigotry equals prejudice plus power, we should ask them if there is any greater power than the option to be prejudiced without being criticized for it.

SIMULCAST ON SETHSTACKS

SOCRATES VS. THE INFALLIBILITY OF IDENTITY

In the SethFM broadcast promoted in my previous post, WHO DARE YOU?, I criticized Cancel Culture apologist, Dr. Hannah McGregor, for following the identity politics’ trend of using race and gender as a sorting mechanism for who should be speaking and who should be silent. For instance, the professor criticized the writers of the famous/infamous Harper’s letter (which criticized Cancel Culture) for, not possessing the appropriate demographics to be making such criticisms.

As the Seth of SethFM pointed out: if identity is the determining factor for moral accuracy of argument, then how are we to comprehend the fact that many people from every identity designation seem to exist on every side of nearly every argument?

Therefore, I suggested that, in lieu of utilizing the content of a philosopher’s identity as the basis for measuring the strength of their contentions, we instead inspect their actual arguments. To my delight and simultaneous embarrassment for accidental plagiarism, I have since heard a thinker of slightly greater talents than my own making a similar case. His name is Socrates, and his argument as well as my celebration of it is now available on SethFM for your consideration.

 

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