“Offensive, inappropriate, completely unacceptable.”
—Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.
“I’m at a loss for words on the chosen verbiage that the General used… It is not something that I agree with and it’s not something I appreciate, not in senior management.”
—Lisa Raitt, Canadian Transport Minister.
“Completely wrong and totally unacceptable… the military brass simply don’t get it.”
—Thomas Mulcair, NDP Leader of Canada.
“General Lawson should be immediately dismissed.”
—Justin Trudeau, Liberal Leader of Canada.
Recently Canadian media, politicians, and feminists harmonized their outrage because the Canadian Chief of Defence, General Thomas Lawson, gave a controversial answer to a question regarding why there is apparently still a significant problem with sexual harassment in the Canadian Military.*
MANSBRIDGE: It’s 2015, why is [sexual harassment in the military] still an issue?
LAWSON: First of all, it’s a terrible issue. It’s one that disturbs the great majority of everyone in uniform, and yet we’re still dealing with it. It would be a trite answer, but it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It’s not the way it should be.
MANSBRIDGE: What do you mean by that? Biological?
LAWSON: What I mean by that, is that we are men and women in uniform. Much as we would very much like to be absolutely professional in everything we do, and I think by and large we are, there will be situations and have been situations where, largely men will see themselves as able to press themselves onto our women members.
During the rest of this almost 18-minute interview, General Lawson articulated that he wants to stop sexual harassment in the military, and has taken steps toward that end (such as requesting from Justice Deschamps the very report that provoked Mansbridge’s question, and then accepting her recommendations); nevertheless, Canadian media, politicians, and feminists have attacked his metaphor of “bad wiring” as offensive, behind-the-times, and proof that Lawson doesn’t think sexual harassment is a serious issue.
“General Lawson,” said Julie Lalonde an advocate against sexual assault who claims she was harassed by soldiers when she was invited to give them a workshop on sexual assault “…is giving this really weak response saying we don’t have a problem and, when we do, we can’t do anything about it because it’s biologically determined.”
That’s a grand assumption of Lawson’s meaning there, and one that is contradicted throughout the interview in which General Lawson expressed repeatedly that it’s a problem he is attempting to tackle.
So what’s providing the foam for these outraged mouths? What’s gotten Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau calling for the General to be fired even though the undeniable content of his message was aimed at reducing sexual harassment in the armed forces?
On first pass, it seems that the offence is derived from a belief that General Lawson is denying the moral responsibility of harassers (i.e. they can’t help how they were wired, so how could we hold them accountable for their actions?). But such an interpretation can’t stand the light of scrutiny. We don’t have control over the environmental factors that influenced the construction of our characters either. Every person is a collage of biological and environmental influences. Morality is a measure of the decisions each human makes regardless of the relative percentage that ingredients versus cooking played in forming them.
Thus, I suspect that the true source of feminist angst here is derived from the fact that General Lawson hinted at being on the politically no-longer-acceptable side of the nurture vs. nature debate.
It is a dispute that has a long and intriguing history in literature and science; we don’t know for sure exactly what percentage Mother Nature and Father Nurture have in creating our personalities, so we’re all entitled to our best guesses on the subject just as so many philosophers and novelists have before us.
Unfortunately for Lawson, though, he may not have realized that it is currently intellectually illegal in Canada to hold nature to account for bad acts whenever feminism has a stake in the discussion. You see, on the question of nature vs. nurture, most feminists argue that the nurture of our allegedly patriarchal and misogynistic society (see “rape culture”) is to blame for any mistreatment of women, as well as all general gender differences in wealth and power.
It doesn’t matter to the media or the politicians that both Lawson and feminists assume that harassing behaviour is ingrained by a particular force, and that both argue that the resulting harassment is immoral and harmful, and should be condemned and combatted. Given that Lawson seems to think that the ingraining happened earlier than feminists assert, his remarks have been designated irredeemable.
Of course, if one digs past the precariousness of holding an opinion on psychological causes that differs with the feminist autocratic line, one can see that—regardless of nature and nurture’s relative influence—sexual harassment is equally as immoral and harmful. But, for most politicians, digging past said precariousness would have been precarious, itself, so they stuck (as vaguely as they could) to their favourite phrases of outrage. No politician that I heard was willing to take on the task of telling us why a “nature” over “nurture” explanation for the existence of jerks was philosophica non grata.
Instead, they relied on the general population and feminists to fill in the blanks in their anger. And, since the media is either too indoctrinated or too terrified to ask why the politicians were so offended (for fear, I suspect, of then being accused of not being offended enough, themselves) the politicians were able to hold vapid in their responses to General Lawson’s remarks.
Moreover, after General Lawson officially apologized for what he called his “unhelpful comments that were conjecture that really did serve no purpose, and, in fact, clouded the very strong efforts that we have going forward” and reiterated that he was in no way suggesting “there is any excuse for any sexual misconduct by anyone in uniform,” the politicians were wary of accepting his contrition, and so continued to condemn him without providing content for their condemnation.
Liberal Defence Critic Joyce Murray stated:
“I thought it was very disappointing that he just repeated some lines several times that didn’t get to the heart of the matter. And from my perspective he has an unfortunate, very archaic belief that, it sounds like an excuse for why there is sexual harassment and abuse in the Canadian armed forces.”
(This confuses me. The General retracted the offending claim, and said it was supposition that he shouldn’t have said. He focussed directly on the problem language and said that it was not useful in the discussion of harassment, a problem which he stated he was committed to tackling. Moreover, he explicitly said that there is never an excuse for harassment by anyone under his command. What more was required to count as dealing with “the heart of the matter”? I can’t help wondering if Ms. Murray had her rejection ready before the General attempted his apology.)
NDP Defence Critic Jack Harris went further:
“I don’t really think it was an apology. I think he obviously had to try to backtrack on what was said because it was so outrageous and perceived as being such by every woman in the country I can guarantee you, but also by most men.”
(Wow, Mr. Harris, you don’t mind speaking for all women? Regardless, note how Harris is relying on the audience to fill in the details of his undefined outrage. Harris says all women and most men are offended? Well then it must be offensive!)
The nature (or should I say nurture?) of how this story played itself out is concerning. The CBC radio reports I heard only quoted the problematic “biological wiring” passage, providing almost none of the content which would have demonstrated the progressive heart of Lawson’s message. The reports then jumped to the “offended” politicians describing how upset they were, without ever apparently being pressed to say why. It was a scary example of groupthink. Since none of the media or politicians were willing to stray from the Politically Correct party line, we the observers were expected to assume that they had all vetted Lawson’s interview, and unanimously found him morally wanting, thus leaving us with no reason to be skeptical.
Western society is aware generally, I think, that political correctness subdues the language one can use in public if one wants to have a career in public. However, I don’t think we’re realizing how scary the implicit feminist censorship has become. Feminists will march not just against politically incorrect language (i.e. against those making “offensive” word choices), but also politically incorrect facts (i.e. against those “offensively” quoting studies that disagree with feminist conclusions), and now politically incorrect opinions about human psychology.
As much as feminists may feel they have the answer on the nurture vs. nature debate, would the media mind asking scientists if the facts are as clear as feminists insist? Even if it is, I see no evidence that General Lawson drew problematic human resources policies from his “unacceptable” belief.
(If Lawson’s claim about biological wiring could be shown to link up with an unwillingness to act on the problem—perhaps he might have said something like, “You can’t fight nature!”—then I think the feminist critics would have had a case to ask for his removal, but instead, based on his entire testimony, the “biological wiring” comment was essentially a placeholder to represent people who are predisposed to bad behaviour—bad behaviour which he clearly stated he was intent on attacking.)
Most scary of all is that the media and government are now complicit with the feminist policing of thought and language. As I’ve argued many times, most professional media in Canada are either afraid or ideologically unwilling to criticize feminist “research” or ideas. Even their most baffling claims—such as arguing that general safety advice from police during a crisis is a form of “victim-blaming”—go unchecked by the media. (I am not suggesting the media should disagree with the feminists—that’s not their role either: I’m only asking that they occasionally check the feminist “facts” and opinions with some critical questions.)
Meanwhile, the politicians, wafflers by nature, rarely stand up to the Feminist Ministry of Propaganda either, and in this case are joining in on the furor in a rare instance of all-party consensus. (They can’t agree on reducing pollution to save the planet, but when the leader of our military has an unpopular opinion about how jerks are formed, they all chant in the same direction.)
The only way we can have adult, content-heavy conversations about these important topics is if we allow our leaders (media, political, and otherwise) to explore them without fear that scarlet letters will be thrown at them every time they utter a sentence that sounds like it might not match politically correct dogma. If feminists are right about an issue, then surely they can win the argument with content instead of demonizing their opponents by leaping to the most inflammatory interpretations of them. Meanwhile, if feminists are ever wrong (or even partly wrong), then the only way we can expose their erroneous ideas is if the rest of us are allowed to freely join their settled conversations.