Category Archives: Sethics vs. Cancel Culture

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

ORWELLING UP I: Featuring DJ Morals

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

THE ORWELLING UP SERIES:

I: FEATURING DJ MORALS (you are here)

II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM


I am currently reading Orwell’s most famous contemplation of a thought-controlled society, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and as I read about Winston Smith and his work at the Ministry of Truth, I find myself increasingly perceiving Orwellian thoughts and policies around me.


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

(1) If the lyrics are “oppressive,” and/or

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

For instance, when it comes to sexism, Campeau says:

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

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

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

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

Maxim 2 calls for the DJ to assess the moral merits of people whose artwork they would otherwise endorse. For instance, Campeau says he’s:

“…not going to play Chris Brown anymore after what happened with Rihanna, that was a really easy choice…”

[Brown was charged with assault and making criminal threats towards Rihanna, and he pled guilty to “assault with intent of doing great bodily injury.”]

But, Campeau says, this culling of his playlist

“…gets really, really tough when you start realizing how all of your heroes are not exactly what they appear… There are so many… things like David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Africa Bambaataa… like, there’s all these people who have done harm, it seems that everybody seems to be okay with that as long as they make good music?”

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

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

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

BILL: Seriously? Damn, I liked him.

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

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

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

BILL: Fair enough.

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

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

Consequently, as our ethics become more nuanced over time, there may be increasing numbers of artists (including the next Beatles or Wayne Gretzky) who will be ineligible to perform for us. And, if it’s the case that historically oppressed cultures are more likely to be uneducated, perhaps they’re more likely to be caught on the wrong side of the moral law, and so DJ Moral’s policy may disproportionately affect the artistic output of the very communities he argues need “elevation.”

Moreover, while our ethics may be improving over time, our public moral consensus is still fallible, and so if we limit ourselves only to the artists who are currently morally correct, we may be closing our minds to new moral considerations.

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

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

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

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


THE ORWELLING UP SERIES:

I: FEATURING DJ MORALS (you were just here)

II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM

GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM III: Beyond Belief

SethBlogs does not believe in trial by faith even when applied to a preacher of the religion in question.

GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FAITH-BASED JUSTICE

II: YOU’RE EITHER WITH US OR YOU “DON’T GET IT”

III: BEYOND BELIEF (you are here)


Before the Jian Ghomeshi trial, I criticized those who seemed willing to convict Ghomeshi in public without a fair trial. Now I am depressed to see how many people are still convicting him after a fair trial found him not guilty. In response, I offer this open letter to those confident adjudicators of justice, asking them to reconsider.


Dear Believers:

Outside the courtroom where former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of sexual assault and choking charges, you held up signs stating, “We believe Survivors,” and “Stop Victim Blaming.”  I understand that you are defenders of victims and justice, and that you’re confident that both were failed in this instance. You are not alone. In my city of Vancouver, not long after the decision, a traffic-stopping march was organized to protest Ghomeshi’s freedom.

You also have some support from your friends in the media. I’ve heard pundits on TV and radio lamenting the failure of our system in this case. While they haven’t said as directly as you have that Ghomeshi is guilty, I have heard many of them state that this verdict is a symptom of a system that is unfair to female victims.

“Well you see those messages on the signs rights there…” said Riaz Meghji of City TV Vancouver’s Breakfast Television, referring to the protestors outside the Toronto courthouse. “The idea of stopping victim blaming, the idea that violence didn’t happen: these are powerful sentiments surrounding the conversation of sexual assault of what we’ve seen over the last few months of women having the courage to step up and tell their story.”

Nevertheless, despite your confidence that justice failed in this case, I wonder if you’ve considered some unintended consequences of what you’re advocating.

For instance, what do you have in mind when you instruct us to believe women?

I can understand that if someone you care about were to tell you they’d been assaulted, then—unless you knew them to have an adversarial relationship with the truth—I think there is an appropriate social expectation for you to believe them.

Presumption of truth-telling becomes trickier, though, for those in powerful roles such as  journalists, police officers, crown attorneys, and judges, who can significantly disrupt the lives of the people described in the untested “truth.”

To avoid the catastrophe of innocent people being convicted of crimes they did not commit, Canada has a justice system in which there is burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) required of the state before our society will agree to put a person in prison. There are various types of evidence that can help to build such a case, and certainly complainant testimony can contribute to that. However, since we know that people sometimes lie, distort, and even misremember, surely there must be a means of scrutinizing their testimony.

If we were to follow your demand of automatically believing women we would have to put people in prison whenever women accused them.

Are you sure that’s what you want?

As Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, put it in an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge:

“It is pretty significant that in one of the highest profile cases… Where people expressed opinions not having heard a word of evidence. That you knew that you could walk into court and that there would be an impartial person that would decide on the evidence that is heard… That’s something that we should be incredibly proud of in this country… You can tweak the system. You can criticize the system in a knowledgeable way. And it does, it constantly gets re-calibrated as it should. But slam-dunk results? Guaranteed results? Presumptions? That’s not what a fair system is about.”

Are you so certain that the burden of proof isn’t something special that protects us all from human rights violations that we have witnessed in other countries and other times?

A neutral observer might assume I’m straw-manning you (i.e. representing the least persuasive interpretation of your argument instead of the most compelling), and that by “believe victims,” you just mean that—when we meet people who say they’re victims—for compassion’s sake, we should err on the side of believing them.

However, the fact that you’ve maintained your loyalty to your “believe women” maxim even in this case is telling. Even, that is, in a case where all three witnesses were caught deceiving the courts in their testimonies, you still chant your faith-based slogans.

In contrast, former crown prosecutor, Sandy Garossino, said on CKNW:

“It’s not about, say, misremembering the make and model of the car; it’s about having the make and model of the car be part of your narrative… So then’s it’s about, well how truthful are you as a witness? Are you telling the truth? Because that’s not just a fuzzy memory, that’s actually an invented memory. And these kinds of problems were all through all of these witnesses’ testimonies. That same witness insisted that she had had no further contact with Ghomeshi. She insisted—she was swearing on a stack of bibles that she didn’t make any email contact with him… And then when confronted, ‘Well, here are your emails. You did reach out to him. You did try and contact him. And here’s your photo of yourself in a bikini.’ She just said, ‘Well I was just trying to trap him so I could confront him.’ Well that’s just not believable.”

Yet, dear believer, you still insist that believing these women is a moral imperative.

And again you’ve got some support from your friends in the media who believe in your “believe the victims” signs. Consider Global TV news anchor Chris Gailus in another interview on CKNW:

“It just points to how heavy the burden of proof is on the crown. This was really all about judicial process and the legal system. It really is troubling no doubt for a lot of women who were in positions where they have been abused, but in this case, based on the legal system that we live with, there just wasn’t enough proof, and the judge simply didn’t believe to a great enough extent that the women were honest and sincere in how they reported what happened to them, so we’re left with a decision that is baffling to a lot of people.”

Actually, Mr. Gailus, there was no proof that Ghomeshi committed the crime. Proof implies incontrovertible facts that demonstrate the guilt of the accused. We have no such evidence. All we have are statements made by people shown to have deceived the court within those very statements.

As Garossino put it:

“You can’t come to the court and mislead the court, and deceive the court, as the judge found that they did, and still be believed. I mean, the judge just couldn’t accept it, and I don’t know any criminal lawyers who would.”

Even if a presumption of truth from female complainants were the best standard for acquiring justice, is there not a point at which a reasonable person should reverse those first assumptions?

Please imagine for a moment that you were a jury member in this case. I ask you to reconsider the following three issues before deciding how you would decide.

(1) My and your first inclination is likely to assume that, if three people are making similar but separate accusations, that any coincidence of obscure details is, in itself, evidence. (How likely is it that three people would have independently invented the same story unless there was a pattern of behaviour by the defendant?)

However, my belief in the unlikeliness of coincidence was shaken when I learned that the three complainants did not come forward at the time of the alleged crimes, but waited until

(A) after Ghomeshi was fired from his CBC job for bedroom behaviours that it deemed unacceptable (but admitted they had no evidence was illegal or nonconsensual),

(B) one of the complainants then came to the media to make her accusation before going the police, and

(C) similar alleged victims were then encouraged to come forward by both the police and the media (who called any such accusers “courageous”).

So I know you still believe the women individually, but do you agree that the overlap in their testimony is no longer evidence, itself? Apparently, in the legal system, the judge cannot consider what is called “similar fact” evidence as supporting evidence when there is information (beyond guilt) that could easily explain the similar facts. (Clearly, in this case, we can reasonably say that the first complainant’s statements to the media could explain the similarity in testimony from someone who might have heard those statements). Therefore, the judge was required by law to look at each of the charges independently, and not as evidence for each other.

If that sounds wrong to you, please imagine that you were on trial for a crime. Would you think it was okay for coincidence to be counted as evidence when the coinciding testimony arose after one of the accusers made her case to the media? Before you answer, keep in mind that, in court, Ghomeshi’s lawyer was able to demonstrate that two of the accusers communicated with each other about their testimony in a long email exchange before they went to court.

(2) It was shown in court, by their email exchanges, that after allegedly being assaulted by Ghomeshi on dates with him, the complainants maintained flirtatious contact with him.

Now, I know that the “believe women” movement tells us that we cannot put any expectations on how women will behave after abuse. But before you yield to that contention, please consider that the allegation here is not that Ghomeshi was in ongoing abusive relationships with these women, who felt powerless to leave their shared home, or didn’t want to lose access to their children. These women went on dates with Ghomeshi, where they were allegedly, and non-consensually assaulted, and then continued to seek his company. While their stories could be true, is it reasonable to think they’re likely true? Would you, as a jury member, be willing to send a person to prison for decades based on such testimony? Can you truly expect a judge to think it’s reasonable that, after going on a date with someone and being seriously assaulted, that—instead of going to the police—a person would continue to try to date their attacker?

(If you’re interested in considering this argument in more detail, see Janice Fiamengo’s case against the reasonableness of such a belief.)

(3) It was shown in court that all three complainants told significant and relevant falsehoods under oath. Among their nontruths was claiming to not have had further contact with Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults.

So, taking into account that these complainants waited to make their accusations until after Ghomeshi was publicly humiliated, and two of them discussed their testimony with each other in advance, and all three hid (and apparently lied about) the fact that they continued to try to date Ghomeshi after they were allegedly assaulted, do you think it’s appropriate to apply your “believe women” faith in this case?

If so, then any suggestion that I am straw-manning must be put to rest: it really does sound like you’re arguing for a blank “believe victims” cheque.

And, forgive me, but do you have any worry that your commitment to faith over evidence is analogous to witch trials of the past?

If you (and your equally virtuous friends in the media) were not aware of the above facts of the case, then I can understand why you might have assumed that Ghomeshi was probably guilty. (I, too, have a bias towards thinking the police and the crown have good reasons for bringing people to court.) However, if you’re going to protest a verdict as unjust, surely you have a moral obligation to learn a little about the case first, and whether the judge might have had a reason not to trust the complainants.

Admittedly, some of you have said you did follow the case, but you still say the trial was unfair because it turned into an interrogation of the complainants.

Consider the argument of one of your allies in the Vancouver march who said:

“I feel there was a series of events where women were being put on trial versus listened to. That it was never really Jian Ghomeshi’s trial. It was actually about the women. And I think that got flipped around in very manipulative and deceptive ways.”

And one of your signs outside the courthouse expressed the point this way:

“The harsh reality is that once a sexual assault survivor is put on trial and not the alleged perpetrator, the public can no longer expect the court to be a trusted source of justice.”

I agree that it’s unfortunate that alleged victims’ claims have to be tested in court. I have no doubt that it’s a painful experience. But, for those of us who do think we need to prove guilt before putting someone in prison, can you suggest an alternative?

Ghomeshi, in fact, is the one who was on trial (that is, he’s the only one in court who might have gone to prison for a couple decades if convicted). The prosecution presented the best evidence it could find against him. There was no circumstantial and physical evidence available, so the trial consisted solely of the testimony of the complainants. Yes, we should listen to them, but do you not think we must also be allowed to examine the veracity of what is heard in court? Otherwise, once again, we are yielding to the notion that complainants, by definition, tell the truth. 

CKNW talk-show host Lynda Steele asked:

“I want to know, though, how did this become about the women? I mean wasn’t this supposed to be about what Jian Ghomeshi did or didn’t do?”

Yes, the trial is about what he did or didn’t do, but again the only basis we have for thinking he did do something criminal comes from the testimony of the complainants. The judge’s only means of assessing whether Ghomeshi assaulted them is exclusively derived from whether the accusers could convince him that they were telling the truth. Therefore, the defence attorney’s use of their own emailed words to demonstrate their difficulty with honesty in these very matters, is not putting the complainants on trial: it is testing their reliability in this case (the very reliability that you’re asking the judge to take as unassailable).

If such testimony-contradicting evidence weren’t allowed in Ghomeshi’s defence, then what would be?

Even if your intuitions are to believe women, are you sure that’s what you want from an impartial justice system? Would you want that standard of “justice” applied to someone you cared about if they were accused by a woman of assault?

If so, I admit that your faith is unshakeable. In honour of your unwavering belief, you are hereby given a lifetime pass from taking part in jury duty. Simply bring your “Believe Women” signs to court, and you will be excused.


GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FAITH-BASED JUSTICE

II: YOU’RE EITHER WITH US OR YOU “DON’T GET IT”

III: BEYOND BELIEF (you were just here)

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS VI: The Infallibility Cloak (Part 2 of 2)

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

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

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

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


In Part I of this essay, I argued that there is a distinction between Definition Feminism (the pursuit of gender equality) and the work of Action Feminists (those who advocate in feminism’s name).


“There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Madeleine Albright, campaigning for Hilary Clinton in 2016.

HIDING UNDER DEFINITION FEMINISM’S COAT:

By utilizing appeals to our compassion (for women) and to our fear (of being branded misogynists), Action Feminists have convinced the mainstream media and politicians not to question their status as perfect representatives of gender equality (i.e. Definition Feminism). Thus they use their cloak of gender egalitarianism to shield themselves from criticism that their actions may not live up to it.

They have achieved this result through a variety of false equivalencies:

(1) CRITICISM OF ACTION FEMINISM = “HATE SPEECH”:

SITUATION: I was going to send one of my arguments to the Hourglass Literary Contest, but I discovered in the magazine’s guidelines that they “do not tolerate… anti-feminism” because they have deemed such criticism to be a form of “gender hatred.”

I think we can assume, by their open-ended use of the term “anti-feminism,” that the writing contest is not contemplating any distinction between the ideals of gender equality and the alleged efforts to produce it. No, evidently, criticizing feminism in any form is intrinsically “hate speech,” and thus is forbidden.

More significantly, as I described in FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM, various critics of Action Feminism in Canada and the US have been protested by Action Feminists on the grounds that they are promoting “hate speech.” In some cases, the protesters have been so assured in their convictions that they have pulled fire alarms to disrupt the blasphemous talks. And the mainstream media rarely questions the righteousness of such accusations and tactics.

CHEATS: If one pays attention to the actual content of feminism critics, it is clear that most of them are Definition Feminists. They too are arguing for the most gender equal-society we can create. But they disagree with mainstream Action Feminists about whether we currently live in a patriarchal society, rape culture, and systemically-unfair-to-women economic and political system. Moreover, they argue that in certain arenas in our Western society, male people have generally fewer privileges, yet more obligations, than female people.

Of course—like Action Feminists who assume women are always worse off—such critics of feminism are fallible. They might have their facts wrong; they might be offering bad solutions, and so on. But such disagreement over the facts does not prove sexism.

CONSEQUENCES: By arguing that opposing claimants to the best path to gender equality are “hate speakers,” Action Feminists scare away reasonable criticism of their work. As I argued in THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY, any ideology that does not benefit from rigorous criticism is in danger of being overtaken by its worst ideas.

CONCLUSION: This contest to be the go-to representatives of gender egalitarianism ought to be covered by the media with a neutral curiosity. And the rest of us should do our best to criticize the media when they fail in that duty. Otherwise, they have no incentive to risk the misogyny-badge they would likely receive for asking feminists tough questions.

(2) CRITICISM OF ACTION FEMINIST DATA = RAPE APOLOGIA:

SITUATION: Whereas in science, skepticism is a tool to reduce mistakes, in gender studies discussions, skepticism of Action Feminist data is considered to be hateful towards the victims described in the data.

For instance, Action Feminists have produced statistics that seem to suggest that approximately 20% of American college women will be sexually assaulted. However, critics—such as philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers—have argued convincingly that there are serious flaws in the studies (such as non-representative samples and strange interpretations of data) which have facilitated these shocking results. Dr. Sommers says that the best data shows the numbers are closer to 2%. A common Action Feminist response, then, is to accuse Dr. Sommers of being “a rape apologist.”

CHEATS: There is nothing in Dr. Sommers’ argument that suggests anything but contempt for rape. She merely disagrees on the facts of how prevalent the cruel crime is.

To argue that anyone who is skeptical of the scariest rape statistics is a “rape defender” is to put Action Feminists, themselves, in danger of being called rape apologists. After all, if they’re sure that 20% is the right number, it just takes one alternate Action Feminist to argue the number is 25% to make the first suddenly a rape apologist unless they immediately accept the higher number.

CONSEQUENCES: Is it not obvious that this kind of “You accept the scariest numbers or you promote their cause” argument is inevitably going to facilitate a culture of rape research that is skewed? (As I’ve argued before, such a system provokes “rape culture” culture.) Indeed, under such high-stakes pressure to conform, how many social scientists will have the courage to resist?

CONCLUSION: As Dr. Hoff Sommers argues, serious problems deserve serious statistics. The only way to achieve a true understanding of these issues is if we are allowed to make sure Action Feminists are not accidentally and/or intentionally steering the numbers to fit their expectations; and the only way to do that is to require that Action Feminists be subject to scrutiny like everyone else. “You’re with us, or you’re a misogynist” reasoning cannot be allowed to dominate the conversation.

(3) CRITICISM OF FEMINIST ANALYSIS = A LACK OF COMPASSION:

SITUATION: When critics of Action Feminist data argue there are flaws in the design and/or interpretation of feminist research, they are accused of disrespecting victims, and denying the “lived experience” of women.

CHEATS: Anecdotal evidence is not valueless as an intuitive starting point for investigation, but it is not necessarily representative of a population either. In scientific research, those intuitions and individual experiences may guide the researcher as to where to focus their lens, but that is all it can do. Particular experiences cannot override the resulting data.

Such a recognition that our intuitions do not always generalize does not mean we shouldn’t try to help those who are suffering, even if there are fewer sufferers then we anticipated.

CONSEQUENCES: Action Feminists often get away with conflating legitimate skepticism of their conclusions with contempt for the victims they claim to speak for. They have been unnervingly successful in muddying these moral waters by utilizing noble-sounding phrases such as “believe victims,” and “listen to women.” With these emotional, faith-based slogans, Action Feminists have successfully created and nurtured the notion that questioning social scientific research is denying the “lived experiences” of individual victims.

CONCLUSION: The truth is becoming tangential to these discussions. We must stop allowing unearned conclusions to be claimed without criticism.

(4) INDIRECTLY CONTRADICTING FEMINISM = MISOGYNY:

SITUATION: Action Feminism’s hold on our public conversation is illustrated not just in their reactions to cases where their allegedly omni-benevolent work is checked, but also in circumstances where a public figure says something which indirectly doesn’t coincide with a feminist conclusion.

Recall the case of General Lawson, wherein the commander of the Canadian armed forces tried to explain the continuing presence of sexual harassers in the military by suggesting they were “biologically wired” that way. This was on the wrong side of the Action Feminist position that nurture (as opposed to nature) is always the culpable parent when it comes to creating bad characters.

There was bi-partisan agreement amongst Canadian politicians (and the mainstream media that covered them) which contended that Lawson had been “offensive.” He apologized, but not without a call from then third party Liberal Leader (now Canadian Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau for the General to be fired.

Meanwhile, brilliant screenwriter (and Action Feminist) Joss Whedon similarly discovered the danger of indirectly crossing feminist orthodoxy when he wrote a movie in which a female superhero lamented her inability to have children.

Even though her male superhero counterpart was similarly disillusioned by his childless future, Action Feminists on Twitter railed against their feminist ally, Whedon, for allegedly imposing a traditional gender role on one of his female characters.

CHEATS: Action Feminists are helping themselves to unearned interpretations of meaning. In Lawson’s case, they are suggesting that—by blaming biology instead of society for bad sexual misconduct—he is not holding his soldiers accountable (since no one can control their biology). But, as I argued in WIRED FOR OFFENCE, if feminists are right that nurture is responsible for all of our moral defects, the soldiers have no power over that cause either.

General Lawson stated unambiguously that he was targeting the sexual harassers in his charge. Thus, even if his one-sided understanding of the cause of the problem was silly, it seemed to have no effect on his intention to hold the assailants accountable.

Meanwhile, in Whedon’s case, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing his artistic choices, but why are Action Feminists so certain that individual female characters represent a writer’s views on all women? (Indeed, feminists don’t need to travel far in the Whedon resume to see that he has written many “strong female characters.”) Moreover, why all the rage? Does everyone have to blindly follow every expectation of Action Feminism or be Twitter assassinated? Action Feminists seem to forbid any diversity of thought.

CONSEQUENCES: Action Feminism’s speed of rage when confronted by innocuous, indirect disagreement surely encourages the sort of politically correct, sycophantic non-speak we hear from so many politicians and pundits (as I described in HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS, AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE). Few people with a platform have the courage and/or will to cross feminist dogma, and so they play it safe, leaving meaningful and diverse conversation as the casualty.

Meanwhile, it is often said that there are fewer nuanced roles for women in Hollywood than there are for men. If this is true, one possible contributing factor is that Action Feminists, such as the above Twitter assassins, have scared some writers away from creating interesting female characters. As Action Feminists demand female leads be beacons of feminist strength in all ways, the resulting characters become a wee bit boring. Writers can only have so many shiny lights of independence in one movie, so, when it comes to filling the imperfect (i.e. interesting) character roles, I can imagine some screenwriters erring on the side of making them male to avoid being accused of sexism.

CONCLUSION: When Action Feminists attack, we need to do a better job of politely asking them to justify their assumptions.

(5) CRITICIZING FEMINISM WHILE POSSIBLY BENEFITING FROM IT = UNTENABLE:

SITUATION 1: When women criticize Action Feminism, they are often asked why they are betraying a cause that is trying to help them.

CHEATS: It turns out that some people don’t define their values just by what helps themselves most. Moreover, some female critics of Action Feminism may believe that, despite Action Feminism’s theoretical concern for women, it does women more harm than good in practice.

SITUATION 2: Men who criticize Action Feminism are often told that “Feminism benefits men, too.”

CHEATS: In certain cases, I’m sure feminism does benefit men. If, for instance, feminism has helped to free us from the universal assumption of gender roles, that’s probably a benefit to many individual men and women. But that doesn’t mean such people can’t criticize Action Feminism for oversimplifying the issue with, for instance, their insistence that gender is entirely a social construct. Moreover, there’s no reason that said “benefitting” person can’t have other moral disagreements with the work of Action Feminists.

CONSEQUENCES: Both men and women are told to support Action Feminism, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the selfish thing to do.

CONCLUSION: We should demand that Action Feminists not use people’s sex or gender to guilt them into agreeing with them. Instead, we should remind people that moral value is not necessarily predicated on personal value.  Moreover, the identity of one’s gender has no relevance to the validity of one’s moral argument.

(6) CRITICIZING FEMINISM = BEING OPPOSED TO ANY OF ITS GOOD DEEDS:

SITUATION: Consider feminist singer/songwriter, Katie Goodman, who song-ranted at young, female celebrities who said they weren’t feminists. She explained that, in fact, if they liked the benefits that feminism had helped them to achieve, then they were obligated to accept they were feminists. Sang she:

Yeah, babe, you’re a feminist

Just take a look at the checklist:
Do you like voting?
You like driving?
You’re a feminist.

Past feminists gave their lives
To let you vote and be more than wives
Saying you’re not a feminist gives them hives

CHEATS: Here Goodman is ignoring any possible distinction between between Definition Feminism and Action Feminism. Just because I am critic of the general way in which Action Feminists ply their trade, does not mean I am obligated to disagree with every opinion they espouse, nor every good deed they achieve.

If Action Feminists deserve credit for de-coupling sex from the franchise, great (although, as Janice Fiamengo describes, the situation may have been a little more complicated than celebrated), but such moral achievements don’t prove that every act performed by Action Feminists is as virtuous as their best.

If you’ll forgive the harsh analogy, I also think giving toys to needy kids is a worthy endeavour, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to criticize other activities of the Hell’s Angels.

CONSEQUENCES: This is a problem with committed ideological affiliations: they disallow nuance. You’re expected to either take on the label of the ideology (and the baggage that it entails), or you must admit you’re opposed to everything ever done in its name.

CONCLUSION: We need to start openly criticizing demands for intellectual simplicity and point out that Definition Feminism and Action Feminism are not always identical.

(7) HAVING A MORAL HIERARCHY DIFFERENT FROM FEMINISM = MISOGYNY:

SITUATION: When critics rank non-feminist imperatives over the goals of Action Feminism, such dissenters are immediately accused of being opposed to those feminist hopes. For instance, Action Feminists have attempted to change the legal system to make it easier to prosecute alleged sexual assaulters. This sounds like a noble cause, but the problem is that Action Feminist “solutions” may be putting due process in danger. However, when critics point out such concerns, they are accused of being “rape culture” advocates.

CHEATS: Action Feminists appear not to understand the vital concept of moral hierarchy. If, for further instance, I value free speech over freedom from hate speech, many Action Feminists contend that I must agree with any bigoted language that free speech allows. They do not accept the possibility that someone could value public decency while choosing free speech as the more important necessity of a civil society.

Action Feminists, of course, are entitled to their own moral hierarchy. If they want to argue that the good of convicting a higher percentage of guilty people is worth the sacrifice of also convicting more innocent people then that’s a legitimate philosophical stance to take. Similarly, it’s legitimate for their opponents to argue that keeping innocent people out of jail is more important than catching higher numbers of bad guys. It’s an interesting moral dispute. But to claim that due process defenders are misogynists is an intellectual cheat of the lowest order.

CONSEQUENCES: As vital moral questions arise, criticism of Action Feminist solutions is demonized and thus dissuaded. Without such a filter, both the best and the worst ideas of Action Feminism get through. Soon, we may lose our rights to due process and free speech without having made our best cases for protecting them.

CONCLUSION: We need to demand that Action Feminists argue fairly and not sideline important discussions with wild accusations of misogyny.

(8) CRITICISM OF FEMINISM WHILE NOT BEING FEMALE = IRRELEVANT:

SITUATION: Perhaps the most aggressive of Action Feminist silencing language comes in the form of the term “male privilege.” (I will write more about this term in a spin-off rant.) Men who disagree with Action Feminists are often dismissed because of their sex. That is, given they are male, they are described as definitionally privileged, and consequently disabled by their life-long advantage such that they cannot recognize their privilege, and therefore cannot be expected to speak reasonably on sexism.

CHEATS: I’m not sure why Action Feminists are so confident that privilege universally harms perspective, and disadvantage automatically improves it. But let’s assume that those claims have proven to always be true.

We’re all privileged and disadvantaged in some ways. And certainly, particular groups sometimes have widespread advantage or disadvantage. Whether men or women as groups are more advantaged or disadvantaged is an interesting question to which Action Feminists argue they have the unequivocal answer: any claim other than universal male privilege is apparently laughable.

To make this broad case, Action Feminists point out certain inequivalencies of results, such as fewer women in high-paying jobs in general, and in politics and STEM fields in particular. But, if results alone prove inequality of opportunity, then there are lots of statistics that show men are also sometimes less equal (higher sentences for the same crime, lesser custody rights, gender quotas against them, more workplace deaths, more homelessness, fewer shelters, less medical research, and (thus?) higher suicide rates, lower life expectancy, and more). 

Clearly, privilege isn’t as simple as checking one’s sex or gender. But by dogmatically treating “male privilege” as a tautology, feminists have managed to undermine our collective skepticism. Indeed, men who don’t acknowledge their privilege are dismissed as the worst misogynists of all.

Thus, men wanting to stay on the right side of Action Feminists not only cannot disagree with the ideology, but also must confess their complicity in provoking it.

Moreover, even if one does legitimately come to the conclusion that men in general are more privileged than women, that does not justify assuming that every individual man is privileged. For instance, let’s say there’s a 20% advantage for men over women going into STEM, but a 10% advantage for women over men going into novel writing. While the former case might mean that men on average will fare better just because of their sex, the aspiring male writer may still be systemically disadvantaged in his life.

CONSEQUENCES: Along with anti-male hiring policies in work and politics, pundits and politicians’ genders are often taken into account when assessing their arguments. Sometimes, for committing the crime of being male, pundits’ arguments will be dismissed on the basis that their privilege is showing.

Also, sometimes individual men are excluded from discussions so as to ensure a panel is more gender balanced. In contrast, if a panel is unanimously female, Action Feminists celebrate the result as an achievement for inclusiveness.

CONCLUSION: If we’re going to examine unfair advantages in work and play, we must not assume the very thesis that Action Feminists have a vested interest in proving. If Action Feminists claim a particular disadvantage, we should give it no more automatic weight than we would someone claiming any other fact of our society.

Moreover, we cannot allow Action Feminists to exclude certain people from participating in discussions on the basis of their sex. Ideas should be measured by their content, not by their owners’ chromosomes.

THE SHIPS ARE SAILING:

“If you’re not a feminist, then you’re a bigot. I mean, there is nothing in between. It’s like being pregnant. You either are pregnant, or you’re not.”

Gloria Allred, feminist activist and lawyer.

These many examples of Action Feminist silencing behaviours have consequences beyond their individual cases. Surely, as politicians and media professionals witness the career disintegrations of resisters to Action Feminism, it is understandable that they prefer not to put themselves in the same line of fire.

Consider incoming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s delivery on his promise to gender quota in a balanced cabinet. Whether you agree or disagree with affirmative action discrimination, it is a decision that has serious consequences. Many moral questions should have been asked by the media of this Prime Minister.

(For instances, if we let quotas instead of qualifications determine who is elevated to the top government positions, aren’t we by definition going to have a less accomplished group? Moreover, is it fair to the individual men who otherwise would have been promoted based on their merits that they be excluded because of their sex? Is there any evidence that such men were unduly advantaged in acquiring their resumes, or is it possible that other factors—such as general differences in female and male career interests—played a role?)

But, instead of the obvious critical questions, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau was asked the soft-as-a-feather question of why gender parity was so important to him. And he simply replied:

“Because it’s 2015.”

This resulted in approving laughter from his new team, but no follow up query from the media.

Indeed, in my perusal of the mainstream media coverage, the only criticism I encountered of Justin Trudeau’s gender quota policy was one which argued that it would hurt women. I don’t doubt that such a quota system can have unintended negative consequences for women who, in particular cases, may be unfairly assumed not to have earned their position via merit. However, why is the media not looking at the consequences of this policy on men, as well as on the quality of the government?

“Because it’s 2015” may sound vapid (and it is), but it also contains a warning:

Given we now live in the modern era, it is embarrassing for us to still exist in a system which privileges men over women. And, if you question my policies, you are suggesting that it’s okay for men to be privileged over women. Go ahead and challenge me on these points, I dare you.

I submit that Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t justify his gender quota system with clear moral arguments because he didn’t think he needed to. He figured the media would cower to his implied warning, and realize it was safer to leave the matter be: and he was right.

Action Feminists have succeeded in making all criticisms of Action Feminism taboo. Indeed, even the most scary ideas within Action Feminism are now able to hide under the coat of its noble, Definitional godmother.

Recall singer/songwriter Katie Goodman’s rhetorical question for women who don’t want to call themselves feminists:

“A feminist is described as a person who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Why is this so confusing?”

It’s confusing because many people who advocate in feminism’s name are calling for policies that do not match the ideals of gender egalitarianism.

The key to saving ourselves from the worst ideas of feminism is to demand the right to distinguish between the various ships that carry her name. Not all Action Feminisms are gender egalitarians; and not all critics of Action Feminism are opposed to gender equality.


THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

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

THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND PLAY

To paraphrase Bill Maher, some of the alleged offenders described in the following argument may not be worth defending, but their rights are.


Let me first state my contrary bias. On the spectrum of government control and anarchy, I am in favour of laws restricting behaviours that explicitly harm others. Moreover, where laws are not appropriate (such as in the case of free speech), I like to see jerks get their social comeuppance as much as the next karma connoisseur. However, I am wary of the current state of moral fervor dominating public discussions wherein those accused of committing crimes, legal or otherwise, are not only publicly shamed, but are also called to be fired or reprimanded by their employers, even where their alleged fouls have not been proven and/or have dubious relevance to their work. For instances:

(A) A common jerk made profane remarks to a reporter while she was in the midst of a live feed. She called him out. He defended himself. The resulting video found an audience. Someone figured out where the jerk worked and alerted his boss. The jerk was fired from his five-figure job.

(B) An NFL player was charged by the police with a hit and run, DUI, and vandalism. The next day, the athlete was released by his team.

(C) A CFL player (known already for ignorant opinions) shared on Twitter a link to a Holocaust-denying video. The player was fined by the CFL.

(D) A British Lord was photographed socializing with prostitutes and was consequently pressured to resign his position. He resisted at first, but eventually relented to public and fellow-Lord pressure. (Although there was, apparently, no legal basis for him to be removed.)

(E) NFL superstar Ray Rice was seen on a hotel security video in an altercation with his fiancé: as she approached him in an elevator at a rapid pace, he punched her in the face, knocking her unconscious. Rice pled out of a criminal conviction by agreeing to 12 months of counselling. Initially he was suspended for two games, but after public pressure, he was released by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

Now, if employers fire their employees because they have good reason to believe they might harm their co-workers on the job, or already have done so, I have no objection. My concern here is with cases where employees are relieved of duty because their bosses have deemed them morally unfit for work (usually at the behest of popular opinion).

While I, too, will not type a sad-face emoticon for the fool who lost his job after verbally accosting someone trying to do theirs, I am nervous about the lack of public resistance to employers extending their gaze beyond their employees’ on-site activities with the aim of pronouncing judgment on their off-site behaviours. As we presently stand, the general assumption seems to be that—where someone is accused and/or convicted of a crime outside the job or of saying or doing something politically unwise—our society is right to pressure the accused’s employer to fire that person.

That, to me, is a scary state of employment affairs. I suspect most of us wouldn’t want our doctors or bus drivers to refuse service because of such character flaws, so why are we so quick to allow vigilante karma officers to run our human resources departments? And now that we’ve opened up Pandora’s judgement, how far might the employers take their newfound lease on pink slips?

BOSS: Nicely done, Johnson. You’re doing a better job of recycling your newspapers and respecting your elders, but I think you could donate more money to UNICEF, and I’d like to see you spend more time with your kids and less time coveting your neighbour’s wife. Have those things done by the end of next month, and I’ll consider keeping you on… Oh, and by the way, in this election, I’m voting blue. See that you do as well.

Who’s going to be in charge of defining these moral no-go zones? We can all agree that punching someone in the face (unless in opposition to an attacker) is morally egregious, but what about less morally obvious codes, such as religious doctrines? If enough people in the public are opposed to gay marriage, is it okay for a company to fire a married gay person on moral grounds?

Unfortunately, there is little public appetite today for employers to make a nuanced case for why they are not in a position to evaluate their employees’ outside-of-work conduct and speech: public morality, after all, is not known for its ability to recognize such distinctions. To the no-nuanced public, if an employer does not punish their employees when they are accused of a crime or of saying something deemed offensive, they clearly condone such behaviour.

This puts employers in a dicey spot where they either condemn their employee for something beyond their expertise and jurisdiction, or risk the wrath of their customers. Given such a choice, many employers are relenting to the public’s demands for their employees’ excommunication.

Thus, I think the potential for injustice caused by our guilty-until-proven-innocent and readily-offended public morality is dangerous, and we need to recalibrate our expectations of employers when it comes to assessing their employees’ outside-of-work activities.

I submit that the starting point in these discussions ought to be that employers do not have a right or obligation to punish their employees for anything that happens outside their jurisdiction. Instead, companies should be expected to prove that they have just cause (i.e. something relevantly injurious to the company’s functioning, such as a conflict of interest, or a conflict of safety) to fire an employee. If pundits and other public moralists (and even our legal system) were to accept this as a first principle of employer-employee relations, employers would, I submit, feel less pressure to make unjust terminations to appease public wrath.

With that “don’t fire employees without workplace cause” frame of reference in mind, I think the most complicated scenario for employers and critics to consider is the case where an employee (usually possessing a high profile) commits a moral infraction that could hurt the brand of their company.

Consider the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Ray Rice for punching his wife. The claim was not that Rice’s violent behaviour made him unsafe for his workplace, but instead that his actions were so despicable that the NFL needed to send a message of condemnation of violence against women, or be seen as a league aiding and abetting men who beat up women.

I can understand the mathematics of such a brand-protection argument. Given that entertainment, much like politics, draws crowds as much by personality as it does by talent, if an athlete’s reputation for violence leads some of us to think badly of their employer’s brand, then in a sense their performance could be questioned.

Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the needs of the brand should outweigh the rights of its workers. I see two categories of circumstance to consider:

(1) First there are disputed cases, such as when someone is charged with—but hasn’t yet been proven guilty of—a crime. In spite of the suspect’s right to a fair trial, their employer may feel the perception of their guilt is already tainting their good brand name. Sadly, though, mob opinion is rarely a meticulous means by which to assess a person’s guilt, and so employers using it as their lead moral advisor will surely sometimes fire innocent employees.

Therefore, as painful as it may be to see an allegedly violent offender roaming the field of our favourite sports team, I see no solution other than to allow the justice system to be in charge of taking away the criminals it deems unfit for society. And, if the courts do not put a perceived villain in prison, I think it is oppressive to allow companies—at the behest of popular opinion and brand protection—to make like kangaroos and presume their employees’ guilt.

(2) Second, there are the cases where the problematic actions of the high-profile employee are not in dispute, such as when the celebrity has been either convicted of a crime, or captured on an uncontested video saying or doing something that a company would not want associated with their brand. Again, from a fiduciary point of view, it is understandable that organizations would want to exile high-profile employees who have behaved in ways that the public condemns.

Nevertheless, I still fear that such brand-harming justification gives too much power to our sometimes puritanical public opinion to rule our lives outside of work. Again, I can imagine exceptions—such as when an employee’s personal reputation is the primary basis for their employment (as in the case of a celebrity spokesperson)—but in situations where one’s personal life is irrelevant to the actual tasks one is paid for (as when one carries a football for a living), I propose that we reconsider the notion that it is appropriate for employers to require their employees to stay on brand while they are off duty. This isn’t to say that employees should be allowed to directly insult their workplaces while at an outside-of-work microphone (that strikes me as a conflict of interest), but—beyond such exceptions—I do not think that employers should be allowed to limit their employees’ freedom of association and speech.

Moreover, are we sure we trust our ideological social justice leaders—who advise our employers—to provide sound and ethically-sourced judgments?

For concerning instance, whether one believes that feminism is a force for equality or a force for sexism (or both), it’s hard to deny that it currently has a controlling influence on our public morality. Consider the difference in our understandable contempt for Ray Rice’s assault on his wife, and our lack thereof when confronted by a parallel incident in which another NFL football player, IK Enemkpali, punched a teammate, Geno Smith, breaking his jaw to the point of knocking his compatriot out of action for 6-10 weeks. Given this happened in the locker room in front of witnesses, the team rightly fired the fist-throwing athlete, but note that there was little if any of the public moral scorn that Ray Rice received for his similar assault on his fiancé. In fact, some observers have even blamed the victim, Smith, stating he was acting aggressively towards Enemkpali, and thus provoked the violent reaction. (Recall that Rice’s fiancé was behaving aggressively towards him, too: but not many would want to defend Mr. Rice on those same grounds.)

Moreover, in response to the Enenkpali assault, SportsCentre supplied for our entertainment the “Top Ten Teammate Fights.” (Again, can you imagine a “Top Ten” segment serenading Rice’s crime?) Then, within a couple days, a second team hired the offending player on the grounds that his punch was a one-time error.

I don’t object to this decision; if the new team thinks Enemkpali can improve their results and doesn’t think there’s a pattern of violent work behaviour that would pose a risk to his new teammates, I think it’s reasonable for them to take him on. But the fact that the team was able to do this without the same moral condemnation that has left Ray Rice still without an employer is evidence of our current feminist-leaning moral infrastructure.

(Consider also an incident in the NHL wherein super-villain Milan Lucic followed an opponent—who didn’t have the puck—during an NHL game and, just for vicious fun, whacked him between the legs: Lucic was not suspended but fined $5000 of his $6 million per year salary, and I suppose, probably suffered the indignity of making a sports station or two’s, “Top Ten Ooooh Moments.”)

If it were just violent abusers of women who suffered under this feminist double standard, I wouldn’t be particularly troubled. However, as our Western culture becomes increasingly submissive to the uncompromising expectations of feminism, buoyed advocates are demanding (and sometimes receiving) firings for not only violent offences against women, but also failures to be feminist in thought.

Recall General Lawson, who “offended” all three major Canadian political parties for suggesting that biological wiring was complicit in creating sexual harassers in the military. Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau called for him to be fired for this innocuous, if unsupported, claim.

More troubling, consider the career crucifixion of Nobel Laureate and medical researcher Dr. Tim Hunt who, at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Korea, made a joke that was clearly intended to satirize himself as a fossil of gender relations in science:

“It’s strange,” he said, “that a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry. Perhaps we should separate labs for boys and girls.”

For those not tuned into his humour frequency, he followed up this jest with a clarifying remark:

“No seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development in Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science despite the obstacles and despite monsters like me.”

After the most controversial aspects of the joke were released to the Twitter mafia (without any of the clarifying content that surrounded it), Hunt was forced to resign from all of his scientific positions. No matter how offended one may be by a joke, we should all be worried to see a world-class medical researcher cut off from helping us all because of things he said while giving a toast. I don’t begrudge criticism of what people say in public, but are we sure such controversial humour disqualifies Hunt from being a good scientist? If Dr. Hunt had harassed or bullied his colleagues (female or male) in some way, then the benefits of his good science may not be worth the harm to his co-workers and subordinates; however, many female supporters have come forward to say that Dr. Hunt has long been a champion of their work.

(And, once again, you don’t need to search far into the internet to find examples where feminist scholars have said much more earnest and sexist comments without any official discipline. For just one recent example, consider the Gender and Diversity Professor at the Sauder School of Business, Dr. Jennifer Berdahl, who speculated in her blog that former UBC President Dr. Arvind Gupta had left his post after only one year because

“…he lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

She was not officially disciplined for such masculinity-deriding commentary; admittedly, she says that some higher powers-that-be have criticized her for it, but the result so far has not been any official censure for her sexist-seeming choice of words. To the contrary: the Faculty Association has demanded that her lead critic, John Montalbano, a faculty advisory board member at the Sauder School of Business, and the person who funded Berdahl’s position, resign his commission for using his station to criticize a faculty member.)

Whether or not you agree that our society is currently driving under the influence of feminism and other specialized moralities, surely all of us should be concerned when fellow citizens, who are legally entitled to work, are barred from doing so because of perceived or real moral errors outside of work. While Ray Rice may be a terrible person and certainly did something awful, allowing his employer to fire him for a crime he committed outside the borders of their institution solidifies a precedent that should make us all raise our eyebrows. More crucially, while I, too, prefer respectful discourse, when employers can decide to fire their employees because they find their outside-of-work words “unacceptable,” that scares the moral fervor out of me.


A sequel to this daunting discussion is now available in THE SEPARTION OF WORK AND WORK.

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS IV: Nothing To See Here

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

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

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

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


Previously in this NEW FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS series, I have written about the power of political correctness to suppress speech via the magnitude of its proponents’ outrage and calls for punishment of those who stray from “acceptable” opinion. In this episode of THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS, I will examine the argument of a scholar who defends the increasing powers of political correctness.


On June 21st, I overheard an interview on CBC’s The 180, in which interviewer Jim Brown asked a gender studies’ grad student, Zaren Healey White, whether Canadian universities have become too politically correct at the expense of free academic thought. The conversation had the veneer of a serious philosophical discussion, but to my ear, it evaded the most troubling aspects of limiting free speech at the behest of ideology, however well-meaning such measures may claim to be.

Thus, I sent a message to The 180, articulating some serious issues that I thought were missed in the discussion. Since it has now been two weeks, and I have not heard back, I offer that letter here.


NOTE: The transcript of the interview is available as the first comment on this post. I won’t be offended if you listen to or read the interview before taking in my reply.


Dear Mr. Brown:

I enjoy your show and interview style. Your attempts to unearth new perspectives in our little group think world is admirable.

In keeping with your mission, I would like to provide a 180 perspective on your 180 interview with Memorial University Gender Studies Masters student, Zaren Healey White, in regard to her contention that increasing political correctness in Canadian universities is a positive evolution.

Your guest was articulate and charismatic, and yet she sidestepped significant problems with her ideology.

When you asked Ms. Healey White to explain how she defines political correctness, she said:

“I just basically mean things that I think are values that I think we should value. So basically it’s not political correctness for its own sake, it’s that ‘Let’s be empathetic, sensitive, and aware—let’s be aware of language and how the words we use could impact people.”

Empathy, sensitivity, and awareness all sound like nice goals to strive for in theory, but in practice who gets to decide which language and opinions pass the test? As much as Ms. Healey White and her colleagues may have good intentions and talented brains, there are lots of smart and kind people who disagree with their diagnoses.

As the late journalist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens argued:

“Who is going to decide?… Who will you appoint? Who will be the one who says, ‘I know exactly where the limit [on free speech] should be. I know how far you can go. And I know when you’ve gone too far. And I’ll decide that? Who do you think, who do you know, who have you heard of, who have you read about in history who you would give that job?”

To my eye, gender scholars such as Ms. Healey White are currently the leading arbiters of politically correct speech in university culture, and it is they who teach the students who subsequently demand increasing “sensitivity” in academic discussion. So, when we give into student protests and limit who can speak and what can be said at universities, we are allowing a small group of gender scholars to have incredible power over all academic discussion.

This is not merely a theoretical speculation. Gender studies ideology has made some scary changes to the definition of sexual consent on university campuses, including the new notion that participants—especially female participants—cannot consent while intoxicated. Meanwhile, at the University of Ottawa, after two male hockey players were accused of sexual assault, the entire hockey team was suspended for a year. Those who criticize such repressive and autocratic justice are treated as pariahs by the gender studies collective.

This means that gender studies leaders design strange new rules of justice but will not accept feedback from those not accredited by them to speak on such matters. For instance, when erudite and polite critics of feminism such as Dr. Warren Farrell, Dr. Janice Fiamengo, Dr. Paul Nathanson, and Dr. Katherine Young have attempted to speak at Canadian universities, they have been denounced by feminist protestors as “hate speakers,” “rape apologists,” and “misogynists.” While the students had a right to these accusations, they should not be lionized for such hostile (and baseless) behavior, which inhibits legitimate discussion. Moreover, in some of those cases, the protestors blocked entrances to their opponents’ talks and pulled fire alarms, thus proving themselves literally closed to criticism.

Far from advocating compassion for those who see the world differently, gender scholars seem to allow no room for “error” amongst those with whom they disagree. Once someone says the “wrong” thing, they are not merely criticized, they are called to be excommunicated from their careers. Such chilling results surely give pause to others who might not agree with every commandment of gender scholarship but don’t want to lose their livelihood over it.

And note that such restrictions in current university speech is not just about limiting vicious words but also traumatic content. “Trigger warnings,” which began in gender studies, are becoming an expectation of university professors when they engage in material that students might find challenging or provocative. The theory behind this strange practice is that the warning protects the students who may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being further traumatized. Again, this sounds compassionate on the surface, but in reality it is based on speculation that traumatized students will be triggered by content that reminds them of their harmful experiences. According to philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers, who has reviewed the scientific literature, there is no psychological evidence for this conclusion; in fact, quite the opposite, because students who are never exposed to content similar to their trauma have little opportunity to get free of it. Thus, instead of protecting students from harm, it gives additional power to the trauma, while demonizing discussion about it.

Meanwhile, even if trigger warnings were psychologically justified and there were an objective way to censor disrespectful language without limiting ideas, there is a double standard in favour of protecting gender studies from [being criticized for] its own sometimes hostile ideology. For all her calls for “valuing the inherent dignity of people and caring about them, and caring about their lives and their experiences,” notice that Healey White more than once dismissed critics of political correctness as “privileged.” For instances:

“I haven’t come across a lot of marginalized people who have a problem with political correctness. It seems to be people who have a lot of privilege who say, ‘Well I’m used to being able to say what I want, and I want to keep saying it.’”

And:

“I feel like the people leveraging the critiques that the students are too sensitive are the people that have benefitted from getting to say whatever they want, and not having to worry too much about oppression.”

How does Ms. Healey White know whether such critics have privilege or not? Generally, privilege is shorthand for “white,” “male,” and/or “heterosexual,” which of course is not exactly treating people of such blasphemous traits with empathy, sensitivity, and awareness: instead it paints all such people with the same insult: regardless of the individual circumstances in your life, you have, by definition, been privileged by your biological traits, and so therefore we cannot take your perspective as seriously as ours.

Such blanket wielding of the term “privilege” is bigotry personified. I won’t presume that Ms. Healey White is motivated by such mean-spirited intentions, but nevertheless she is capitalizing on a currently en vogue expression that carries with it a lot of vicious baggage.

Moreover, even if we assume the veracity of Ms. Healey White’s almost-impossible-to-verify notion that most of those who criticize political correctness have never experienced oppression (Ayaan Hirsi Ali being, I guess, an aberration), how does that prove their contentions incorrect? In philosophical argument, ad hominem claims (i.e. arguments against the traits of a person instead of their argument) are considered irrelevant. An individual can be both personally flawed and possessing of a good intellectual argument simultaneously, so by definition the person’s traits cannot prove or disprove the validity of their argument.

For instance, even if I defend free speech solely for my own selfish enjoyment of saying whatever I want (as Healey White suggests), it may be the case that my defence of free speech is still, inadvertently, correct. Meanwhile, even if gender studies students, who are mostly women, focus primarily on women’s rights over men’s rights, it’s possible that the feminist conclusions they draw are valid. The best way to determine the answer to those questions is to look at the arguments we all put forward, and examine them on their merits.

Sincerely,
Seth McDonough


REMINDER: The transcript of the interview is available as the first comment on this post.


THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

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

WIRED FOR OFFENCE

“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.*

*The problem is asserted in a report by retired Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps.

Lawson’s uproar-provoking comments landed during an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge:

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.

THE THEORY OF AUTHENTICITY

In the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde claims:

“There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

I’m not sure if everyone quoted below would agree with Mr. Wilde.


Two film critics, Frances Ryan of The Guardian and Scott Jordan Harris of Slatehave recently scourged the propensity—illustrated by the award winning film, The Theory of Everything—of able-bodied actors portraying disabled people in film. While both critics acknowledge that, in this particular case, the casting of able-bodied Eddie Redmayne to play Stephen Hawking may have been a logistical necessity (since the story covers Hawking’s life both before and after ALS disrupted his mobility), the two intrepid accusers nevertheless contend that the film represents a collage of Hollywood injustices against disabled people.

I think it is a worthwhile discussion and I do empathize with how daunting it must be for disabled actors to find work. Nevertheless, while both critics’ arguments are provocative and useful starting points for this moral discussion, their accusatory presentations seem to ignore the muddiness of these moral waters.

I’ve thus broken down their arguments into five categories to try to distinguish their philosophical baggage from their more interesting cases for change.

(1) Portrayals of disabled people on screen by able-bodied people cost disabled actors roles.

“Like many other disabled people,” Harris says, “I have often argued that disabled characters should, wherever possible, be played by disabled actors. When disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors, disabled actors are robbed of the chance to work in their field.”

I think this is a legitimate concern (although, I wouldn’t use the harsh metaphor of “robbery,” which suggests that such roles are intrinsically the rightful property of disabled actors). Logistically, disabled people cannot currently play able-bodied people in live-action films. Thus, if they’re going to work in the industry, they must be able to get some of the roles depicting disabled people. And, since such opportunities may exist at a lower per-capita rate, such performers—already generally besot by disadvantages in life—have extra trouble finding work, too.

This is unfortunate, and so it seems reasonable to me that, as Harris suggests, all other relevant things being equal (or close to), directors should cast disabled people in the roles of disabled people.

The trouble is that all other relevant things are often not equal. For instances:

(A) Most roles about people with disabilities involve a spectrum between having the disability and not. Such a role, then, can only be played by an actor who can take on the full range of movements covered in the character’s story. As acknowledged by our bold writers, The Theory of Everything is such a film, and so they admit that it may be forgiven on that basis.

(B) Sometimes the best available actor for the part does not have the disability that is being portrayed. All people, after all, have multiple dimensions to them, including their physical, intellectual, and emotional states. While a person with a disability may on the surface look the most like the person to be portrayed, they may not on a deeper level possess the desired connection to the character. To pigeonhole disabled characters by limiting those playing them to be equally disabled actors is to suggest that disabled people are essentially disabled, when that is, in fact, just one of many facets of their identity.

One of my sisters puts this point more eloquently.

“’Disability,’” she says, “is not a binary state; there are all sorts of points on the spectrum.  And a happy and well-adjusted [person living in a wheelchair] might not have access to specific feelings… that a standard issue person who’s struggled with depression has, that might be required in certain roles.”

In my viewing experience, the greatest actor I’ve ever seen is Daniel Day-Lewis. If I were a director of any movie about anything, and Mr. Day-Lewis were available, I would cast him in the lead role, whether it were a disabled man, a four-legged robot, or a two-year old learning to talk. While it may be the case that actors win awards more often than chance when they transform their physical dimensions, they can usually only successfully do so if they are also able to transform their emotional dimension to the point that we believe they are a different person (not just a different mobility level). Nobody, in my opinion, does that better than Daniel Day-Lewis, and so to not cast him for a role just because he lacks certain physical characteristics would be an affront to the art of filmmaking.

(C) Sometimes the disability in question can impede the person’s ability to portray someone else.

Ryan highlighted the casting of non-autistic actor, Dustin Hoffman, to play the role of an autistic person in Rain Man. Well, correct me if I’m wrong, Wikipedia, but does not autism generally impede one’s emotional ability to relate to the outside world? Thus, unless we think all autistic people are the same, it might be challenging for most autistic people to emotionally connect with and insightfully portray a different autistic person.

Meanwhile, a person with a physical disability that is different from the person whom they are playing may struggle—by virtue of their own particular mobility issues—with capturing those of someone else.

(D) Sometimes, the disability is so specific that there are few people with a severe disability who could conceivably play the role.

Both critics referenced My Left Foot, the film in which Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed a man with cerebral palsy who could only control his left foot, and yet did so with artistic dexterity. How many actors with a significant disability, I wonder, would have had the unique combination of ability and disability available to convincingly render that particular set of traits?

(E) Audiences are less likely to see a movie that does not star a well-known actor.

Unfortunately, in the case of the film industry, as Ryan acknowledges, the ability of actors to draw a crowd does seem to be a vital part of their work. Without predictably large audiences, most production companies won’t invest in projects, and so the promise of a previously-approved actor is more likely to satisfy their bottom-line requirements. This further compounds the problem for disabled actors. Without those first roles, they cannot build their stock in audiences’ familiarity-craving minds, so they don’t get a chance to get easier access to second roles. Most actors attempt to circumvent this problem by making big first impressions in smaller roles, but since there are also relatively few small roles available for disabled actors, they are once again stuck in a doubly daunting position.

Nevertheless, in spite of the clear disadvantage here for disabled actors, there isn’t an obvious solution to it. Requiring directors to always impose a disability symmetry between actors and roles would surely—by the capitalistic nature of film-making—result in fewer movies being made about people with disabilities.

(2) We wouldn’t accept black people being portrayed by white people, so we should similarly restrict able-bodied people from portraying disabled people.

“While ‘blacking up’ is rightly now greeted with outrage,” Ryan says, “‘cripping up’ is still greeted with awards. Is there actually much difference between the two? In both cases, actors use prosthetics or props to alter their appearance in order to look like someone from a minority group. In both cases they often manipulate their voice or body to mimic them. They take a job from an actor who genuinely has that characteristic, and, in doing so, perpetuate that group’s under-representation in the industry. They do it for the entertainment of crowds who, by and large, are part of the majority group.”

This is a powerful and worrying argument. Expecting acting outfits to limit their roles to actors of similar physical characteristics would be practically and artistically daunting if applied to all cases. Our conventional moral wisdom has made an exception that doesn’t allow white people to portray black people because of the expired but embarrassing theatrical tradition of “blackface,” in which white and sometimes black actors wore black make up and portrayed black people as a cartoonish collection of stereotypes. Without that ugly past, restricting people from one race from portraying another is as arbitrary as restricting a young person from portraying an old person, or a person with or without glasses from taking on the opposite. In a perfect world without racism, race is as meaningless as shoe size. However, because of theatre history’s treatment of black people like puppets in vaudeville shows, blackface has understandably become synonymous, in most people’s minds, with racism. But this hard-earned convention of artistic restriction can have unfortunate consequences, too; consider how high school drama departments must feel limited only to the stories and casting decisions that happen to match the skin colours of their performers. This may mean that they don’t put on a play about Nelson Mandela because they don’t have someone of the right race to play the lead. Such troubling artistic restrictions ought not to be seen as intrinsically righteous such that they are automatically justified in all situations where a minority group has suffered.

While noting the similarity between race and disability is understandable, we must also consider the differences before consenting to the additional artistic restriction that Ryan suggests. In the film world, now that blackface has been relegated to its uncomfortable place in infamy, and many black actors have found their way to prominence, it is hard to imagine any professional director having difficulty casting the part of any black character. There will never be an issue with discovering an actor who can play all physical states in a character’s trajectory.

Moreover, unlike mobility, age, and even gender, race effectively never fluctuates between states. Thus the consequence of restricting white people from portraying black people in film and professional theatre is essentially just a philosophical injunction, which rarely (I assume) has practical artistic repercussions. However, applying the same restrictions to disability would likely have serious consequences in terms of the frequency of stories told about people with disabilities.

(3) Able-bodied performances of disabled people cost the latter the right to portray themselves on screen.

Ryan argues:

“When it comes to race, we believe it is wrong for the story of someone from a minority to be depicted by a member of the dominant group for mass entertainment. But we don’t grant disabled people the same right to self-representation.”

That is a dangerous justification for restricting art. Condemning “blackface” is not, or should not be, about self representation; it is, or should be, about attempting to undermine a specific historical insult. That is all. Limiting roles to people with equivalent backgrounds for its own sake is a scary idea. No one has the right to require performers, writers, and directors to have lived similar lives, and/or come from an equal demographic, to those whom they portray. Artistic freedom would certainly be damned if that were a legitimate demand.

“When disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors…” adds Harris, “the disabled community is robbed of the right to self-representation onscreen. Imagine what it would feel like to be a woman and for the only women you ever saw in films to be played by men. Imagine what it would feel like to be a member of an ethnic minority and for the only portrayals of your race you ever saw in films to be given by white people. That’s what it’s like being a disabled person at the movies.”

I find this to be a disturbing essentialist argument. Again, no group has an intrinsic right to a role simply because they match up in one particular characteristic. Stephen Hawking is not only a man suffering with ALS; he is also somewhat of a smart guy, heterosexual, and lacking in perfect vision. So must the person who portrays him also be a mathematical genius who likes ladies, but can’t read his own theories without glasses?

Of course not. Hawking is not the property of any of those groups. He is a collaboration of many characteristics, and should be portrayed by the person who can capture, without necessarily possessing, the widest variety of them at the same time.

(4) Portrayals of disabled people by the able-bodied are inauthentic because they are just impersonations.

Contends Harris:

“The ultimate ambition of David Oyelowo’s performance [in Selma] as Martin Luther King, Jr. is to express the reality of black life and black history in a way that resonates with those within the black community and educates those outside it. The ultimate ambition of Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is to contort his body convincingly enough to make other able-bodied people think ‘Wow! By the end I really believed he was a cripple!’ Our attitudes to disability should have evolved past the stage when this mimicry is considered worthy of our most famous award for acting.”

I wonder if Harris has any evidence for his claims regarding Selma’s (racially divided) pedagogical intentions. Setting that strange contention aside, I can understand how a disabled person might feel annoyed by someone acting in the way that they have to suffer. Nevertheless, I think the argument to restrict performances for that reason is insufficient because, in the end, all acting is “mimicry.”

During the Harris-approved portrayal of Martin Luther King, Oyelowo is impersonating King’s then state of mind, circumstances, clothing, hair style, mannerisms, and voice. Moreover, returning us to the other side of the analogy, even if a disabled person had played Hawking, the chance that such a person would be someone also tortured by ALS at the same rare rate of progression is remote, so they too would have had to mimic the physicist’s movements at some point in the film.

All acting performances are mostly make-believe. I cannot imagine any coherent line between acceptable simulation and mimicry.

(5) The direction and writing of stories about disabled people are inauthentic unless done by disabled people.

“Even if we accept,” Harris explains, “that Redmayne should get a pass to play Hawking, we are still left with a film that excludes disabled people while pretending to speak for them. The Theory of Everything is based on a book by an able-bodied person, adapted by an able-bodied screenwriter, and directed by an able-bodied director, and it stars able-bodied actors. DuVernay’s egregiously under-nominated Selma, burns with authenticity about black experiences because it was made by members of the black community, not by members of the community that has historically oppressed them. In contrast, The Theory of Everything flickers weakly with truisms that can be mistaken for insight only by people who are not disabled, because it was made by—and for—people who are not disabled.”

Evidence is required for these inflammatory claims. For instance, who says The Theory of Everything purports to speak for disabled people? Maybe it wanted to speak for physicists, or, more likely, for no one, and just wanted to tell a good story. More importantly, though, if it’s the case that disabled people are usually better at directing stories about disabled people than their able-bodied cousins, then—artistically speaking—disabled people ought to indeed get the jobs more often on the basis on their superior merits. But we should never force such a generalization into all cases.

The best antidote for bad story telling is not to criticize the physical characteristics of the storytellers, but instead to criticize their work. If such complaints about failed authenticity are legitimate, then perhaps The Theory of Everything is unworthy of its many award nominations. As a movie critic, Harris ought to point out what aspects of the film rang shallow (a single example of a false truism obvious to disabled people would be helpful). Thus, the next producers of a film about a disabled person may feel more obligated to get it right, and so perhaps would find themselves hiring a disabled director who seemed to have a better understanding of the issues he or she was intended to illuminate.

However, to claim a lack of authenticity just by definition of the particular physical characteristics of the people involved is not only bigoted, but will again provoke the natural consequence of reducing the number of stories told about disabled people.

Consider the case where an influential and successful able-bodied writer or director is contemplating their next project: if, by Harris’s essentialist philosophy, he or she is barred from creating stories about disabled people—sorry, Herman Melville, Captain Ahab is off limits to you!—then surely we’ll have even fewer roles available for disabled actors.

Moreover, such a result may put pressure on disabled writers and directors to only tell stories about disabled people—since no one else is allowed to—even though some filmmakers with disabilities may want to tell other stories, too.)


In conclusion, I refer us all again to the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which Oscar Wilde claims:

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”

Once again, I’m not sure if everyone quoted above would agree with Mr. Wilde.

GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM II: You’re Either With Us Or You “Don’t Get It”

SethBlogs does not believe in trial by faith even when applied to a preacher of the religion in question.

GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FAITH-BASED JUSTICE

II: YOU’RE EITHER WITH US OR YOU “DON’T GET IT” (you are here)

III: BEYOND BELIEF


In the first episode of GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM I argued that Jian Ghomeshi has been tried and convicted in the media by the same uncritical uniformity of feminist thought that Mr. Ghomeshi, himself, so often exemplified when he flavoured CBC’s airwaves. I argued that, even though the persona of the former host would have supported the feminist assumption of guilt that he has now received from his former colleagues, he nevertheless deserves a right to a fair and legal hearing of the facts before he is thrown off the ship.

As evidence of the Canadian mainstream media’s indestructible desire to prove itself to be pro-women, and anti-Ghomeshi, consider a recent panel discussion on The Current, in which Anna Marie Temonti interviewed a balanced collective of feminists. The topic up for consensus was a question of whether the Ghomeshi scandal would be a breakthrough “watershed moment” for female victims, or would too many chauvinists still “not getting it” block the enlightenment?

Below is my resulting letter to The Current asking for a smidge of balance in their presentation of such discussions:

[Note: I have since re-listened to the broadcast and provided in square brackets below some specific quotes and points in the timeline of The Current discussion to verify my claims.]


Subject: Re Feminist discussion on Thursday: A friendly request from a listener who “doesn’t get it”

Dear Anna Maria Tremonti:

I was frustrated as I listened to your interview with three feminists on Thursday [November 6th] in regard to whether the Jian Ghomeshi scandal would be a breakthrough moment for women (and sexual assault victims in general).

Your three guests seemed to agree that the problem for [Western] women, in particular, was still towering over us, and that men need to get in the conversation and start to better understand the plight of women. I heard you respond with the phrase, “Some people still don’t get it,” and ask a question to the effect of, “Why would a man not want to protect women from violence?”

[Tremonti’s actual question at 15:11 was:

“But Joe you make the point that you realize that you know a lot more women than you realized who are up against this. We’re talking about, for men, we’re talking about women who are their partners, their mothers, their daughters, their sisters, why the disconnect? They would never want this to happen to their sister, but they look the other way if it’s happens to their neighbour?”

This is not just straw man argument: it’s a straw, psychopathic man argument.]

You may be surprised that I am a caring person who nevertheless found the discussion to be philosophically painful to listen to, not because I don’t like and worry about women, but because your guests seemed to be unwilling to contemplate the potential that good people might disagree with them. With respect, I propose that, when you say that anyone who questions a feminist argument “still doesn’t get it,” you’re dismissing those of us who may have thought carefully and compassionately about these topics and sincerely come to disagree with feminist theory.

There are critics of feminist orthodoxy (including “the factual feminist,” Christina Hoff Sommers) who have persuasively argued that much of feminist data regarding the prevalence of sexual assault (in the west) has been unscientifically inflated to support feminist ideology. [See Sommers’ Sexual Assault in America: Do  we know the true numbers.]

Before you stop reading, I am not suggesting that, because feminist numbers are problematic, we shouldn’t care deeply about female victims (and feel outrage toward their offenders), nor that we should stop trying to combat whatever number of sexual offenders there are. Instead, my contention is that the Western media is afraid to question feminist data, and that the consequence is unfortunate: feminists have little reason to be scientific and honest in their work. It’s simple human nature: in the absence of serious criticism, few of us will be as rigorous in our arguments as we would be if we knew our research would be genuinely challenged.

The result is a feminist advocacy movement which has painted a tilted landscape of Western culture in which women suffer much more than men. And yet, there are rumours that men are in trouble, too: as Sommers argues, men are more likely to kill themselves, be the victim of violence in general, be injured at work, and more. [See 3:55-4:20 of Sommers’ Emma Watson and the Future of Feminism  or 1:50-3:00 of Sommers’ Facts the media didn’t tell you.]

When your guests spoke about sexual violence, you noted that there are male victims of sexual violence, too, which was compassionate and open-minded of you. Nevertheless, the focus in the media seems most frequently to be on the type of violence directed more towards women. The disparity in female as opposed to male victims of sexual violence is then taken as proof that we live in a misogynistic society. However, if programs such as yours were to look as frequently, and with the same reasoning, at the type of violence more likely to hit men (such as random violence on the street), you might start to wonder whether we in fact live in a misandrist arena.

(Notice that, when women are victims of violence, national and local media often convene expert and/or survivor discussions to consider the problem of violence against women, but when men are the wounded parties, I have yet to hear mainstream media gather similar thought leaders and/or victims to talk about the particular dangers that men tend to encounter.)

While feminism, by its dictionary definition, may be simply about fighting for equal rights, in practice it is weighed down by a lot of philosophical dogma regarding how to achieve them. Thus, contrary to the claims of “You’re with us or against us” feminists, it is possible to agree with the ends proposed by feminists, but not the means they suggest for acquiring them. However, once again, it seems that mainstream media in Canada is terrified of questioning any branch of feminist leadership.

If you’re skeptical that feminist perspectives aren’t challenged in the media, consider, for example, how you responded to your guest when she told you that dealing with the justice system was a worse experience than being sexually assaulted. [The quote of this claim was played at 1:02-1:17, and then discussed per below at 11:15-15:00 and 16:37-17:03.]

To illustrate this shocking claim, she talked of feeling re-victimized when the parole officer of her former assailant told her that the offender, her ex-boyfriend, would like to apologize to her. She suggested that this was evidence that the parole officer was on the assailant’s “team” and not hers. But, instead of asking your guest why exactly that was evidence of such bias, you seemed to accept that her conclusion was self-evident. Another of your guests then pointed out that he imagined a lot of the listeners to the show wouldn’t understand why the parole officer’s behaviour was so inappropriate.

Please count me among the confused. There is a branch of social work called “restorative justice,” which seeks to help victims and rehabilitate assailants by connecting them in safe communication.

Is it not possible that there are people working in the field who care deeply about the victims and think that restorative justice is an effective means of helping those who have suffered (while simultaneously giving assailants a better understanding of the consequences of their violence on real people)?

(Moreover, what would have happened if the parole officer hadn’t told the victim of the apology offer? If your guest had found out about such protective behaviour later, I wonder if her feminist side would have argued that that too was demonstrating his patriarchal bias.)

Regardless, if your guest has an argument for why restorative justice is too hard on victims, I would be interested to hear her case, but I am surprised that you did you not ask her for details of why she was offended by the parole officer’s behaviour. Did you really think the basis for your guest’s controversial claim was so obvious that it needn’t be explained? Or is it possible that you didn’t ask because you were afraid that people might think that you “didn’t get it”?

(I ask that question not in an accusatory way, but instead to suggest the possibility that feminist ideology scares even the most strong-minded journalists into censoring their natural curiosity for fear that it might poke the dogma.)

Sincerely,
Seth McDonough (www.sethblogs.com)

P.S. If you’re even a smidge compelled by my argument, please consider contacting Erin Pizzey, who I understand started one of the first-ever women’s shelters, but generally disagrees with feminist theory in regard to therapy, and so would likely give you an interesting (and respectful) counter balance.


Thus far, to my everlasting surprise (sarcasm alert!), The Current has not replied to my email. However, on November 12th, they put on a show presenting male voices regarding violence against women.

Men who have been falsely accused, you ask? No, good one. It was, of course, a panel discussion (identified on CBC’s website under the prescriptive headline “Men need to get involved in the fight against sexism and misogyny in Canada”) regarding a white ribbon campaign that calls for men to stop hurting women.

I have no objection to advocating for the better treatment of others (I hate violence as much as the next pacifist), but I am weary of the omnipresent suggestions that (A) all men are culpable for the crimes of terrible men, and (B) we should rank our concern for victims of violence based on their gender.

I can understand that we may feel more protective of those who generally have fewer physical attributes with which to defend themselves, but when a man is murdered should it really matter to us that, in theory, he had a better chance of fighting back? Indeed, should we be even less bothered if it turns out he was a martial arts expert? I’m not saying that the vulnerability of certain people (or even groups of people) shouldn’t play into our discussions of violence in our society, but it would be refreshing if a mainstream broadcaster (especially a public broadcaster meant to represent all of us) would occasionally consider the possibility that being male doesn’t make one immune to danger, serious injury, and the psychological stress and trauma of each.


GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FAITH-BASED JUSTICE

II: YOU’RE EITHER WITH US OR YOU “DON’T GET IT” (you were just here)

III: BEYOND BELIEF

GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM I: Faith-Based Justice

SethBlogs does not believe in trial by faith even when applied to a preacher of the religion in question.

GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FAITH-BASED JUSTICE (you are here)

II: YOU’RE EITHER WITH US, OR YOU “DON’T GET IT”

III: BEYOND BELIEF


“I don’t know whether Jian Ghomeshi is guilty or not, and neither does anyone who wasn’t present if and when the alleged crimes occurred. If he is proven guilty, I will still be ashamed of how many Canadians have sacrificed a person’s right to a fair trial for the sake of proving their own feminist pedigree.”


Modern feminists are infamous for bullying their adversaries with the false dichotomy, “You either agree with feminist theory or you’re a misogynist.” Popular screenwriter and pop feminist Joss Whedon, for instance, tells those weary of being identified as feminists:

“There’s no fuzzy middle ground. You either believe that women are people or you don’t. It’s that simple.”

The intimidation has worked. When interviewing feminists, the otherwise serious Western media tend to disavow their traditional skepticism, criticism, or even cautiousness of agreement. After all, to imply a hint of incredulity regarding a shocking feminist statistic is (according to popular feminist rhetoric) to advocate for the very horrors their numbers claim to represent. I have ranted a few times in my Sethics vs. Misandry collection  against feminist-fearing journalists for bobbing their heads in adulation as feminist advocates have made baffling, illogical, and sometimes offensive statements. Perhaps the worst and yet most charming patsy was Jian Ghomeshi. He never heard a feminist argument he couldn’t cheer on with the most soft and inviting questions for the inflammatory claims to land on.

Ghomeshi’s style of “with us or against us” feminism is a bed that he must now lie in as allegations that he abuses women have provoked his former feminist friends to convict him without trial.

At first, many fans of Ghomeshi irrationally defended him on social media (i.e. they proclaimed his innocence without having direct interaction with the facts in the case). Recently, Angelina Chapin, Blogs Editor for The Huffington Post Canada, has written an eloquent piece entitled, “The Jian Ghomeshi Story Turned Us Into Social Media Fools,” in which she argues persuasively why it was wrong for anyone not involved in the case to assume that Ghomeshi was in the right. She aptly quotes a psychologist, Ann Friedman, who points out that drawing conclusions in such social media wars tends to leave us supporting the perspective with which we most identify.

Chapin counts herself among the too-quick-to-defend-Ghomeshi (although, to be fair, she never argued that he was innocent). It’s a noble admission from Chapin that her initial public reaction to Ghomeshi’s firing was one of emotion over reason. The trouble is that this confessed conclusion jumper is only criticizing the side that has tweeted in defence of Mr. Ghomeshi. Far from adding that no one but the alleged victims have the right to assume his guilt, she goes on to say:

“The Ghomeshi story has proved that we desperately need to have open dialogues about consent, sexual abuse and powerful figures.”

So apparently, while she was wrong to assume his innocence initially, she’s now right to imply that he’s guilty. Ms. Chapin’s transition from irrationally defending to irrationally accusing is right on trend.

I believe the general shift was provoked when Ghomeshi defenders asked why his accusers didn’t come forward at the time of the alleged assaults. It is a question that could be asked of delayed claims by victims in other crimes. After all, the longer one waits to tell the police of a crime, the more daunting it will be to prove, and so waiting not only hurts one’s own chances of finding justice, but also lessens one’s opportunity to protect future victims from the same trauma. Thus, given the counter-intuitive and problematic nature of delayed reporting, asking adults what caused them to wait may be useful to police in assessing the veracity of the complaints. However, if the crime is violent, and the alleged victim is female, feminists take this otherwise reasonable question as proof of misogyny.

And so, upon hearing the blasphemous question, the feminist army’s ears’ perked up. Quickly, they announced that the “Why did you wait?” question was tantamount to blaming the victim, and was further proof of our rape culture. This immediately terrified the press, and so the media commentators who might have been willing to stay neutral in this scandal cowered as they saw their political betters approaching.

Both of the radio stations (CBC and CKNW) that I follow, for instance, began to interview “experts” (i.e. feminist advocates) regarding sexual violence against women: they asked the advocates to explain why Ghomeshi’s “victims” would have waited to come forward. Thus the stations were officially abdicating neutrality as they assumed in their questions that the alleged victims must have had good reasons for announcing themselves belatedly.

If CKNW or CBC had asked, “In your judgement, why might these women have waited to come forward?” and then also interviewed an expert regarding false claims (perhaps asking, “In your judgment, what are the distinguishing symptoms in those rare cases where allegations have been proven to be false?”) the radio stations could have held onto their claims of objectivity. Instead, the broadcasters’ neutrality was now permanently in hiding.

Of course, given the initially aggressive defence from some of Ghomeshi’s fans, I understand why victims’ advocates may have felt compelled to defend delayed victim reporting by pointing out that accusing a celebrity of sexual assault may come with special challenges (especially given that we currently live a Troll’s paradise that may devour such accusers). But they could have said something to the effect of:

Please be careful of assuming facts about these alleged victims. In our experience, many victims are terrified to come forward when attacked, so the delay in their accusations is not necessarily evidence that they are not telling the truth.

Sadly, the victims’ advocates knew that such circumspection was unnecessary: after all, they recognized that no member of the media was going to raise a single eyebrow against their political claims.

For instance, on CBC Vancouver’s Early Edition, Dayla Israel, Manager of Victim Services for WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) told host Rick Cluff that only “.8%” of claims of sexual assault lead to convictions. Cluff sounded appropriately baffled by the shocking number.

“Point eight?” he said.

Were he interviewing a person representing any other issue, he would likely have asked for details of how such startling numbers were derived. But Cluff was speaking to a feminist advocate so he did not question her.

Meanwhile, when the same advocate said that false claims of violence occur in under 1% of cases (the feminist implication being that they’re so rare that they’re not worth considering), Cluff was again deferential (just as his former colleague Ghomeshi had been many times before him) and did not ask:

“But how can we ever know what percentage of allegations are false? Instead, do you mean less than 1% of allegations are proven to be false?”

Almost as significantly, Cluff did not point out the conspicuous feminist double standard in how Israel was interpreting her data.  Consider the two cases:

CASE A:

PREMISE: A low percentage of accused men are proven to be guilty (of a crime).

CONCLUSION: Therefore, not enough men are being prosecuted.

CASE B:

PREMISE: A low percentage of accused women are proven to be guilty (of false accusations).

CONCLUSION: Therefore, not enough women are being believed.

In the latter case (against women), the results that have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt are depicted as identifying the maximum possible number of wrongdoers, whereas in the former case (against men), the results that are proven beyond the same reasonable doubt are implied to represent well below the minimum number of wrongdoers.

Thus, when statistics seem to support feminist theory, feminists portray them as bottled truth, but when the stats don’t fit their narrative, they reference them as proof of a biased system against women. It’s possible, of course, that they’re right that the system has significant internal biases against female victims of crime, but evidence is required beyond these one-sided interpretations of data. And the only way to push feminists into a neutral corner is if the media occasionally challenges their statements.

Instead, most media treat social justice agencies as truth beacons. The consequence is the same as it would be for an unchallenged politician. As with political parties, non-profit agencies have missions, which they’re naturally disposed to prop up by tweaking the data and information to best fit their narrative. That’s an unfortunate necessity of modern non-profit warfare, which can only be minimized with checks and balances such as skepticism from the press.

Meanwhile, with the critical press away from its desk, social media has continued to build its case against Ghomeshi. A petition, calling on former Q guests to “support the women,” (i.e. presume Ghomeshi’s guilt) has been signed by a variety of celebrities, including Shawn Majumder (of This Hour Has 22 Minutes), who stated:

“I have considered [Ghomeshi] a pal. However these allegations and even more, how he tried to use a statement to shame anyone in coming to speak the truth about his actions makes me lose all respect for him. I support every woman who has been dealt a blow. From him or anyone.”

Feminist and Canadian superstar author Margaret Atwood has also decided to lend her reputation to the modern-day McCarthyism. It’s baffling to see such a high-minded person add herself to the list of those unwilling to wait for Ghomeshi to be charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime before proclaiming his guilt.

Even more unnerving, several so-called friends of Ghomeshi have also helped themselves to a pre-trial guilty verdict. His former Moxy Fruvous bandmates stated:

“As former colleagues of Jian (our last show was in 2000), we are sickened and saddened by this week’s news. We had no inkling that Jian engaged in this type of behaviour… We abhor the idea of a sexual relationship of any sort being entered into without full consent from both parties and condemn violence against women in any form.”

While they don’t directly state that he’s guilty, they clearly imply so with their language regarding “this type of behaviour,” followed by a description of the illegal behaviour to which they’re heroically opposed.

Most egregiously, Owen Pallett, who claims to be a friend of Ghomeshi’s, said:

“I was challenged by a friend to say something about the recent allegations against Jian Ghomeshi. Jian is my friend. I have appeared twice on Q. But there is no grey area here. Three women have been beaten by Jian Ghomeshi.”

This post was made after only three anonymous accusations had been announced, and from it we can deduce that either (A) Pallett already had evidence that his alleged friend was guilty of criminal violence before these accusations came out, but didn’t do anything about it; or (B) he’s merrily convicting his friend of a crime without a trial. With friends like that, who needs a lynch mob?

Finally, Ruth Spencer, who says she’s a former girlfriend of Ghomeshi, has also announced that he’s guilty, because, although he never assaulted her during their relationship, he had some strange behaviours, which she’s now decided are proof that he was “grooming [her] for the same violence he inflicted on other women.”

According to Spencer, for instance, Ghomeshi had anxiety issues, so voila, let’s grab onto the trope of the socially awkward (and/or mentally ill) male as a symptom that he’s a violent sociopath, and we have ourselves a bigger Twitter following than ever before!

I have no idea whether Ghomeshi is guilty or not, and neither does anyone who wasn’t present if and when the alleged crimes occurred. If he is proven guilty, I will still be ashamed of how many Canadians have sacrificed a person’s right to a fair trial for the sake of proving their own feminist pedigree. Ghomeshi, the feminist whom they thought they knew on Q, would have been proud.

Jian Ghomeshi may turn out to have been the vicious abuser Margaret Atwood has already decided he is, but that will not retroactively justify this attack on his right to reasonable doubt. To paraphrase Mr. Whedon, There’s no fuzzy middle ground here. You either believe that everyone has the right to a fair trial or you don’t. It’s that simple.


GHOMESHI’S FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FAITH-BASED JUSTICE (you were just here)

II: YOU’RE EITHER WITH US, OR YOU “DON’T GET IT”

III: BEYOND BELIEF

FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM III: Free Speech vs. Free Speech

SethBlogs is suspicious of any ideology that attempts to erase criticism and counterargument.

FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FREEDOM FROM SPEECH

II: FREEDOM FROM CRITICISM

III: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH (you are here)


In my recent FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM posts, I describe what I believe have been disruptions to free expression in the last few years by so-called feminists on Canadian universities who not only protested, but also attempted to bar men’s and equal rights groups from presenting speakers who possessed counter-narratives to academic feminism. I referenced a debate on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, with English professor and feminist skeptic, Dr. Janice Fiamengo, and free speech advocate, Justin Trottier (National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry), arguing on the one side that the above-described campus feminists were indeed exhibiting actions that infringed on free thought, while their opponents in the discussion, feminist and philosophy professor Dr. Alice MacLachlan, along with feminist, writer, and activist Rachel Décoste, countered that the protests were beautiful examples of the sort of free expression that fuel free thought.


In this spin-off post, I’d like to examine a pair of contentions made by the MacLachlan-Décoste team, which I found to be logically objectionable.

(1) The “You benefitted from it” argument:

In trying to prove that the suppressing treatment that Fiamengo received on university campuses was, in fact, an example of free speech, MacLachlan points out that Fiamengo’s ideas may have received greater exposure as a result.

“I was only recently made familiar with Janice’s [Fiamengo’s] experiences,” MacLachlan said. “I had the chance to watch them on youtube. And what I saw warmed me. I saw people who cared very much about gender issues, some identifying as feminists, some identifying as men’s rights activists, vigorously, wholeheartedly, and determinedly engaging with each other. Yelling, not always being polite. And as a result, I know that Janice’s work has received a much wider audience, including a platform on this show. I think this is the very opposite of silencing and it’s how a society of free speech works.”

Later, Fiamengo asked MacLachlan “how [she] would feel if [she] were giving a talk and [she was] shut down by a group of protesters? Would [she] say, ‘This was a wonderful example of freedom of speech,’ if [she] never got to say [her] first sentence?”

This provoked MacLachlan to reiterate her argument that the protests had ultimately served Fiamengo well.

“I would certainly not frame it in terms of freedom of speech,” she said. “How I would feel is I would feel shocked. If that led to a much wider platform for my views, including an entire episode of The Agenda being dedicated to them, I’d probably be pretty pleased about the whole thing, and I suspect that’s the case for [Fiamengo] as well.”

This is a dangerous game of unintended consequences justifying troubling means. It may be the case that Fiamengo’s career has, in the long run, been enhanced by the discussion provoked by the troubling actions of these protestors; it’s also possible that Fiamengo’s reputation has been injured by the shameful and baseless accusations that she is a misogynist and a rape apologist. I have no idea whether, on the balance, Fiamengo has benefitted or not from these protests, but for the purpose of this discussion, I will stipulate that she has done well by them. However, such a result does not retroactively justify crimes and attempts to censor Fiamengo and other speakers.

The question in this debate is whether particular actions of the protestors were legitimate or not. The notion that some of their alleged victims inadvertently benefitted from their alleged crimes should have no weight whatsoever upon our assessment. Similarly, someone who is the victim of an assault may consequently receive positive public attention that offers them career opportunities that they might not have otherwise had. However, I hope that we all agree that such unintended proceeds do not justify the assault. I see no difference here.

(2) The “You started it” argument:

This one requires some context. In her defense of the notion of quelling Fiamengo’s public presence in universities, Décoste argued that Canadian civil rights do not promise her a platform.

“The charter of rights and freedoms guarantees freedom of expression,” she explained. “It doesn’t guarantee you the right to dispel your drivel, really just untruths, to impressionable minds with a mic, and amplifier, and an audience of impressionable students.”

Thus, she concluded that, while she technically disagreed with pulling fire alarms, it was not appropriate for Dr. Fiamengo to spread her counter-to-feminist-gospel ideas at a university of all places.

“I don’t agree with the fire alarms pulled,” she said, “but when somebody says that the statistics that we’ve been based on forever are wrong, and therefore rape is not as much of an issue as it should be, I think that draws laughter, if not crying, because it’s just so preposterous. So, if she wants to speak, that’s fine, but she doesn’t get to have the forum of our publicly funded universities, paid for by my and your taxes, to disseminate that information that’s just not right.”

Apparently, while Décoste may not agree with something as dangerous as fire alarm pulling, she does ask the state to pull a metaphorical alarm before such a scandalous talk.

Décoste’s philosophical opponent, Trottier, argued in reply that drivel-banning would be a tricky, because, strangely, not everyone would have the same definition of unworthy speech.

“These are public universities,” he said. “We all pay through tuition subsidies, that kind of thing, from the government. Many of us are students at these universities, and have differences of opinion. We all pay tuition to attend them. The thing, though, is if we can pull back for a second, free speech starts from the very simple premise. I may be wrong. I am fallible in my opinion. You were just referring to what happened, and what Janice was saying as ‘drivel.’ I don’t think that I’m in a position or I can decide for everyone’s sake what’s drivel and what’s to be heard. And, when we have opponents who set themselves up as arbiters who block the doors so that other students can’t judge for themselves what’s drivel, and what’s maybe a gem of wisdom, I think there’s a problem there.”

This provoked both Décoste and her compatriot MacLachlan to claim that Fiamengo had put herself in that very role of speech-arbiter when she criticized feminism:

“Janice [Fiamengo],” Décoste said, “first talked about how it was ‘radicals’ who were against her. So she’s characterized people who were against her as radicals when they’re just citizens with opinions that are offended by what she’s saying, and the characterization of radicals is already starting in that direction that she started, actually.”

“I might add,” MacLachlan echoed, “that many of Professor Fiamengo’s talks start by her characterizing a whole swath of her colleagues as ‘intellectually empty, incoherent, and dishonest.’ This is exactly the sort of conversation move that’s designed to provoke a fierce, angry, or laughing response.”

A major problem with this “She started it” defense is that it’s a false parallel. Fiamengo did not load her criticism with the additional weight of telling those with whom she disagreed that they had no right to speak. Unlike Décoste, she did not tell her opposing “citizens” that they should not be allowed an audience.

“My challenge to you all tonight,” Fiamengo said, at the conclusion of her talk at the University of Toronto, “is to be true scholars, real thinkers, genuine intellectuals. For those of you who are doing feminist work, let it be genuine feminist work. Be open to evidence that might take you in surprising directions. Research your subject fully. Do not mistake self-righteousness for scholarly passion. It’s an intoxicating emotion, but it is ultimately hollow and unreliable. And avoid the temptation of blaming the usual suspects. For those men and women of good will here tonight who are uneasy with things you hear in university classrooms, educate yourselves so that you can challenge the myths of academic feminism. And do it with style, not with nastiness, not with slander, not with personal attacks, especially not with hatred.”

While Fiamengo does express the view that modern academic feminists have lacked scholarship in their work, she does not argue that they should be silenced; instead she suggests that both wings of the discussion feed their arguments with facts, and engage in respectful debate. In no way does she live down to Décoste and MacLachlan’s accusation of hypocrisy: she does not, that is, advocate reaching for the nearest fire alarm when one is bothered by feminist arguments. Nor does she suggest that her harsh diagnosis is justification for universities to cancel feminist presentations on campus.

Nevertheless, MacLachlan expanded upon the “you started it” defense by arguing that being yelled at by protestors was a natural consequence of insulting them in the first place.

“If you set out to say things designed to offend and harm people,” she explained, “you can’t complain that your free speech is being violated when people respond with offense, anger, and protest… [free speech] doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a platform to speak.”

Once again, this is a mischaracterization of Fiamengo’s argument: she is not saying that protestors don’t have the right to argue or protest (although I suspect she would criticize some of their methods as anti-intellectual); the only behaviours that she refers to as infringements of free speech are those that physically bar others from being heard. It is only that kind of physically imposed dogma that she and Trottier argue crosses a crucial protective line that a free society must have.

MacLachlan, though, is not dissuaded by this distinction; instead, she delicately transitions from the (probably true) premise that Fiamengo offended some students, to subtly advocate for university censorship.

“[Free speech] doesn’t mean you get to speak all the time,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that public universities necessarily have to make a place for you or that, if students at those universities want to protest you being given a platform to expound ideas they find harmful, offensive, insulting to their experiences, that they don’t have the right to object to that, by whatever means they have.”

It is only MacLachlan and Décoste who actually suggest or imply in this debate that university censorship may have a legitimate place in such disputes. Never does Fiamengo or Trottier argue for censoring dissent.

“I would certainly never complain,” Fiamengo said (in response to MacLachlan’s argument above), “that my free speech was violated because people responded with anger or laughter. My point about the Queen’s speech [where students called out and sarcastically laughed during the presentation, but no fire alarms were pulled] was that that was an ideal example of freedom of expression and of lively debate… [But] To say that objection and absolutely shutting someone down who has been invited by a university group, who has rented the space that that university group’s dues go to pay for, and has been invited to speak to a group of students, some of whom want to hear what the speaker has to say, to say that it’s okay to shut that down, that that doesn’t somehow count as a suppression of free speech, seems to me absolutely non-sensical.”

Nevertheless, MacLachlan’s strange reversal—of claiming for one’s own side the injury of censorship when one is criticized for having advocated censorship—is an interesting phenomenon (which is not localized to this debate: see the Intelligence Squared debate regarding whether “Free speech must include the license to offend”).

Whether it is sincere or not, the “You censor me when you criticize me” defense demonstrates that even the censorship-apologists (to borrow from a vicious phrase) want to protect some controversial speech. This overlap between both sides ought to have brought us back to Trottier’s vital question: when censorship is contemplated, who, indeed, should be the deciders as to which controversial presentations are unfit for public contemplation?

As the late journalist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens argued in the above-referenced Intelligence Squared debate:

“Who is going to decide?… Who will you appoint? Who will be the one who says, ‘I know exactly where the limit [on free speech] should be. I know how far you can go. And I know when you’ve gone too far. And I’ll decide that’? Who do you think, who do you know, who have you heard of, who have you read about in history who you would give that job?”

It may be the most challenging question that the true believer in the limiting of free expression must contemplate. Even righteous free speech will sometimes offend, so what moral framework can be utilized to make a distinction between what is offensive and worthy of consideration, and what is offensive and unworthy?

Unfortunately, due to the red-herring claim that the protestors were being censored, too, MacLachlan and Décoste were spared taking on this daunting question.


If you would like to examine my examination of this debate for fairness of quoting, I have included a transcript of their conversation as the first comment on this post.


FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FREEDOM FROM SPEECH

II: FREEDOM FROM CRITICISM

III: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH (you were just here)