A disturbing tale of R. Crumb vs. fragile students, and the demonization of a professor

November 13, 2022 • 9:45 am

I usually think of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) as a “woke-ish” site, but there’s nothing pro-woke about artist Phoebe Goeckner’s description of how horribly she was treated when teaching “graphic art novels” and alternative comic-book art (e.g., R. Crumb) at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Click to read:

There’s nothing, it seems, that you can teach about such “alternative” comics/graphic art that isn’t offensive, particularly when you remember this stuff began in the Sixties as a reaction to anodyne comics.  R. Crumb, who, yes, sexualized women and dealt with fraught topics, was nevertheless wildly popular, especially because he was heterodox. And of course his work didn’t result in a whole generation of hippies that hated women.

Nevertheless, Glockener was repeatedly criticized by students, who complained to the administration, and was investigated by two offices involve with diversity and equity. An art exhibit she was invited to give at a local institute was canceled because of this controversy, as was a TEDx talk she was invited to give.

The article is long, and I won’t describe it in detail, but I’ll show a few images that incited student protest and got Glockner in trouble. Her comments are indented:

But in 2020, we were all “sheltering in place” because of the pandemic, and I was teaching on Zoom. The students Googled Robert Crumb before I could say much to contextualize his work. They immediately raised their voices in protest. Quoting from what they read, they insisted that Crumb was a “racist” and a “misogynist.” One student cried out that he had been accused of rape. Several insisted that showing any of his work was “hurtful.” They said I was “harming” the class.

I was taken aback. Comics are fundamentally a provocative medium, and Crumb is a provocative artist, but I didn’t think I had shown an especially offensive image. Crumb and his work have been the target of both high praise and bitter criticism for years, but before that moment, most of the students knew nothing about him — and seemed unwilling to question what they had read about him on the internet. Moreover, Crumb is a central figure in the history of comics. He can’t be written out of the books.

That’s for sure!  And if you’ve read Crumb (I have a collection of his comics) or seen the highly acclaimed movie about him and his dysfunctional family (“Crumb“, 1985, described by Gene Siskel as “the best movie of the year”), you’ll know that a lot of Crumb’s art involved working out his own psychological hangups, which happened to be a lot of readers’ psychological hangups, too. But don’t forget his greatest creation, the faux-guru Mr. Natural:

Mr. Natural, clearly a satire on the “enlightenment” that we all were seeking in the Sixties:

Below is another cover that got Glockener in trouble when she showed it:

As I searched for particular comics covers, I forgot that I was sharing my screen. The students watched as multiple images flashed by, images I planned to share later in the semester. One of them was the cover of Young Lust #5 (1977), featuring a Red Guard couple in a suggestive embrace.

The Young Lust series satirized romance comics of the 1940s-60s. This particular cover is a teaser for Jay Kinney’s Red Guard Romance, a love story set in Communist China during the Cultural Revolution. The story, dedicated to Zhou Yang, an early supporter of Mao’s who was later imprisoned, is a humorous critique of the Communist government’s oppressive methods of controlling behavior. Kinney satirizes the representations of cheering Mao supporters omnipresent in Cultural Revolution propaganda.

When the Young Lust cover came into view, one student raised the alarm: “Why are you showing us even more racist images?” The cover, the student said, “sexualized Asian women.”

Yes, if you’re determined to be offended, you can see this satire as racist (after all, there are Chinese people there), and “sexualizing Asian women” (no, it satirized Chinese culture during the Cultural Revolution). But I suspect the students didn’t know abut the Cultural Revolution, much less the red book the woman’s holding.

Gloeckner apologized, and her attempt to make amends by telling the students to watch the movie “Crumb” (95% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes), “failed miserably”.  The students formed an “R. Crumb Hate Corner”, which was really a Gloeckner hate corner, and then observed her daily and carefully, looking for further missteps. There were a few—but not serious ones nor ones that stemmed from racism or transphobia. But they were enough to inspire an article in The Michigan Daily demonizing her:

One of these students sent me screenshots from the Hate Corner throughout the semester. It soon became clear that the chat was not about Robert Crumb. It was about me. The “haters” were watching me carefully, waiting for me to slip up so they could add ammo to a document they were preparing, “Complaints Against Phoebe.” One day after class, two of my confidential informants shared their screen over Zoom and scrolled through the document, which described a plan to report me to the art-school administration. There was one statement that stood out to me, which I paraphrase here because I don’t have the document, something along the lines of: Let’s get this one right. We failed with the other professor — let’s do this one by the book. I inferred that they had attempted to bring charges against another teacher, without the desired outcome. Now they would try to get me, and make it stick.

This past May, a year and a half later, I received an email from an investigative reporter for The Michigan Daily, a student-run paper. She invited me to respond to a list of allegations against me, including: failure to use trigger warnings, exposing students to racist material, misgendering students, and demonstrating that I was a racist by confounding two names. Also included was an inflammatory accusation from someone outside the university who claimed I had kissed them on the forehead and whispered in their ear, “You are a dog.”

Where did such charges come from? Some were rooted in truth, however ungenerously construed. Early in the semester, after showing the Crumb image and before learning everyone’s name, I had apparently mixed up two students with Hispanic surnames. A screenshot from the R. Crumb Hate Corner claimed that this faux pas was inexcusable and proved that I was a racist. I’ve been working on a project in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, for 15 years. This allegation was so far from the truth that I could barely make sense of it.

Another day, I inadvertently misgendered a trans student, whom I had known the previous semester when they used a different pronoun. I immediately apologized. Screenshots followed.

I felt under siege.

The usual administrative investigation followed, involving both the Office of Institutional Equity and The Office of Diversity Equality and Inclusion (why are these separate offices?). Fortunately, these investigations were eventually dropped.  But the damage was done. All the complaints were added to her personnel file, her teaching had been permanently affected, and some opportunities were canceled. These included an invitation to give a TEDxUofM talk that was later withdrawn.

Gloeckner’s latest work was a series of miniatures based on her years of work in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, with photos like these:

The illustrated novel I’m working on now can’t be described as traditional “comics.” Based upon fact, experience, and research, it is about several families and a neighborhood in Ciudad Juárez, directly across the U.S. border.

I’ve drawn the images in my previous books with pen and ink. For my current project, I constructed miniature scenes and photographed them. Frustrated by my physical distance from the place and the people I’m writing about, I began building parts of Ciudad Juárez in my studio. I built replicas of houses I had visited, trying faithfully to reproduce interior and exterior details. The floor of my studio was covered in sand. I constructed dolls to populate the streets and buildings. The process of making all these things made me feel closer to the story. It was something of a spiritual ritual; I was recreating a particular place as it appeared at a particular time, and I no longer felt so distant. I could walk the streets of Anapra day or night, because they lived with me.

And for that she got this:

In 2018, the University of Michigan International Institute had invited me to exhibit a work in progress in its gallery. Several weeks before the exhibit was to open, I received an email from the International Institute describing some “strong concerns” about my project expressed by a group of professors in the Latina/o-studies program, who wished to remain anonymous to me. The program had been asked to co-sponsor the exhibit, a request which it declined.

The professors had been sent a brief description of the work along with two or three images. Based on this material, they voiced concern that “the miniaturization or infantilization of the Mexican body through the use of dolls could be trivializing and upsetting to some people”; they “worry that the scenes depicted might reinscribe negative racial stereotypes.”

Other remarks in the letter focused on the “demonization of Mexicans in national rhetoric” and the potential for “retraumatization” that the work, about a violent era in Juárez, might present. These concerns led this group of anonymous faculty members to conclude that the work should not be exhibited.

Although the identity of the writers was concealed from me, I responded to the director of the Latina/o-studies program, extending an invitation to those interested to visit my studio for a discussion of the project. I never got a response.

Miniaturization or infantilization of the Mexican body my tuchas!  Did they want full-sized sculptures?

Demonization of graphic novels isn’t limited to the Left, either:

Meanwhile, off campus, right-wingers are trying to get books like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Jerry Craft’s New Kid removed from school libraries. Although I wouldn’t say that I have faced a concerted effort to curtail free speech, I have heard one message unambiguously: Education is a safer occupation for those willing to limit their speech by excluding certain material. That would make it impossible to teach the history of comics.

Again, I’m surprised that a long plaint like this was published in the CHE, but it’s good that they did. Not that this will stop the Pecksniffs, but one lesson we learned, as we learned from the cancellation of Carole Hooven at Harvard, is that this stuff could be stopped in its tracks if college administrations had any spine, standing up for academic freedom. There is simply nothing wrong in what Gloeckner taught; the problem was the generation of fragile and easily offended students who cannot deal with anything challenging, and with the invertebrate administrators who feel they have to cater to the students because, after all, education is now a form of consumerism. Here’s Gloeckner’s ending:

I was hired because of the creative work I’ve done, and there was a time when I was happy to share my work and the work of artists I admire with my students. The art that interests me, as well as my own art, is messy. As in life, ugliness and beauty coexist. Some might feel the need for a trigger warning on nearly every page.

I now avoid talking about my work unless students ask me about it. I’m not proud of this.

Sundance and others cancel a talented filmmaker for “Islamophobia” and “white saviorism”

September 25, 2022 • 1:20 pm

This story is extremely disturbing as an exemplar of cancel culture. It’s the story about how a woman made a documentary about Muslims who, having been accused of terrorism, were sent from Guantanamo to a “terrorism rehab facility” in Saudi Arabia. The director of the film, originally called “Jihad Rehab” (now named “The UnRedacted”), found four of the “rehabilitated” willing to tell their stories on film, and, according to nearly all accounts, the film is good (it has a 75% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes). It was so well done that it was invited to the 2022 Sundance Festival. That was a great honor for the young director, Meg Smaker.

But then the problems surfaced, promoted by Muslims and the Woke on social media. There were two issues:

1.) Smaker is a white woman. Being white, argued the critics, how could she possibly have the understanding needed to make a film about Muslim men? (It took her 16 months of filming.) She was accused of being a “white savior”.

2.) The film is about Muslim terrorists. Muslims and especially many “progressives” on the Left shy away from that aspect of Islamism. Palestinian terrorism, for example, is nearly always minimized by MSM on the Left.

The result, documented in this longish New York Times piece (click on screenshot below) was that Smaker was canceled in a very real sense—deprived of her livelihood. Although Sundance did show her film, the backlash soon came from social media. The film’s executive director, who had initially called the film “freaking brilliant”, apologized in the most groveling and pathetic letter you can imagine. The letter of apology was written by Abigail Disney, a grandniece of Walt Disney, and you can read it here. It is pathetic, cringe-making, reprehensible, and disgusting.  Smaker can’t get her film publicized or shown, and, after being demonized and called an “Islamophobe”, she’s nearly broke.

I recommend reading this article to understand how Progressive Authoritarianism is ruining our culture:

Indented text is from the NYT article.

Smaker’s background:

Ms. Smaker was a 21-year-old firefighter in California when airplanes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. She heard firefighters cry for vengeance and wondered: How did this happen?

Looking for answers, she hitchhiked through Afghanistan and settled in the ancient city of Sana, Yemen, for half a decade, where she learned Arabic and taught firefighting. Then she obtained a master’s from Stanford University in filmmaking and turned to a place Yemeni friends had spoken of: the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Center in Riyadh.

The Saudi monarchy brooks little dissent. This center tries to rehabilitate accused terrorists and spans an unlikely distance between prison and boutique hotel. It has a gym and pool and teachers who offer art therapy and lectures on Islam, Freud and the true meanings of “jihad,” which include personal struggle.

Hence the documentary’s original title, “Jihad Rehab,” which engendered much criticism, even from supporters, who saw it as too facile. “The film is very complex and the title is not,” said Ms. Ali, the Los Angeles Times critic.

To address such concerns, the director recently renamed the film “The UnRedacted.”

The United States sent 137 detainees from Guantánamo Bay to this center, which human rights groups cannot visit.

But reporters with The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and others have interviewed prisoners. Most stayed a few days.

Ms. Smaker would remain more than a year exploring what leads men to embrace groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Saudi officials let her speak to 150 detainees, most of whom waved her off. She found four men who would talk.

The film’s content:  It’s mostly interviews, I hear, with no politicizing or twisting of the narrative. The article will tell you more about it, as will the critics’ reviews (link in next line).

Some reviews:  (Read other critics’ reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.)

Film critics warned that conservatives might bridle at these human portraits, but reviews after the festival’s screening were strong.

“The absence of absolutes is what’s most enriching,” The Guardian stated, adding, “This is a movie for intelligent people looking to have their preconceived notions challenged.” Variety wrote: The film “feels like a miracle and an interrogative act of defiance.”

. . .Lawrence Wright wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” and spent much time in Saudi Arabia. He saw the documentary.

“As a reporter, you acknowledge the constraints on prisoners, and Smaker could have acknowledged it with more emphasis,” he said. “But she was exploring a great mystery — understanding those who may have done something appalling — and this does not discredit that effort.”

To gain intimate access, he added, was a coup.

I loved Wright’s book, and I wonder why he wasn’t criticized about writing the history of the background to Al-Quaeda, beginning with the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shouldn’t Wright be criticized for portraying some Muslims as terrorists? How can a white man even tackle this subject? I needn’t respond: the answer lies in the nature of art itself.

One more, which you should consider when reading the critics below:

“What I admired about ‘Jihad Rehab’ is that it allowed a viewer to make their own decisions,” said Chris Metzler, who helps select films for San Francisco Documentary Festival. “I was not watching a piece of propaganda.”

. . . Lorraine Ali, a television critic for The Los Angeles Times who is Muslim, wrote that the film was “a humanizing journey through a complex emotional process of self-reckoning and accountability, and a look at the devastating fallout of flawed U.S. and Saudi policy.”

She is dismayed with Sundance.

There are a few negative reviews too, which you can see on the Rotten Tomatoes site, but the public criticism came largely from people who hadn’t even seen the movie. It was performative outrage:

The backlash:

But attacks would come from the left, not the right. Arab and Muslim filmmakers and their white supporters accused Ms. Smaker of Islamophobia and American propaganda. Some suggested her race was disqualifying, a white woman who presumed to tell the story of Arab men.

Sundance leaders reversed themselves and apologized.

. . . Many Arab and Muslim filmmakers — who like others in the industry struggle for money and recognition — denounced “Jihad Rehab” as offering an all too familiar take. They say Ms. Smaker is the latest white documentarian to tell the story of Muslims through a lens of the war on terror. These documentary makers, they say, take their white, Western gaze and claim to film victims with empathy.

Assia Boundaoui, a filmmaker, critiqued it for Documentary magazine.

“To see my language and the homelands of folks in my community used as backdrops for white savior tendencies is nauseating,” she wrote. “The talk is all empathy, but the energy is Indiana Jones.”

She called on festivals to allow Muslims to create “films that concern themselves not with war, but with life.”

Do you really care what color is Ms. Smaker’s epidermis given that the film portrays the four subjects talking and answering questions?  And seriously, “white savior tendencies”? In what sense is Smaker a “savior”? (Some say that interviewing anybody in a prison invalidates the film.) The response is in the piece:

“An entirely white team behind a film about Yemeni and South Arabian men,” the filmmaker Violeta Ayala wrote in a tweet.

Ms. Smaker’s film had a Yemeni-American executive producer and a Saudi co-producer.

There’s more, but this will suffice (my emphasis)

More than 230 filmmakers signed a letter denouncing the documentary. A majority had not seen it. The letter noted that over 20 years, Sundance had programmed 76 films about Muslims and the Middle East, but only 35 percent of them had been directed by Muslim or Arab filmmakers.

A parallel: most of those who rioted when Salman Rusdie published The Satanic Verses hadn’t read the book, either. You don’t go rioting, cancelling, or killing over a book or movie or film that you haven’t read or seen. When people do so, it’s clear that the offense is performative. Just read the letter from Abigail Disney!

Smaker’s cancellation: 

First, from Sundance:

Sundance officials backtracked. Tabitha Jackson, then the director of the festival, demanded to see consent forms from the detainees and Ms. Smaker’s plan to protect them once the film debuted, according to an email shown to The Times. Ms. Jackson also required an ethics review of the plans and gave Ms. Smaker four days to comply. Efforts to reach Ms. Jackson were unsuccessful.

The review concluded Ms. Smaker more than met standards of safety.

Ms. Smaker said a public relations firm recommended that she apologize. “What was I apologizing for?” she said. “For trusting my audience to make up their own mind?”

And then the inevitable:

Ms. Smaker’s film has become near untouchable, unable to reach audiences. Prominent festivals rescinded invitations, and critics in the documentary world took to social media and pressured investors, advisers and even her friends to withdraw names from the credits. She is close to broke.

“In my naïveté, I kept thinking people would get the anger out of their system and realize this film was not what they said,” Ms. Smaker said. “I’m trying to tell an authentic story that a lot of Americans might not have heard.”

. . .Ms. Disney, the former champion, wrote, “I failed, failed and absolutely failed to understand just how exhausted by and disgusted with the perpetual representation of Muslim men and women as terrorists or former terrorists or potential terrorists the Muslim people are.”

Her apology and that of Sundance shook the industry. The South by Southwest and San Francisco festivals rescinded invitations.

Jihad Turk, former imam of Los Angeles’s largest mosque, was baffled. In December, his friend Tim Disney — brother of Abigail — invited him to a screening.

“My first instinct,” he said, “was ‘Oh, not another film on jihad and Islam.’ Then I watched and it was introspective and intelligent. My hope is that there is a courageous outlet that is not intimidated by activists and their too narrow views.”
Jihad Turk (what a name!) is a brave man!

Finally,

Ms. Smaker has maxed out credit cards and, at age 42, borrowed money from her parents. This is not the Sundance debut of her dreams. “I don’t have the money or influence to fight this out,” she said, running hands back through her hair. “I’m not sure I see a way out.”

The Upshot

Yes, she was canceled to the point where, despite her clear abilities and talents, she can’t find work. Canceled by people who hadn’t seen her film. Canceled by a public who, in their zeal to appear ideologically correct, hurled accusations of “Islamophobia” and “white saviorism” without good reasons. Canceled by a gutless Abigail Disney, whose letter I can’t even bear to quote.You must read it, however: it sounds like one of those signs that the Ideologically Impure had to wear around their necks during China’s Cultural Revolution while wearing paper dunce hats. I don’t know how to help Ms. Smaker, but I suppose I should start by seeing the movie. One could write to Sundance, but that would probably be useless.

Stuff like this pours into my email inbox every day—so much of it that I can write about only a small fraction of what people tell me. And much of the stuff involves the kind of performative activism evinced by Sundance and the critics of Ms. Smaker.

Yes, the termites have dined well—so well that they’ve undermined the foundations of art, of literature, and of scholarship itself. In the end, we’ll be done in by tribalism and cowardice—exactly what happened in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Like China, and with many parallels, we’re having our own Cultural Revolution.

MIT proposes its own free-expression statement

September 20, 2022 • 9:15 am

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has no special reputation as a “free-speech” school—not like the University of Chicago, which may be the only college in America that even has a reputation for open speech and inquiry. FIRE has listed 203 colleges in descending order of free-speech adherence, and though Chicago is #1, I doubt that anybody can name #2, which happens to be Kansas State University. MIT, however, has a pretty sad ranking—#120—and isn’t even one of the 87 colleges and universities in America that have adopted Chicago Statement on Freedom of Expression.

Last year, however, MIT became nationally infamous for an odious and indefensible violation of free expression: the cancellation of a prestigious invited lecture supposed to be given by Dorian Abbot, a professor in our own Department of Geophysical Sciences. (You can see my posts on this incident and its aftermath here.)

Abbot was scheduled to give the Carlson Lecture, an MIT open talk whose topic is climate science.  But then the inviters found out that Abbot had been attacked by faculty, students, and postdocs at the University of Chicago for posting four YouTube videos emphasizing the importance of merit in science and questioning diversity, equity, and inclusion principles (DEI). Such behavior, of course, is poison to equity activists.

The protests began in Chicago. As I wrote earlier:

. . . Have a look especially at the letter to Abbot’s department from 162 people affiliated with the University of Chicago and Geophysical Sciences (their names are unfortunately blacked out, though I think signers should make their names public). The letter demands all kinds of accounting and punishments for what Abbot did.  These including giving Abbot’s graduate and undergraduate students a way to opt out of his mentorship and teaching, making a departmental statement that Abbot’s videos were “unsubstantiated, inappropriate, and harmful to department members and climate” (the exact “harm” that occurred isn’t specified).

The letter is now gone, and of course this being the U of C, Abbot wasn’t punished in the least; in fact, President Zimmer wrote an endorsement of free speech inspired by the incident but not mentioning Abbot by name. That’s class! But MIT punished him by disinviting him from giving the Carlson lecture, even though Abbot’s proposed lecture had nothing to do with DEI or any other “sensitive” topic. His topic was announced as “climate and the potential for life on other planets.”

Then the Provost of MIT made things worse by trying to “explain”:

While all of us can agree that Professor Abbot has the freedom to speak as he chooses on any subject, the department leadership concluded that the debate over both his views on diversity, equity, and inclusion and manner of presenting them were overshadowing the purpose and spirit of the Carlson Lecture. Professor van der Hilst, after broadly consulting his community, decided the public lecture should not go forward and that instead the department should invite Professor Abbot to give a campus lecture where he can present his climate work directly to MIT faculty and students.

And both the MIT Provost and President apologized to the students for causing them harm and “harassment” by tendering such an invitation! (Apparently the public didn’t much like the deplatforming.)

Further, Abbot was punished for views he expressed elsewhere and on his own. MIT then offered him a much less prestigious lecture as a sop. Abbot refused, and the result is that he’s now become not only nationally known for this incident, but also a big free-speech advocate. And MIT got big-time negative publicity nationally, with articles about the incident appearing in national media like the New York Times, Newsweek, Inside Higher Ed, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic—as well other sites like Quillette, Legal Insurrection and Leiter Reports. Abbot wrote his own account of the deplatforming that was published on Bari Weiss’s Substack site.

I’m pretty sure that it’s this negative publicity, combined with the hamhanded statements of MIT’s administration, that only now has forced it to cobble together a free-expression statement for the University. The proposal is outlined in this bit of publicity from three big MIT administrators: Cynthia Barnhart, Provost, Melissa Nobles, Chancellor, and Lily L. Tsai, Chair of the Faculty. Click to read:

 

Of course this should have been part of MIT’s principles for a long time, which makes me think it’s a reaction to the bad publicity attending l’affaire Abbot. This becomes clearer in the statement:

Though ideas like free expression and academic freedom may seem clear enough in theory, experience on our campus and across the country has shown that people of goodwill can have substantial disagreement about how to apply them in practice. We saw this last fall with the wide range of views around the Carlson lecture. The sometimes bitter national debate on these issues continues to underscore the practical value of establishing, for our own community, a clear shared understanding of and commitment to free expression and academic freedom.

Unfortunately, this distorts matters a bit. The Carlson lecture and its topic (global warming and life on other planets), wasn’t up for debate. What was debated was Abbot’s views on DEI, which were completely disconnected from his lecture. The debate was really about Abbot’s “wrongthink”, and whether he should be punished for it by withdrawing an invitation.

Well, at least MIT is trying to rectify the situation, and it has proposed a statement of Freedom of Expression that you can see at the link below (click on the screenshot):

It’s a pretty good statement, putting MIT in line with both the Chicago Principles and the First Amendment—to which it isn’t required to adhere since it’s a private school. Here are a few excerpts:

Free expression is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of a diverse and inclusive community. We cannot have a truly free community of expression if some perspectives can be heard and others cannot. Diversity of thought is an essential ingredient of academic excellence.

. . . . MIT does not protect direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Moreover, the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests, may be restrained so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.

. . . At the intersection of the ideal of free expression and MIT community values lies the expectation of an affirming, respectful learning and working environment. We cannot prohibit speech that some experience as offensive or injurious. At the same time, MIT deeply values civility, mutual respect, and uninhibited, wide-open debate. Controversies over free expression are opportunities for learning rather than occasions for disciplinary action. This applies broadly. For example, when MIT leaders speak on matters of public interest, whether in their own voice or in the name of MIT, this should always be understood as being open to debate by the broader MIT community.

Of course if MIT was really serious about freedom of speech, the “leaders” should not be speaking out “in the name of MIT” about matters of public interest. That chills speech, and at the University of Chicago is almost always a violation of our Kalven Report.

And here’s where MIT more or less admits they screwed up with the Abbot disinvitation:

A commitment to free expression includes hearing and hosting speakers, including those whose views or opinions may not be shared by many members of the MIT community and may be harmful to some. This commitment includes the freedom to criticize and peacefully protest speakers to whom one may object, but it does not extend to suppressing or restricting such speakers from expressing their views. Debate and deliberation of controversial ideas are hallmarks of the Institute’s educational and research missions and are essential to the pursuit of truth, knowledge, equity, and justice.

(Note the invocation of “harm” here, a word that’s been gutted of all meaning by the woke.)

The proposed statement was publicized on September first, but the faculty hasn’t yet voted on it, so there’s time for you, if you’re an MIT faculty, student, or alum, to make your views known. The Tech, the student newspaper, wrote this:

The working group seeks to create a statement endorsed by the faculty; to that end, two online forums will be hosted on Sept. 8 and Sept. 22 for faculty to share their thoughts. Those who can’t attend the forums are asked to share their thoughts at freexresponses@mit.edu

The second forum is tomorrow, and I presume the faculty will vote on the statement fairly soon. You have the email address.

Oh, and shouldn’t MIT apologize to Abbot after they pass this statement?

The imminent cancellation of Emily Willoughby: a fight to remove her from Wikipedia

August 21, 2022 • 12:30 pm

In a post from Wednesday called “The ignorant and misguided demonization of a behavior geneticist,” I described the mob of people going after Emily Willoughby, a behavioral geneticist and paleoartist (someone who depicts ancient and extinct species). Note that the link to her name is likely to disappear very soon, since it’s an endangered Wikipedia entry that is the subject of this post.

Here’s what you see when you go to her page.

Emily is currently not only drawing, but is a postdoctoral researcher in personality, individual differences, and behavior genetics at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

It all started with the bonkers email, below falsely accusing Willoughby of being tied to eugenics, racism and classism (she doesn’t work or approve of those issues). Not only that, but the tweet is doubly slimy in saying that she “believes, or is at least indifferent to, the myth that intelligence has a racial component.” Notice the two alternatives offered, both of which are false (she isn’t tied to that work, and she repudiates racial extrapolations from within-population genetic data). “At least is indfferent to” is about a weaselly as you can get.

Nevertheless, whoever this clown Prehistorica is, he or she set off a tirade of ignorant claims about Willoughby, some of which I highlighted and rebutted in this post. Ignorance, hatred, and innuendo can bring get your cause to go a long way on Twitter!

And below is one of the results: injuries to Emily’s career, based on false accusations. Here, one of her collaborators disassociates himself for her, and for no good reason save that she has been “accused”.  How much less empathic can you get? And of course Naish will not discuss his misguided decision. You’d think he’d check the facts before writing something like this:

But of course nasty words on Twitter or social media are not enough. You have to get the person cancelled—erased. And that’s what people are trying to do to Emily’s Wikipedia page.  A reader (afraid of his/her own demonization), sent me this information about the effort to get Willoughby’s page erased.

I’d like to bring your attention to what’s been happening over the past couple of days to the paleoartist and behavioral geneticist Emily Willoughby. Emily is the co-author and illustrator of the anti-creationism book that you covered here: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2018/03/26/a-relatively-new-anti-creationist-book/

The main Twitter thread attacking her is this one: https://twitter.com/Prehistorica_CM/status/1557819532722552835

And Emily posted this thread in response: https://twitter.com/eawilloughby/status/1557890456176005120

The assumption underlying most of these attacks is that all research about the genetic basis of human intelligence is inherently supportive of racism or eugenics. None of Emily’s published research involves race or eugenics directly. Even Eric Turkheimer, a behavioral geneticist who’s known for opposing any research in this field that relates to race, thinks that these attacks are unreasonable. https://twitter.com/ent3c/status/1558078849132466177

The reader sent me a subsequent email:

The mention of this [Wikipedia erasure] was buried in the comments to your post about Emily, so I’d like to make sure you’ve noticed that the Wikipedia article about her is about to be deleted. There are currently ten people arguing to delete the article and only one arguing to preserve it, so it’ll be deleted in a few days if nothing unexpected happens.

Most of the people arguing for deletion haven’t directly mentioned the attacks against Emily on Twitter, but it’s obvious that that’s the reason this is happening. There was a previous attempt to delete the article last year which was unsuccessful, and Emily has no less coverage in sources now than she did a year ago, but the thing that’s changed in the past year is that the people who edit Wikipedia’s paleontology related articles aren’t willing to defend her anymore. There’s also been no attempt to delete the Wikipedia articles about paleoartists who are much more obscure than Emily, such as Julio Lacerda or Davide Bonadonna.

I think this is another example of how Wikipedia is increasingly influenced by ideology nowadays, as you recently posted about here.

If you go to the Wikipedia “discussion page” that supposedly gives the reasons she doesn’t belong on the site, none of it is about her work on behavior genetics of intelligence. No, it’s about the claim that her artwork isn’t sufficiently good to merit her a page. Yet on the first attempt to cancel her, this wasn’t sufficient.

What is clear is that mob sentiment is now trying to get her page erased because a few yahoos falsely accused of her engaging in racist work on IQ. Nobody cares about the facts; an accusation is sufficient.

The people trying to hurt her career are reprehensible; humans lacking a crumb of empathy and wallowing in their own ignorance about the person they’re trying to cancel. And if Wikipedia erases her article, it will be shameful.

If there are readers willing to argue her cause on Wikipedia, I’d urge you to jump into the fray.

 

The ignorant and misguided demonization of a behavior geneticist

August 17, 2022 • 11:30 am

I don’t usually look at Twitter unless a reader sends me a tweet, and I never engage in Twitter battles. But I’ve heard enough about these squabbles—particularly when connected with someone’s “cancellation”—that I know that they’re rancorous, full of ignorance and hatred, and the participants are often anonymous, which is cowardly.

Today we’re going to look at one attempt at cancellation that particularly galled me, for the charges against the accused—genetic researcher and paleoartist Emily Willoughby—are not only unfair, but bespeak the profound ignorance of her critics.

This piling on is what happens when someone studies the genetics of IQ, but doesn’t even mention race.  It’s enough that one studies the genetics of this trait to bring out a pack of howling morons denying that there is IQ, that it has a genetic component, and then you claim that the student is a horrible person who must be a eugenicist or Nazi.

That kind of tirade, of course, derives from the empirical demonstration that ethnic groups differ in IQ, which has become taboo to mention. You don’t even have to mention race: all you have to say is the undeniable scientific fact that IQ (whatever it may be) is highly heritable within a group—that is, about 60% of the variation in IQ among, say, Europeans, is due to variation in their genes—and the Blank Slate Police come knocking. The implication is that if you deny this simple empirical fact, you must also think that variation among groups has a big genetic component (this is a faulty conclusion), and therefore must be a eugenicist hoping to sterilize or kill members of groups with lower IQs.

I wouldn’t have believed this kind of stupid extrapolation had I not seen it for myself.

As I said, Willoughby is a geneticist: a postdoctoral researcher in personality, individual differences, and behavior genetics at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She is also a paleoartist, known for depicting extinct creatures. I gave a positive review in 2018 to one of the books she illustrated, a pro-evolution book called God’s Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism.

Here’s Emily’s bio from her research webpage (there’s another on her art webpage).

 

Emily is also engaged in the new genome-wide association mapping (GWAS) of various human traits, a technique I described in my review of a book by Kathryn Harden on the method. It’s a new way to find small regions of the genome that contribute to variation among people in behavioral and physical traits. One of the most well-known papers describing its results is the paper below published in Nature Genetics. As you see, Emily is an author (click to read).

Using a huge sample (1.1 million people), and one “race” (Americans of European ancestry), the authors found fully 1271 variable regions of the genome (“single-nucleotide polymorphisms”, or SNPs) associated with differences in educational attainment (how far you go in school) and cognitive performance (how you perform on tests). These SNPs accounted for about 10-13% of variation among “Europeans” (i.e., U.S. whites). Because the “heritability” of the trait measured by standard methods (parent-offspring correlation, twin studies, and adoption studies) is substantially higher than this (around 0.6), the GWAS results imply that there are a ton of variable regions in our genome that affect academic and cognitive performance within an ethnic group, but have effects to small to measure. Other studies give similar results.

Now this isn’t IQ per se, but these traits are highly correlated with IQ. Whatever IQ measures, there’s no doubt that it’s strongly correlated with various measures of “conventional” success in life, including academic achievement, financial success, income, socioeconomic status, educational attainment (one of the traits measured in the paper below) and occupational level attained. There is no controversy about this, or about whether IQ itself has substantial heritability within a population.

Now, what does someone bent on stirring up trouble and besmirching a genetic researcher’s reputation do with the fact that Emily works on stuff like the above? Here’s what—they issue a defamatory tweet, full of misrepresentations.

Where does one start hacking through this thicket of nonsense? First, how can a measurement be a “pseudoscientific myth”? It is an estimate, and one that is not only highly heritable, but highly correlated with conventional measures of success in life. (Note: I am not saying that people with higher IQ’s are “better”: many of them are jerks, and there are lots of valuable human qualities, like empathy, not measured by IQ. All I’m saying is that IQ measures something that correlates with academic, occupational, and financial achievement.)

“Prehistorica”‘s deliberately misleading slurs go on.  Emily’s research, as you can see by reading her c.v., is NOT “directly tied to eugenics, racism, and classism.” Yes, in the past bigoted researchers have made those ties, but to imply that Emily is doing that is simply a lie. She works on genetic analysis and heritability of behavioral traits within populations.

And saying that Emily is “indifferent to the myth that intelligence is a racial component” is a way of implying that she knows this is true, but doesn’t pay attention to it. In fact, we don’t know whether it’s a myth, because we have very few data. But at any rate, Emily does not deal with the issue of racial differences in cognitive abilities. This is just a smear.

Below is some approbation for one of her papers, which measures the heritability of IQ using correlations between parent and offspring in both adoptive and biological families. (This is one of the better ways to measure heritability, since family environment is presumably similar among the groups but genetic relatedness differ drastically.)

In the graphs below, notice the difference in the heritability using IQs of parents correlated with biological offspring (0.42, or 42%), versus that between parents with their adoptive offspring. (Parents and biological offspring were almost all whites of European ancestry, while adoptive children were 21% white but with 66% Asian and 13% adoptees of other groups. Heritabilities are the slopes of these regression lines.) In contrast to biological parents and their offspring, the heritability of IQ using parents and adopted offspring was much lower: either 10% or 6%, depending on how it was measured. This shows a small “common environment” effect, but a much larger effect of genes—a finding in line with that of previous studies.

These are respectable studies in peer-reviewed journals, conducted using standard protocols, and giving results that are in line with previous work or, in the case of GWAS studies, with contemporanous work.

But that doesn’t matter. Watch the yahoos go to town on Twitter! We start again with Prehistorica, as all the another tweets are responses to his tweets.

The tweet above is hilarious. The correlation (as instantiated through the regression line) is evident to anybody who has studied statistics, yet “magpie” can’t believe that this is a correlation. Magpie is an idiot.

All these people are shocked by the misguided tweet of Prehistorica, though they clearly know nothing about Willoughby’s research. This is how someone’s reputation is taken down by ignoramuses. Note the people who completely write Willoughby off because of what Prehistorica says, yet what he says is ignorant gibberish. Still, all the Twitterites, ignorant of modern behavioral genetics, fall in line like lemmings. (Willoughby does have a few defenders.)

“Vile, spiteful person.”  How did they divine that from Willoughby’s work?

The one below is even funnier in its stupidity than the one about correlations.  My response is “YES, THIS IS HOW PHENOTYPES WORK.” A phenotype is any measurable trait of an organism, and it can be morphological, physiological, and yes, behavioral. For any measurable trait (“phenotype”) you can calculate a heritability, assuming you do the work right and control for common environment, nongenetic inheritance (wealth) and the like.  So, “Lost Ovis”, take a course in biology for crying out loud!. The fact is that every “behavior” in “Lost Ovis”‘s table is a phenotype that one can use to figure out how much variation among individuals in the behavior is due to variation in their genes.

Here’s a graph from one of Emma’s papers showing estimates of heritability in many “phenotypes”, including behavioral ones.  The scientific estimates are on the Y axis, but do correlate pretty well with laypeople’s off-the-cuff estimates. Note that “intelligence” is estimated by both groups to have a heritability (or, for laypeople, “estimate of genetic influence”) of about 0.6.

Now one attacker above mentions a picture commissioned by Willoughby and her boyfriend in 2009. Here’s the “Nazi” picture that was commissioned, used above to further denigrate Emily. I wrote her and asked her what that was about, and she replied (with permission to quote):

The explanation for the drawing of dinosaurs in Nazi uniforms is just that my boyfriend and I were feathered dinosaur artists and chess fans, and thought it was funny to be offensive 13 years ago. We would never think of asking someone to draw something like that nowadays, nor expressing humor about it in public.

Emily has grown up since she drew it, and, truth be told, I don’t find it so offensive myself. Raptors dressed as Nazis is a trope of comparison, and it doesn’t make fun of any group except raptors. But Emily thought it was necessary to explain it.  I, for one, am satisfied with her explanation and regret, but the trolls will never be.

Emily, distressed that she was being taken apart on Twitter for no good reason save ignorance, decided to write a series of tweets in response. I’ve put the ten of them below.

Although it’s clear from Emily’s final tweet that she certainly does not condone eugenics, she decided to email me further to give a clearer statement about her beliefs. Here it is, unsolicited by me.

I unequivocally denounce eugenics and those who advocate for it. I cannot control those who follow me and argue in favor of ideologies I abhor. I did not invite them. The checkered history of my field is part of why I care about improving it by doing good research and methodology commensurate with our modern notions of human rights. But if people start believing behavioral genetics is a racist field of research, only racists will conduct it. Please don’t let that happen.

Good enough for you trolls? Can you see Emily as a good researcher and a human being again?

I didn’t think so.

This has been an object lesson to me on Twitter, and has further confirmed my unwillingness to read comments on my own Twitter posts (they go directly to the site from my WordPress account) as well as my refusal to engage in Twitter fights.

Yes, Twitter can be useful in scientific communication by publicizing new papers or results quickly. But it can also be used by scientific know-nothings to smear researchers. And that was what was done to Dr. Willoughby here. Both Prehistorica and his/her vicious acolytes should be ashamed of themselves. They won’t be, of course, because, being Woke, they think they’re doing God’s work. Ignore them.

The late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr survives deplatforming by the Society for Systematic Biologists

June 27, 2022 • 10:45 am

In January of this year, I wrote a post opposing the proposal by the Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB; the premier society dealing with the “family tree” of life), to get rid of its “Ernst Mayr Award” handed out at its annual meeting for the best student paper given at the meeting. The proposal was to change the award’s name to “Outstanding Student Presentation Award in Systematic Biology.” (How dull!)

One would think that Mayr must have done something odious or ideologically unacceptable to be subject to this kind of “deplatforming,” but one would be wrong. Ernst Mayr was not only one of the outstanding evolutionary biologists of our time, a scientist who helped bring speciation into the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis”, but he was a liberal and an egalitarian. He never advocated eugenics or promoted racism or white supremacy. As I described in my earlier post, he was a mentor of sorts to me, and although sometimes dogmatic in his views, he was not someone deserving such a “ban.”

In fact, as renowned systematist and evolutionist David Hillis (a past president of the SSB), and biologist Nick Matzke pointed out in a piece at Panda’s Thumb (see also Hillis’s comment on my post), Mayr was an egalitarian:

Even given all of Mayr’s vast biological accomplishments, I think what most impresses me about him were his efforts to build a better world for all. For example, in 1951, in support of “UNESCO 1951: The race concept: Results of an inquiry,” Mayr made a public statement opposing the views of R. A. Fisher, and supporting the UNESCO statement:

Mayr stated that he hoped that “the authoritative Statement prepared by UNESCO will help to eliminate the pseudo-scientific race conceptions which have been used as excuses for many injustices and even shocking crimes”… “I applaud and wholeheartedly endorse [it],” Mayr wrote, adding: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly that all so-called races are variable populations, and that there is often more difference between extreme individuals of one race than between certain individuals of different races. All human races are mixtures of populations and the term “pure race” is an absurdity. The second important point which needs stressing is that genetics plays a very minor part in the cultural characteristics of different peoples. . . . The third point is that equality of opportunity and equality in law do not depend on physical, intellectual and genetic identity. There are striking differences in physical, intellectual and other genetically founded qualities among individuals of even the most homogeneous human population, even among brothers and sisters. No acknowledged ethical principle exists which would permit denial of equal opportunity for reason of such differences to any member of the human species.”

So why the proposal, which was simply presented to the SSB membership as a fait accompli to be voted on—and was never subject to discussion by the SSB membership— to ditch the named award?  There are two reasons suggested

a.) Mayr was a white man (and he became an old white man, dying at 100). Naming an award after him would not be “inclusive” (see the SSB announcement below). This, in turn, could discourage women or members of minorities from applying for such awards, or even starting a career in systematics. In other words, the named award would be “harmful”. As the SSB itself notes on its webpage:

Renaming the award is one step toward greater inclusivity within the society, as named awards often lead to feelings of exclusion among those who are members of underrepresented groups whose scientific contributions continue to remain unrecognized.

That is pure nonsense and there’s no evidence to back it up. Who has felt excluded by the name “Ernst Mayr Award? Can we have some names? In contrast, I know that some people who have won such awards, even if they’re “people of color”, are proud of getting a prize named after a famous person in their field. That’s anecdotal, the other side has no evidence save assertion.

b.) Apparently someone, somewhere, objected to something Mayr wrote, as given in the original proposal for denaming reproduced in my original post:

This proposal is not intended to cast judgement on the legacy of Ernst Mayr, who was a prolific and profound scholar of evolutionary biology and a dedicated champion of students, nor are we intending to defend the contents of his writings which some find problematic.

No people or “problematic” writings are described. I can’t think of anything politically problematic that Mayr wrote, so what is the problem? Do people not like his Biological Species Concept, or his defense of allopatric (geographic) speciation?

This reason, too, is nonsense.

Yet despite this, the motion to dename the Mayr award in favor of an anodyne name went forward, and without public discussion. That in itself is a bad move on the part of the SSB, for the issue became divisive, with people on opposite sides of the issue calling each other names, even if they were colleagues. At least they could have aired the issue in a discussion at the meeting before the vote.

In fact, I strongly suspect that many people who wanted Mayr’s name removed didn’t know anything about the man and his work, but wanted to vote for denaming simply because it was presented to SSB members by the Council as a motion to amend the Society’s constitution, and therefore Mayr must have done something bad.

But the other day they did have a vote. And, glory be, THE DENAMING MOTION WAS DEFEATED! But it wasn’t defeated by much. In fact, most of the SSB members voted to dename the award, but it requires two-thirds of the members to vote for that, and only 63.4% did.  So it was pretty damn close: a few percent change would have denamed the award.

Here’s the SSB’s official announcement of the vote. The take-home message is in bold, but the SSB can’t resist, after this defeat, emphasizing their continuing initiatives in DEI, as if the failure to dename the Mayr award was some kind of blow against these initiatives.

Three years ago, the Society of Systematic Biologists Council began the discussion of whether to change the name of the “Ernst Mayr Award in Systematic Biology” to the “Outstanding Student Presentation Award in Systematic Biology”.  One goal in proposing this change was to make the award more inclusive and descriptive (see for instance, Pourret et al. (2021) and Bazner et al. (2020)). This proposal is part of SSB’s many efforts to broaden the reach of our Society, especially to students. Drawing students into the Society is something Ernst Mayr himself advocated, through his work for the Society and donations that helped support it. After much deliberation, the Council approved sending the constitutional amendment to the membership for their vote. Under our constitution, all amendments require approval by two-thirds of the voting members. While 63.4% of the voting members favored the change, this is short of the 66.7% required for the amendment to be adopted. Thus, the award will continue to be called the “Ernst Mayr Award in Systematic Biology”.  SSB will continue its efforts to remove barriers and create a better environment for all, as there remains much work to do. The SSB Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee has been working hard, often in collaboration with committees of our sibling organizations in SSE and ASN. Initiatives include commissioning a climate survey of our community, preparing a Leading Culture Change Through Professional Societies of Biology (BIO-LEAPS) proposal to NSF, organizing workshops on field safety, and much more. Additionally, we launched a new open access journal, where publishing is free of charge for all SSB members, in order to lower barriers to participation in systematics; we broadened the panel of associate editors for our flagship journal,Systematic Biology; and we give out over $150,000 in research grants annually to help grow the field.We look forward to working together to grow the Society of Systematic Biologists in an inclusive, positive direction.

Well, although the bad news is that most of the members voted for denaming, over a third had some sense and voted to keep the honor to Mayr, who always supported the SSB.

Could this herald a change in the extreme wokeness permeating scientific societies? It would be pretty think so, but given the vote I’m not looking for a sea change.  And to the SSB, the next time you try to pull a stunt like this, how about allowing some open discussion among members of the society? They might learn something about people like Ernst Mayr.

Ernst Mayr

Abigail Shrier on the Left’s targeting of gender issues

June 19, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I suppose it’s only natural that if you consider yourself a Leftist—even a “progressive” one—and you get disemboweled by your side for saying something politically offensive to your side, you will get resentful of your erstwhile allies.  In some cases, I think, these people can be driven rightwards, either on the whole or at least in some attitudes.  One example is the relentless pushing of ivermectin and dissing of covid vaccinations by Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying after they were driven from Evergreen State, but even they haven’t become right wingers. Other people have, I think, but I won’t name names because there’s no point.

You remember Abigail Shrier, a liberal who, two years ago, ran afoul of the Purity Posse when she published her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. (It was briefly banned from Target).I read it, and it was certainly not nearly as awful as the P.P. makes out: it’s not in the least transphobic. In fact, Shrier’s book was an important warning about the possibility that the exponential rise in girls who wanted to be boys might have substantial social causes (a “fad” of sorts; see the second part of Andrew Sullivan’s latest column), and that the premature treatment of these girls with surgery, hormones, or puberty blockers might be dangerous, either physically or by ruining people’s lives. (Transsexuality, of course, is a necessary procedure for some.)

That warning desperately needed to be issued, and it turns out that Shrier is probably largely right (more on that this week).  But her latest piece, on Bari Weiss’s Substack site, takes out after the “left” as if it were a monolith bent on censoring anything that criticizes trans activism.  But we’re not monolithic; I’m on Shrier’s side and I’m on the Left.  Further, the Right itself is involved in anti-sexuality-information legislation that could ban conversion, or discussions of it, by people who honestly need to hear about it.

Click to read her piece:

Shrier goes after Child Protective Services (CPS) in Florida after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said he might have CPS persecute parents who take their kids to drag shows. That’s a ridiculous threat, of course, and part of the Right’s fear of any sexuaity that isn’t “cis.”  But she also mentions this pending legislation from the Left:

In California, matters head from bad to worse: a new bill aspires to transform California into a “sanctuary state” for gender-swapping youth, making it possible for even a non-custodial parent to run to California to transition her child against her ex-spouse’s wishes.

The rectitude of that bill isn’t something I’ve pondered, but from these and other issues she raises a question:

Here, then, is the question: If our ultimate goal is returning to a normalcy in which government agencies and corporations treat all Americans fairly regardless of viewpoint, how are we to achieve this? At a minimum, we must acknowledge that these institutions are already weaponized and their artillery points only in one direction: against the opponents of the left. Acknowledge further that an ever-increasing tyranny is ratcheted upon those who dare criticize the encroachment of gender ideology into all spheres of public life. The playing field is about as level as San Francisco’s Filbert Street.

When I first read that, I read it as government and corporations weaponizing their artillery towards the “opponents of the Right”, which is the Left.  but then I realized that Shrier is indicting the Left here. And notice that she says “the left”, not “the extreme left” or the “progressive left”. I’m here to tell Ms. Shrier that there are still a lot of us who agree with her call for caution and are wary of affirmation therapy and other non-reversible incursions into young people’s biology.

Besides describing the demonization of her book and herself, she mentions several other cases of would-be censorship that you may not know about:

This week, conservative writers Ryan Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis lost the ability to offer pre-orders of their new pro-life audiobook when the book’s distributor dropped them—on ideological grounds, of course. One year ago, Anderson’s critique of the transgender movement, When Harry Became Sally, was effectively vaporized—deleted by Amazon on the specious grounds that it “framed an LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” (It’s nearly impossible to speak of gender dysphoria without reference to its inclusion in the DSM-5, psychiatry’s most authoritative manual of mental illnesses; indeed, the word “disorder” is in the title of the DSM.) Even third-party sales of Anderson’s book were banned from Amazon and all sites they control. Given that well over half of all U.S. book sales flow through its channels, Amazon’s actions represent an issue entirely different from Masterpiece Cakeshop (the difference is scale), as I’ve written before. An Amazon deletion is a death sentence for a book.

Not to be outdone, this week, PayPal and Etsy shut down the accounts of biological realist and writer Colin Wright for his persistence in arguing that there are only two sexes. Etsy permanently disabled Wright’s account—where he sold his “Reality’s Last Stand” merch promoting his newsletter—on the grounds that Wright “glorif[ied] hatred or violence toward protected groups.”

That’s a lie. Wright never did.

Wright is a biologist who made the grievous error of knowing a thing or two about biology and refusing to genuflect before the Torquemadas who insist he parrot their phony gender science. But of course, while Wright pays this price for his harmless (and, honestly, inoffensive) t-shirts and mugs, Etsy continues to list for sale stickers and pins and other bric-a-brac emblazoned with messages like “Fuck TERFs,” “TERFs can choke,” and “Shut the Fuck up TERF” with an anime creature pointing a semiautomatic handgun at its presumably female interlocutor.

There’s clearly a bad double standard at Etsy and Amazon, and this needs to stop. “Fuck TERFS”? Really? Are J. K. Rowling and Martina Navratilova TERFS? This will stop only when liberals call out this nonsense.

What also needs to stop is the demonization of those who assert the biological truth that there are two sexes in humans, male and female, even if there are many genders. In this respect, we are no different from most vertebrates, and the clownfish be damned (it’s the recurring Woke symbol of sequential hermaphroditism, which proves nothing about humans). It’s a telling sign of the craziness of our times that even biologists are beginning to doubt whether H. sapiens comes in two sexes, and that there’s no “spectrum of sex” between those who can produce sperm and those who can produce eggs.

So while Shrier somewhat unfairly accuses the left as a pure trans-activist monolisth, she is also on the mark about the double standard of Cancel Culture—a standard that’s in place simply because those on the simple “Left” or center Left are afraid to open their mouths for fear of being called racists.

Shrier:

Here is the problem: Almost every liberal will be content to allow our institutions and corporations to punish conservatives as long as they themselves remain unscathed. They may feel a pang of discomfort watching books deleted from Amazon, but until it is a book of theirs, they will continue to show a remarkable disinclination to speak up. (Yes, with the important exception of brave souls like J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk and Joe Rogan. And the moment liberals speak out against such censorship, they are accused of being right-wing and lose the left’s protection.)

As long as Amazon never deletes books by Rachel Maddow, Bob Woodward, Ezra Klein, or Paul Krugman, America’s large and powerful center-left has proven itself all-too-willing to allow the censorship to proceed. As long as only the left weaponizes every available corporation and government agency, America will continue its decade-long shrug.

Well, that’s a bit exaggerated because there are institutions that punish liberals. They’re called “southern and western American states”. Unfortunately, Big Media and corporations like Amazon are largely controlled by the progressive Left, but were they controlled by the Right we’d be in even bigger trouble. Each political extreme has its own double standard, and each wants some education censored, but one can’t just pin everything on just “the left.”  As the old saying goes, “It’s okay when we do it.”

Shrier ends with a depressing conclusion that I reached earlier today with respect to the ACLU:

Those waiting on the mythical pendulum to “swing back,” should stop holding their breath. The gender activists are True Believers, akin to jihadists: no amount of reasoning diminishes their resolve, no appeal to data brings them pause, no urge to consider the sanctity of American liberties will convince them to cool it.

It’s not just the gender activists who are true believers akin to religionists, but Wokies in general. For that point of view, read John McWhorter’s book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

Hallelujah! Yet another anti-woke op-ed from the NYT, damning the Cancel Culture

June 13, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Is the NYT really starting to publish more and more material that could be considered anti-woke? It seems so.

I submit for your approval this op-ed by Pamela Paul, named as an opinion columnist just this year. But she has a long history at the paper:

Pamela Paul became an Opinion columnist for The New York Times in 2022. She was previously the editor of The New York Times Book Review for nine years, where she oversaw book coverage and hosted the Book Review podcast. She is the author of eight books: “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet” (named a best book of 2021 by The Chicago Tribune), “My Life With Bob,” “How to Raise a Reader,” “By the Book,” “Parenting, Inc.,” “Pornified” (a best book of 2005 by The San Francisco Chronicle), “The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony” (a best book of 2002 by The Washington Post) and “Rectangle Time,” a book for children.

Now, on to the fracas that Paul considers. She describes the usual Woke attempt to cancel a book on ideological grounds before it’s even out or has been read, and then recommends that you read the book and decide for yourself. It also damns the culture that promotes attempts to “deplatform” books before they reach the public. That in itself is anti-woke, for although you may not like the book, Paul recommends that you read it, which means thinking for yourself (not a trait associated with wokeness). Buying it also slightly enriches the author via royalties.

Click to read Paul’s short op-ed:

The book at hand is The Men, by Sandra Newman, which you can order by clicking on the screenshot at the bottom. It comes out just this week, and already the number of stars it’s gotten reflects I think, the attempt to “cancel” it, i.e., persuade people not to buy it. Did these people read the book?

The book’s premise (Paul’s prose):

Imagine a world in which all the men disappear from the planet in a single moment: Planes they were piloting are left unmanned (literally), their female passengers abandoned in midair; men in bed with their girlfriends mysteriously vanish; boys in the playground dematerialize before their mothers’ eyes. The girls and women left behind are given no apparent reason for the sudden absence of half the world’s population.

The result of publishing it:

Now imagine another world — one in which an author proudly announces her forthcoming novel only to be attacked online for its fantastical premise. Months before the book comes out, it is described on Goodreads as a “transphobic, racist, ableist, misogynist nightmare of a book.” On Twitter, people who have yet to read the novel declare that it’s their responsibility to “deplatform” it. When one of the author’s friends, herself a writer, defends the book, she is similarly attacked, and a prominent literary organization withdraws her nomination for a prize for her own book.

Only one of these nightmare scenarios is real.

The first describes the premise of a novel that comes out this week: “The Men” by Sandra Newman. The second is what actually happened when the premise of Newman’s book was revealed.

I was in fact surprised to learn why this book was so viciously attacked, especially because it involves the disappearance of men—the lowest group on the wokeish totem pole. But it’s not that idea that caused the trouble: it’s the idea that there is a real sex binary that allows men to disappear!

And Paul, to her immense credit, defends the book and the author’s right to imagine a world in which there is a sex binary!:

For all the outlandishness of its conceits, science fiction can allow writers and readers access to deeper truths about very real aspects of society, politics and power in creative ways. But apparently Newman got too creative — or too real — for some. That a fictional world would assert the salience of biological sex, however fanciful the context, was enough to upset a vocal number of transgender activists online. They would argue that “men” is a cultural category to which anyone can choose to belong, as opposed to “maleness,” which is defined by genetics and biology.

In this case, we can set aside contentious questions around gender identity and transgender politics. Even if you don’t believe the sex binary is as fundamental to human beings as it is to all other mammals, a fiction writer ought to be free to imagine her own universe, whether as utopian ideal, dystopian horror or some complicated vision in between.

Should the reader dare enter the fictional universe of “The Men,” one thing becomes immediately clear: This is in no way a transphobic novel. It neither denies the existence of transgender people, who are woven into the narrative in several places, nor maligns them. The world Newman creates is as scrupulously diverse as a Marvel franchise movie, populated by gay, lesbian and bisexual characters as well as by straight ones of various ethnicities.

In this fictional world, where the presence of a Y-chromosome dictates who disappears, a strictly biological definition of “man” is viewed as a moral wrong. The main characters are horrified by the fate of the transgender women who get swept up (“unjustly condemned”) and sympathetic to the plight of the transgender men who remain (one character is “paralyzed by the idea that transgender people were still here”).

Note that the book is woke in the sense that a transgender woman is regarded by The Transphobic Force—that which makes “men” disappear—as a biological man. That’s right in with trans-activist philosophy. But that still didn’t appease The Offended, because the Force saw the woman as a biological man.

I can’t help but reproduce a lot of Paul’s prose, as it’s so deliciously rare in the NYT to read stuff like this:

What a sour irony that a dystopian fantasy brought a dark reality one step closer. In this frightful new world, books are maligned in hasty tweets, without even having been read, because of perceived thought crimes on the part of the author. Small but determined interest groups can gather gale force online and unleash scurrilous attacks on ideas they disapprove of or fear, and condemn as too dangerous even to explore.

“I wanted to create a parable of exclusion,” Newman, who describes herself as nonbinary, said in a phone interview. “It’s a book about ‘othering,’ the human tendency to divide people into categories or groups and to think of our group as the real people and other groups as threats to the real people.”

Newman said she tends to favor fiction that explores difficult ideas in bold ways: “People shouldn’t always write nice books.” Where better than literature to examine ideas that may unsettle or challenge?

Most people don’t want to live in a world in which books are vilified without being read and their authors attacked ad hominem for the temerity of having written them.

There’s an answer to attacks like these: Read the book.

YES! READ THE DAMN BOOK! Perhaps under the new leadership at the paper it really is getting saner. The first paragraph above, which damns a Cancel Culture that tries to suppress ideas that aren’t ideologically correct, would have been unthinkable in the NYT two years ago.

If I met Paul I’d give her a big hug of appreciation, but that might be considered harassment.

“Never apologize, never explain”

June 10, 2022 • 12:15 pm

The old bromide above, which I think came from the military (i.e., it’s the way you should behave when a superior calls you out), is the subject of an op-ed in May from Freddie deBoer, which you can read by clicking below. (Remember to subscribe if you read him often.)

DeBoer, like many who have a public presence and strong opinions, has had his share of online fracases over time. (I have had but a few.) One of his was a “Twitter freakout” about his book The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice. People trashed it before it was published, and even quoted pages that he never wrote.  And he’s learned both personally and through observation to never issue an apology unless you mean it, and issue it to the people concerned, not to the world.

You probably know now that such apologies never “work”—if by “work” you mean “rehabilitate your reputation”. No, they only gives fodder to those who are out for your scalp. To such people, an apology is a tacit admission of guilt, and an excuse to ratchet up your animus, not quell it.

DeBoer gives several examples of the failure of public apologies. I hadn’t heard of most of them, and I’ll give just one.

I think of Lindsay Ellis, author and video essayist who was canceled for (this is true) comparing the shitty and quickly-forgotten animated Disney movie Raya and the Last Dragon to the animated series Avatar the Last Airbender. That is, genuinely, all she did, compared one piece of art to another piece of art that shares many similarities. This was bigoted, I’m told, because Raya and Avatar both have Asian characters and references to Asian cultures. In response to the criticism, Ellis published two-hour YouTube video, two hours of the most abject groveling I can imagine. I find Ellis deeply annoying, but I still wince to see that video. Of course, you live by it, you die by it – woke prosecutors have a habit of becoming defendants, over a long enough timeframe. Did Ellis’s over-the-top apology work? Good lord, no. It only chummed the water. The people coming after her just wanted more. However much you apologize, it’s never enough.

These apologies, which remind me of Maoist “struggle sessions”, and are often that cringeworthy. I can’t think of even one that helped someone’s cause, although David Weigel’s apology for retweeting an offensive joke (see this morning’s post) may have saved his job. If you apologize because your employer demands it, even though you think you’ve done nothing wrong, well, you’ve lost a bit of your soul and self-respect.

But not everyone can afford to stand firm on their principles, though, as jobs may be hard to find and you may have mouths to feed. Someone who doesn’t have the possibility of being fired and whom I admire for her tenacity, her refusal to apologize, and, indeed, ability her to double down, is J. K. Rowling. Unfairly dubbed a “transphobe” for trying to discuss the rights of biological women versus transwomen, she never truckled to the mob. Indeed, she gave as good as she got. Hitchens, too, would never apologize for something he said sincerely. (I don’t know, in fact, if he ever apologized for anything!)

At any rate, Boer has some rules for apologies that I generally agree with, although there are some exceptions. (Readers will be able to think of others.) Here they be:

But it’s become abundantly clear that there simply is no value in public apology. Admitting fault only emboldens critics. The mechanisms of social media always reward escalation and never reward calm and restraint. Contemporary progressive politics excuse any amount of personal viciousness so long as the target is perceived to be guilty of committing some identity crime. The notion of proportionality is totally alien to these worlds, and when people ask for such proportionality they’re accused of supporting bigotry. People who are friendly online shamelessly wage backchannel campaigns against each other, and almost no one on social media has the stomach to stand up for someone else when the mob comes for them. Most importantly, the public can never grant you absolution for what you’ve done; absolution is not the public’s to grant. The strangers on Twitter can’t accept an apology, even if they ever would, and they wouldn’t. You can ask the mob for forgiveness, but they have no moral right to grant it, and anyway they never will. They’ll just keep you wriggling on the end of a pin forever. Honestly: how often do people who make public apologies come out ahead in doing so, especially because they’re so often coerced and thus insincere?

Apology itself is good. But public apology is a useless and self-defeating ritual. If you have done something wrong to another, I recommend that you privately apologize to them. That person can then accept your apology or not. They can publicize your apology or not. But all of the moral value of apologizing will be preserved, while nothing of practical value to your life will be lost. Look, if nothing else it’s indisputable that public apology has no consistent ability to reduce criticism, and I think it’s obvious that in fact such apologies just show that blood is in the water. You’ve heard it from me many times: there’s a profound nihilism in American life right now about the potential for positive change. So many people, of so many political stripes, have given up. And I think that plus the truly ruinous and sadistic influence of social networks and their reward systems have created this ever-seething mob that constantly casts around for its next scalp. We can’t get real change, but by god, we can make people cower! You can’t apologize to that. You shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists.

Now I’m assuming here along with Boer that yes, if you transgressed and hurt someone needlessly and thoughtlessly, you should apologize to them. You shouldn’t apologize if you didn’t do anything wrong—unless your livelihood depends on it. (And in the fiction book I just read, Coetzee’s Disgrace, the protagonist lost his job in academics rather than apologizing.) Otherwise, keep your yap shut, or, if you can afford it, double down, though I have no taste for social-media fights.

But there is an exception: if you’ve insulted a group of people, like an ethnic group, and you think you did wrong, and if you’ve erred in public, then a public apology is appropriate. This is simply because individual apologies simply can’t reach all the people you’ve hurt. You may get excoriated even more, but you’ve clung to your principles.

One reason deBoer is so hard on those who use apologies to bear down harder is because they violate one avowed principle of the Left: “restorative justice”. If you’re trying to make honest amends for having done wrong, you should be given a chance to do so, and people should exercise some empathy and understanding. Most of the time, though, they don’t.

As DeBoer notes, “It’s a bizarre little quirk of contemporary left politics – people simultaneously believe that many crimes shouldn’t be prosecuted and that we should always work to reintegrate even the worst offenders into society, but if you violate any of the arcane language norms of 21st-century liberalism, you can never be redeemed.”