Category Archives: Sethics vs. Uncritical Race Theories

Even the best of intentions can find their way to Hellish results.

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.

SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO III: The Curiosity Of Tom Power

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
III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER (you are here)


As any fan or foe of SethBlogs knows, I consider CBC Radio to be my nemesis. It’s not just that they have a slant regarding how our society should be run, they have a slope. This does not mean that they are always wrong in every conclusion they promote, but it does mean that their editorial policy is to never dig for nuance; so long as the item they are discussing claims to be progressive, they are for it.

Moreover, CBC Radio’s sloping presentation is more egregious than that of other biased broadcasters, such as FOX News (to the right) or MSNBC (to the left), because CBC Radio is publicly funded, and so has a duty to all of its constituents, not just to those who agree with them.

So each day—as I listen to CBC Radio—I hope for a break from their no-nuance policy.

Recently, for instance, CBC Radio reporters announced—with a progressively correct grin—that we now had proof of current racial bias in Canada’s policing. My ears opened wide to take in the details of this significant claim, only to learn that the alleged proof of racism could be found in the fact that a higher percentage of certain races are arrested by Canadian police than other races. The reporters gave no consideration to the possibility that the disparate arrest rates could be related to disparate crime rates amongst current Canadian racial demographics (due to various social factors, including perhaps historical racism, itself).

And we know that CBC Radio is aware that historical factors (beyond current racism) can contribute to differing racial demographics in the present, because they frequently talk about the lingering effects of historical injustice on modern groups. Now, of course, it’s possible that both current police racism and history are influencing today’s results, but CBC Radio is not claiming a possibility here: they are claiming a fact that—because we have differing arrest rates—we know that racism is the cause. This would be like assuming that, because online shopping is increasing, that modern Canadians hate going to the mall. That might be the case, but it might also simply be that Canadians get better prices online. I’m interested in the information either way, but—by not checking their work for logical errors—CBC Radio simplifies these discussions down to their lowest common assumptions.

So, as I hear these failures of curiosity, I often wonder:

Do these progressively correct CBC Radio stars realize that they’re ignoring worthy counter arguments to their assumed truths, or are they simply playing simple because that’s their job?

The poster voice for this question of mine is the sweet-seeming Tom Power, the current host of CBC Radio’s arts & culture show, Q. The man is so cuddly in his simplification of complex topics that he seems more dangerous to me than a more aggressive version of himself might be, as he lulls his audience into a belief that there is no possible dark side to his dogma.

For instance, I recall Power interviewing playwright and director, Robert LePage (before the latter failed an appropriation test with his Slav production), and Mr. LePage contemplated out loud whether the #MeToo movement might be overreaching in its possible tendency to reduce humour in the workplace. Power replied, with his fluffiest voice:

“Well, ultimately, I think that might be a good thing” [paraphrased from my memory].

And that was an end to it. Mr. LePage realized that he had been instantly vanquished by his soft-spoken interrogator, and he immediately admitted to our Mr. Power that he was quite right.

Now, Tom’s conclusion might indeed have been correct—perhaps, on balance, the reduced humour of some is worth the increased comforts of others in the modern workplace—but, before pronouncing his progressive judgement, I wonder if Tom might have shown a drop of curiosity about what sorts of troubling consequences for humour Mr. LePage had in blasphemous mind.

So, in answer to my question about whether Mr. Power is as simple as he seems—or if he’s just pretending to be because that’s his job—I counted the above failure of curiosity as evidence of a genuine blandness of mind. Yet, some days—when Q’s topic of discussion has no obvious socio-political implications—I notice that Mr. Power is capable of humour and thought beyond his simplistic progressive assertions.

So I have been torn by the mystery of Tom Power:

Is it possible that he is, in fact, a brilliant progressive strategist hiding in plain platitudes?

Well, recently, our Mr. Power finally proved to me which was his true identity.

On the other side of the Q microphone was Daphne Rubin-Vega, who is the lead voice in the dramatic podcast, The Horror of Dolores Roach, which features progressively-approved implications regarding gentrification and race. Now, personally, I don’t know whether gentrification is as morally harmful as we’re told by progressive advocates; on the one side of my brain, I empathize with those who cannot afford to stay in their established neighbourhoods, but on the other side, I do not like the idea of restricting who can come into and make changes to a neighbourhood. Moreover, I’m not sure which side of the gentrification debate has the best claim to our society’s overall welfare. So, being a gentrification agnostic, I’m always interested to hear arguments on both sides. But, of course, CBC Radio’s policy regarding gentrification is much more settled: gentrification is, by definition, immoral and even racist.

Yet, unfortunately, for our sympathetic Mr. Power, in this case, Ms. Rubin-Vega was not as gifted at staying on progressive message as Tom’s usual group-thinking guests. As we will discover in the following episode of SethFM, Ms. Rubin-Vega’s resulting ideological misstep forced the true Tom Power to reveal himself as he dove in to rescue his guest from her accidental wrongthink. While his brilliant and quick-thinking moral rescue mission proves Tom Power is not a simpleton, after all, his unplanned unmasking was an unexpected joy for your loyal SethBlogs.

Watch SethFM below for details.


SETHFM vs. CBC RADIO SERIES:

I: THE FUSING OF ART AND ARTIST
II: ARTISTIC SERVITUDE

III: THE CURIOSITY OF TOM POWER (you were just here)

BIAS OVER #LOVEOVERBIAS

There’s a very sweet-seeming Olympic ad campaign from P&G visiting our TV screens presently, which I must admit causes my gullible hairs to stand on end as various kid-athletes struggle against alleged bias in their lives. I feel like a truly devilish advocate to question such a compassion-claiming sentiment, but my ever-tedious brain niggles away at me every time the campaign interrupts my Olympic curling.

So here goes. (May Darwin strike me down.)

As far as my Olympic viewing can tell, there are five main stories featured in this “anti-bias” campaign, each serenaded by a warm, motherly voiceover singing, “Child, things are going to get easier.”

All five stories star a mother watching her child struggle against bias and supporting him or her through it; each mom’s eyes glimmer as she sees the best in that kid. And the maternal performances are lovely and sometimes coax a tear out of my eye. Each story is then emphasized with supposedly inspirational text, such as:

“When the world sees labels, a mom sees love. #LoveOverBias”

Or

“When the world sees differences, a mom sees pride. #LoveOverBias”

Or

“Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees. #LoveOverBias. Thank you, Mom. P&G PROUND SPONSOR OF MOMS”

So, amidst such positive-seeming messages, I must apologize because I have two blasphemous criticisms:

(1) I wonder why we are celebrating mothers instead of parents, in general. Is the campaign suggesting that mothers intrinsically care about and support their children more than fathers?

I may seem oversensitive here, but I remind you that this campaign is applauding love over bias, and we live in a society that still treats motherhood as more valuable than fatherhood. From a biased court system in favour of mothers’ rights over fathers’ rights, to the government opening shelters for single mothers instead of single parents, to the mainstream media’s lack of criticism of such mom-centered programs.

I would have thought that the LOVE OVER BIAS people might have considered avoiding such widespread preferential treatment. Instead, while the LOVE OVER BIAS folks are pretending to be subversive by questioning our societal biases, they are actually as conventional as ever as they merely criticize the biases that the mainstream media has identified as bad.

(2) Now, while the LOVE OVER BIAS people are incapable of seeing anything but the correct biases that one is supposed to see, that doesn’t mean that those biases are not worthy of discussing. And four out of five of the biases seem like fair comments to me. We have a boy missing a leg trying to ski, a Muslim girl receiving sideways glances from her competitors, a poor kid putting on cheap skates and getting laughed at for it, and an effeminate boy with a black eye tossing away his hockey skates in favour of what looks like plans to figure skate. My hopeful sense is that these stories are a bit out of date, but I do think that bullies—conventional thinkers, themselves—do tend to focus on those whose cultures and situations seem different from the norm.

But our fifth story inadvertently features not bias from the population surrounding the kid in the story, but bias from the mom in regard to the population. In this case, a girl who dreams of being an elite skier is merrily jumping up and down on her bed in preparation for a ski trip, but her mom watches on and shakes her head with concern as the warm lyric once again touches our ears, “Child, things are going to get easier.” You see, the girl is black, while the posters on her bedroom wall feature the superstar skiers of her time, who are all white. And that, according to the ad, is an obstacle to overcome.

This notion that it is psychologically daunting to have role models who are of a different colour than you is a highly conventional claim about race that I hear frequently emphasized in the “progressive” media. CBC Radio, for instance, loves to talk about the challenge of being the only blue jay in a sea of problematic doves. Now, if that blue jay suffers bigotry from those doves, then we certainly have something to be concerned about. But what I’m referring to here is the additional claim that—even when there isn’t bigotry per se—the very feeling of being a different colour than one’s peers and/or one’s role models is, by definition, suffering a racial indignity.

Now, I can’t prove such prejudice to be incorrect. Maybe it is difficult to be have a different skin tone than one’s cohort and/or one’s role models, but I see no evidence for this unfortunate assumption, and my experience tells me that it’s wrong.

When I was a youngster, my first sporting love was football, and my three favourite players were Roy Dewalt, Keyvan Jenkins, and of course “Swervin” Mervyn Fernandez, who were all black (while I was white). My appreciation for these non-white athletes had nothing to with me being a racially progressive kid, but instead had everything to do with them happening to be the three best players for my BC Lions. And, since my parents didn’t tell me that that those star athletes’ racial difference from me was significant, it never occurred to me to be troubled by it. Instead, I planned to be a professional football player when I grew up just like my heroes.

A year earlier, my family had moved to Bella Bella (a predominantly First Nations village in Northern British Columbia) where my mother had gotten a job as school principal. But my parents didn’t tell me in advance that being of the racial minority would be a problem for me so I wasn’t troubled being one of the only white kids in my class learning the Heiltsuk language from the elders. If only my parents had told me that I was experiencing a hardship, I might have thought to be wary of my classmates, but instead once again, my parents made it seem as though kids of all races are just like any other kids. So I forgot to notice that I wore a different flavour of skin from my new peers, and I even made a friend or two. Indeed, throughout my childhood, I had friends of various races, nationalities, and religions, and I didn’t think I was special for it. I just liked to hang out with the kids whom I liked and who liked me back.

My lack of racial phobia is not the result of me possessing a wonderful colour-blind soul; it is merely the consequence of having good parents. They never seemed concerned with race, so neither was I. Not that my brain doesn’t see colour, but in the absence of bigotry and CBC Radio’s insistence that race always matters, race really is only skin deep.

(Ironically, I notice that “progressive” pundits now describe people of colour as “racialized minorities.” I’m sorry, but it’s you, racially-obsessed pundits, who are most often racializing people these days. It seems to me that most of us in Canada agree with Morgan Freeman and would like you to treat people as individuals. But, sadly, I notice that as an adult, I see race much more than I did as a kid, because the alleged progressives keep telling me that it’s important that I always pay attention to race.)

In the case of LOVE OVER BIAS’s young black girl excitedly planning her skiing career, the grin on her face while she dances in front of posters of the white role models suggests that she’s not at all troubled by her differently-coloured heroes. It is clearly her mother who assumes that there is something lacking in those theoretical mentors, so it is she who is imposing an impediment on her daughter where one may not exist.

Racism is terrible. But so, too, is racism.

No white “progressive” would object to being surrounded by people of a different colour (as they shouldn’t), so why do they assume the opposite is an intrinsic hardship even where racism isn’t shown to be present?

Indeed, when British Columbia basketballer Steve Nash looked out at the NBA when he was growing up he would have seen a league whose stars were mostly of a different race than him. Quite rightly, no pundit would ever claim that the white Nash overcame a racial indignity as he made it to the NBA and won two league MVPs. So why is conventional thinking so quick to assume that black kids automatically need us to tell them they are at a disadvantage when they decide to pursue a passion featuring souls with a different colour wrapping than they have?

If there is racism in a particular discipline, please provide evidence for it so we can criticize it. And, if there is sound research that suggests that being racially different—even without bigotry—is daunting, and/or that my parents’ racially-blind parenting was the wrong way to go, let’s hear it. Otherwise, LOVE OVER BIAS people (and your “progressive” muses), it’s time to let go of your bias about what constitutes bias, and stop racializing people.

CBC, NOW PRINCIPLE FREE IV: CBC Radio Honours The Robin Hood Of Racism

CBC Radio’s Editorial policy is clear:

(1) CBC Radio promises to tell every story from the perspective of truth and justice, and

(2) CBC Radio endeavours to alter their definition of truth and justice depending on who the players are in each story.

CBC, NOW PRINCIPLE FREE SERIES:

I: CBC RADIO CELEBRATES PRE-FORMANCE ART

II: CBC RADIO ENDORSES EXCLUSIVITY POLICY

III: CBC RADIO DECLARES MORAL BANKRUPTCY

IV: CBC RADIO’S HONOURS THE ROBIN HOOD OF RACISM (you are here)


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

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

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

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


Dear Rick Cluff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Seth McDonough


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


CBC, NOW PRINCIPLE FREE SERIES:

I: CBC RADIO CELEBRATES PRE-FORMANCE ART

II: CBC RADIO ENDORSES EXCLUSIVITY POLICY

III: CBC RADIO DECLARES MORAL BANKRUPTCY

IV: CBC RADIO’S HONOURS THE ROBIN HOOD OF RACISM (you were just here)

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CANADIAN MEDIA REGARDING A FIRST NATIONS GIRL IN A HEALTH CRISIS

Today, I sent the following open letter to a large collection of Canadian media operators. My hope is that it might persuade a journalist or two to investigate this sad story further.


Dear First Nations Leaders, First Nations Media, and Canadian Media:

As you know, Judge Edward’s decision a month ago to allow the mother of an 11-year-old girl to stop her from getting Western medical care so that she can instead receive traditional First Nations treatment was celebrated by some as a vital assertion of First Nations’ rights. Maybe, but it’s also a devastating decision for a little girl who will most likely give up her life for the rights of her parents.

The right of the ancestors of colonized people to retain their own customs and laws is hard to argue; however, those freedoms are not morally absolute. No one has the right to put their children in mortal danger for the so-called purpose of staying true to their culture.

Preserving heritage connects us with each other and with our past, but, as our scientific understanding of the world has advanced, we have discovered that certain historical practices were not good for us. More to the point, traditional First Nations medicine has been proven to be less able to combat leukemia than Western medicine. I don’t doubt the sincerity of a parent who says she is doing what she believes is best for her daughter’s health. But, the fact is, she’s wrong, and, for the sake of the little girl, somebody must tell her so. Given that Judge Edward has announced that the Canadian legal system won’t pressure this mother to protect her daughter, the task falls to First Nations leaders, and the media.

If the court is right that Canada cannot tell this woman she must help her daughter, that does not give her immunity from societal pressure. First Nations leaders have an obligation to protect their people from this misguided over-reaching application of what it means to be true to one’s culture. Please tell this mother that she can still be a true citizen of her First Nation while allowing the medical achievements of her global community to save her daughter’s life. Helping a First Nations child using Western medicine is not subverting her culture; instead, it is giving this little girl a chance to grow up to be a First Nations woman who, if she chooses, can celebrate the best of her heritage. If she dies, she will not be able to do so.

Meanwhile, the Canadian media is supposed to be a watchdog for all of us against injustice. And yet, few journalists have asked tough questions, and dug into this story (Terry Glavin of the Ottawa Citizen is a rare exception). If this were a non-aboriginal girl whose life was about to be sacrificed for the sake of outdated medical practices, the media would surely pounce on the story with anger, or at least passion. Why is this little girl’s life any different? Racism? Maybe, but I suspect instead that the Canadian media is afraid that questioning this mother’s decision would be seen as a paternalistic attack on First Nations. It is an understandable fear, but when it is at the expense of an innocent child’s life, allowing such anxiety to muzzle one’s journalistic obligations is a moral failure. Sometimes, to be worthy of the name, journalists must ask unpopular questions. Please investigate this story before it’s too late.

Sincerely,
Seth McDonough


Since sending the above letter and posting the adjoining blog yesterday, a National Post article by former managing editor Jonathan Kay has been sent to me by a friend. Mr. Kay is, I think, hard-lined, but courageous as he states:

“Canadian adults should be free to indulge their fringe medical beliefs—and to die for them, too. But they should not be free to take a Canadian child down with them in the process. One hopes that Justice Edward comes to this conclusion before it is too late.”

Hear, hear! I am delighted to see another counterexample to my criticism of Canadian media’s fear of a PC reckoning. It is evidence that the Canadian media is not always as mute on such important subjects as I have suggested, but also that, when they are, they will not always be exiled from the public conversation (Mr. Kay is now the editor-in-chief at The Walrus).

Nevertheless, such counter-cultural-relativistic articles are still in the minority, and the court’s decision in favour of First Nations parental rights over a First Nations child’s right to life has not been nearly as controversial as it should have been. So I maintain my plea to the Canadian media to revive their interest in the life of this child before her time runs out.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM VI: The Emperor Has No Questions (On Racism)

Journalism is vital to a free society; so, too, is criticism of the media. And yet SethBlogs doesn’t see as much oversight of the media’s methods as there is for other vital societal resources. SethBlogs suspects that this oversight oversight provokes a lazy complacency among our favourite journalistic representatives.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM SERIES:

I: THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY (OF IDEAS)

II: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF EMOTION)

III: SMYTH vs. THE FALSE DICHOTOMY (OF ROLES)

IV: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF INTENTION)

V: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON SEXISM)

VI: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON RACISM) (you are here)


Recently, CBC Radio’s BC-based public affairs radio broadcast, On the Coast, has interviewed two UBC graduate students, discussing issues of gender and race. In general CBC Radio prefers not to ask critical questions of their guests, but when the visitor is saying something recognized as progressive about gender or race, the fawning faith in their testimony is turned up to eleven.

In today’s episode, our compassionate and deferential CBC interviewer speaks to a sociologist who argues that international students suffer significant racism at UBC. To my ear, this study is untroubled by the nuisance of scientific rigor or neutrality.


In her interview with CBC’s Matthew Lazin-Ryder, sociologist Tanvi Sirari based her claim that international students suffer significant racial discrimination at UBC on “dozens” of interviews over six years with the allegedly maligned population. Sirari explained:

“I was surprised that students that came from African and Carribean countries had encountered a lot of negative racism, which was often based on stereotypical ideas about their country, their culture, and so on. And it’s interesting that there is so much public opinion against racism, but when it’s disguised as cultural intolerance, or disagreeing with cultural differences, then it doesn’t seem so bad. So people almost feel free to do that. Perhaps it’s out of ignorance, but it’s also racism in a very subtle form, I would say.”

Given the seriousness of this accusation against Canadian society, you might think that the interviewer would take on the role of asking for evidence from the sociologist. Nope. Instead, Lazin-Ryder took in Sirari’s presentation as though it were infallible even though she seemed to be working from a broad and controversial definition of racism that included cultural criticism (which may be a serious problem if it is done unfairly, but which an expert on society should know is definitionally different from racism).

The distinction between cultural criticism and racism is significant. As any second-year philosophy student knows, the notion of cultural relativism (that morally correct behaviour is defined by what one’s culture thinks is right) is ethically suspect and can lead, by a variety of arguments, to nihilism (the denial of morality altogether).

The moral fact of the matter is that most cultures have gotten some ethical decisions wrong. Some societies, for instance, have a higher tendency towards imperialism, sexism, racism, slavery, and so on. The cultural practices that beget those results are flawed and should be criticized.

However, where someone criticizes a culture for practices that it, in reality, does not participate in or does not condone, then that accuser may be considered ignorant, and if they are motivated by malice or a racial double standard, it may be that they are in fact xenophobic or even racist.

Identifying such racism is tricky work, and requires a transparent psychological and ethical framework (and definition of terms) to distinguish racially versus socially motivated cultural criticism, and valid versus invalid perceptions of racism. Siari does not provide any such schematic; nor is she asked for one by her admiring interviewer.

Moreover, Sirari applied her troubled definition of racism inconsistently across cultures (that is, she allowed herself and her unassailable interview subjects to take shots at Canadian culture and subcultures—without any denunciations of bigotry—while defining any complaints against cultures not originating in Canada as racism).

Siari’s rigor-free definitions seem to have a purpose. As I argued in my post ATTACKING MEN, sometimes researchers and interpreters of research are motivated to find evidence of significant racism/sexism of a particular kind in their work (perhaps because it is in the interest of their career to do so). Evidence for this possibility can be found in Sirari’s observation that many of the international students want to “qualify” individual incidents of racism by, she says, pointing out that their overall experience is very positive. Sirari interprets that this “downplaying” of racism is a result of the our society’s stigmitization of those who claim racial discrimination; victims, she says, feel that “it is not right to talk about racial discrimination at all.”

Siari could be right about that, but why is she so confident that she can broadly intuit what’s motivating these international students, of diverse cultural backgrounds, to qualify negative interactions?

Another possible (although equally unproven) explanation for why the students qualify individual experiences of possible racism might be because most people they meet (especially at UBC) are not at all racist. Unfortunately, it just takes one idiot to say something awful to ruin one’s day, and such an experience will naturally stay in someone’s memory; thus, when asked, the victim will point it out, but they may want to simultaneously note that that doesn’t necessarily mean that their overall experience has been flooded with these horrible encounters.

Nevertheless, Sirari uses a double standard to analyze her subjects: where the students point out incidents that they indicate are racist, she sees them as infallible definers of racism, but when they say that their experiences have been good overall, she pats them on the arm and tells them they’re wrong.

Such a double standard gives new meaning to the term double blind study. Yet our public represenative, the CBC interviewer, either didn’t notice this is obvious research inconsistency, or was afraid to point it out.


If you would like to examine my examination of Lazin-Ryder’s interview with Sirari, I have included the transcript of their conversation as the first comment on this post.


UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM SERIES:

I: THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY (OF IDEAS)

II: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF EMOTION)

III: SMYTH vs. THE FALSE DICHOTOMY (OF ROLES)

IV: EXTRA SENSORY PRESUMPTIONS (OF INTENTION)

V: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON SEXISM)

VI: THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON RACISM) (you were just here)

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS III: One Opinion Fits All

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

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

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

III: ONE OPINION FITS ALL (you are here)
IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE
V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2)

VI: THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK (2 of 2)
VII: THE SHAME OF THE GAME


In my last post in this FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS series, I worried about a new censorship from politically correct, but intellectually intolerant people accusing Dr. Phil McGraw of condoning rape when he asked a question about its definition. I argued that this kind of attack by extreme extrapolation has become a type of censorship as popular media and pundits are scared away from exploring ideas whose truth has already been settled by influential one-thought-fits-all agencies.

This week an even more successful example of thought control has been realized in the form of a censorship crusade against the Nanaimo Daily News for publishing a letter to the editor by Bill McRitchie, which criticized modern First Nations for “perpetuating the perceived notion that they remain under the heel of non-aboriginals” and for “making outrageous demands for land and taxpayer money.”

I have read the letter and listened to Mr. McRitchie, who was interviewed on CKNW (after he was accused by many of being a racist not worthy of publication). He seems to be an articulate and well-meaning person who possesses a radical opinion, which, as he says, may ultimately be wrong or partially wrong, but which—in my opinion—is worthy of the public conversation, precisely because the current dialogue, so fearful of saying the wrong thing, has for many years been closed to nuance on this subject. It is my contention that (A) all reasoned ideas should be considered, and more importantly, (B) no arguments, barring those that promote violence, should be censored.

Of course, people should feel free to criticize McRitchie in any way they deem accurate. However, I wish they would resist the urge to dismiss him as a racist, which, from my reading of him, is unjust. To defend himself, Mr. McRitchie noted that, according to the dictionary, a racist is a person who believes one race is better than another. He says he has no such belief; instead, it seems that his contention seems to be that modern First Nations as well as Canadians are misguided in their assumption about the means by which to reconcile. While he acknowledges that:

“North American aboriginals were treated terribly by those European nations that were compelled to spread their empires throughout the world and to subjugate any and all indigenous peoples who were perceived a threat to colonialism/imperialism” and that “Treaties were merely empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them,” he says that “As our country matured and demographics changed through massive immigration and the evolution of our society… the playing field began to level.”

Mr. McRitchie may be wrong in this assessment, and while his motivation for coming to it might be racist (only he knows his muse), his conclusion does not suggest that the First Nations are lesser peoples.

Some critics have compared Mr. McRitchie to Holocaust deniers, noting that although he doesn’t deny the original historical horrors of colonialism (indeed, he acknowledges them up to the early 20th century), he nevertheless denies the long-term effects. This denial is similar, they contend, to the cleverer of the Holocaust deniers, who don’t so much deny the genocide as much as minimize its effects. It is an interesting comparison, but I think it is once again too simple, or at least unproven: not all cases that are similar in form are equal in content.

Moreover, I’m not sure if Mr. McRitchie was saying that colonialism did not have a long-term effect on modern society. That is, I think it’s likely, or at least plausible, that he would agree to the proposition that the current suffering in First Nations communities is inextricably linked to colonialism. He argues, however, that First Nations now have equal opportunity to everyone else, and so perhaps he thinks that maintaing a system of special status, counter-intuitively perpetuates the disparity in well-being because people are best able to be resilient if they are treated equally to everyone else. (Again, this may be a flawed philosophy, but it is not racist to submit the idea for consideration.) I am no better able to prove this interpretation of Mr. McRitchie than are those who accuse him of being racist, but I think it is perfectly plausible, and yet, in our current public policy (of calling-people-a-racist-and-asking-questions-never), it was not given a chance.

This closed-mindedness is evidenced by the fact that, not only were the opinions of this writer immediately accused, without evidence, of their worst possible motivation, but the newspaper who chose to publish the letter was publicly charged with crimes against decency. It is apparent to me that most Canadian media do not cover First Nations issues with the same multi-perspectival approach that they do other issues, and I can see why, when a newspaper cannot publish a letter to the editor on this subject without immediately being ridiculed for the alleged crimes and motivations of the letter writer.

As a result of the outrage, the Managing Editor of the paper, Mark MacDonald, has said that he’s baffled as to what do with controversial letters in future: perhaps, he said, he would remove the letter to the editor section completely to avoid feeling obligated to censor his community.

The issue of truth and reconciliation with the First Nations community is, I think, one of the most challenging in Canadian society, and Mr. McRitchie’s thoughts on it may be wrong, or mostly wrong, but I think it is unfortunate that the current conversation is too closed to hear him out. Regardless of the merit of Mr. McRitchie’s views, they are—to use the PC term—marginalized. Most media outlets in Canada avoid controversial opinions regarding First Nations issues likely because such perspectives are dangerous to their journalistic health. Paternalism against First Nations people, as exemplified in the residential school system, is one of Canada’s worst crimes, and so the media is loathe to question First Nations’ philosophy in any way that could seem like it is telling them what to think (see my rant against Vancouver Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, a show which tried so hard to compliment First Nations that it forgot to be interesting).

Consequently, First Nations society and leadership does not have the benefits and consequences of a rigorous and vigilant bi-partisan press that the rest of Canadian society enjoys. While such aggressive media can be a bully, it can also protect us from our own corrupt leaders.

In trying to defend his newspaper, Mark MacDonald boasted that his publication has been “pro-First Nations” in its editorials and coverage, which would be considered bad journalism if it were applied to any other group. Perhaps such supportive coverage is what a suffering culture needs, but it doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the ills within First Nations communities so far. Thus, if there’s a chance that we as a society are approaching this subject from a wrong or oversimplified point of view, the only way we can recognize such philosophical problems is if we are able to criticize the orthodoxy. If it’s the case that Mr. McRitchie’s letter was unreasonable, then we should point that out, but when we won’t even allow the discussion, then we scare off other critics, who may be more helpful, from joining the conversation.


THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

III: ONE OPINION FITS ALL (you were just here)
IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE
V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2)

VI: THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK (2 of 2)
VII: THE SHAME OF THE GAME

THE MAGIC FLUTE FALLS FLAT

Thank you to both Tom Durrie, of the Tom & Seth Operatic Society, and our associate and opera scholar, Natalie Anderson, for aiding my understanding of opera sufficiently to write this blog entry; my conclusions, however, do not necessarily match either of theirs.


I’m not an opera connoisseur, but—with wide eyes and ears—I have been attending operas in Vancouver (and occasionally Seattle) for the past ten years under the expert instruction of my friend, and opera aficionado, Tom Durrie. I was excited, this past Saturday, to take in my debut viewing of The Magic Flute, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. My pleased anticipation was based on two factors:

(1) Tom says that Mozart’s music is simply the greatest. Evidence for this claim was illuminated at our Tom & Seth Operatic Society preview party in which Tom played recordings from previous renderings of The Magic Flute; we were treated to songs so gentle that even opera-fearing people who view most arias as glass-breaking shrieks might not have been offended.

(2) Vancouver Opera had revived its 2007 production in which they set the story in a historical and supernatural First Nations landscape. Refitting operas for alternate settings is common, and The Magic Flute, Tom explained, is a perfect candidate for such reinterpretation, because it is a simple tale set in a forest with magical characters, and so lends itself to any culture that possesses supernatural myths.

To warm up for the event this past Saturday, our group was treated to a pre-show backstage tour with VO’s charismatic Development Manager for Grants & Proposals, Joseph Bardsley, followed by the the customary (and always informative) pre-show talk by the VO’s Marketing Director, Doug Tuck. They explained that the production we were about to witness had been created with careful collaboration with experts in the First Nations community. The sets, costumes, and dancing were all developed through the advice of a special First Nations advisory council, while the script was altered to fit a First Nations perspective, and included thirty words from the Coast Salish language. Everything seemed to be in place for a magic ride into an unfamiliar world.

The production is visually stunning as the result of multi-layered projections that function as the set; this fluid, shimmering environment create a visceral feeling of being in a realm that is both natural and supernatural. The show begins with a man wearing modern Western attire who awakens in a forest in British Columbia, unsure of how he’s gotten there, but aware that he’s in a mystical land unlike any he’s been to before. My fancy was tickled, as I imagined he was a sort of Alice in Wonderland, or Dorothy in Oz, or the Darling children in Neverland: surely this was the land of the First Nations before colonization, infused with magical creatures from indigenous legend.

And so began three very boring hours.

In their noble efforts to check off their cultural obligations, the VO seemed to have forgotten that their ultimate responsibility was to tell a story—to bring together characters in such a way that their various intentions conflicted and coincided to create a compelling drama. Instead, the show was a collage of obscure and disconnected moments, in which the characters were too simple to relate to.

(Tom had warned us of the sparse details within the original libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, but he explained that Mozart’s music included vivid characterization, and so it was the job of the dramaturg to enliven and interpret the characters, and to fill in the blanks of the story as it rode along beside the richness of the score.)

Indeed, given that the VO had re-written much of the libretto of The Magic Flute for this production, they had plenty of opportunity to infuse the text with interesting First Nations characters: between arias, the production team could have provided whatever dialogue it saw fit to tell us about the universe and people they imagined. But, instead, most of the characters identified as First Nations are the same person: stoic, proud, and wise, with not a single nuance to separate them.

The hero, Tamino (our aforementioned Dorothy who is not in Kansas anymore) and heroine, Pamina, are similarly one-dimensional: he falls in love with her over a picture, and she, in turn, falls for him when she finds out that he has fallen for her image. It is a mystery that the writers at the VO did not bother to fill in this shallow aspect of the original plot with greater nuance or depth befitting the universe they were honouring. Moreover, in spite of being the daughter of a blue butterfly creature (the Queen of the Night), Pamina is not blue, and unlike the other inhabitants of this strange new world who are either First Nations people or animal creatures, she wears modern Western attire like Tamino, even though she is supposedly indigenous to this magical land. She is both an exotic other and a westernized woman for Tamino’s convenience.

(Although, when the couple is finally united at the end of the story, they are suddenly, and inexplicably, dressed in First Nations costume as though the production had identified their hopes to join the culture. This undeveloped retroactive motivation operates in conjunction with the characters’ more apparent aspirations for enlightenment (found in the libretto). The production thus implies that the First Nations are the sole holders of such profound insight.)

The Queen of the Night tries to disrupt the union, but we’re not given a hint of her motivation. Again this is a weakness of the original text, but it is the duty of the operatic storyteller to provide at least an implicit explanation within his or her interpretation for why, in this particular world, the Queen of the Night is such an unfortunate mother-in-law. (Perhaps Tamino is of a culture she mistrusts? Anything would have been useful to give her odd behaviours a context worth contemplating.)

Meanwhile, Sarastro, here cast as a First Nations elder, sets challenges for the couple (such as requiring Tamino to spend a lengthy amount of time being silent around Pamina without giving her any hint as to why he’s ignoring her) in order for them to earn their connection and general enlightenment. Why Sarastro and other First Nations overseers feel the need to test the love of our leads in such a cruel fashion (to the point that the wounded Pamina almost kills herself—before being talked off the ledge by some First Nations youngsters) is not clear, but evidently they are the good guys. Again, Schikaneder may have been equally mysterious in his open-ended text, but this was a lost opportunity for Vancouver Opera to justify its production by bringing new meaning, within First Nations context, to the trials (perhaps through the illumination of a myth or rite of passage).

Similarly, the story’s official bad guy (Monostasos), who is the servant of Sarastro, and who in this production has rat features as well as peculiar 18th-century European attire, makes little sense: we are left to wonder how he became a servant to a First Nations elder. The colonial power structure is incoherent, and serves only to check off an obligation of ridiculing Western culture.

Such insistence on announcing to the audience that Vancouver Opera would like to officially distance itself from colonialism is perhaps the weakest part of the production. (I cannot imagine that anyone who believes colonialism was a good thing would be convinced in the opposite direction by such a blunt instrument, and those who regret colonialism do not require such an out-of-place and awkward lecture to remind them of their convictions.)

Instead, I envy my anticipation of the opera in which I expected to be taken to a pre-colonial First Nations supernatural world. (How often has that universe been explored in modern Western art?) Surely there are First Nations myths that allow for pre-existing antagonists in the forest. (Or does every villain have to be non-First Nations, just as every good character either has to be First Nations or become First Nations in the end?) Had Vancouver Opera agreed to draw inspiration solely from First Nations prehistory and myth, then maybe our minds might have felt some sadness, of our own volition, that such a culture had been destroyed.

It’s hard to blame Vancouver Opera for so blatantly moralizing in this production; it is not easy for a Western artistic company to tell a story featuring First Nations culture because the former is in constant danger, no matter how hard it tries to be sensitive and deferential, of being accused of cultural ignorance. Indeed, in the Georgia Straight’s assessment of the production, the reviewer complained that that it contained insufficient references to the evils of European colonialism. (A more bluntly-chiseled castigation of Western culture would be difficult to fathom.) The reviewer also asserted that Pamina’s relationship with Tamino recalled the Eurocentric myth of Pocahontas and John Smith, even though the VO production doesn’t match that interpretation, having Pamina dress in Western garb and both Pamina and Tamino—through the superficial means of a costume change—become part of the First Nations community in the end.

Clearly, the VO had set itself an impossible task. No matter how much they consulted the First Nations community, and how much they tried to treat the ancient culture as wise and infallible, they are still criticized for being Eurocentric. Perhaps, then, the expected moralizing from the critical audience censored the company from telling an interesting story.

I find this to be an unfortunate result because Vancouver Opera’s intentions seemed to be to nourish a wounded culture, and to remind us (through beautiful scenery, costumes, dance, and music) of what has been lost, but their rendering is so jumbled and condescending that I for one lost interest half way through.