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).

FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM II: Freedom From Criticism

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 (you are here)

III: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH 


In Episode I of this series, I described various feminist resistance movements which protested critics of women’s studies in ways that many fans of free speech have found morally objectionable. In Episode II below, I intend to give a possible explanation for what may have caused women’s studies to lose its moral and intellectual way.


Justin Trottier, National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry, describes the situation as a re-invention of censorship ideals once pointed in the opposite political direction.

“If we go back to the 50s and 60s,” he says, “there was a time when it was the left, and their protests against perhaps the Vietnam war, their protests in favour of civil liberty legislations, ending desegregated schooling, that sort of thing, that was the contentious idea that was subject to censorship. But these days it is criticism of feminism, or radical feminism, it is men’s issues, it is abortion debates. My organization has been involved in debating abortion on campus. We take the pro-choice side. But very often these debates get shut down by well meaning, but unfortunately not well applying student unions that use the wrong methods to defend their morals, which they see to be superior to the rest of us.”

Where do such delusions of infallibility come from?

For a possible explanation, consider Dr. Janice Fiamengo’s March 27, 2014 talk at Queen’s University regarding what she called, “Feminism’s Double Standards,” in which she cogently articulated

(A) examples of the ways that she says men are currently gender-discriminated against in Canadian society, as well as discussing

(B) the complementary rigor-free, patriarchy-focussed work that she claims is done in gender studies classes.

If you watch the video of this talk, note the reaction from the feminists in the crowd who groaned, shouted out disagreements, and sarcastically laughed while Dr. Fiamengo presented her case. They had every right to not be convinced, and to question Fiamengo, but their vocal disdain throughout her presentation articulated to me that they weren’t willing—as they should have been taught in university—to consider her argument.

True intellectual inquiry involves pondering exactly what one’s natural philosophical enemy is saying, imagining what would constitute evidence for their claims, and then considering whether they might have provided a modicum of persuasive currency. Instead, the laughing students already knew that Fiamengo was wrong before she said a word.

When it came time for Q&A, a woman calling herself a philosophy professor stood up to counter Fiamengo.

“I have been [at Queen’s University] for twenty years, I am a feminist…,” pause for applause, “…and a mother of three young men, and so I am very concerned about men in our society. I am a teacher of many young men in this group, and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

Her side of the room cheered as though Fiamengo had been vanquished by a brilliant logical proof. In lieu of taking on any one of the professor’s fine-tuned examples, and/or pointing to possible errors in Fiamengo’s reasoning, apparently the simple claim, ‘But you’re wrong!’ counted for intellectual discourse from the supposedly feminist side of the academic ledger.

Of course an individual feminist commentator’s emptiness of argument is not a smoking gun either (she may be one anomalous anti-intellectual, which I’m sure even the most intellectually correct movements possess), but the steel-door-closed-minded celebration of her content-free rhetoric from the audience is, I submit, a symptom of the anti-intellectualism within feminist discourse to which Fiamengo refers.

I don’t think that such anti-intellectualism is intrinsic to a fight for women’s equality; instead, I believe it is the inevitable result of a club that has been free from academic scrutiny for a long time.

Philosopher Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers asks rhetorically Who Stole Feminism? as she describes in her 1994 book (and her work as the “Factual Feminist” since) an academic feminist culture that, she says, has been dominated by statistical untruths and “advocacy data.”

“Unfortunately,” she says, “[inaccurate and unsubstantiated statistics] are typical of the quality of information we are getting on many women’s issues from feminist researchers, women’s advocates, and journalists. More often than not, a closer look at the supporting evidence—the studies and statistics on eating disorders, domestic battery, rape, sexual harassment, bias against girls in school, wage differentials, or the demise of the nuclear family—will raise grave questions about credibility, not to speak of objectivity.” (Who Stole Feminism, Page 15.)

As I suggest in THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY, my belief is that, if Sommers is right that feminism has been stolen (even partly) from an original equality-persuing feminist movement, the primary ally to the robbers has been our society’s unwillingness to demand a security guard, in the forms of academic and media criticism, which would have protected the movement from its own worst ideas. I submit that feminism has achieved this criticism-free existence by two means:

(1) Academic feminism has divorced itself from the standard expectations of intellectual discourse that all ideas—even the best, most intuitively righteous ones—must be scrutinized; instead, it has lived in an insular world of yes-people, who concur with its ideology—no matter where it takes them—or perish. This provokes wild, evidence-free ideas to become doctrine.

According to Dr. Fiamengo (a self-described former “feminist radical,” herself):

“Modern day academic feminism, as it is currently practiced and disseminated in our universities, is overwhelmingly intellectually empty, incoherent, and dishonest.”

(Again, this is not a flaw that is necessarily intrinsic or unique to feminist inquiry, but one which I think would likely apply to any ideology spared the burden of serious critique.)

(2) Popular feminists—trained by the academic clique above—have utilized a false dichotomy in public discussion wherein criticism of feminist philosophy and “facts” equals misogyny. This, I suspect, has served to scare some would-be critics into either softening their criticisms or not speaking at all. More importantly, the terrified media has generally puddled to the will of feminist ideology (and the threat of the scarlet misogyny label); instead of taking the position of neutrality that journalists would at least aim for in regard to other philosophies, they refer to clearly ideological feminists as “experts” and their often questionable statistics as “facts.”

(See my posts THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON SEXISM) and ATTACKING MEN for examples of the otherwise critical media turning to mush when speaking to a feminist.)

I do not have the widespread sociological expertise to prove my “when the critical cats are away, the ideological mice will play” assessments of academic feminism; my intention here is only to suggest that

(A) such ideological blindness is more likely to happen in a movement that has reduced critical protections, and

(B) that it’s possible that modern feminism might be existing in such a state of general freedom from serious criticism.

Even those who tend to be persuaded by feminist arguments surely can contemplate the possibility that feminists have gotten a soft ride in academia and the mainstream media in the last couple of decades. And, if it’s conceivable (however unlikely) that feminism is blessed/cursed with fewer opportunities than most disciplines for genuine critique, then, just to be safe, should we not promote—or at least allow—sober intellectual critics to join the discussion?


See Episode I for evidence that such open criticism is currently being shouted down in Canadian universities. Or, for more details of how such anti-intellectualism is defended, see Episode III.


FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FREEDOM FROM SPEECH

II: FREEDOM FROM CRITICISM (you were just here)

III: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH 

FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM I: Freedom From Speech

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

FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FREEDOM FROM SPEECH (you are here)

II: FREEDOM FROM CRITICISM

III: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH


Recently there has been some resistance on university campuses to academic and mainstream feminist discourse; critics of feminism argue that gender and women’s studies are often anti-intellectual, statistically inaccurate (sometimes statistically abusive), and misandrist, yet possessing of great powers of influence. Whether your current philosophical and sociological positions would have you agreeing with these critics of modern feminism, the vocal feminist response to them should give you reason to wonder.

In the past three years, men’s and equal rights groups at Canadian schools such as The University of Toronto, The University of Ottawa, Ryerson, and Queen’s have attempted to present a variety of radical speakers who question feminist orthodoxy. In response, some vocal feminists on these campuses reacted not just with counter arguments, but also with attempts to silence the skeptics from asserting their “hateful” ideas. The so-called feminist advocates have promoted this censorship by three means.

(1) They call on their institutions to block the formation of dissenting groups and discussions:

For examples, the Canadian Federation of Students, the University of Toronto Student Union, and The Ryerson Student Union have have all tried to stop men’s awareness and equal rights student groups from forming. In particular, in 2013, the RSU refused to ratify the Ryerson Equality Association because:

(A) They reject “The concept of misandry because it ignores structural inequality that exist between men and women.”

In other words, the RSU is telling a group that its claims of injustice are wrong by definition of the sex of the alleged victims. Indeed, the RSU argument, in its attempt to prove that a phenomenon does not exist, inadvertently does the opposite by exemplifying the very notion it sought to deny.

Moreover, while criticism of feminism may in fact be baseless today, it is dangerous to assume that those at the helm of women’s studies will always be unassailable. If we don’t allow feminist leaders to be openly criticized, how will we know in the future if such criticism does come to be needed? Indeed, if only feminists are allowed to lead the conversation, they have a self-interested reason (the preservation of the institutions that have made them successful) to always allege that men are running the show.

(B) They reject: “Groups, meetings, events or initiatives [that] negate the need to centre women’s voices in the struggle for gender equality.”

Why should a club be obligated to deliberately focus on any particular group’s perspective in their conversation? I don’t object to outlawing discrimination in terms of membership, but if students at a university want to discuss a topic, it sounds rather discriminatory and conversation-controlling to demand that a particular subset of the thinkers leads the discussion.

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what the RSU means by “center[ing] women’s voices.” Given the group they refused to ratify was actually led by two female students and one male student, the RSU may have meant that they wanted women’s voices centered in a metaphorical sense; perhaps, that is, their intention was that any discussion of sex and gender must be directed by a female-voice-centered framework, such as feminism. But that sounds even more dangerous to free thought. Do we really want to require student groups to focus on the orthodox ideology of their time?

(Excuse the cheap shot, but I imagine that, if Galileo had attempted to start an astronomy club at his university: he would similarly have been refused on the basis that he failed to centre the earth in his discussion.)

According to many feminists, the answer to the above question is Yes, we should expect students groups to adhere to feminist philosophy because feminists, after all, are representing the rights of women (i.e. if you are skeptical of any of their claims, you are, by definition, anti-women). Once again, even if women’s studies professors are right that they are right in all cases, how can we be so sure of their infallibility if we don’t allow them to be subject to review? If they are as omniscient as they say, surely their arguments are strong enough that they can defend themselves against criticism. And, if they’re only mostly right, then would they not benefit from some criticisms so as to chisel their arguments down to their best (as happens in other disciplines)?

On the contrary, these anti-discussion policies were supported by feminist protestors who chanted (to a rather catchy tune, I must admit), “Shame on U of T for allowing Misogyny” in opposition to a talk given by Drs. Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson regarding their unusual takes on misogyny and misandry. So the protestors weren’t just criticizing the two McGill academics (using outlandish, mischaracterizing language to do so), they were also advocating that Young and Nathanson not be allowed to speak at their university where apparently academic feminism has landed on the truth, and so really has no need to be critiqued—thanks anyway.

(It should be noted that not all feminists necessarily agree with such totalitarian tactics and arguments, but nevertheless, I don’t see any academic feminists criticizing them in the public square.)

(2) They physically block free speech:

Along with opposing the formation of anti-misandry groups, some feminists have physically attempted to stop university groups from presenting controversial speakers by

(A) blocking entrances (see former National Organization of Women insider turned anti-misandry leader Dr. Warren Farrell’s attempted talk at the University of Toronto in 2012), and

(B) pulling fire alarms (see feminist critic and English Professor Dr. Janice Fiamengo’s talk at the University of Ottawa in 2013, and Drs. Young and Nathanson’s talk at the University of Toronto in 2013).

I wish this were a straw opponent I’ve set myself up to argue against; surely, every intelligent commentator agrees that literally blocking people from discussing a topic is a contravention of free speech. Not necessarily. Consider a debate on The Agenda with Steve Paikin with Dr. Fiamengo and Justin Trottier (National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry) arguing on the one side that free speech must be unfettered, while their opponents, Dr. Alice MacLachlan (Professor of Philosophy at York University) and Rachel Décoste (identified as “community organizer, motivational speaker, and Huffington Post blogger”) countered that these protests were an example of such freedom.

Said Décoste :

“I don’t agree with the fire alarms pulled, 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 [Dr. Fiamengo] 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.”

So, while Décoste officially doesn’t agree with using fire alarms to shut down the professor, she doesn’t condemn the behaviour; instead, she defends the censorship ideals that seem to have provoked it.

Meanwhile, her ally in the discussion, Dr. Alice MacLachlan, argued that, while “No mainstream feminist, including [herself] are ever going to defend the pulling of the fire alarm…,” the protests, themselves, “warmed her.”

“I think it’s important,” she argues, “to talk about what we mean by free speech. I care a lot about free speech. I teach John Stuart Mill. I’m committed to philosophy. We started because Socrates was silenced. Free speech means freedom from government interference and sanction. It doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. And these consequences can include vigorous reactions, criticisms, protests. Unfortunately, it can even mean that the debate doesn’t happen…”

Free speech versus Freedom from consequences is, of course, a noble distinction. Yes, those who utter terrible and/or controversial ideas should be free to say whatever they like, but they cannot expect the rest of us not to criticize them for it. But this protest went beyond the consequence of criticism: it was an attempt to physically stop the talk before it happened and while it was in progress.

(Note: while the fire alarm may have been pulled by one criminal, the resulting exit bell was cheered by the gathering of protestors.)

Dr. MacLachlan is free to have her spirits buoyed by the protestors, but instead of saying she won’t defend the pulling of fire alarms (we don’t know her opinion of blocking entrances), why doesn’t she call out those who supported these actions as traitors to free speech? Instead, McLachlan abdicates her duty to philosophical rigor by helping herself to the most beneficent symbolic interpretation of the protestors without incorporating into her analysis their clear breach with freedom of speech. She says to Dr. Fiamengo that some vigorous protests can lead to a debate not happening. That may be, but what is the professor’s position on the moral legitimacy of the means by which these talks were stopped and/or delayed? It wasn’t the noble protesting that disrupted the talks; it was actions such as fire-alarm-pulling and entrance-blocking. If Dr. McLachlan approves the end effects of these protests, is she not obligated to either admit that she is also in favour of the means, or that she thinks these protestors were well-meaning, but ethically disabled in the way in which they achieved their results?

(I’ll spend more time on the above debate in an upcoming spin-off post, FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH.)

(3) They bully those who disagree with them (or those who want to learn about those who disagree with them):

Setting aside what I wish were just a straw-human argument (the problematic claim that physically stopping free expression should be considered free expression, too), there is, I think, something anti-intellectual contained within protesting university talks aimed at presenting ideas. I am of course not suggesting that the resisters don’t have a right to protest, but I am criticizing them for being anti-intellectual in doing so. There is, as Dr. MacLachlan argued, a vital history of civil protests against governments even if the slogans within such resistance movements are necessarily simple and free of nuance. Such anti-government protests may be crucial to our democracy because they resist those in power; they tell our leaders (and fellow citizens) that some or many of their people are dissatisfied with government policy.

In the case of resisting ideas, however, I am not convinced that protestors can help themselves to the same ethical justification for their loud actions. Individual, non-government thinkers may have influence, but they are not in power, so I don’t think such a blunt instrument as shouting simple slogans at one’s opposite thinkers is a necessary or appropriate tool of resistance on a university campus.

I repeat: protestors have (and should have) the right to criticize any group they choose, but I’m troubled that a philosophy professor, such as Dr. MacLachlan, is unwilling to question their intellectual righteousness. Capital C censorship involves blocking people from speaking (check!), but small C censorship includes bullying and intimidating those who hold contrary views to the established orthodoxy. If, in Dr. MacLachlan’s philosophy class, some students shouted down others for expressing their ideas, I hope (and suspect) she would she tell the intellectual gathering that, in a philosophy class, there is an expectation of respectful discourse such that everyone is allowed to freely express themselves. Universities, I understand, are intended to be places where all ideas are given opportunities to be heard (and criticized); isn’t that why we think it’s so important to give professors life-time tenure, so they’ll never be afraid to speak out when they disagree with popular thought? So why is Dr. MacLachlan so unwilling to say that, while the student protestors had every right to yell at the feminist critics, they were in fact anti-intellectual for doing so?

To my thinking, the primary reason campus feminists are so loud in their resistance to criticism of academic feminism is because—like toddlers being told No for the first time—they are not used to it.


I will make my case for this “terrible twos” hypothesis in Episode II of this series.


FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM SERIES:

I: FREEDOM FROM SPEECH (you were just here)

II: FREEDOM FROM CRITICISM

III: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS III: One Opinion Fits All

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

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

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS SERIES:

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

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

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

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS II: No Questions Asked

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

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


Recently TV psychologist “Dr. Phil” McGraw promoted an upcoming show regarding sexual assault via a question on his Twitter feed that asked his audience if it would be okay to sleep with a drunk female. From my vantage point, Dr. Phil’s question seemed crass, given that he was asking for a Yes or No response to an inquiry that should provoke us to consider the complex question of where we draw a line in the long and grey spectrum between consent and assault. However, I am much more disconcerted (although not surprised) by the politically correct club’s outrage that Dr. Phil had the audacity to ask his audience for their opinions on this topic: clearly (yelled the critics, in their usual fervor of trial by “ism”plication) Dr. Phil was looking to promote sexual assault in university dorm rooms.

As Ottawa Citizen commentator Angelina Chapin noted:

“People immediately labelled Phil McGraw… a rape apologist. It was like watching a minnow dropped into a piranha tank. Aside from the innocuous snark that characterizes Twitter—’Aren’t you married?’ — the criticisms were an ugly distortion of the original message.

“‘Why are you looking for a green light to rape from Twitter?’ asked Twitter.com/SettlerColonial and ‘You know good and goddamn well that ‘asking’ when a girl ‘deserves’ to be raped is a destructive question in itself,’ tweeted Twitter.com/@femme_esq…

“The message spurred a change.org petition demanding Dr. Phil apologize and ‘produce a show that shines a light on survivors of rape and sexual assault and… a national conversation about the specifics of consent.'”

The change.org petition is the work of activist Carmen Rios, who was subsequently a guest on CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show. She argues that Dr. Phil’s inquiry is akin to the police asking a possible rape victim the ridiculous and irrelevant question, “What were you wearing [to potentially provoke this assault]?”; this is a straw man argument of the worst kind because she associates a question that apparently seeks to blame a victim with an important philosophical one that society ought to—and has a right to—ask. Even if this topic is as simple as Ms. Rios suggests (that there is no grey area between consent and assault), what has happened to our moral conversation that we cannot ask about it?

Apparently, we’re now living in a moral orthodoxy that will ostracize not only those who disagree with it, but also people who have the temerity to inquire about it, by assuming the most sinister interpretations of their questions. And yet, I think Dr. McGraw’s inquiry (or, at least, the actual implications of it) is one of the most daunting in all of moral philosophy: how do we define consent? Finding an answer that takes into account our elusive line between protecting our citizens and allowing them the right to choose is tough work, and I fear any results arrived at through censored discussion.

I think most moral philosophers would agree that a passed out or barely conscious person cannot give consent, but suggesting that people who are slurring their words can no longer choose, in that moment, to take someone home provokes difficult questions. For instance, where is the line between sobriety and the point at which a person is no longer aware of their circumstances enough to consent?

I’m not saying there isn’t a line, but it’s a tricky one for a reasonable person to define. What about cases where two people are in a relationship? If a women comes home drunk from a work party, and initiates something with her husband and he consents, has he sexually assaulted her? Also, are inebriated males victims of sexual assault, too? If not, then we’re saying that drunk male citizens have the ability to choose while intoxicated female citizens do not. That’s a scary conclusion for both sexes. Moreover, if both members of a sexual encounter are drunk, have both of them assaulted each other? These may not be the cases intended by arguments that one must be sober to consent, but they are logically in its catchment area, so how do we deal with them?

The outraged social policy rulers are unwilling to consider any contemplation that does not fit within their rules of acceptable thought. Along with demanding an apology from Dr. Phil, Ms. Rios has called for him to tailor his show to fit the philosophy she has prescribed for this topic; indeed, she notes that various media outlets need to do a better job—when covering such debates—of focusing on the victims. So, along with curtailing free discussion, she’s asking journalists to cast aside their oaths of objectivity when describing the conversation that remains. No need to look at more than one aspect of an issue, just read Ms. Rios’s blog and report her infallible opinion as fact.

The new censorship is upon us.


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

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

THE MORALITY POLICE AGAINST EXOTIC VIEWING

Recently, students in Charles Best Secondary School’s “Social Justice” class decided to protest against a “gentlemen’s club” in my home city of New Westminster. Both the teacher of the class (interviewed by Bill Good on CKNW), and one of the students (interviewed by Simi Sara on the same station), seemed disappointed and perplexed by the negative reaction they received to their attempts to “educate.” Those leading this protest seem to be following the examples of the “Occupy” and “Idle No More” movements, which proclaim themselves to be society’s moral elite, and then are baffled by those who have the audacity to disagree.

When you question people’s character, do they not have a right to be just as passionate in defending themselves as you are in accusing them? These protests could have real consequences for people’s livelihoods and so demand to be rigorously scrutinized.

From what I can gather, the students’ argument against the club comes in two parts:

(1) First, the protestors claim that the business is a part of the sex trade, and so by definition is harmful to the women dancers.

This is a significant charge which requires serious consideration before being levied at an individual business. My understanding is that prevailing opinion amongst social scientists is that those marketing their bodies are best off in a decriminalized “industry” as opposed to being pushed into the shadows by the law. If the students have credible evidence that contradicts that, I would be interested to hear their case. But I suggest they ought to do more than simply associating exotic dancing with all ills of prostitution, which is akin to protesting London Drugs by pointing at all the wrongs of the pharmaceutical industry and illegal drug dealers.

(2) The students’ second argument against the club is that it is sexist (and archaic) for men to go to a club for the purpose of watching unclad female strangers.

Most feminist thinking would agree with the students that such nudity “objectifies women,” but what exactly is the argument behind this truism? I don’t know if men watching naked women think of them as objects or not, but even if such a claim can be demonstrated, is it morally correct for us to tell others how they should think in such situations?

It’s dangerous to condemn anyone’s sexuality, regardless of how unseemly it may seem to the students. A cohort of “social justice” advocates ought to have definitive evidence  that the customers are doing something harmful in their actions before making public judgments of sexual righteousness. From what I’ve heard so far, the students have provided no such argument beyond linking exotic dancing with prostitution. Their case seems to ignore some critical questions:

(A) Is there any evidence of abusive or unsafe work conditions in the particular club they’re protesting?

(B) Are there any academic studies showing that exotic dancers suffer psychologically as a direct result of their occupation (beyond what they would experience in more “respectable” occupations for which they would be qualified)? If yes, then the students may have an interesting moral claim.

(C) But, if not, do these social justice advocates really want to be the morality police who dictate sexual thought?

The students, of course, have the right to protest anything they wish on the basis of any reason they perceive, but when we proclaim ourselves to be the moral judges of our neighbours, we should not be surprised when those judged don’t gratefully accept the lecture.

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS I: I May Agree With What You Say, But I’ll Fight To The Death Your Right To Say It.

“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 (you are here)
II: NO QUESTIONS ASKED

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

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


I’m no Christy Clark apologist, but the recent criticism of her involvement in the anti-bullying campaign seems silly to me.

As a high-ranking member of the BC Liberal party, Christy Clark used to be the British Columbia Minister of Education where, I understand, she wasn’t always best friends with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). She eventually left government and became a CKNW radio talk show host where, I noticed for myself, she continued to criticize the BCTF (she claimed blasphemously that they sometimes put their own needs ahead of the young ones they were teaching).

Along the way, she heard the story of some kids in Nova Scotia, who had started a “pink shirt” campaign, wherein they asked everyone in school to wear pink to symbolize their opposition to bullying. Clark grabbed the idea (without, as far as I know, claiming it was her own) and started a pink shirt campaign on CKNW, which was immediately successful. Premier Gordon Campbell (Clark’s former boss) joined in and set aside a day for anti-bullying in BC. This all seemed like a pretty noble effort to me, but wait…

When Premier Campbell resigned from office, Ms. Clark left CKNW to rejoin the BC Liberal party to see if she could become the new leader. The pink shirt day continues on CKNW (in fact, Michael Campbell, the premier’s brother, hosted the anti-bullying program today).

Naturally, as the former CKNW leader of the pink shirt campaign, Christy Clark is still associated with the operation (and indeed promotes pink shirt day on her website), but yesterday, to my surprise, I heard complaints from the BCTF, which seemed to suggest that Christy Clark is an opportunist, who has taken someone else’s good idea and used it for herself.

Said BCTF President, Susan Lambert, “I think Christy Clark capitalized on the idea that wasn’t hers… appropriated the idea for her own purposes, and has made bullying the generic term… something that people are aware of, and that’s good.”

Hmm, now I won’t deny that, for political purposes, the prospective Liberal leader may not object if people looked on her as the originator of this hard-to-disagree-with movement, but, in all the time I listened to her talk about pink shirt day on the radio, I never heard her claim to have invented the idea. In fact, I recall her giving credit to the kids in Nova Scotia.

If the complaint is simply that Clark has promoted someone else’s brainchild, I didn’t realized that one should only significantly support a cause if you started it, yourself. As far as I can tell, Christy Clark took a good idea and helped make it bigger. Is that bad? I suddenly find myself imaging someone starting a crime-reduction campaign only to be told, “Wait a minute! I’m pretty sure this has been done before.”

And I’m not sure exactly how Lambert thinks Clark has used the anti-bullying “for her own purposes” (perhaps she thinks Christy was simply trying to get a bully boss off her back?): all the rhetoric that I’ve witnessed from Ms. Clark has been aimed at schoolyard bullies.

The tragic thing for Lambert is that one’s enemies will sometimes do or say things that we support (or want to be seen supporting) ourselves. I think it’s okay in those cases to say, “Yup, I agree with my rival on that one.” It makes you seem genuinely focussed on ideas instead of who they came from.

As they say in British politics, “play the ball, not the [person].”


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 (you were just here)
II: NO QUESTIONS ASKED
III: ONE OPINION FITS ALL
IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE
V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2)

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