Insulting the hamantasch: the insane cultural policing of recipes

February 24, 2021 • 10:30 am

Every day I find or am sent quite a few examples of wokeness gone mad, and every day I post only one or two of them. But the accumulation of craziness is making me think that the world has gone bonkers, and I’m not sure why. Is it the pandemic? Is it social media? Who knows? If I could figure that out, I’d be a psychologist or sociologist, not a biologist. So I proffer these examples for your amusement, but also to show you that there’s a behavior afoot with the potential to turn America into Orwell’s Oceania.

In his new column in the New York Times, appropriately titled below, Bret Stephens describes a new campaign at Bon Appétit food magazine that truly underlines the humorlessness of the Woke. (A variant of an old joke: A man walks into a Woke bookstore, asks about a book, and is told by a clerk, “Sorry, sir, this is a social-justice bookstore. We don’t have a humor section.”)

Click on the screenshot to read:

The fracas at Bon Appétit is about a Jewish pastry: hamantaschen. They’re triangular cookies, usually filled with prune or apricot preserves, and served at the holiday of Purim (the shape is modeled on the three-corned hat of the Purim bad guy Haman).  I happen to love them, particularly the traditional prune-filled version. Here’s an apricot one that I ate in Brookline, Massachusetts in January of last year.

A good hamantasch has a cookie that is soft and not too dry, and they vary in quality. And there’s the rub, for in 2015 food writer Dawn Perry (not a Jew!) wrote the following article (click on screenshot):

The name has been changed, though: it was originally “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen”. Why the change? Because of a Pecksniff who apparently took the title as a denigration of Jews via the implication that Hamantaschen aren’t “actually good.” But Perry doesn’t say that; she says this:

Hamantaschen are shaped to resemble Haman’s 3-cornered hat and traditionally stuffed with sweet fillings made of poppy seeds, dried fruits, or fruit preserves (among others). Sounds tasty, right? But achieving the right balance is not always easy to pull off.

So I set out to create a cookie that hit all the right notes: The cookie itself would be a pleasure to eat, whether or not you encountered filling in each bite. And the fillings themselves would be were after baking, but not too sweet.

If you read the article, you’ll see that Perry tweaked traditional hamantasch recipes a bit, suggesting using butter instead of oil or shortening (an improvement!), using jam instead of preserves, putting an egg wash on the cookie, and so on. None of the changes fundamentally altered the pastry. But she does suggest other changes, like a cinnamon-date filling, that, while they may really offend the Pecksniffs, sound fantastic.

Stephens reports on said Pecksniff:

Six years later, a woman named Abigail Koffler found the article while researching hamantaschen fillings. She was not amused.

Perry, Koffler wrote on Twitter, isn’t Jewish. Perry’s husband, Koffler added, had been forced out of his job at Condé Nast last year based on accusations of racial bias. Above all, Koffler objected, “Traditional foods do not automatically need to be updated, especially by someone who does not come from that tradition.”

Most Jews would probably be grateful for an “actually good” hamantasch. Yet within hours of Koffler’s tweets, Bon Appétit responded with an editor’s note atop the article, now renamed “5 Steps to Really Good Hamantaschen.” It’s a note that defies summary, parody and belief.

And here’s that editor’s note: (I am not making this up; click on the screenshot):

Yes, that’s right: the magazine has instituted an “Archive Repair Project” to go back and sanitize any ideologically dubious recipes. So far they’ve sniffed out and bowdlerized over 200 recipes.  Shoot me now!

Stephens draws from this incident three conclusions about Wokeness:

Behold in this little story, dear reader, the apotheosis of Woke.

No transgression of sensitivities is so trivial that it will not invite a moralizing rebuke on social media.

No cultural tradition is so innocuous that it needn’t be protected from the slightest criticism, at least if the critic has the wrong ethnic pedigree.

No writer is so innocent that she should be spared from having her spouse’s alleged failings trotted out to suggest discrimination-by-association.

And no charge of cultural insensitivity is so far-fetched that it won’t force a magazine into self-abasing self-expurgation. What Bon Appétit blithely calls its “Archive Repair Project” is, according to HuffPost, an effort to scour “55 years’ worth of recipes from a variety of Condé Nast magazines in search of objectionable titles, ingredient lists and stories told through a white American lens.”

Stephens goes into other examples that are more egregious but never got redacted, like an offensive cover of The New Yorker. He also describes the demonization of Professor Jason Kilborn at the University of Chicago at Illinois Law School, an example we’ve already seen.

Let this serve as one more example, loonier than ever, of the policing of culture. I am a secular Jew, have eaten hamantaschen whenever I can get them, and love them. Am I offended if someone wants to put butter in them, or give them an egg wash? Not on your life—it would probably make them even better!

So what if the person is a shicksa? Can only Jews tweak Jewish food? Not in my view. “Cultural appropriation” of this type is not only a form of flattery, but a way to appreciate other cultures and create “hybrid” foods, like buttery hamantaschen, that might be better than the original. Not every ethnic food is immune to improvement, you know.

Stephens is a conservative, so this wokeness plays into his court. But it offends me as well, and should offend you. These Leisure Fascists are running amok, telling us what we can and cannot do with our culture and those of other people. So long as the “appropriation” isn’t exploitative or denigrating—and this isn’t—I’m all in favor.

Stephens ends his piece this way:

A friend of mine, a lifelong liberal whose patience is running thin with the new ethos of moral bullying, likes to joke, “Woke me when it’s over.” To which I say: Get comfortable.

After publishing this, I wonder how long Stephens has at the New Woke Times.

As for Bon Appétit‘s other redacted recipes, I don’t know from them. But I do know hamantaschen, and I approve of Perry’s article. The calling out of her husband by Pecksniff Koffler is beyond belief.

Chicago begins identifying potentially offensive and removable monuments, including those honoring Lincoln, McKinley, Ben Franklin, Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant

February 19, 2021 • 10:00 am

Good god! It’s not enough that San Francisco embarrassed itself by renaming 44 schools, including those bearing the monickers of Dianne Feinstein, Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Paul Revere. Now the city of Chicago, under the leadership of the increasingly embarrassing mayor Lori Lightfoot, is undertaking the same venture, singling out 41 monuments to be “investigated” for possible removal or renaming. The bowdlerization of my city is detailed in these two article from the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Times (click on screenshots below):

Sun-Times:

NYT:

You can see photos and descriptions of the scrutinized monuments on this page, and I have to say that there are almost none of them that I find worthy of removal, for they mark history, with all its flaws, and offense of some people is not sufficient to immediately mandate erasing a statue. (There are FIVE monuments to Abe Lincoln to be vetted!) And there are alternatives to removal, as I mention below.

Here are a few photos of statues being scrutinized, along with possible reason why they’re “problematic” (indented). Here are the criteria that the committee is considering:

Reasons for making the list include promoting narratives of white supremacy; presenting an inaccurate or demeaning portrayal of Native Americans; celebrating people with connections to slavery, genocide or racist acts; or “presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history.”

The project website does not note which criteria might apply to any specific monument or statue.

That’s not exactly true, as I show below.

There’s also an advisory committee vetting the monuments, with its members shown here (I’m not optimistic!), and, unlike San Francisco, Chicago is soliciting public feedback on the monuments. (But it would help to know why they’re on the list!). I will give them feedback.

The first one, “A Signal of Peace” seems to be problematic only because it displays a native American. It was intended by the sculptor (and his patron) to be a sign of respect for Native Americans as well as a lament for their oppression by whites:

Before the fair was even over, arrangements were made by wealthy Chicago lawyer and art patron Lambert Tree to purchase the sculpture for $3,000 cash. Offering it for permanent placement in Lincoln Park, Tree was clear in his intent that the monument was intended as a permanent symbol of respect for native peoples who were: “…..oppressed and robbed by government agents, deprived of their lands… shot down by soldiery in wars fomented for the purpose of plundering and destroying their race, and finally drowned by the ever westward tide of population.”

Are we not, then, to depict any Native Americans, even in this respectful and mournful (for their oppression) manner?

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Here’s another Native American sculpture, (“Indians; the Bowman and the Spearman”) in Grant Park; I often look at and admire this when I drive downtown. And here’s why it’s to be scrutinized:

Impressive for their heroic scale and bristling energy, the sculptures have been criticized for their romanticized and reductive images of American Indians.

Reductive? Romanticized? It’s an admirable, admiring, and truly lovely piece of art. For crying out loud, most public statues are “romanticized,” not to mention “reductive”. What are we supposed to show: a Native American skinning a buffalo?

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Here’s “Standing Lincoln,” a well known statue. Why is it bad? The site doesn’t say, but apparently Lincoln’s allowing a few Native Americans to be hanged (and pardoned many more)—as well as his early (but later changed) bigotry towards blacks—outweighs his emancipation of the slaves. It’s by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and comes with this note on the site (there’s no “reason” given to scrutinize this):

Many people who personally knew Lincoln and were alive at the time of the monument’s dedication commented on the imagery being a moving and accurate representation. As a guide, Augustus Saint-Gaudens used life casts of Lincoln’s face and hands made by Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Benjamin Franklin gets scrutinized, too, for he owned two slaves but later freed them and became an abolitionist. So what’s the problem?

Franklin’s achievements in helping shape United States democracy as well as his role in other disciplines are well-documented historical facts. Historical archives reflect some negative personal views on people and groups not unusual for the time, but historians have noted that he was open-minded and would often shift in his positions. Franklin owned two slaves who served in household responsibilities, but he later freed both and became an outspoken abolitionist.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

George Washington, by Daniel Chester French (a replica).  No reason given, but of course Washington owned slaves. The site says this:

The monument is one of the finest examples of equestrian sculpture in Chicago, and is considered a major work by Daniel Chester French, whose later work included the marble sculpture of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Why Leif Ericson is scrutinized baffles me, and no information is given. Yes, he may have made it to North America, but he didn’t “colonize it”.  In fact, we know little about his exploits.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

And woe to Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. He had one slave but set him free. The caption says this:

Grant pursued a number of unsuccessful ventures, including farming on his father-in-law’s Missouri plantation, where he purchased and quickly manumitted a slave, and working for his father, a fervent abolitionist, at the family’s Galena, Illinois leather goods business. Grant quickly proved himself a brilliant tactician and leader, rising to lead the Union forces by 1865.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Another statue, “The Alarm”, seems to be a dignified and respectful depiction of Native Americans.  No reason is given why it’s on the list.  Here are a few words:

Sculptor John J. Boyle grew up in Philadelphia and was trained at the Franklin Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. In preparation for Ryerson’s commission, Boyle spent two months observing Native American subjects and making numerous sketches and studies.

Photo ©: Jyoti Srivastava

Are there any monuments that I think need to go? Given alternatives of explanatory plaques or counter-monuments, I found only one. But it’s already been taken down! I think the one below is invidious and divisive, and doesn’t honor anything except a massacre of settlers by Indians, not noting that most of the killing went the other way. Here’s the “Fort Dearborn Massacre”. A note from the site:

Industrialist George Pullman (1831-1897) commissioned this monumental bronze figural group to be placed near his Prairie Avenue mansion — which was believed to be the site of the attack on the garrison evacuating Fort Dearborn during the War of 1812. The work shows Potawatomie chieftain Black Partridge intervening on behalf of Margaret Helm, wife of the fort’s commander and the step-daughter of fur trader, John Kinzie. Danish sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith (in Chicago to create sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893), based his figures on sketches he made of Indian models who were held captive at Fort Sheridan in the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Conceived in a sensationalist, luridly violent mode, the sculpture was long criticized by American Indian activists and was removed from public view in 1997.

It’s already gone! None of these should be destroyed; they should be preserved somewhere as examples of public art, no matter how misguided or lurid.

 

The New York Times details some pushback, but also gives one view of why Lincoln should be erased:

The committee’s list almost immediately drew criticism from some state leaders. “Never thought that statues of Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant would be considered ‘controversial’ in the Land of Lincoln,” Representative Darin LaHood, a Republican who represents parts of Peoria and Springfield, wrote on Twitter. “This is detached from reason.”

Daniel Fountain, a professor of history at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., said that Lincoln’s legacy has come under scrutiny in the 21st century in part because, as a younger politician, his views reflected the white supremacist attitudes of most 19th-century politicians.

Professor Fountain noted that during his famous debate with Stephen Douglas, his rival in Illinois, Lincoln stated his opposition to letting Black people serve as jurors, marry white people or “attain any semblance of social equality.”

Lincoln’s views evolved during the Civil War, but those early statements remained “abysmal,” he said.

“For many, his flaws undermine his very real, significant achievements,” Professor Fountain said.

Well, Professor Fountain, for more people Lincoln’s achievements outweigh his flaws. How many people have to be offended before a statue is removed? And can’t we just add a plaque that he once held bigoted views but changed them? Why is that not enough? Woe to America if we have to pull down statues of Abe Lincoln!

In general I object to the erasure of history, for if we remove all monuments to people who, when morality changes over time, are found wanting, then almost all history will be gone.

The Atlantic just published what I see as the definitive way to regard monuments, and which of them really deserve to be removed. Click on the screenshot, and I do recommend that you read this thoughtful and reasonable take:

One excerpt:

The issue of what to do with monuments and school names can be more complex than the cartoonish excesses of the woke left might indicate. Art’s impact on the public weal should not be the sole or leading measure of its worth—that way Stalinist “socialist realism” lies—but in certain cases it cannot be ignored.

Few would want a statue of Hitler or Mussolini or Tojo to stand in a town square, even if it was erected in the 1930s and thus could be said to be a historical artifact. Many of the Confederate statues in the South were commissioned in the dark days after the end of Reconstruction, when the Ku Klux Klan ran riot, Black people were terrorized and lynched, and the mythology of the “Lost Cause” was born. To treat such objects as if they were simply neutral cultural artifacts is to willfully misread history. Some public art is arguably so detrimental to social cohesion that a civic conversation about what to do with it is desirable.

In any case, the answer does not have to be to remove the “bad” public artworks. They can be curated, with explanatory material placing them in historical context. (Early Days was curated, but inadequately.) They can be balanced with other works: A German friend told me that in Hamburg, city officials dealt with a Nazi-built memorial glorifying war by commissioning a counter-memorial that criticized it. These works can be moved to a historic monument site, or to a museum—making explicit their status as aesthetic or historical objects, not exemplars of city values.

. . . In the end, self-righteous symbolic crusades like the school-renaming campaign must not be immune from criticism simply because they purport to fight racial injustice—that noble cause is debased by empty gestures that achieve nothing. Indeed, by creating conflict over trivial objectives—just turn on Fox News—they are more likely to harm the cause of societal progress and racial harmony than to advance it.

Yes, I shall be giving my input to the monument-inspection Pecksniffs, and perhaps to the mayor and my alderman.

h/t: Ben

Shakespeare gets canceled

February 18, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Yes, I’ve exaggerated with the word “canceled”, but if English departments were like police departments, you could say that Shakespeare is getting “defunded.” Unfortunately, I am not an expert on the Bard, having read only the most famous of his plays (and all of the sonnets), so all I can say is that he is not just an expert in constructing intricate and absorbing plots, but a genius, probably unparalleled, in the use of the English language. His preeminence is justified, but of course he’s a dead white male, and of course there is Othello (who doesn’t come off so badly, as Shakespeare was no white supremacist), and most of all there’s Shylock.

But crikey, that was the late 16th and early 17th century, and Shakespeare gets off pretty well compared to what were probably the attitudes of his English countrymen.  Nevertheless, he’s being downgraded, and this is expected given the way things are going. The criticism doesn’t seem to mention Shylock because, after all, who cares about stereotyped Jews?

The article below is of course from a conservative venue: the Washington Times. But that doesn’t mean that the quotes (indented) are fake, so if you find a fake one, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll give a few excerpts, as I must take my wintery constitutional before I watch the Mars landing. Click on the screenshot:

So let’s put Shakespeare in the dock. “Mr. Shakespeare, you stand accused of these sins:”

White supremacy and colonization (?):

For the new breed of teachers, Shakespeare is seen less as an icon of literature and more as a tool of imperial oppression, an author who should be dissected in class or banished from the curriculum entirely.

“This is about white supremacy and colonization,” declared the teachers who founded #DisruptTexts, a group that wants staples of Western literature removed or subjected to withering criticism.

The anti-Shakespeare teachers say fans of the plays ignore the author’s problematic worldview. They say readers of Shakespeare should be required to address the “whiteness” of their thinking.

If Shakespeare must be taught, these educators say, then it should be presented with watered-down versions of the original or supplemental texts focused on equality issues.

Elizabeth Nelson, who teaches English at Twin Cities Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, told School Library Journal that she gives her students Marxist theory when reading Shakespeare’s tragedy “Coriolanus” about the Roman leader.

Toxic masculinity:

Sarah Mulhern Gross told the journal that she delivered “toxic masculinity analysis” to her students reading “Romeo and Juliet” at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey.

I suppose this is because those Montagues and Capulets who were always quarreling were MEN, ergo the family feud exemplified toxic masculinity.

Being an irrelevant hack:

This is among the most ridiculous of the comments, but remember that Woke ideology rejects the idea of a meritocracy. And Shakespeare, often considered the greatest of English-language writers, is triply bad because he was a white male as well as a great writer, so he needs to be taken down a few pegs. For example:

The School Library Journal, which describes itself as “the premier publication for librarians and information specialists who work with children and teens,” joined the fight this year and offered young adult novels as alternatives to Shakespeare.

The librarians also showcased an essay questioning the contemporary value of the playwright responsible for classics such as “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “King Lear.”

“A growing number of educators are … coming to the conclusion that it’s time for Shakespeare to be set aside or deemphasized to make room for modern, diverse, and inclusive voices,” said the essay, titled “To Teach or Not to Teach: Is Shakespeare Still Relevant to Today’s Students?”

“Educators grappling with these questions are teaching, critiquing, questioning, and abandoning Shakespeare’s work, and offering alternatives for updating and enhancing curricula,” it said.

Set aside! Defunded! This reminds me of Professor Philip Ewell, a black professor of music theory at Hunter College in New York, who said this about Beethoven (quoted in the New York Times):

Last April [Ewell] fired a broadside at Beethoven, writing that it would be academically irresponsible to call him more than an “above average” composer. Beethoven, he wrote, “has been propped up by whiteness and maleness for 200 years.”

Check out the link.

And talk about damning with faint praise:

“We believe that Shakespeare, like any other playwright, no more and no less, has literary merit,” wrote Lorena German, a teacher who penned #DisruptingShakespeare and is often engaged in Twitter discussions on the subject. “He is not ‘universal’ in a way that other authors are not. He is not more ‘timeless’ than anyone else.”

You mean that every author is equally timeless? Shakespeare doesn’t speak to us any more than, say, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull? All must have prizes!

Well, I’ll leave out the kvetching about wokeness that also permeates the article; the critics above speak sufficiently to the malaise afflicting the humanities. Anyone who can argue that Shakespeare is no more timeless than anyone else must not only argue that he’s revered simply because he was a heterosexual white male, but must also argue that every other author and playwright who ever lived is just as good as the Bard. And that’s just nuts.

Cancel culture alive and well

February 11, 2021 • 2:15 pm

If you laugh at the idea of a cancel culture, well, here’s a good example. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which I consider an Islamist organization, is trying to cancel tonight’s discussion with Bari Weiss and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, scheduled for the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

CAIR has a petition page where you can sign on to the cancellation (click on screenshot):

The grounds? Hate speech, which apparently doesn’t deserve airing:

CAIR-SFBA, American Muslims, and our allies across the San Francisco Bay Area are calling on the Commonwealth Club to cancel their planned February 11 event featuring anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian speakers Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bari Weiss.

These fringe speakers are contrary to the Club’s mission to seek truth and insight about the issues we face as a society. Both speakers have a shameful track record of propagating Islamophobia, which exacerbates ongoing intolerance and hate towards Muslims, immigrants, and others.

Well, CAIR, Students for Justice in Palestine, and similar organizations, are, in my view, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, and themselves “exacerbate intolerance”, but I wouldn’t for a moment try to stop them from holding events. I’m not sure what “truth” is being effaced by the two speakers, but part of it is probably the religiously-based defensiveness of organizations like CAIR.

Apparently the Commonwealth Club, which seems to be a public-affairs group with a wide range of speakers, agrees with me, for at the bottom of the petition you can read this:

CAIR of course has a right to object to the speakers, and to petition the club to cancel them, but it would have better “optics” if they didn’t try to stifle the voices of everyone they think is “Islamophobic.” I guess Hirsi Ali better bring her bodyguards tonight. . .

h/t: Luana

Publishers’ and authors’ manifesto: We won’t publish books by people who were in the Trump administration

January 19, 2021 • 9:00 am

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.

h/t: cesar

The conundrum of Powell’s Books: affirms free speech but refuses to place anti-Antifa book on its shelves

January 14, 2021 • 9:30 am

The book below is scheduled to be published in about two weeks, which means it’s not even out yet—unless they released it beforehand. It’s by Andy Ngo, a conservative journalist who’s described by Wikipedia as “editor-at-large of The Post Millennial, a Canadian conservative news website”.  We’ve encountered him before in several posts on this site, many of them covering Antifa in a negative light (Ngo is from Portland: Antifa Central); but I haven’t followed his reporting or writing in a long while, and didn’t know that he wrote a book on Antifa. It’s due out February 2.

But although the book hasn’t yet been released, it is in fact #1 among all Amazon books (Obama’s memoir is number 5), so It’s already a bestseller and will haul in a lot of dosh for Ngo. But its Amazon site (click on cover below) is curiously devoid of descriptions, and has no endorsements. That’s highly unusual for a #1-ranked book. I haven’t read it, but I suppose its popularity is due to the public’s increased interest in Antifa, alleged—falsely—to have participated in last week’s storming of the Capitol.

Portland is of course the wokest town in America, and is also home to Powell’s Books, one of America’s best bookstores, which also has a reputation for wokeness. I spent a lot of time in Powell’s on my two visit to Portland, and actually bought some books there despite my own bookshelves being jammed full.  It’s an excellent store. Portland would of course carry Ngo’s bestseller, but it poses a dilemma for them. The town is woke, the bookstore is woke, yet the book is anti-woke and anti-Antifa. What to do?

The good citizens of Portland (and I use that adjective ironically) decided to picket the bookstore—not because it actually had the physical book in its store, but because it was carrying it onlineThere were protests in front of the chain’s flagship store on Sunday and Monday, and eventually they closed the store.  Here are two photos from OregonLive: though it’s not much of a demonstration.

I don’t think Powell’s closed its store to send a message to the protestors so much as to protect its property from Antifa’s well-known propensity to do damage. But they did issue a statement about why they are carrying the book—a statement that asserts Powell’s commitment to free speech but, at the same time, emphasizing that the book is basically against the store’s values and causes “pain” to the community. In other words, Powell’s sent a mixed message, trying to satisfy everyone.

Further, the store has emphasized that it won’t be carrying the physical book in its store: you can get it only by ordering online. That’s part of the mixed message as well. You can see Powell’s high-sounding statement by clicking on the screenshot below.

Now in fact this would be an excellent statement if it didn’t go out of its way to denigrate the book. Here’s a statement from the store’s owner, and there’s more on the site. The emphasis is mine.

Dear Powell’s community,

At Powell’s, a lot of our inventory is hand-selected, and hand-promoted. And a lot of our inventory is not. Unmasked by Andy Ngo came to us via one of our long-term and respected publishers, Hachette Book Group. We list the majority of their catalogue on Powells.com automatically, as do many other independent and larger retailers. We have a similar arrangement with other publishers.

Since Sunday, Powell’s has received hundreds of emails, calls, and social media comments calling for us to remove Unmasked from Powells.com. Demonstrations outside our Burnside store have forced us to close to ensure the safety of employees, protestors, and neighbors. If we need to remain closed, we will not hesitate to do so.

As many of you may be following these events, I want to offer additional context about our decision to allow this book to remain online.

Since the first published texts there have been calls to disown different printed work, and at Powell’s we have a long history of experiencing these calls, and the threats they bring with them, firsthand. Until recently the threats were from those who objected that we carried books written by authors we respected or subjects we supported. The threats were real but we could feel virtuous — we were bringing the written word to the light of day. We could feel proud of our choices, even when the choices created conflict.

Our current fight does not feel virtuous.  It feels ugly and sickening to give any air to writing that could cause such deep pain to members of our community. But we have always sold books that many of us would reject.  We have fought for decades, at Powell’s, for the right of a book to stand on its own. Doing so is one of our core values as booksellers.

In our history we have sold many copies of books we find objectionable. We do that in spite of all the reasons not to, because we believe that making the published word available is an important and crucial step in shedding light on the dark corners of the public discourse. It is actually a leap of faith into the vortex of the power of the written word and our fellow citizens to make sense of it.

That leap of faith is inextricably woven into our existence as Powell’s: faith in our customers is what first propelled us from a small corner store into who we are today.  We recognize that not every reader has good intentions, or will arrive at a writer’s intended destination, but we do believe that faith must extend to our community of readers. That offering the printed word in all its beauty and gore, must ultimately move us forward. As my father says, if your principles are only your principles sometimes, they’re not principles at all.

Read more about our commitment to free speech below.

Warmly,

Emily Powell
President and Owner
Powell’s Books

Get that bit about the book causing “deep pain to members of our community”!  If the book isn’t out yet, and people haven’t read it, then where does the “deep pain” even come from? Presumably from Ngo’s reputation alone. It’s typical of of the censorious Left to demand the banning—for that’s what they want here—of books they haven’t read. In fact, they don’t care what’s in the book; they’re trying to prevent people from reading anything by Ngo. And that is cancel culture.

Now there’s a FAQ section of Powell’s response as well, which has virtuous statements like the following:

Booksellers are not censors. We have the privilege to curate, promote, and act as guides to the books and ideas we value, but it is antithetical to our core mission of free speech to impose limits on what our customers read. At the end of the day, making space for books and readers with whom we disagree is the nonviolent antithesis to the dominant impulse to shout down (or worse) anyone who doesn’t support your worldview, something we see daily on social media and, more terrifyingly, in America’s seats of power. Given the choice between holding our noses over a book and bowing to pressure to begin banning them, we will always choose the former.

and this:

As an independent bookstore, Powell’s believes that it is our responsibility to respect your choice of reading material. We are dedicated to providing a wide array of books, authors, viewpoints, and voices, and our selection is one of the things that sets Powell’s apart from our peers in bookselling. We provide these options out of deference to the First Amendment, but just as importantly, because we believe that exposure to a multiplicity of writing — in fiction and nonfiction alike — facilitates critical thinking and spurs conversation and growth.

That is all good stuff. But why did they have to ruin it by saying stuff like this?:

Why wouldn’t you make an exception to your policy for a book as inflammatory as Unmasked?

Unmasked was written by a provocateur who has made a career of inciting violence over inflammatory and inaccurate ideas that divide people into factions. It is natural that his supporters and detractors have passionate, emotional responses to our carrying his book online.

Talk about inciting violence! That’s Antifa’s modus operandi!

The next question they answer is “Why would you carry books you find deplorable?”, implying that Powell’s does indeed find Ngo’s book deplorable. You can read the answer for yourself.

The most arrant hypocrisy is the failure of the store to carry the physical book so that people can go into the store, look at it, and decide whether to buy it. Now you’re saying, “Well, the Antifa folks would just damage or destroy any physical books on the shelves.” That may be true—and of course shows that Ngo has a point, for exercising censorship is eroding democracy—but Powell’s could always keep the book behind the counter.  Here’s Powell’s unconvincing explanation for why it’s selling the book only online.

Why would you sell the book online but not in stores?

Even a store as large as the City of Books can’t carry every book on the market. To expand our offerings for our customers, Powell’s and many other retailers make their distributors’ and publishing partners’ catalogs available for purchase online. This is how a book like Unmasked, which our buyers did not purchase for the stores, finds its way onto Powells.com.

Yeah, right. They can’t carry the #1 book on Amazon in the store? Who on earth believes that explanation? And of course they could order more copies to sell in the stores. No, they aren’t carrying the book either because they’re afraid of Antifa or because they are exercising some kind of restricted access—censorship. Either alternative bespeaks cowardice and undermines the eloquent defense of free speech given elsewhere in Powell’s statement.

h/t: Mark

Book by election-questioning Republican Josh Hawley canceled by Simon & Schuster

January 8, 2021 • 9:30 am

Which is worse, a Democrat accused of pedophilia or a Republican Senator questioning Biden’s victory? I ask because those of you who thought that Hachette’s cancelation of the book deal it made for Woody Allen’s memoirs—a cancelation I thought was bad form, as the publisher caved to its employees, and of course there was no evidence for the accusations against Allen—might ask yourself the same question about Simon & Schuster’s new cancelation of an upcoming book by Josh Hawley.

Yes, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) was one of those morons who was going to officially call for an audit of the election this week.  That was unconscionable, and made doubly bad by this report, taken from Wikipedia:

Before the counting of the votes, to which Hawley had publicly announced he would object, he saluted the protestors and rioters with a fist pump as he walked outside the Capitol.

Nevertheless, does he bear responsibility for what happened at the Capitol two days ago? I would be reluctant to ascribe to him responsibility for those attacks, for I hold Trump (and the protestors themselves) responsible. Trump incited the violence, not Hawley or the other 12 misguided Senators. You can say, well, their actions helped fire up the protestors, but so did a lot of other Republican actions. This was a long time in the making, and the fomenting of Republican ire was done by many.

Nevertheless, Simon & Schuster, clearly objecting to Hawley’s actions and his politics, have canceled plans for his new book, which wasn’t really about politics but the tech industry. The New York Times has an article about the cancelation (click on screenshot):

Just a few quotes and I’ll sum up:

Simon & Schuster said on Thursday that it would cancel the publication of an upcoming book by Senator Josh Hawley, one of several members of Congress who tried to overturn the results of the presidential election.

Mr. Hawley, a Missouri Republican and Trump ally, has been criticized for challenging the results and accused of helping incite the mob that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday. His book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” was scheduled to be published in June.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Simon & Schuster said in a statement. “As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: At the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat.”

But his role, misguided as it was, was legal, and within the bounds of the Constitution. This leads to the question, which the Times poses, of the role of publishers in an America sharply divided along political lines. Books by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump Jr. (Hachette author), Sean Hannity (and you could argue that he helped work up Republicans), and Tucker Carlson (ditto) have been published by major houses, and ten to one somebody will snap up Trump’s ghostwritten memoirs, Triumphs of the Ill, after he leaves office. (Yes, I made up the title.)

The Times reports as well that “the escalation of the rhetoric from the president and some of his supporters in recent weeks has likely changed the calculus for editors and publishers who are wary of provoking a backlash from readers and employees.” In other words, they lack spine. But the job of all good publishers—except for religious and explicitly political ones—is not just to make money or push a favored ideology, for most of them know that most of their books won’t turn a profit. Many publishers and editors simply love books because they love speech, discussion, and ideas. Further, as I said, Hawley’s book wasn’t about politics, so he’s being punished for his political beliefs and actions:

The subject of Mr. Hawley’s book, which was already available for preorder on Amazon and other retailers, is not about the election or Mr. Trump, but about technology corporations like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Does what Hawley think still deserve to be heard after what he did? Yes, I think so, though I won’t read his book—the subject doesn’t interest me.

Of course Simon & Schuster have a right, or so I think, to cancel the book (it depends on what was in the book contract), but I don’t think they should have. Although convicted criminals can still publish books, even about their crimes, sometimes the law forbids them to profit from their crimes. That’s what happened with this book, written by O. J. Simpson (notice the small “if” in the title), who wasn’t convicted of murder but lost a civil suit (the $600,000 Simpson was reportedly paid went to the Goldman family).

So, much as I dislike Republicans and despise those who sought to overturn an already-certified election, I don’t call for all of their books to be canceled or rejected from now on. Publishers have the right to reject them—there’s no First Amendment right to have your book published—but it’s arrant cowardness, and against the unwritten code of good publishers, to cancel a book simply because you don’t like the politics of the authors.

If this is truly to be a time of healing, as Joe Biden emphasizes so often, we can’t continue to dehumanize our political opponents. Perhaps (and this may be likely) our reaching out may be sufficiently rebuffed that we can leave them alone completely. But we shouldn’t cancel their books, accost them in restaurants, or insult them in public. I think we should be better than that.

Abigail Shrier, whose book about overly hasty gender reassignment, Irreversible Damage, was also temporarily canceled by chain stores, had this to say:

Now I’m not sure about the legality of refusing these services to people whose politics you don’t like; it seems to me like illegal discrimination.  Lawyers should weigh in here. And, as I said, a publisher is under no obligation to publish a book by someone the editors don’t like. But if they deem the book worth publishing initially, which is decided when a contract is issued, then short of stuff like plagiarism or similar circumstances, the book still deserves to be published.

I’m sure others might object, but I don’t need a second; my own opinion is enough for me. (You know the rest. . .)

Disinvitations and disinvitation attempts, 2019-2020: 70% of the censorship comes from the Left

December 30, 2020 • 9:45 am

I decided to go back through the last two years of the Disinvitation Database from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) to see how free speech and its suppression was faring on campus.  Their records of deplatformingsdisinvitations, and censorship attempts began in 1998, and now number 465.

FIRE’s “disinvitations” fall into three categories:

The term “disinvitation incident” is used to describe the controversies on campus that arise throughout the year whenever segments of the campus community demand that an invited speaker not be allowed to speak (as opposed to merely expressing disagreement with, or even protesting, an invited speaker’s views or positions). We make a distinction between an attempt to censor a speaker and the actual end result of a speaker not speaking. “Disinvitation incidents” is the broadest category, including “unsuccessful disinvitation attempts” and “successful disinvitations.”

Not only are unsuccessful disinvitation attempts increasing, but so too are successful disinvitations, which fall into three categories:

  1. Formal disinvitation from the speaking engagement, such as the revocation of Robin Steinberg’s invitation to address Harvard Law School students.

  2. Withdrawal by the speaker in the face of disinvitation demands, as demonstrated by Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University.

  3. Heckler’s vetoes,” in which students or faculty persistently disrupt or entirely prevent the speakers’ ability to speak, illustrated by the case of Ray Kelly at Brown University. These incidents are labeled as “substantial event disruption.”

For each incident, FIRE gives the year, the school, name of the speaker, the kind of campus event, what the controversy was about, whether it was true “disinvitation” rather than an attempt to censor the speaker (i.e., a petition to disinvite), whether the impetus for the censorship came from the Right of the Left of the speaker (or information wasn’t available [“N/A”), and a link to the details. As I’ve reported before, when the data began in 1998, there was a fairly even distribution of censorship attempts from the Right versus the Left. That has now changed: the bulk of disinvitations come from pressure by the Left. But, as I show below, if you look at all the data, the last two years seem to mirror the overall 22-year fact that the Left exerts the bulk of campus censorship.

For the records from 2019 and 2020, go here, here, and here.

Here are the overall data beginning in 1998 (465 incidents):

Disinvitations from the Left:  283
Disinvitations from the Right: 129
Disinvitations whose origin was politically unidentifiable: 53
Percentage of politically identifiable disinvitations from the Left: 68.7%

The 2019-2020 data follow recent trends:

Disinvitations from the Left:  35
Disinvitations from the Right: 15
Disinvitations whose origin was politically unidentifiable: 10
Percentage of politically identifiable disinvitations from the Left: 70%

I guess, then, that, contrary to my impression, the degree of censorship coming from the Left hasn’t changed much.

As in most recent years, the Left is the end of the spectrum trying to censor speakers, but of course most students and faculty on American campuses are on the Left.

Here are a few instances of people you might know of, mostly involving disinvitations. (Go to the original entry and click on “view” to get the details.)

A few notes on reasons for disinvitations and censorship:

Stanley Fish: “Faculty committee cancelled speech by author Stanley Fish in the wake of student protests demanding that the university English department focus more on racial issues.”

Bob Kerry: “Former Nebraska Democrat Senator and governor Bob Kerry withdrew from commencement speech at University of Nebraska-Lincoln after the Nebraska Republican Party called for his disinvitation over his support of abortion rights.”

Jane Fonda: “Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose calls on Kent State University to disinvite actress Jane Fonda from giving commencement address over her criticism of the military.”

Ivanka Trump: “University president Jay Golden canceled commencement speech by Ivanka Trump in response to calls criticizing her selection as speaker in the wake of President Trump’s comments on protests over the homicide of George Floyd.”

Elizabeth Loftus: Given the nature of the reasons, I suspect that “From the Left” is probably more accurate than N/A: “Cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus disinvited from New York University lecture series by NYU administration after serving as an expert witness for the defense during the Harvey Weinstein trial.”

Lori Lightfoot: This surprised me as she is our liberal black mayor of Chicago, and yet the Left at Northwestern tried to censor her. Reason:  “Petition to disinvite Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot over alleged misconduct of Chicago’s police officers.”

Note that many of these schools are public universities, and thus are legally required to abide by the First Amendment. That means that they cannot cancel speakers or disrupt their talks. The fact that this happens means that the speakers either aren’t trying to sue the schools or can’t be arsed to do so. (Of course some speakers withdrew before speaking.)

Beyond that, the data are embarrassing to all of us who consider ourselves on the Left. We are supposed to be the side in favor of free speech. But if you’ve learned anything from this site, censorship flows largely from The Woke, who constitute a moiety of the Left.

The New York Times celebrates a cancellation

December 28, 2020 • 10:45 am

Let me get this straight at the outset: in my view, nobody should use the “n-word”, except perhaps in quoting its use in literature or for didactic reasons. Yes, black people use it as a term of fraternity or affection, but I learned from Grania that if the word is to disappear from use, everyone has to stop using it.  It’s almost as if Jews were allowed to call each other “kikes” and “Hebes” but other people weren’t. (We don’t do that.) But at the very least, white people have to stop using it in non-academic circumstances.

So I think that when 15 year old high-school student Mimi Groves of Leesburg, Virginia was filmed in a three-second video four years ago, saying “I can drive, n—–“, (she’d just gotten her learner’s permit), she should have kept her mouth shut. But she didn’t, and now is suffering the consequences. In my view, those consequences are completely disproportionate to this one statement, and yet the New York Times implicitly sees her as having got her just deserts, despite lacking any further evidence of racism in her behavior. In the piece below, it looks as if they’re celebrating her cancellation.

You can see what caused all the fuss at the beginning of this video, which shows what Groves said, with the offending word bleeped out:

As this article recounts (click on screenshot), one of Groves’s friends, a half black student named Jimmy Galligan—who was sick of racism in Leesburg—got hold of that video, held onto it, and waited until the time when making it public would do the most damage to Groves. Then he did the deed, and social media did the rest. The time was after Groves had been admitted to her dream college. Groves was first taken off the cheerleading squad at the University of Tennessee, and then the college asked her to withdraw. It was all because of those three seconds and that one word.

According to the article, both Leesburg and Galligan’s and Groves’s high school were permeated with racism attitudes, and, this being Virginia, I have no reason to doubt that. Galligan, frustrated with the racism and his futile attempts to alleviate it, decided to use the video of Groves as a form of punishment, even though the two were friendly:

The slur, [Galligan] said, was regularly hurled in classrooms and hallways throughout his years in the Loudoun County school district. He had brought the issue up to teachers and administrators but, much to his anger and frustration, his complaints had gone nowhere.

So he held on to the video, which was sent to him by a friend, and made a decision that would ricochet across Leesburg, Va., a town named for an ancestor of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee and whose school system had fought an order to desegregate for more than a decade after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.

“I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” Mr. Galligan, 18, whose mother is Black and father is white, said of the classmate who uttered the slur, Mimi Groves. He tucked the video away, deciding to post it publicly when the time was right.

The time was when Groves had decided where she wanted to go to college: the University of Tennessee (UT).  Galligan then shared the Snapchat video to several social media platforms even though by that time Groves was making statements in favor of Black Lives Matter.  And by that time she’d been admitted to UT and had apparently also made its famous cheerleading team (a dream of hers), even though she hadn’t started going there yet. The story continues with the now-familiar social media mobbing.

The next month, as protests were sweeping the nation after the police killing of George Floyd, Ms. Groves, in a public Instagram post, urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. [JAC: Note that this is before she knew that the video was spreading.]

“You have the audacity to post this, after saying the N-word,” responded someone whom Ms. Groves said she did not know.

Her alarm at the stranger’s comment turned to panic as friends began calling, directing her to the source of a brewing social media furor. Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

And she was cancelled; or rather, kicked off the cheerleading team and then had her offer of admission to UT rescinded:

The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.

“They’re angry, and they want to see some action,” an admissions official told Ms. Groves and her family, according to a recording of the emotional call reviewed by The New York Times.

Ms. Groves was among many incoming freshmen across the country whose admissions offers were revoked by at least a dozen universities after videos emerged on social media of them using racist language.

The rest of the article is devoted to describing the atmosphere of racism in the Leesburg schools, which does seems pretty dire and reprehensible. The n-word was used often, and black students were disciplined disproportionately.  The NYT describes this atmosphere in detail, and one can’t help but feel that the racism of Leesburg, not of Mimi Groves, is the real subject of the article. That’s fine, except that Groves’s rescinded offer, for using one word in a three-second video, is characterized as “retribution” for that racism. There’s no other record of Groves’s behaving or speaking in a racist way; she is serving as the scapegoat for the whole atmosphere of racism in Leesburg. And yet the NYT says things like this, which seem gratuitous:

Ms. Groves, who just turned 19, lives with her parents and two siblings in a predominantly white and affluent gated community built around a golf course.

Is Groves a racist? I wouldn’t call her one despite the use of that word four years ago. For she has no history of racism, and was taught to despite the attitude. Would a racist put up a post asking people to support Black Lives Matter?

Here’s some more from the article:

On a recent day, [Mimi] sat outside on the deck with her mother, Marsha Groves, who described how the entire family had struggled with the consequences of the very public shaming.

“It honestly disgusts me that those words would come out of my mouth,” Mimi Groves said of her video. “How can you convince somebody that has never met you and the only thing they’ve ever seen of you is that three-second clip?”

Ms. Groves said racial slurs and hate speech were not tolerated by her parents, who had warned their children to never post anything online that they would not say in person or want their parents and teachers to read.

But there’s no stopping the mob. I emphasize again that Mimi Groves used a racial slur, and should not have. But should she have suffered the loss of a college admission four years later? It was not as if her whole life had been an act of racism.

More:

Once the video went viral, the backlash was swift, and relentless. A photograph of Ms. Groves, captioned with a racial slur, also began circulating online, but she and her parents say someone else wrote it to further tarnish her reputation. On social media, people tagged the University of Tennessee and its cheer team, demanding her admission be rescinded. Some threatened her with physical violence if she came to the university campus. The next day, local media outlets in Virginia and Tennessee published articles about the uproar.

. . .The day after the video went viral, Ms. Groves tried to defend herself in tense calls with the university. But the athletics department swiftly removed Ms. Groves from the cheer team. And then came the call in which admissions officials began trying to persuade her to withdraw, saying they feared she would not feel comfortable on campus.

The university declined to comment about Ms. Groves beyond a statement it issued on Twitter in June, in which officials said they took seriously complaints about racist behavior.

Ms. Groves’s parents, who said their daughter was being targeted by a social media “mob” for a mistake she made as an adolescent, urged university officials to assess her character by speaking with her high school and cheer coaches. Instead, admissions officials gave her an ultimatum: withdraw or the university would rescind her offer of admission.

“We just needed it to stop, so we withdrew her,” said Mrs. Groves, adding that the entire experience had “vaporized” 12 years of her daughter’s hard work. “They rushed to judgment and unfortunately it’s going to affect her for the rest of her life.”

Now Groves goes to a community college online in California, and yes, her life has been severely affected. I suspect that’s exactly what Mr. Galligan wanted, and why he waited to release the video when it could do maximum damage to Groves.

My take: Groves spoke thoughtlessly, but showed no other evidence of racism, and even apologized before the video became public. Galligan could have discussed it with her personally, which is the way I would handle it if someone called me a “kike”.  And the University of Tennessee could have simply asked Groves to issue a public apology, mirroring the one described below, without kicking her out of the school. More from the article: 

One of Ms. Groves’s friends, who is Black, said Ms. Groves had personally apologized for the video long before it went viral. Once it did in June, the friend defended Ms. Groves online, prompting criticism from strangers and fellow students. “We’re supposed to educate people,” she wrote in a Snapchat post, “not ruin their lives all because you want to feel a sense of empowerment.”

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

I’m sorry, but although Galligan certainly experienced offensive behavior because he’s half black, his behavior towards Groves was not admirable. He did what Cancel Culture dictates: rather than fix the situation by talking with his friend, he decided to ruin her life. As Mimi’s friend said, “We’re supposed to educate people, not ruin their lives. . ” Had Groves shown a pattern of racist behavior throughout high school, that would be another thing—but she didn’t. There is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation, and that time was before Galligan released his video. He is not a person I admire, though I sympathize with the racism he experienced.

I’m not the only one who feels that the NYT doesn’t see anything wrong with this incident. By going into the racism of the entire town, describing Grave’s home as “in a predominantly white community”, and detailing incidents in local schools that did not involves Groves, it make Groves implicitly complicit in the racism.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines “reckoning” this way (the only definition relevant to the use above):

6. The settlement of accounts or differences between parties; the settling of scores or grievances; an instance of this.

Were scores really “settled”? Did Groves receive her just deserts for using that word in 2016? Why choose a headline like that?

Well, you can judge for yourself.  As for me, I think that Galligan behaved very poorly in trying to ruin somebody’s life, and that the New York Times thinks that that’s just fine. Here are two people who agree with me (I wouldn’t call Galligan a “psychopath”; that word is too strong):

Scott Greenfield has a blog post about it, linked in his tweet below.

Two things that Cancel Culture needs—besides engaging with ideas rather than trying to destroy people—are some compassion and a sense of proportionality. And if you don’t think that Cancel Culture exists, you’re sorely mistaken, for that’s what took down Mimi Groves.

An absorbing discussion of cancel culture

December 26, 2020 • 11:00 am

If all the articles that were given “Sidney Awards” by New York Times columnist David Brooks this week are as engaging at the one below, then you should read every one. Here we have author Jonathan Rauch, who wrote a prescient book about free speech in 1993, being interviewed by Nick Gillespie, editor at large of Reason.com, where this piece appears. The interview’s about free speech and cancel culture, and is one of the best things I’ve seen written about that culture.

Rauch has been following suppression of speech since this book, which Rauch wrote after what he deemed the true beginning of cancel culture: the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses (click for the Amazon link; the book is not at all cheap but the reviews are excellent):

Two more points before we look at the piece. First, it’s not surprising that Brooks, swimming against the current of his own paper, would praise an article so vehemently hard-line about free speech and so opposed to cancel culture—a culture that of course is instantiated by the NYT in stuff like the firing of James Bennet and the rousting of Bari Weiss. Brooks went to the University of Chicago, and now serves on its powerful Board of Trustees, and of course we’re famous for freedom of expression. The University Chicago uses its famed free-expression principles, like the Kalven Report and the “Chicago principles” for free expression, to sell our school to undergraduates and their parents.

Second, we saw Gillespie just the other day, for he interviewed Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU, in a piece I highlighted.

Now lots of people reject the idea of “cancel culture” as a neologism that isn’t new. It is, they say, simply the same kind of criticism that people have always leveled at their political, moral, and ideological opponents. But they’re wrong, and Rauch tells us why. For cancel culture has little to do with criticism or constructive engagement: its signs, say Raugh—and he’s surely right—show that it’s a form of destructive disengagement.

Or, they say, “you can’t cancel somebody like Steve Pinker—he’s famous and well off from his books.” And it’s true: Pinker has too many admirers to ever be shoved into perdition. But that’s not the point: the point is that we now have a kind of culture that tries to dismiss him without engaging his ideas. Indeed—and this is a point Rauch makes in general—many of those who go after Pinker haven’t even read his books. (They’re too long for the Offended, anyway.)

But click on the screenshot below to read the whole interview, as I’ll quote only a small part of it (indented):

Rauch begins by drawing a crucial distinction between cancel culture and criticism:

Here’s what I think canceling is and why it’s different from criticism—because people always say, “Look, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. People are criticizing Jonathan Rauch. He doesn’t like it, so he calls it canceling.” Criticism is expressing an argument or opinion with the idea of rationally influencing public opinion through public persuasion, interpersonal persuasion.

Canceling comes from the universe of propaganda and not critical discourse. It’s about organizing or manipulating a social environment or a media environment with a goal or predictable effect of isolating, deplatforming, or intimidating an ideological opponent. It’s about shaping the battlefield. It’s about making an idea or a person socially radioactive. It is not about criticism. It is not about ideas.

The people who went after Rushdie had never read The Satanic Verses and were proud of it. In a typical cancel campaign today, you’ll hear the activists say, “I didn’t read the thing. I don’t need to read the thing to know that it’s colonialist or racist.” They’re not using physical murder now. They’re using a kind of social murder of making it very difficult for someone to have a job, for example—to lose their career, or to endanger all their friends. That, of course, is not physical violence, but if you’ve interviewed people who have been subject to it, and I have, you know that it is emotionally and professionally devastating.

And you can immediately think of people who have been “canceled” by those who haven’t either read them or haven’t engaged with their ideas. In just under two minutes I made a list of several examples; here are some. The common factor is that instead of discussing their contentions, the Offended call them names, dismissing them as “racists”, “transphobes”, “misogynists”, “Islamophobes”, and so on:

J. K. Rowling
James Damore
Heather Mac Donald
Charles Murray
Abigail Schrier
James Abbott
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Christina Hoff Sommers

Feel free to add your own list below. It runs on much longer.

And so on. It’s enlightening to look through the FIRE “disinvitation database” to see attempts to cancel speakers—mostly, but not always, with those cancellation attempts coming from the Left.

I can’t say I agree with all or even most of what these people say, but I do maintain that they should at least be heard. People like Murray, for example, get deplatformed when scheduling talks that have absolutely nothing to do with The Bell Curve. 

Rauch also gives a list which is like the DSM of psychology: if you see two or three of these six symptoms, then someone’s getting canceled:

First: Is the intent of the campaign punitive? Are you trying to punish the person and take away their job, their livelihood, and their friends?

Second: Is the intent or predictable outcome of the campaign to deplatform someone and to get them out of the position that they hold where they can speak/be heard and out of any other such position?

Third: Is the tactic being used grandstanding? Is it not talking to the person about their point of view? Is it basically virtue signaling, posturing, denunciation, and sort of ritual in nature?

Fourth: Is it organized? Is it in fact a campaign? Is it a swarm? Do you have people out there saying, as is often the case, “We’ve got to get Nick Gillespie off the air” or “We’ve got to get this asshole fired”? If it’s organized, then it’s canceling. It’s not criticism.

Fifth: A certain sign of canceling is secondary boycotts. Is the campaign targeting not only the individual but anyone who has anything to do with the individual? Are they not only saying, “We think what Nick Cannon is saying on the air is inappropriate”; are they going after the company by saying to boycott it? Are they going after his friends and professional acquaintances? If there’s a secondary boycott to inspire fear so that no one wants to have anything to do with the guy for the fear that they’d be targeted, that’s canceling.

Sixth: Is it indifferent to truth? Well-meaning criticism is often wrong, but if it’s wrong, you’re supposed to say, “Oh, gee. I’m sorry that was wrong.” You’re supposed to pay attention to facts. Cancelers don’t. They’ll pick through someone’s record over a period of 20 years and find six items which they can use against them. This is what literally happened to [Harvard psychologist] Steve Pinker. [JAC: See my analysis of this “cancellation” attempt here.] Tear them out of context and distort them, and if they’re corrected on them, they’ll just find six other items. That’s not criticism. That’s canceling. These are weapons of propaganda.

Rauch correctly sees these items lying on a cancellation continuum, so it’s a matter of taste whether you decide that someone’s in the cancellation crosshairs. But you can see that most of these symptoms center around something relatively new in intellectual circles: not criticism, but demonization and, often, attempts to ruin someone’s career. For sometimes a cancellation mob can also contain a few people who actually engage with the target’s ideas, while most are just a bunch of hounds baying for the hunters. Is that “cancellation” or not. Who knows, and who cares?  But you can see that Rauch has thought a lot about these issues.

I’ll give just one more item: Rauch’s views on the “harm” argument—the claim that speech must be restricted because it causes emotional damage. That, argues Rauch (and I hadn’t thought of this) derives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 1989/1990 definition of a “hostile workplace”, which is properly seen as illegal. But that has been taken up by college students, and now the greater public—including the New York Times‘s employees, who helped get rid of Bennet because the editorial he ran created an “unsafe environment” for some staffers—to weaponize any kind of offensive speech.

Rauch:

The emotional safety argument is at the core of what’s going on. In the book I’m writing, I give it no quarter at all. The emotional safety argument, I argue, is fundamentally illiberal, and there is really nothing about it that can be salvaged. It is just inconsistent with the open society. The reason for that is it says that the most sensitive pair of ears in the room gets to decide what everyone else gets to hear or what everyone else gets to say.

The notion here is that emotional injury is a kind of harm like physical injury, and because it’s a kind of harm it’s a rights violation. The problem is this is a completely subjective standard, and it makes any form of criticism potentially subject to censorship and cancellation and lumps science into a human rights violation.

. . .And colleges adopted it. We haven’t talked about universities. We probably should. That’s the other big arm of cancel culture. Colleges adopted it, and it took the form of, “Well, you’re creating a hostile environment for students if you say oppressive and discriminatory things.” That led to a series of things like formal speech codes. It also led to this notion of “a hostile environment is an unsafe environment.”

If you have to have a safe environment, then you have to proactively scrub the environment of microaggressions, offensive and bigoted statements, and anything else that might cause the environment to become unsafe. That’s a doctrine which has, even conceptually, no conceivable limits. That’s where we wound up.

What starts in colleges infects the wider culture, so it’s worth paying attention to what’s happening with undergraduates. This is one reason I spend so much time reading about college speech, and trying to prevent my own school—once the Gold Standard for free expression—from going down the drain along with Evergreen State, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Haverford, and just about every nonreligious liberal-arts school in America.

Rauch spends a lot of time worrying about how to respond to students who want to cancel others—those students who admonish him to “check his privilege.” In the end, like John McWhorter, he doesn’t see the sense in engaging these folks, but recommends appealing to those who still are persuadable. This resembles arguing with creationists, whose minds are almost never changed, but there’s still a subset of Americans capable of being persuaded by scientific evidence.

Rauch considers several alternative responses, and comes up with this:

The answer that I finally settled on. . . was: “It doesn’t matter all that much what you say to them, because they’re not listening. That’s what they’re telling you. They’re not listening. What matters is that you not shut up. They do not have the power to silence you if you do not allow yourself to be silenced. Insist on your right to continue the conversation to say what you want to say. Don’t slink away. You won’t necessarily persuade those people, but, as we found in the gay marriage debate, your real target is that third person on the periphery of the circle of the conversation who is seeing one person acting rationally and reasonably and other people acting irrationally and unreasonably. You’re probably winning the heart and mind of that third person, so don’t shut up.”

Yep, we shouldn’t shut up.

As we see above, Rauch is writing a new book, and there’s been so much water under the bridge since 1993 that it’ll be well worth reading.