I’m not going to go into detail about this issue, which was described on Bari Weiss’s site (I think her article is free). Suffice it to say that it tells the tale of how a progressive Democrat, who worked in the trenches for the Legal Aid Society, providing legal help to the indigent (largely black people), can still get harassed and bullied because she doesn’t adhere to the au courant version of critical race theory.
Click on the screenshot to read about Maud Maron, a liberal lawyer trained by Kathleen Cleaver (look her up), and an employee of the Legal Aid Society of New York since 1998. By all accounts of her close colleagues, she’s a terrific lawyer. But none of those who praised her dared give their names. Why? Because she’s in the process of being canceled for writing a letter to the New York Post denouncing the racial tribalism promoted by Critical Race Theory and its everyday interpretations and tenets.
Here’s Weiss’s article:
Here’s the letter that Maron, who has the best social-justice bona fides of any white person I know, wrote to the New York Post (click on the screenshot):
Quotes from the letter:
I am a mom, a public defender, an elected public-school council member and a City Council candidate. But at a city Department of Education anti-bias training, I was instructed to refer to myself as a “white woman” — as if my whole life reduces to my race.
Those who oppose this ideology are shunned and humiliated, even as it does nothing to actually improve our broken schools.
Though facing severe budget cuts, the DOE has spent more than $6 million for the training, which defines qualities such as “worship of the written word,” “individualism” and “objectivity” as “white-supremacy culture.”
The administration, and many local politicians, buy into a benign-sounding but chilling doctrine called anti-racism, which insists on defining everyone by race, invites discrimination and divides all thought and behavior along a racial axis.
Many of the theories trace to “White Fragility,” a small-minded book which relentlessly insists all white people are racist and need to think about race all the time. Conveniently for its author, who charges $6,000 an hour to discuss this conundrum, there is no way to fix the situation … except with more of her expensive workshops.
. . .We all want a well-integrated, high-quality public-school system. Parents have the right to demand an education that prepares their children to meet or exceed grade-level expectations, which in America often lag other countries.
Those who yell the loudest about integration should stop the accusations against those who think or speak differently than they do about the shared goal of integrated, quality schools — and find ways to work together.
Well, you can imagine the result. Maron was attacked by the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid Caucus, who said she wasn’t qualified to be a public defender, and called “a classic example of what 21st century racism looks like.” Her commitment to representing people of color in court (which she had done very well) was questioned, and the social-media mob went after her on Twitter. One example:
The result? She filed a Title VII lawsuit for workplace harassment, and is having trouble finding not only lawyers to defend her, but also people to defend her using their names. Bunch of cowards! Nor did the Legal Aid Society come to her defense before the lawsuit was filed.
Here’s Maron’s 168-page lawsuit against Legal Aid for creating a hostile work environment (click on screenshot):
This is a prime example of what Sam Harris referred to yesterday in his interview with Helen Pluckrose when he said these things:
“Grownups should be able to talk about more or less everything with a cool head and not endlessly castigate one another for merely thinking out loud.”
“One of the things that’s so pernicious about this silencing effect is that it creates an illusion of consensus where you have the most voluble and hysterical activists taking up most of the oxygen and successfully cowing other people into silence for fear of the reputational damage that awaits them if they open their big mouths on any number of topics, race being only one.”
. . . “Racism exists in some places, but doesn’t exist everywhere, and it is being claimed to exist everywhere and is being found everywhere in what is clearly a mass hallucination. And this hallucination is being defended by people who are highly incentivized to defend it; and the level of dishonesty and callousness that surrounds this whole enterprise is just appalling. Genuinely good people, who everybody knows are not racist or sexist or transphobic, are being sacrificed to this new religion.”
Maud Maron is one of the genuinely good people who is becoming a human sacrifice. Ceiling Cat help us all!
Of all the people who got in trouble for using racial slurs (usually the “n-word”)—and that includes NYT reporter Donald McNeil, who was fired for asking a student if someone else used the word—this case is the most bizarre and unconscionable. It happened in the Kansas City, Missouri area of Lee’s Summit, and was reported on June 24 by KMBC News. Click on the screenshot to read:
It is the peculiar circumstances of the word’s use that make this case both unique and completely unnecessary. The details are simple:
1). Teacher and coach Joe Oswald, who’s been teaching for 20 years, heard a female student using a racial slur (another teacher heard it as well). The slur isn’t specified, but I’m guessing it was the n-word.
2). Oswald took the student to the principal’s office and wrote up a disciplinary report on the student using the specified “green slip”. After Oswald wrote the report, he read it back to the student twice, also as specified, to ensure that the student heard what she was being accused of (and, I suppose, to contest any errors).
3). Another student overheard Oswald reading the report back to the offender and also heard the use of the slur. Apparently that student reported Oswald to school authorities for using a racial slur himself—twice.
4). The student was suspended. But now Oswald is in big trouble as well.
5). A nine-hour public hearing ensued, and the school is now trying to decide whether Oswald should be “retrained”, disciplined, or fired. As KMBC reports,
The student who said the racial slur was given an in-school suspension. The school’s human resources director recommended Oswald get training. Superintendent Dr. David Buck has recommended termination.
The district said Oswald should never have said the racial slur.
“The reason we are here tonight is pretty simple. A teacher has engaged in conduct that the administration believes is wholly inconsistent with that vision and those commitments, and more specifically, with your board of education policy,” the school district’s attorney said.
“He said it was never OK to use that word. It was condescending, derogatory — a word that should never be used. He was upset that she had used the word. He was trying to be accurate. He’d been told to write down exactly what was said and that’s what he had done,” said Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources.
. . . . The school board will not render a decision immediately. The court recorder has until July 6 to give both sides a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing. The board then has seven days to meet in closed session and must publish their ruling within 72 hours.
This is absurd. Oswald did what he was told to do. Or should he have simply written the word and not spoken it? What’s the difference, anyway?
In a case like this, absolute accuracy of reporting is crucial, and that’s why Oswald read the report back to the student—twice.
Despite NYT executive editor Dean Baquet’s assertion that “intent doesn’t matter” when using racial slurs, and that the feelings of the listener are sufficient to allow punishment of the “offender”, racial slurs are regularly used in court testimony. And surely in this case intent DID matter, because without reading the word verbatim, the student could contest the report. The word was used not just didactically, but also quasi-legally, in a school hearing for punishment.
Now the teacher may be punished as well as the student. I hope to Ceiling Cat that Oswald not only isn’t fired, but doesn’t get any punishment. The school should really apologize him for putting him through this misery. Instead, he has to agonize for two weeks:
The school board will not render a decision immediately. The court recorder has until July 6 to give both sides a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing. The board then has seven days to meet in closed session and must publish their ruling within 72 hours.
Such is the country we live in. What a world! What a world!
This article, from a recent issue of The Atlantic, highlights two “progressive” issues that are hurting Democrats: the “defund the police” campaign, which has gone nowhere (thank goodness, though we do need a rethink of policing), and—the real subject of the piece—the elimination of standardized testing requirements and “advanced placement” classes as admission criteria for secondary schools and colleges. In contrast with police defunding, says author David Frum, this is a serious issue that is hurting the Left. The elimination of testing and advanced classes are, of course, part of the dismantling of the meritocracy that “progressives” deem necessary to achieve equity (proportional representation of groups) in schools as well as in jobs.
Click on the screenshot to read:
Here are Frum’s contentions:
But as unpopular as “Defund the police” is, local progressive activists have found a cause even more anathema—and are pushing it with even greater vigor. Eighty-three percent of American adults believe that testing is appropriate to determine whether students may enroll in special or honors programs, according to one of the country’s longest-running continuous polls of attitudes toward education.
Yet across the U.S., blue-state educational authorities have turned hostile to academic testing in almost all of its forms. In recent months, honors programs have been eliminated in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Seattle. On Long Island, New York, and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, curricula are being rethought to eliminate tracking that separates more- and less-adept student populations. New York City’s specialist public high schools are under fierce pressure to revise or eliminate academic standards for admission. Boston’s exam schools will apply different admissions standards in different zip codes. San Francisco’s famous Lowell High School has switched from academically selective admission to a lottery system. At least a thousand colleges and universities have halted use of the SAT, either permanently or as an experiment. But the experiments are rapidly hardening into permanent changes, notably at the University of California, but also in Washington State and Colorado. SAT subject tests have been junked altogether.
Frum then adds that these programs face more resistance when pollsters stipulate that the programs would result in the admission of fewer black and Hispanic students, but then adds that the enthusiasm for testing returns when respondents are told that everyone, including students of color and the poor, would get free access to test-preparation courses.
This presumes that test preparation works, and it does a bit (especially when the “prep” consists of actually taking the test several times, which allows you to get an idea of what the questions are like), but it doesn’t do nearly enough to reduce the disparity of scores between Asian and white students on one hand and black and Hispanic students on the other (see here and here).
A quote from the first source, Slate:
For many decades, the testing industry denied that it was possible to raise a student’s scores to a significant degree. If coaching worked, wrote Nicholas Lemann in his essential history of testing from 1999, then “it made the SAT look like a series of parlor tricks and word games, rather than a gleaming instrument of scientific measurement.” Yet it’s clear that even the most elementary form of test prep—simply retaking the exam, multiple times—seems to have some benefit. The best independent research suggests that formal coaching can further boost a student’s score, but only by a little bit.
A quote from the second source, the New York Times, writing about the ridiculously low number of black students admitted to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City, which has an entrance exam. (Only 8 black students were admitted out of 4,262, while more than half of those admitted were Asians.)
Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, launched a multimillion dollar lobbying and advertising campaign in 2019 to defeat the mayor’s push to eliminate the specialized school exam. As part of that effort, Mr. Lauder and his partner in the initiative, former Citigroup chairman Richard D. Parsons, promised to shower test preparation companies with money to better prepare Black and Latino students for the exam.
Despite over $750,000 spent on test prep over the last two years, most of which was funneled to existing nonprofit programs across the city, their plan has not made a dent in the numbers.
No, test prep is not a good way to even out inequities, and certainly not a way to assure equal opportunity. While eliminating all standardized tests will create more equity by reducing the disparity among groups in test scores, it also deprives schools of valuable information about a student’s potential and makes it harder to identify outstanding minority students.
What to do? The disparity we’re seeing might be the end result of decades of bigotry against blacks that has created, as John McWhorter suggests, a culture that values street smarts more than academic achievement, and has also led to a surfeit of families with single-mother parents. To remedy this takes a lot more than test preparation. It takes substantial investment in providing families with stability, improving teaching, and tailoring instruction to individual students. And it takes a huge social investment in effacing differences in opportunities available to minority students.
Ginger K. called my attention to what seems to me a violation of ethical and journalistic standards by a respected website, all in the name of appeasing the woke. Science-Based Medicine, whose editors include David Gorski and Steve Novella, is a site designed to promote the kind of medicine described in its title, as well as to debunk medical woo. I haven’t read it often, but I’m sure a lot of readers have, and I know the site is greatly respected.
So much the worse, then, that the site removed a book review written by another respected physician, Harriet Hall, known for being one of the Air Forces’s first women flight surgeons as well as a notable advocate for science based medicine and a vociferous debunker of quackery. And—get this—Hall is one of the journal’s five editors.
Hall’s “mistake” was to write a fair and objective review of Abigail Shrier’s new book, Irreversible Damage (see my post here) about the sudden increase in transgender males drawn from teenaged girls. (The numbers have increased 4,400% from 2008 to 2018!) Shrier and Hall, who admittedly note that there are very few studies about why these transitions have skyrocketed, and involve nearly all girls who want to transition to males rather than the other way round, call for more research and argue that transitions should be done under “a research setting”. From Hall’s review (it’s been removed, but the screenshot below will take you to an archived copy):
This book will undoubtedly be criticized just as Lisa Littman’s study was. Yes, it’s full of anecdotes and horror stories, and we know the plural of anecdote is not data, but Shrier looked diligently for good scientific studies and didn’t find much. And that’s the problem. We desperately need good science, and it’s not likely to happen in the current political climate. Anyone who addresses this subject can expect to be attacked by activists. Is ROGD [rapid onset gender dysphoria, a phenomenon discussed by Shrier] a legitimate category? We don’t know, since the necessary controlled studies have not been done. I fully expect Shrier to be called a transphobe and to be vilified for harming transgender people, and I’m sure I will be labeled a transphobe just for reviewing her book. [JAC: Yep, Hall got it right!]
She brings up some alarming facts that desperately need to be looked into. The incidence of teen gender dysphoria is rising and appears to be linked to internet influences and social peer groups. The number of people identifying as lesbians is dropping. Therapists are accepting patients’ self-diagnoses unquestioningly, and irreversible treatments are being offered without therapist involvement. We know at least some of these patients will desist and detransition, and we have no way to predict which ones. Children are being instructed in how to lie to parents and doctors to coerce them into providing the treatments they want. Families are being destroyed.
For what it’s worth, I will stress again that I am not a transphobe. I support hormones and gender surgeries for adults who will benefit from them. I care about the welfare of these adolescent girls and it bothers me that some of them may be unduly influenced and take irreversible steps they will later regret.
What to do? I think limiting surgeries to a research setting is a good idea. I think the affirmative care model is a mistake and a dereliction of duty and should stop.
Shrier’s hypothesis is that many of these girls who want to transition do so without proper supervision, and are eagerly and uncautiously urged to do so by peers, some parents, and the medical establishment. Some, she says, may be doing so because of social pressure (presumably the status that transitioning confers) rather than gender dysphoria. Many, she thinks, might be lesbians (whose numbers have dropped precipitously), and some have wanted to detransition once the process is begun, though once you start taking puberty-blocking hormones—the first step in becoming a transsexual male—it’s usually too late. Shrier is not a transphobe at all and fully supports the rights of transsexual people, but is calling for careful evaluation, both sociological and medical, before the drastic step of medical intervention is taken. Instead, the standard is invariably “affirmation, which Hall summarizes in seven “matras” used by the affirmationists. (See her review for the list.)
Neither Shrier nor her reviewer Hall are transphobes, but now they are irrevocably typed as that. The ACLU staff attorney for transgender issues, Chase Strangio, has called for the banning of Shrier’s book from bookstores (odd for the ACLU, no?), and an uproar has arisen—all because Shrier is urging caution about a social phenomenon whose sudden increase demands scrutiny and investigation. To even deny the need for instant affirmation of a wish to be a boy if you’re a girl is to label yourself someone dedicated to eliminating transsexual rights or even advocating the genocide of transsexuals. That is hogwash, of course, and Shrier’s book and Hall’s careful review implicitly show that. She was instantly labeled a transphobe for not damning the book, and Science-Based Medicine got hundreds of outraged comments (see below).
At any rate, read the original version of Hall’s book review by clicking the screenshot below:
The reason Hall’s review was archived is because Science-Based Medicine retracted it—a review by one of its own editors! (I don’t expect Hall will be an editor much longer.) When you go to the site where the review formerly reside (click on screenshot below), you see this note:
I don’t fully believe Novella and Gorski’s claim that readers’ objections had nothing to do with the removal. What else would call their attention to opponents of Hall’s review? Since they didn’t vet the review themselves, how would they find out that the article was “below their standards”? Note, too, how they use the euphemism “quality control” for “censorship”.
I ask readers to look at Hall’s original review (and read Shrier’s book) and see where the “quality” falls off. Hall, after all, calls attention to the lack of research on the epidemic of girls becoming transgender boys, but the data on its prevalence, and the ubiquity and unquestioning nature of “affirmation therapy”, are undeniable.
On Bari Weiss’s Substack website Common Sense, Weiss allows Shrier to respond to Hall’s “cancelation” and her own demonization as the book’s author (click on screenshot below). There’s also a brief intro by Weiss herself; I’ll give one quote from that:
You do not need to agree with Shrier about whether or not children should be able to medically transition genders without their parents’ permission (she is opposed), or for that matter with Weinstein and Heying’s bullishness about ivermectin (I had never heard of of the drug before they put it on my radar). That’s not the point. The point is that the questions they ask are not just legitimate, they are of critical importance. Meantime, some of the most powerful forces in our culture are conspiring to silence them.
That is precisely the reason it is so important to stand up and say: no. To say: progress comes only when we have the freedom to disagree. To say: It is outrageous that tech platforms are censoring such debates and that some journalists are cheering them on. To say, in public: enough. In my case, that means making sure to publish those voices who have been shut out of so many other channels that ought to be open to them.
I’ll highlight just three bits of Shrier’s piece on Weiss’s site. First, the circumstances under which Hall’s review was removed from Science-Based Medicine were dubious:
On Tuesday, one of the blog’s long-time contributors, Dr. Harriet Hall — a family physician and flight surgeon in the Air Force with dozens of publications to her name — posted a favorable review of my book. She examined the scientific claims as well as the medical ones and wrote that the book “combines well-researched facts with horrifying stories about botched surgeries, people who later regret their choices and therapists who are not providing therapy but just validating their patient’s self-diagnosis.” Dr. Hall not only shared my criticisms of “affirmative care” — that is, immediately agreeing with a teen’s self-diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proceeding to hormones and surgeries — but also noted that many physicians and therapists feel the same way but are afraid to say so.
Within a day, Dr. Hall’s article was flooded with nearly 1,000 comments, mostly, she says, from activists demanding the article be stripped from the site, but also from some readers expressing their appreciation. Angry emails from activists swamped the blog’s editors. Within two days, those editors had given Dr. Hall an ultimatum: retract, rewrite, or allow them to add a disclaimer.
“What surprised me was that my fellow editors attacked me, too. Basically what they said was that my article was not up to my usual standards as far as medicine, science and critical thinking went. And I didn’t feel that I did anything but what I always do. That surprised me,” she told me. Considering the editors’ ultimatum, she elected to have the editors who disagreed add a disclaimer to the website. “I told them I did not want it retracted. And the next thing I knew, they had retracted it.”
Second, there are two copies of Shrier’s book in the Halifax Public Library in Canada, and a line of 146 people waiting to read them. Meanwhile Canadian activists are trying to bully the library into getting rid of the book. (So far the library has not relented.)
It’s not only corporations facing this type of activist pressure. Public libraries now do, too.
Halifax Pride, the annual LGBTQ festival, announced late last month that it would cut ties with the city’s library system over its insistence on carrying Irreversible Damage, calling it “transphobic,” and claiming that it “jeopardizes the safety of trans youth” and “debates the existence of trans people.”
So far, the Halifax Public Libraries have resisted. Their position is straightforward and apolitical: libraries exist to expose the public to the widest array of views, “including those which may be regarded as unorthodox or unpopular with the majority.”
The Halifax Public Libraries tried to compromise with the activists by pasting a note inside the book’s cover, directing readers to a list of “trans-affirming” resources. But the activists were unappeased. No ties with the libraries were restored. They want the book gone from the library and scrubbed from existence. Two copies in a library of nearly 1.2 million volumes are two too many. [JAC: I would suggest that readers buy more copies of Shrier’s book and donate them to the library so people won’t have to wait so long to read it.]
Not even the Nova Scotia Library Association or the Canadian Library Association has come to the library’s defense, though their standing orders explicitly require member libraries “to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable.”
The lack of support by the Nova Scotia Library Association and the Canadian Library Association are reprehensible. Librarians, famous for promulgating free speech and avoiding censorship or making books unavailable, should spring to the defense of the Halifax Public Library. I find it odious that the HPL has even pasted a note inside the books’s cover “directing readers to trans-affirming resources”. Do they do that with other books to which people object? This shows that there’s something about transsexuality that brooks no questioning of the tenets of its enthusiasts, or of “affirmationists”. The topic is simply taboo. If you don’t toe the line of the enthusiasts, you are a “transphobe.”
And what Shrier writes about is, as Weiss notes, worthy of discussion: it’s not like it’s Mein Kampf or anything (and even that book should be available in libraries).
Finally, Shrier (whose book I’ve publicly defended as something worth reading and considering) is now fed up with people supporting her via emails but not doing so publicly, nor revealing their names. She wants people to publicly affirm her right to write such a book, using their names. The epidemic of transsexual boys is a phenomenon that needs to be examined, and if some young people are making irreversible medical changes in their bodies and lives without proper consideration, or proper caveats, well, that also needs to be examined.
The reasons for private approbation for Shrier but lack of public support is clear: nobody wants to be seen as a “transphobe”, just as nobody wants to be called a “racist.” Such is the power of demonizing labels. From Shrier’s conclusions:
Whether or not most people admit it, what keeps them from speaking up in the face of what they know is wrong is fear. Fear not primarily of unemployment, though that is a pressing concern, but fear of ostracism. This deep and ancient fear is behind our desperate reach for innocence and safety when we virtue signal. By contrast, we stand exposed when we speak unpopular truth. Within your tribe, there will be people who pull away from you, and if you think well of them — and sadly, even if you don’t — this causes pain.
. . . What can make it bearable? According to Professor Williams, getting yourself accepted by another group. This is also the way to confront most of life’s heartaches — surrounded by those you love. And there is no better way to gain respect from those you don’t already know than by being identified with truthfulness.
Fear of ostracism is rational. But we are now living in a world in which evolutionary biologists are threatened with losing their platforms for engaging in debate about the source and treatment of a deadly virus; in which prize-winning composers have been professionally ruined for saying arson is bad; in which authors are editing already-published books to placate online mobs. That should scare us far more than losing friends or status.
So look to the Halifax Library. Summon what faith you can in those things you know to be right and true: a person is not defined by her race; biological sex is real; scientific research requires ideologically unencumbered investigation; activists shouldn’t bully libraries; and books should not be banned.
The first hundred or so silent supporter emails meant the most to me. They made me feel less crazy and less alone. But the inescapable reality is that defeating this ideology will take courage. And courage is not something that can happen in private. Courage requires each one of us to speak up, publicly, for what we believe in. Even when — especially when — it carries costs.
You are not a transphobe if you read Shrier’s book. You are not a transphobe if you read her book and see that it highlights a problem that needs to be addressed. You are not a transphobe if you refuse to call for the censorship of Shrier’s book. Those who sling about insults without addressing the problem Shrier discusses are not virtuous, nor are they “transphiles”. They are censors, pure and simple, and the embodiment of the Authoritarian Left. They are opponents of free speech, who think that some topics don’t need discussion because their own views are the right views. They are the Big Brothers of our time.
So, Ms. Shrier, here is my public statement of support for your book. My name is Jerry Coyne, and I think your book deserves to be read widely by anybody interested in the new onset of transsexual conversions. And I deplore the ad hominem arguments used to attack it.
As you’ll know if you’re a regular here, many “progressive” birders are on a mission: to expunge from ornithology the common names of all birds that are “eponyms” of people who did bad stuff in their day. Bird names slated for the trashcan include Townsend’s warbler, six birds named after Alfred Russel Wallace, McCown’s longspur, and even Audubon’s warbler, since Audubon himself owned slaves. Indeed, some people want every bird named after a person to have its name changed to a non-person name. That, I suppose, is the logical consequence of this movement since nobody’s life could withstand the moral scrutiny of the Pecksniffs.
As I’ve said before, I’m not really on board with this movement, since the names are in common usage and, most important, the names are used to honor someone’s scientific work, even though those workers may have had moral views that don’t comport with ones that are current. Now if there were a bird called Hitler’s Warbler, or Quisling’s Towhee, I wouldn’t object to expunging those names. And simple honorifics for people who didn’t do squat for science or ornithology, well, I’m not that keen on those. But as for other renaming efforts, well, I think the endeavor is not deserving of debate, but also won’t accomplish much in terms of ridding the world of bigotry.
Take A. R. Wallace, for example, whose eponymous birds, including Wallace’s Owlet, are circling the drain. Here’s the cited reason why his small footprint in ornithology (and the man’s accomplishment’s are underrated) is being expunged:
The Wallace’s owlet and five other birds honor Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist, explorer and anthropologist credited, along with Charles Darwin, for conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. Wallace’s writings frequently used the n-word, including in reference to the “little brown hairy baby” he boasted about caring for after fatally shooting her mother during an 1855 trip to the Malay Archipelago. Some historians believe they were orangutans.
And even that is a correction from the original piece, as the end of the article notes:
CORRECTION. The Wallace’s owlet and five other birds honor Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist, explorer and anthropologist credited, along with Charles Darwin, for conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. Wallace’s writings frequently used the n-word, including in reference to the “little brown hairy baby” he boasted about caring for after fatally shooting her mother during an 1855 trip to the Malay Archipelago. Some historians believe they were orangutans.
Clearly the author didn’t do his diligence, since the original article probably asserted that Wallace killed a black person. Even this correction is bogus. SOME historians? No, Wallace definitely shot an orangutan, for he said so in his autobiography (see note at bottom of this post). To imply otherwise—that it might have been a human mother and baby—is to be duplicitous. And he was hardly a racist. Yes, he did use the n-word, as did most white Brits of his era, but he also wrote this in his autobiography (p. 343):
The more I see of uncivilized people, the better I think of human nature on the whole, and the essential differences between civilized and savage man seem to disappear.
As for the rest of the bird names, let the woke birders do their thing. I’m sure they will ultimately win, for they have two things on their side: performative outrage and the ability to call their opponents racists. Those are powerful weapons, and nobody but contrarians like me would even question this movement. And changing the Latin binomials for these birds, many of which contain the name of the Offender, is simply out of the question.
Yet the article does make one point I agree with: black birders are often objects of suspicion, and people should make an effort to not only include people of color in the birding community (this is an effort well underway), but stop acting as if a person of color watching birds through binoculars doesn’t belong. We all know about the Central Park incident, but I’m sure that related incidents happen more often, and that black birders are often looked at with suspicion. It’s time to stop that; they are simply human beings with binoculars, like the rest of us who like to look at animals.
Yet even this opprobrium is exaggerated in the article’s many over-the-top statements. Here are a few:
But overcoming those barriers will be daunting. As with the wider field of conservation, racism and colonialism are in ornithology’s DNA, indelibly linked to its origin story.
. . . “Conservation has been driven by white patriarchy,” said J. Drew Lanham, a Black ornithologist and professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, “this whole idea of calling something a wilderness after you move people off it or exterminate them and that you get to take ownership.”
. . .Indeed, White explorers, conservationists and scientists who crossed the world conveniently ignored the fact that birds had been discovered, named and observed by native people for centuries before their arrival.
To the Cherokee, eagles are the awâ’hili and crows are kâgû. The English common name for the chickadee is a butchered translation of the Cherokee name, tsïkïlïlï. Similar-sounding names for other birds that English speakers renamed or mispronounced are scattered throughout East Coast tribes.
Europeans named birds as though they were human possessions, but American Indians regard them differently. The red-tail hawk in some languages is uwes’ la’ oski, a word that translates to “lovesick,” because one of its calls sounded like a person who lost a partner. [JAC: To me, that doesn’t mean anything; after all, we have a bird named, in English, the mourning dove, so named because of its sad call.]
“A whole lot of Native people, in thinking about birds, don’t open a book of science. Their book of science is in the knowledge possessed by people in generations before them, the elders,” said Shepard Krech III, a professor emeritus at Brown University and author of “Spirits of the Air.”
There is some truth in the contention that some explorers simply ignored indigenous peoples’ knowledge of animals and plants, which is often extensive and deep, but others, like Ernst Mayr, did not. As for conservation having patriarchy and racism in its bones, that’s simply a reflection that science before the last century—indeed, nearly every endeavor—was a white man’s game, as was conservation. That itself does not mean the field was “founded on patriarchy” and certainly does not mean that it is still larded with patriarchy, racism, and colonialism. It is not.
There are two other quotes I want to mention. The first is the idea that you will naturally feel uncomfortable working in an area founded by people not of your ethnicity, and indeed, should feel uncomfortable. That’s expressed in this quote:
In Honolulu, ornithologist Olivia Wang is equally harsh. She regards the honorifics that birds carry with disdain.
“They are a reminder that this field that I work in was primarily developed and shaped by people not like me, who probably would have viewed me as lesser,” said Wang, an Asian American graduate student at the University of Hawaii. “They are also a reminder of how Western ornithology, and natural exploration in general, was often tied to a colonialist mind-set of conquering and exploiting and claiming ownership of things rather than learning from the humans who were already part of the ecosystem and had been living alongside these birds for lifetimes.”
What strikes me is the idea that “people must look like you”, as if physical appearance correlated with ethnicity (which, by the way, shows that ethnicity isn’t a social construct) is the main thing you should worry about when entering a field. Also striking is Wang’s view that birders from decades ago “probably would have viewed me as lesser”, which might be true, but is surely true no longer.
Finally, there’s the claim that by making birding more diverse and inclusive, it will improve ornithology. To wit:
The new panel is “not just because we want to feel good about ourselves,” said Webster, who is White. “We see it [as] critically important to understanding and conserving birds. It’s critically important that we have a diversity of people out there doing it.”
. . .Jeff Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, stressed that North America lost 3 billion birds over the past 50 years and that saving what’s left will need people of every ethnicity and background to be involved. “The biggest threat birds face … [is] being ignored to death,” he said. “Not enough people know and not enough people care.”
This implicitly assumes that people of different races have, on average, different viewpoints about the study of birds and so more inclusion will change the direction of the field. This is a claim I would reject without empirical evidence. But certainly people of all groups and genders should be permitted equal opportunity to become birders and study ornithology. For that will improve birding, as it will allow a wider range of people with different talents to use their skills. If there are barriers to such study, let them be removed.
But I’m not yet convinced that ethnic diversity itself is a good way to improve our scientific understanding of birds—beyond casting a wider net to capture more interested people. Diversity should be encouraged not because ethnic diversity is a sine qua non for improving ornithology (if it is, let us have the data), but because in the past people of color were discouraged from following scientific paths. Making them more welcome can be thought of as a form of reparations for bigotry in the past, and simply the right thing to do. What we need is equal opportunity and more birders.
h/t Andrew Berry for the information about A. R. Wallace
From Wallace’s book My Life (1905), pp. 344-345:
In my next letter, a month later, I gave the following account of an interesting episode:—
“I must now tell you of the addition to my household of an orphan baby, a curious little half-nigger baby, which I have nursed now more than a month. I will tell you presently how I came to get it, but must first relate my inventive skill as a nurse. The little innocent was not weaned, and I had nothing proper to feed it with, so was obliged to give it rice-water. I got a large-mouthed bottle, making two holes in the cork, through one of which I inserted a large quill so that the baby could suck. I fitted up a box for a cradle with a mat for it to lie upon, which I had washed and changed every day. I feed it four times a day, and wash it and brush its hair every day, which it likes very much, only crying when it is hungry or dirty. In about a week I gave it the rice-water a little thicker, and always sweetened it to make it nice. I am afraid you could call it an ugly baby, for it has a dark brown skin and red hair, a very large mouth, but very pretty little hands and feet. It has now cut its two lower front teeth, and the uppers are coming. At first it would not sleep alone at night, but cried very much; so I made it a pillow of an old stocking, which it likes to hug, and now sleeps very soundly. It has powerful lungs, and sometimes screams tremendously, so I hope it will live.
“But I must now tell you how I came to take charge of it. Don’t be alarmed; I was the cause of its mother’s death. It happened as follows:—I was out shooting in the jungle and saw something up a tree which I thought was a large monkey or orang-utan, so I fired at it, and down fell this little baby—in its mother’s arms. What she did up in the tree of course I can’t imagine, but as she ran about the branches quite easily, I presume she was a wild ‘woman of the woods;’ so I have preserved her skin and skeleton, and am trying to bring up her only daughter, and hope some day to introduce her to fashionable society at the Zoological Gardens. When its poor mother fell mortally wounded, the baby was plunged head over ears in a swamp about the consistence of pea- soup, and when I got it out looked very pitiful. It clung to me very hard when I carried it home, and having got its little hands unawares into my beard, it clutched so tight that I had great difficulty in extricating myself. Its mother, poor creature, had very long hair, and while she was running about the trees like a mad woman, the little baby had to hold fast to prevent itself from falling, which accounts for the remarkable strength of its little fingers and toes, which catch hold of anything with the firmness of a vice. About a week ago I bought a little monkey with a long tail, and as the baby was very lonely while we were out in the daytime, I put the little monkey into the cradle to keep it warm. Perhaps you will say that this was not proper. ‘How could you do such a thing?’ But, I assure you, the baby likes it exceedingly, and they are excellent friends. When the monkey wants to run away, as he often does, the baby clutches him by the tail or ears and drags him back; and if the monkey does succeed in escaping, screams violently till he is brought back again. Of course, baby cannot walk yet, but I let it crawl about on the floor to exercise its limbs; but it is the most wonderful baby I ever saw, and has such strength in its arms that it will catch hold of my trousers as I sit at work, and hang under my legs for a quarter of an hour at a time without being the least tired, all the time trying to suck, thinking, no doubt, it has got hold of its poor dear mother. When it finds no milk is to be had, there comes another scream, and I have to put it back in its cradle and give it. ‘Toby’—the little monkey—to hug, which quiets it immediately. From this short account you will see that my baby is no common baby, and I can safely say, what so many have said before with much less truth, ‘There never was such a baby as my baby,’ and I am sure nobody ever had such a dear little duck of a darling of a little brown hairy baby before.”
Regardless of what you think about canceling book deals with those Republicans who urged an audit of the election—as Simon and Schuster did with Josh Hawley’s book (now picked up by Regnery)— surely most readers can’t agree with the letter below, which says that no publisher should put out books by anyone considered part of the Trump administration. (That also holds for those who stormed the capitol, whether or not they were arrested.)
At least that’s the way I interpret the letter, which is genuine and appeared on the website of Barry Lyga, an author of books for young adults(click on screenshot). Lyga, who did not sign the letter, titled his post “No book deals for traitors“, and I presume is opposed to the letter. But it’s already been signed by more than 500 authors, agents, and people who work in publishing; and miscreants are still signing on here. (Click on screenshot to enlarge.)
As I’ve said repeatedly, while publishers have the right to publish whatever books they want, and can reject books based on not just their content but their authors, this is completely unwarranted censorship of authors based on their politics. It means, of course, that not only do the signers oppose publishes accepting Trump’s memoirs, but books by anyone who was part of his administration, including Robert Mueller, Nikki Haley, Anthony Fauci (who did not “scoff at science”), Ben Carson, James Mattis, and so on.And not just books about Trump—books about anything. (Don’t forget that Obama’s administration also “caged children” as well as killing civilians with drones.)
And it assumes that anybody who worked for the Trump administration agreed with all its policies, which is simply a lie.
This is an attempt to censor works by people who have political opinions different from yours. It is an attempt to silence those who disagree with you and to suppress their views. Beside that, it’s an attempt to punish people for being on the “wrong” side politically. Yet think of all the people who worked in the Trump administration and weren’t big fans of his. Some of these people, or even the “criminals” more closely aligned with Trump, may have worthwhile things to say and to hear.
The 500+ signers of the letter don’t want to hear them, though—indeed, they don’t want anybody to hear them!
This is an example of Woke Fascism: the worst behavior of the Authoritarian Left. They call anyone associated with the Trump administration a criminal, for those who were part of the administration are accused of “enabling, promulgating, and covering up crimes.” Talk about hyperbole!
I won’t reproduce the list of signers (I don’t recognize any of them), but here are some of the houses with Pecksniffian editors and employees. I’ll stop at the J’s:
Jessica Awad (Media Assistant Editor, W. W. Norton & Company)
Kat Bennett (Senior Cartographer, Hachette Book Group)
Rachel Blaifeder (Editor, Cambridge University Press)
Sam Brody (Editorial Assistant at Hachette Book Group)
Megan Carr (Senior Sales Support Associate, HarperCollins Publishers)
Henna Cho (Digital Sales Associate (SImon & Schuster))
Angelica Chong (Editorial Assistant, Macmillan
Mia Council (Assistant editor, Penguin Random House)—MY PUBLISHER!
Michella Domenici (Springer Nature)Rachel Dugan (Publicity Assistant, Penguin Random House) ANOTHER!
Carl Engle-Laird (Editor, Macmillan)
Leah Gordon (Senior editor, Avalon Travel, an imprint of Hachette Book Group)
Sarah Grill (Associate Editor, Macmillan)
Stephanie Guerdan (Assistant Editor, HarperCollins)
Sarah Homer (Assistant Editor, HarperCollins Publishers)
Madeline Houpt (Editorial Assistant, Macmillan)
I’ll stop now, but have to add that these people do not deserve their jobs in publishing—not when they decide to reject in advance books by anyone who was in the Trump administration. This bodes ill for the future of publishing, for these are reputable houses, and they control a lot of books who go to the public. It’s a metastasis of the cancer of Wokeism.
And if you respond, “Tough. These editors and authors did the right thing in trying to silence Republicans,” then I have no use for you. And I have only marginally more use for those who say, “Nobody’s entitled to a book deal; publishers are doing the right thing by ruling out a priori books by any of these people.” That is an extraordinarily punitive and close-minded point of view.
Matt Taibbi, a former writer for Rolling Stone, where he published on a variety of stuff (including sports), has now moved his writing to Substack, along with many journalists who can’t find a comfortable home in the woke mainstream media. His penultimate piece at his TK News site is a funny but scary guide to, well, see the headline below. You can read the piece for free by clicking on the screenshot below:
These ludicrous woke attacks on nearly everything are funny—or would be if they didn’t bespeak a fundamental change in our culture. Granted, that change may be engineered by a minority of chowderheads, but they’re loud and they’re powerful. Taibbi presents what he sees as the 16 wokest stories of last year. I’ve written about a few, and will put asterisks next to those. Many I missed, so I’ve given Taibbi’s links to them along with my own brief summary of what the stories claimed.
First, though, a few words from Matt:
The year 2020 will be remembered in the real world for a terrifying pandemic, mass unemployment, a nationwide protest movement, and a historically uninspiring presidential race. The year in media, meanwhile, was marked by grotesque factual scandals, journalist-cheered censorship, and an accelerating newsroom mania for political groupthink that was equal parts frightening and ridiculous.
Some of the purges were themselves amazing news stories. A contractor named Sue Schafer was fired after the Washington Post published a 3,000-word expose about a two-year-old incident in which she attended a Halloween party dressed as Megyn Kelly, who herself had been fired from NBC for defending blackface costumes. Schafer, in other words, was fired for dressing in blackface as a satire of blackface costumes, in an incident no one heard of until the Post decided to make an issue of it. This was one example of what the New Yorker recently exulted as the “expensive and laborious” process of investigative journalism, as practiced in 2020.
2.) (Story uncovered) Here Taibbi faults the media for hypocrisy, covering stories with a Woke ideology but not covering similar stories that are unwoke. One example: decrying anti-lockdown protests as dangerous sources of infection, but not mentioning that the same thing was likely with anti-racist protests.
*3.) Huffington Post, April 23: “I teach at Oxford, but I don’t want it to win the coronavirus vaccine race.” A student and teacher of women’s studies at Oxford doesn’t want her school to create the vaccine first because, after all, Britain is white and colonialist, and an Oxford vaccine would just be a “white savior” story. Curiously, though, the head of the Oxford vaccine-development team was a woman. (My take is here.)
4.) NPR, June 6th: “Your Bookshelf May Be Part Of The Problem.” If your bookshelf contains almost no books by nonwhite authors, then you’re buying into white supremacy. Or, if you have books by people of color, you better be ready to accept them whole hog. As the author says, “Anti-racist books will only do a person good if they silence themselves first and enter into the reading — provided they care enough to do so.” Oy! SHUT UP AND READ—no thinking for yourself!
5.) Globe and Mail, September 5: “Is it time to decolonize your lawn?” (You’ll have to create free account.) Lawns symbolize not only control over nature, but the dispossession of indigenous people. They’re also an ecologically unfriendly monoculture and take too much resources to manage (I agree with this bit).
6.) ABC.com, July 1: “America’s national parks face existential crisis over race.” The workforce and visitors of parks are too white, creating an “existential race crisis.” The demeanor of rangers makes others feel “unsafe,” and there aren’t enough signs in Spanish. But as the author notes later in the piece, the implied racism may be something not invoving racism in the Park Service:
Lack of transportation to national parks and the cost of visiting were cited as the top reasons people — especially Black and Hispanic Americans — don’t visit them more often, according to the study. Twice as many black and Hispanic Americans said they don’t know what to do in national parks than whites. When asked if they share the same interests as people who visit national parks, 34% of Black respondents and 27% of Hispanics said no, compared with only 11% of whites.
The essay connected George Bush’s conquest of Mike Dukakis in 1988 to the hypersexualized representation of a dreadlocked jungle alien in the famed Schwarzenegger flick, while connecting slavery, Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the myth of the Welfare Queen, and the scourge of no-knock warrants to “Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, with its vicious and endlessly breeding carbon black alien mother.” That film, the piece noted, “came at the height of neoliberal experiment and in the U.S. especially, an all-out assault on Black people.” (The British Scott made Alien in 1979).
9.) New York Times, June 29: “A White Gatekeeper of Southern Food Faces Calls to Resign.” A man in charge of a food organization that promoted southern food was white, despite his constant promotion of African-American food and help to African-American chefs and restaurants. His pigmentation seems to be the main problem.
*10.) Vice, August 13: “Dear White Vegans: Stop Appropriating Food.” First of all, cultural appropriation: “They often touted recipes—”African peanut stew” or “Asian stir fry”—that rely on racial stereotypes. . “. There are also misconceptions that don’t seem to involve racism:
Black vegan influencer Tabitha Brown previously told VICE that before she cut out meat and dairy she thought vegans were “white ladies who do yoga.” White people and their blogs dominate the results when key terms like “vegans,” “vegetarians,” or “vegan recipes” are plugged into Google. Nital Jethalal, a board member for Toronto Vegetarians Association, told VICE News he has been putting together a conference for vegans and it has been a lot easier to find prominent panellists online who are white. “The problem is few people think to go to the second page of Google results,” Jethalal said.
12.) Refinery29, January 21, “The Dangerous Rise Of Men Who Won’t Date ‘Woke’ Women.” This all comes from one comment by Laurence Fox, which triggers author Vicky Spratt into a long tirade. But he’s only one guy! And of course there are lots of Republicans who won’t be happy with “woke” women, but they’re dangerous for other reasons. A quote:
So it is fitting that white man of the moment, Laurence Fox – who appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme and told a BAME audience member that Meghan Markle has not been on the receiving end of racism before subsequently appearing on the cover of The Sunday Times to tell the world that he does not “date woke women” and then displaying an appalling understanding of history by calling the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ film 1917 “incongruous” – has “irrespective” tattooed on his arm.
Did you hear that at the back, ladies? Laurence Fox – who you perhaps only knew as Billie Piper’s ex-husband because you’ve never seen Lewis (what?) – does not date “woke” women who he believes are being taught that they are “victims”, irrespective of whether they are right or not. He thinks that it’s “institutionally racist” to tell the story of the First World War in a racially diverse way, irrespective of the fact that Sikh soldiers absolutely fought for Britain. And he also doesn’t believe in white privilege, irrespective of the fact that he works in a painfully undiverse industry, was privately educated and comes from a wealthy acting family which is nothing short of a dynasty.
There’s nothing funny about the things Fox – or Wokey McWokeface as he now wants to be known – is saying. It’s also not particularly sad. It’s dangerous. He is just one very privileged man, and as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day in less public corners of the internet.
“. . . .it’s becoming clearer than ever that the conventional language used to describe wine isn’t merely intimidating and opaque. It’s also inextricable from racism and sexism, excluding dimensions of flavor that are unfamiliar to the white, Western cultures that dominate the world of fine wine and reinforcing retrograde notions of gender.”
Yes, but they are familiar to people who drink wine, although one of the biggest consumers of fine with are the Chinese, who don’t seem to be excluded from this “white Western culture.”
15.) Deadspin, June 22: “We’ve Lived with ‘The Masters’ Name Long Enough.” The golf tournament needs to be renamed because “at dictionary.com, one of the definitions you get for ‘master’ is ‘owner of a slave.’ But the first definition (I looked it up) is “a person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something: a master of six languages; to be master of one’s fate.”
16.) Fast Company, June 15: “5 thoughtful ways to approach discussing racism at work.” Some of the tips are okay, but the entire article assumes that black people are uber-fragile and must be catered to in meetings at every turn, not treated as equals. It’s a prime example of “soft bigotry.” And here’s one invidious tip that Taibbi singles out:
DO BE MINDFUL OF OPENING UP MEETINGS AND INTERACTIONS WITH QUESTIONS LIKE “HOW ARE YOU?” OR “HOW WAS YOUR WEEKEND?”
Recognize that by doing so, you can potentially be re-triggering what your Black colleagues are experiencing or dismissing their experience by pretending all is normal. It’s not and hasn’t been for a long time.
This I don’t get. Is the assumption here that one’s black colleagues have very different kinds of weekends than we do? And this “re-triggering” trope is arrant nonsense.
So that’s it, and I should have kept a list like Taibbi’s. These are all articles that espouse a woke point of view, but there are many more articles about the dangers of Wokeitude than these, including the many I’ve written about “progressive”, authoritarian Leftism in colleges and the media.
You may not be eager to listen to advice from a conservative about how the Left is tearing itself apart, but all Stephens is saying in his latest NYT column (click on screenshot) is what I’ve been saying for a while: it’s not going to help the Left further its agenda if it keeps engaging in internecine struggles between the “progressives” and the centrists. Since Americans have just proven themselves more willing to support the centrist program, you can’t argue that the centrists should step aside for people like Bernie Sanders or “the squad”. (I hasten to add that some of their ideas are good ones, like universal healthcare and parts of the Green New Deal, but their program as a whole won’t help the center hold. Nor will demonizing everyone who voted for Trump.)
Ergo, I suggest that the best tactic is not only to adopt a less-extreme Democratic agenda, but also (and this may be futile) try compromising more with right-centrists (compromise with most Republicans, though, is hopeless). I’ll let you read Stephens’s op-ed yourself, and then I’ll give a few quote, and let you hash it out while I’m getting drilled:
What, today, is leftism, at least when it comes to intellectual life? Not what it used to be. Once it was predominantly liberal, albeit with radical fringes. Now it is predominantly progressive, or woke, with centrist liberals in dissent. Once it was irreverent. Now it is pious. Once it believed that truth was best discovered by engaging opposing points of view. Now it believes that truth can be established by eliminating them. Once it cared about process. Now it is obsessed with outcomes. Once it understood, with Walt Whitman, that we contain multitudes. Now it is into dualities: We are privileged or powerless, white or of color, racist or anti-racist, oppressor or oppressed.
The list goes on. But the central difference is this: The old liberal left paid attention to complexity, ambiguity, the gray areas. A sense of complexity induced a measure of doubt, including self-doubt. The new left typically seeks to reduce things to elements such as race, class and gender, in ways that erase ambiguity and doubt. The new left is a factory of certitudes.
And what? A conservative shows some humor?:
For the new left — and the publications that champion it — the loss is much greater. It makes them predictable, smug and dull. It alienates readers. A current article on the New York magazine website is titled, “I Think About Björk’s Creativity Animal a Lot.” For gems such as this they got rid of Sullivan?
But I think Stephens has a point, not just about Björk, but about the Left in general. The polarization that’s occurred, largely at the instigation of the take-no-prisoners “progressives”, has made liberal political progress harder. If you’re white but not a racist (yes, they exist, contra Robin DiAngelo), being called a racist or someone filled with unconscious bias makes you take a harder stand on “anti-racism”. Similarly, damning all who voted for Trump as “racists” and “deplorables” is a losing strategy, particularly given the large numbers of women, blacks, and Hispanics who voted for Trump this time around. This is why Biden keeps harping on his desire for compromise and comity, and emphasizing that, Republicans or Democrats, we’re all Americans.
Perhaps this is pie in the sky. But it’s worth a try. Stephens:
The apparent inability of many on the left to entertain the thought that decent human beings might have voted for Trump for sensible reasons — to take one example, the unemployment rate reached record lows before the pandemic hit — amounts to an epic failure to see their fellow Americans with understanding, much less with empathy. It repels the 73 million Trump voters who cannot see anything of themselves in media caricatures of them as fragile, bigoted, greedy and somewhat stupid white people.
It also motivates them. The surest way to fuel the politics of resentment — the politics that gave us the Tea Party, Brexit and Trump, and will continue to furnish more of the same — is to give people something to resent. Jeering moral condescension from entitled elites is among the things most people tend to resent.
Which brings me back to the flight of the contrarians. As the left (and the institutions that represent it) increasingly becomes an intellectual monoculture, it will do more than just drive away talent, as well as significant parts of its audience. It will become more self-certain, more obnoxious to those who don’t share its assumptions, more blinkered and more frequently wrong.
To the enemies of the left, the self-harm that left-leaning institutions do with their increasingly frequent excommunications is, ultimately, good news. The mystery is why liberals would do it to themselves.
Of course the Right is far from immune to this kind of intranecine fighting (remember the “Lincoln Project’?), and they engage in their own form of demonizing their opponents. But we can be better than our opponents.
Eve Fairbanks is a journalist from South Africa, and her national origins play a substantial part in this rather weak essay on free speech in the Washington Post (click on the screenshot).
Increasingly, I find long-form op-eds in both the New York Times and the Washington Post—the two sources I’m subscribed to besides Andrew Sullivan’s website—that are written so poorly, so discursively, and so loosely, that you can’t ascertain what the point is. Or, at least, if I do see a point, it could have been conveyed in half the allotted space. Such is the “outlook” piece above.
As far as I can see from hacking my way through Fairbanks’s logorrhea, she argues that the liberals who decry “cancel culture,” like the ones who signed the Harper’s letter, are in effect “bullies” trying to police people in the guise of promoting free speech. On the other side stands the social justice group who “historically have been cut out of publishing, policymaking, and institutional leadership.” Not that the first group doesn’t have a point, Fairbanks argues. And of course only bigots or conservatives would oppose the second group.
It’s just that there’s a third way—Fairbanks’s way—and the way, she says, that South Africa has gone to a salubrious end. And this way is the best way, because it worked. Here’s her Third Way:
But there’s also a third group, one that may be quieter than the other two. These are American liberals who have, indeed, witnessed events or exchanges that made them feel uneasy — online debates in which a speaker’s character is inferred from one or a handful of tweets out of 16,000; episodes in which authors agree to withdraw upcoming books after accusations of insensitivity. This third group of liberals recognizes that some of what troubles the Harper’s letter-writers is happening. Simultaneously, though, they think that the problems identified by the first group are real: Whole groups of people have been underrepresented in American life and should, at this juncture, be listened to more attentively.
In fact, I’m not sure that Fairbanks even gave the Harper’s letter a fair reading. For it begins with precisely the same trope:
Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.
Throughout the piece, she tries to denigrate the Harper’s letter on several grounds, none of which hold up. For one things, we read above that the signatories of that letter do recognize the need for “greater equity and inclusion,” and several have a history of that kind of work, so we can dismiss Fairbank’s “third way” complaint on those grounds alone.
What about the “bullying”? That, too, is bizarre.
What’s more, these liberals — I’m one of them — often have the frustrating sense that they’re being bullied by the very people who claim that their motivation is to uphold free speech. It’s inescapable, the observation that the pro-free-speech activists exhibit the behavior they ostensibly claim to be fighting: invoking blinding moral certainty, belittling people who disagree with them or threatening them with lawsuits. They claim to celebrate debate but don’t countenance any disagreement about the degree of threat to free speech.
Check out the two links that supposedly show bullying: one is a petulant tweet, the other Bari Weiss speculating about a workplace harassment complaint at the New York Times. The latter is illegal, and so the “blinding moral certainty” can be adjudicated by the courts should Weiss bring a lawsuit, which I suspect she won’t. Two links like that do not give powerful support for “bullying”. In contrast, there is real and substantial evidence for the bullying of cancel culture participants, like that of Rebecca Tuvel, threatened and professionally humiliated for merely drawing philosophical comparisons between transsexualism and transracism.
As for the last sentence of the paragraph above, that’s complete bullpuckey. It’s not as if the advocates of free speech assert it as an unarguable right, for many of them, including Steve Pinker, and, formerly Christopher Hitchens (not a signatory), have actually explained why free speech is necessary in its “hard” form. (I’ve argued that, too, but wasn’t a signatory.) Fairbanks’s claim to the contrary is wrong. There is article after article by liberals explaining the need for and virtues of free speech.
Fairbanks goes on (and on and on), but then raises a very bizarre argument, saying that other people whom we find odious have also argued for free speech, including George Wallace and Rush Limbaugh. And yes, they may have made these arguments in the service of bigotry, but this is basically a kind of ad hominem argument: because reprobates have argued for free speech, there must be something wrong with it.
Fairbanks’s last argument is this:
I came to feel that the speech argument was often wielded by people who worried that their points may be weak. I’ve felt that way about its use on the left, too. Think about its equivalent, rhetorically, in a marital fight: “I can’t believe you’re upset about this.” Such a statement positions the speaker as the rational one and burdens the other party to hedge himself so as not to sound hysterical. It also deflects the argument from its true subject to a dispute over its form — the other person’s way of presenting their complaint. In the Harper’s letter, and in other recent exhortations to the left to protect free speech, there’s a striking absence of any ideas. What propositions do these writers wish they were able to offer? But naming those ideas would open them up again to scrutiny and discussion.
Sorry, but this is also misguided on two fronts. While free-speech advocates do call out people for engaging in bizarre forms of cancellation (the General Tso’s chicken kerfuffle at Oberlin and the Kimono Kerfuffle at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are two examples), but they do more then highlight the abuses of cancel culture: they explain why they are ludicrous. Need I mention the many people who have defended “cultural appropriation” as a virtue rather than a vice, and done so with actual arguments? T
But the Harper’s letter was meant to highlight a more serious problem: people losing their jobs and reputations for being ideologically impure, often in a trivial way. And “absence of ideas”? What about the idea that we need to ratchet down a culture that tries to hurt people’s lives and reputations for words that don’t deserve such treatment? What does Fairbanks want the signatories to do? The letter was meant to prompt discussion about a problem, not to solve it. But I can offer one solution: inculcate all college first-year students with a unit on free speech.
In the end, Fairbanks raises her own country as an example of how the Third Way succeeded:
As in America, South Africans who resisted the firing of a columnist or the renaming of a building expressed the most alarm not for the present but for a putative future. They treated these events as harbingers of much more extreme reprisals to come: Give the people who want to “cancel” things a hand, they said, and they’ll take the whole arm, and eventually we’ll be living in a “1984”-like dystopia. You have to push back hard and early.
I believe that many who made this fearful argument really did harbor this concern. The discrimination against South Africans of color was so great over such a long time that — if they truly were liberated from social norms to be cordial — the assumption was that they would seek a comprehensive revenge. But they didn’t. Their demands to rename buildings or exclude offensive rhetoric were not mere bitter performances. Once some buildings were renamed and some academics’ reputations downgraded, they, and the country, mostly moved on.
Now I can’t speak directly to how things are going there, as I know little about the culture or, in particular, South Africa’s cancel culture. Grania, were she alive, would have something to say about this.
Clearly the “truth and reconciliation” attitude achieved great things in South Africa, but that was about apartheid and its enforcers, and surely the employment of “cancel culture” would have had a much more violent and divisive effect. A liberal attitude, however, might mandate the very actions of which Fairbanks approves.
Her “solution” is apparently to let the mob tear down statues and impose censorship on “hate speech” and, never fear, cancel culture will vanish of its own accord. Well, what we get is vandalism of Gandhi statues because of his one-time (and self repudiated) bigoted statements), and calls to “decolonize” (i.e., destroy) science by empowering superstition as another way of knowing.” This is a well known video from the University of Cape Town:
Like all the criticisms of the Harper’s letter, Fairbanks’s seems overly captious and misguided. After all, the gist of the letter is simply “treat people fairly, be charitable, and don’t try to injure their lives and reputations for trivialities.” How much is there to object to in that? But to say “not much” is to misunderstand the Authoritarian Left or, in this case, Fairbanks’s so-called Third Way.
Like many scientific journals and societies, the journal Nature is getting woker, larding its pages with letters and articles that often indict science or STEM for “systemic racism”. One letter, which appeared in Nature three days ago, is of that ilk.
While it would be foolish to deny that there are bigots and racists working in science, as there are in all areas, it’s a different matter to indict the discipline itself (including my own field of evolutionary biology) for “systemic racism,” at least in present days. That implies, depending on whose definition of the term “systemic racism” you use, that the field either has formal or informal structures in place to impede the advancement of ethnic minorities. This used to be the case, of course, and, as we know, science (i.e., “received scientific wisdom”) once gave its imprimatur to unsubstantiated and racist areas like eugenics, racial hierarchies, and so on. Even Darwin, an abolitionist, made statements about non-white groups that would be rejected as racist today.
But things have changed in a big way as society has advanced morally, and now science departments and fields are desperately seeking to redress the balance by looking for graduate students and faculty from minority groups. There are scholarships and grants directed at those groups, and I can truthfully say that in my entire career in science, I’ve encountered only one individual with attitudes I’d consider racist (that person will remain unnamed). Yes, there’s a dearth of minorities in science compared to the general population, but I strongly doubt that you can ascribe that to racism at the level of colleges, graduate schools, or faculty. Part of that may be a matter of preferences, but I suspect the main issue is that the pipeline to science is, for minorities, constricted beginning at the elementary-school level. We simply don’t have many minority applicants for graduate-school or faculty positions, and those we have are usually “Hispanic,” a broad term that can even include privileged individuals from Spain who are “white” by any account. If there’s any discipline that is trying hard to achieve equity, it’s science.
Thus I bridle when I hear science in general accused of “systemic racism”, either built into science or as a general attitude within science. Yes, there’s individual racism, and that can manifest itself as biased treatment, but letters like the one below seem a bit extreme (you can see the letter in situ by clicking on the screenshot):
As I said, hiring and acceptance policies are already in place, as are scholarships and special grants and initiatives to promote ethnic diversity (see here and here for examples). But that is not enough for Gore-Felton et al. They want not just equal opportunity, nor even equal outcome, but requiring “compulsory courses on the Black disapora” for every department in every elite institution of learning. This is a form of compulsory indoctrination. Further, the authors argue that no longer should advancement and tenure be based on merit (which of course always includes departmental and university service), but must be based on “excellence in diversity efforts.” This implies that if you’re not engaged in such efforts, you’re not going to get promotion and tenure.
This goes too far, and is a form of authoritarianism to which I objected this morning. Forced courses on the Black diaspora—and we know what these will be like—as well as denial of promotion or tenure if you don’t achieve excellence in fostering diversity (they of course mean racial diversity rather than any other kind of diversity) are ways of employing science for social engineering. Now scientists should participate ensuring that all groups, be they based on ethnicity or sex, have equal opportunity for entry and are treated like everyone else in graduate school and as faculty, but this is not what these initiatives are doing. They are insisting that scientists engage in political activities that have nothing to do with science, and then get marinated in ideologies that have nothing to do with science.
The piece above is a letter, not an official statement by Nature, but believe me, official statements resembling the one above are not only already in place in some science departments, but more are on the way. And it’s a sign of the times that Nature took these bizarre suggestions seriously enough to publish them.