Penguin Random House (Canada) employees rebel against their firm’s publication of Jordan Peterson

Apparently publishers are supposed to adopt a consistent ideological point of view, publishing books that comport not only with “progressive” ideology, but also avoiding publishing any books that violate it.  If there are such violations, the books should not be published. This is what happened when Hachette decided not to publish Woody Allen’s memoirs after employees objected—on the totally unproven grounds that Allen was a pedophile.

You’ll probably remember Jordan Peterson’s 2018 best-seller, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaosa self help book that remains at #95 on Amazon nearly three years after publication. I’m not much interested in the phenomenon of Peterson, who seems unhinged at some times and coherent and thoughtful at others, so I haven’t read any of his works. I did, however, look at 12 Rules in a bookstore, and found it mildly amusing and inoffensive—and possibly of help to some people.

Despite Peterson being demonized by the Authoritarian Left for his views on pronouns and masculinity (neither of which I agree with), his self-help book, published by Random House Canada, avoided all the political stuff. Here are the rules as summarized in Wikipedia:

  1. “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”
  2. “Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping”
  3. “Make friends with people who want the best for you”
  4. “Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today”
  5. “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them”
  6. “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”
  7. “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”
  8. “Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie”
  9. “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
  10. “Be precise in your speech”
  11. “Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding”
  12. “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”

Each of these rules was the subject of a short chapter, and I especially appreciated rule #12, which I think is a good one and one that I obey religiously.

I judge the reviews to have been mixed but on the positive side of neutrality (here’s a fair, and pretty positive one in the New Woker), but the book sold like hotcakes: over five million copies.

Now Peterson—who’s had his share of troubles, suffering from depression and addiction, and nearly dying in Russia where he sought treatment—is about to publish a sequel to 12 Rules called Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.  It looks pretty much like what it purports to be: more self-help, more rules.  It will be published in March of next year.

Despite the fairly anodyne nature of this book compared to the other ruckuses Peterson has raised, many employees of his publisher are now outraged—not because of the book’s contents, but because of what Peterson has said in his talks and in other publications and interviews. The publisher, again Penguin Random House Canada (it changed its name), is going ahead with the book, but, as VICE reports below (click on screenshot), the publication has ignited a lot of controversy among employees.

Yes, it’s the usual stuff; a few quotes from VICE will suffice, and will show that it’s not this book the employees object to, but Peterson’s views in general. He is an Unperson and therefore should not be published:

The kerfuffle:

Several Penguin Random House Canada employees confronted management about the company’s decision to publish a new book by controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson at an emotional town hall Monday, and dozens more have filed anonymous complaints, according to four workers who spoke to VICE World News.

On Monday, Penguin Random House Canada, Canada’s largest book publisher and a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, announced it will be publishing Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Peterson, to be released in March 2021. The book will be published by Portfolio in the U.S. and Penguin Press in the U.K., both part of the Penguin Random House empire.

Four Penguin Random House Canada employees, who did not want to be named due to concerns over their employment, said the company held a town hall about the book Monday, during which executives defended the decision to publish Peterson while employees cited their concerns about platforming someone who is popular in far-right circles.

. . . A third employee told VICE World News the company’s diversity and inclusion committee received at least 70 anonymous messages about Peterson’s book, and only a couple are in favour of the decision to publish it.

. . . “I feel it was deliberately hidden and dropped on us once it was too late to change course,” said the junior employee who is a member of the LGBTQ community. The employee said workers would have otherwise considered a walkout, similar to what Hachette employees did when the publisher announced it would be publishing Woody Allen’s memoir; Hachette later dropped the book.

The charges:

Four Penguin Random House Canada employees, who did not want to be named due to concerns over their employment, said the company held a town hall about the book Monday, during which executives defended the decision to publish Peterson while employees cited their concerns about platforming someone who is popular in far-right circles.

“He is an icon of hate speech and transphobia and the fact that he’s an icon of white supremacy, regardless of the content of his book, I’m not proud to work for a company that publishes him,” a junior employee who is a member of the LGBTQ community and who attended the town hall told VICE World News.

Is there hate speech in this book? I doubt it? Is there transphobia? I doubt that, too? White supremacy? If Peterson has been a white supremacist, I don’t know about it, but I seriously doubt there’s any of that in his upcoming book.

The view that a publisher must publish books hewing to a consistent ideological line:

“The company since June has been doing all these anti-racist and allyship things and them publishing Peterson’s book completely goes against this. It just makes all of their previous efforts seem completely performative,” the employee added.

. . . “(But) [Peterson’s] the one who’s responsible for radicalizing and causing this surge of alt-right groups, especially on university campuses.”

And the “harm”:

Another employee said “people were crying in the meeting about how Jordan Peterson has affected their lives.” They said one co-worker discussed how Peterson had radicalized their father and another talked about how publishing the book will negatively affect their non-binary friend.

The employee said the company’s diversity and inclusion committee aired concerns about how this will affect other authors.

“We publish a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community and what is the company going to do about making sure these authors are still feeling supported by a company that is supporting somebody who denies their existence,” the employee said.

. . . All of the workers who spoke to VICE World News said if the book isn’t cancelled, they would like Penguin Random House Canada to consider donating the profits from the book to LGBTQ organizations.

Crying???  When I read this kind of stuff, and realize that the book isn’t likely to contain anything seen as “transphobic” or “Nazified”, I want to tell these employees to a.) get a grip and b.) realize that publishers are one of the main venues for promulgating controversial speech. Only religious or creationist publishers have catalogues that don’t include dissenting voices, and Penguin Random House, which happens to be my own publisher in the U.S., has a consistent policy that they accept books based on quality and interest (and profitability, see below), not whether they’re ideologically palatable. If that were the case, they wouldn’t have published Faith Versus Fact. They knew my book would encounter criticism from the faithful, as indeed it did.

Think about how many books you disagree with, whatever your political stand. Many of those are solid books that make good arguments, and even if you reject the arguments, can you say that those books shouldn’t have been published? If so, then you’re not in favor of free speech.

Now of course publishing is a business, and part of the decision to accept books is also based on their likely profitability. But publishers realize that most of their books won’t make money, and they count on a few blockbusters to keep them afloat. Peterson’s book is likely to be one of these, since its predecessor sold over 5 million copies worldwide. But I doubt that Penguin Random House Canada simply wouldn’t publish the book if it were loaded to the gunwales with slurs on trans people or claims of white supremacy. No, it’s another cute self-help book, likely to contain nothing offensive save the name of the author.

But that’s enough. Peterson has been officially Canceled, and therefore nobody should publish anything he says.

h/t: cesar

The erasure of a book that describes problems with adolescent and teenage girls transitioning to males

I was amazed to read, in the Qullette article below, this sentence:

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of females seeking gender surgery quadrupled in the United States.

But the reference cited did indeed show this (the actual increase was 3.88-fold), while the number of males seeking gender reassignment surgery was not only absolutely lower, but increased much less (41%) over a year. If you go back further, the rise is even more dramatic (graph below):

Here’s a plot from a paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showing the number of people referred each year to the UK’s Gender Identity Development Service. It shows the strong rise in referrals of adolescent females compared to males, and some rise in children as well. In the last 7 years it seems to have gone from fewer then 40 to over 1700 in adolescent females—a roughly 43-fold increase! Clearly, some phenomenon is happening that needs an explanation.



These kinds of surgeries are manifestations of gender dysphoria: the distress caused when one’s felt gender identity conflicts with one’s sex at birth. The rate of this dysphoria in adolescent and teenage women has risen to the extent that it could be considered an epidemic, which is what some people  think it is: a manifestation of cultural influence that drives many young girls to not only identify as males, but to undergo medical treatment to become hormonally and physically more like males. Shrier’s thesis is that many of these woman would have become lesbians, or reversed their desires, had not gender dysphoria constituted a sort of fad, one seen as a heroic syndrome supported by all kinds of medical and psychological professionals.

In the new book below, which has just entered the Amazon top 100 list, Abigal Shrier, a writer for the Wall Street Journal who also has degrees from Columbia and Oxford and a law degree from Yale, is raising the alarm not about adults who are transgender and undergo medical treatment—Shrier’s fine with that—but about adolescent and teenage girls who claim a different gender identity and then are universally “affirmed” by psychologists, sociologists, and doctors, many undergoing transitions before or while they’re in their teens. It’s undeniable that many of these who transitioned later have second thoughts or regrets about the process, but many of the medical procedures, including hormonal treatments, cause irreversible and injurious changes in the body.

You can get the book, which I’m doing, from Amazon, despite their refusal to take paid ads for it (more on that below).  And its popularity, and overall positive customer reviews, come despite the refusal of mainstream media to advertise or even review this book, which seems to me an important one.


Shrier, as I said, deals only with gender dysphoria in young girls and teenage girls, and only one form: “Rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD). Her thesis, as laid out in the Quillette article below (click on screenshot), is this:

What I aim to do, as a journalist, is to investigate cultural phenomena, and here was one worth investigating: Between 2016 and 2017, the number of females seeking gender surgery quadrupled in the United States. Thousands of teen girls across the Western world are not only self-diagnosing with a real dysphoric condition they likely do not have; in many cases, they are obtaining hormones and surgeries following the most cursory diagnostic processes. Schoolteachers, therapists, doctors, surgeons, and medical-accreditation organizations are all rubber-stamping these transitions, often out of fear that doing otherwise will be reported as a sign of “transphobia”—despite growing evidence that most young people who present as trans will eventually desist, and so these interventions will do more harm than good.

The notion that this sudden wave of transitioning among teens is a worrying, ideologically driven phenomenon is hardly a fringe view. Indeed, outside of Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and college campuses, it is a view held by a majority of Americans. There is nothing hateful in suggesting that most teenagers are not in a good position to approve irreversible alterations to their bodies, particularly if they are suffering from trauma, OCD, depression, or any of the other mental-health problems that are comorbid with expressions of dysphoria. And yet, here we are.

As I said, Shrier has no issue with adults who, after deciding they’re transgender, decide to have surgery and assume the non-birth gender. She’s solely concerned with the young: why is this suddenly happening, who is supporting it among adults, and what harms can it cause?

Because even raising these questions is considered taboo in today’s political climate, there has been a concerted effort to “erase” Shrier’s book—to pretend it never existed by refusing to advertise or review it. It came to public attention largely because Shrier was interviewed by Joe Rogan on his wildly popular podcast. Even Spotify, which hosts those podcasts, called the interview (as well as Rogan and Shrier) transphobic and threatened to walk out. (See the Rogan-show video here; I recommend it as a substitute for the book if you want to hear about the controversy).

I was able to find only one long-form review of Shrier’s book—one by a feminist writing in Feminist Current, who, despite a few quibbles, praises the book highly. Click on the screenshot to read Megan Mackin’s review:

Between Mackin’s and Shrier’s pieces, you can read about all the attempts by the media (and others) to pretend Shrier’s book doesn’t exist. They include these:

  1. Amazon refuses to host paid ads for the book on its site, though it allows paid ads for books praising medical transitions for teenage girls.
  2. The book wasn’t even reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus, two of the most important pre-publication venues for calling attention to books.
  3. As I mentioned, Spotify employees, calling both Rogan and Shrier “transphobes”, threatened to walk out. Fortunately, the Rogan show episode is still up.
  4. The National Association of Science Writers removed Sean Scott from their discussion group because he had said, without having read the book, that it “should hopefully shed some overdue light on a very sensitive, politically charged topic that potentially carries lifelong medical consequences.” Really offensive and transphobic, right?
  5. Parents started a GoFundMe account to support Shrier, but GoFundMe closed the account twice, though they’re happy to host fundraisers for teenage girls who want transition surgery.
  6. As Mackin notes, “Shrier contributes frequently to the Wall Street Journal, and among her degrees is a Juris Doctor from Yale University. She is a skilled writer who offers complex ideas with accessible delivery. It is possible the media would have covered her work had she resorted to obfuscating postmodernist jargon. Shrier has received no reviews from the established liberal press — not from the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Kirkus Review, nor any other mainstream online publications. Amazon, which still sells and thus profits from Irreversible Damage — garnering rave reviews there — has refused to allow sponsored ads to promote the book.

And, finally, this just happened. Someone beefed to Target that they were carrying Shrier’s book, and Target removed it.

Here’s the beefer, who apparently removed the tweet:

And some pushback:

At any rate, despite the lack of media support for Shrier’s bestselling book, she is not casting herself as a victim; in fact, her ending of the Quillette piece is measured and rational, but passionate as well:

I want to be clear about something. I don’t believe that I’ve been harmed by these suppression efforts. I am not entitled to book reviews by any media outlet. I sold plenty of books without Amazon’s “sponsored ads.” Joe Rogan (and Megyn Kelly, who also had me on) have much larger platforms than the outlets that pretended this book doesn’t exist. And while this topic has become a fascination of mine, I am no activist. I will pursue other subjects and write other books.

But there is a victim here—the public. A network of activists and their journalistic enablers have largely succeeded in suppressing a real discussion of the over-diagnosis of gender dysphoria among vulnerable girls. As you read this, there are parents everywhere being lectured to by authority figures about how they have to affirm their daughter’s sudden interest in becoming a boy—no questions asked. From Amazon to I Am Jazz, everyone is telling them that transition is the path to happiness, and those who question this narrative are bigots. So they stare at their shoes and let the conversion therapy take its toll.

This is what censorship looks like in 21st-century America. It isn’t the government sending police to your home. It’s Silicon Valley oligopolists implementing blackouts and appeasing social-justice mobs, while sending disfavored ideas down memory holes. And the forces of censorship are winning. Not only because their efforts to censor leave almost no trace. They are winning because, thus far, most Americans have been content to surrender virtually every liberty in exchange for the luxury of having products delivered to their door. Most would happily submit to the rule of Big Tech, so long as their Netflix isn’t disrupted.

At some point, it will cross each of our minds to question an item on the ever-growing list of unsayables. We will find ourselves smeared, or blocked, or the target of a woke campaign. And we will look for support from those with only a dim recollection of why they once cared about free speech. Those who will note tyranny’s advance with the pitiless smile of a low-level bureaucrat already anticipating the door-delivered Cherry Garcia and hours of uninterrupted streaming: “You brought this on yourself, didn’t you?”

Here’s the end of Mackin’s review, the only thoughtful and longish review I could find anywhere (there are, of course, short reviews on Amazon and GoodReads):

Shrier — not a radical feminist — understands the need for a transfer of feminist ideas, which may encourage other women to take a deeper look. Girls’ lives matter. I give Shrier credit for authoring this necessary book. It is the first to put the many pieces together clearly and accessibly. Read Irreversible Damage and share it with others — it is a brave and daring book that ought to be part of the public discussion.

(Mackin also discusses the many people who profit financially and professionally from affirming, both psychologically and medically, the self-diagnoses of girls as gender dysphoric.)

It’s shameful that a book like Shrier’s is publicly erased by mainstream media and stores like Target because it somehow is seen as “transphobic”.  No matter what your preconceptions are, or what you’ve read about girls transitioning before or as teenagers, this book seems like a must-read. It’s a dereliction of duty that major journalistic outlets haven’t reviewed it and that medical associations so readily affirm medical treatment of gender dysphoria in the young. This is how deeply cowed we have become by wokeness, part of which is the universal glorification of gender dysphoria, whose sufferers are seen as heroes. (That may, in fact, partly account for its rapid spread.) When those sufferers are in their teens, though, society should be moving a lot more carefully than it’s doing now.

All too often our Cancel Culture tries to eliminate discussion of issues that are vital in deciding how we should think and act as social beings. The attempts of many to pretend that this book doesn’t exist, and therefore avoid Shrier’s difficult questions, is a reprehensible example of that culture.


New reply from Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Sarah Haider

Sarah Haider and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are discussing the topic “Is the culture war lost?” on the Letter site. (The “war” is between traditional liberals and the extremist wing of the Left known as Wokeism.)

When Sarah wrote her first email, arguing that yes, the culture war has already been lost to the Woke, I featured her thoughts in a post. Now Ayaan has responded, and is not as pessimistic. Click on the screenshot to read her response:

I won’t quote it in extenso, but I will say that Hirsi Ali mentions her own experience of being canceled for her criticisms of Islam, and argues that now Western sentiments are turning in her favor. (She compares Wokeism to Islamism as forms of religious ideology.) Here are two short quotes, and then you must read the rest for yourself:

My understanding is that you and I mistook many of the woke for true liberals when in fact they are anything but.

I found and still receive abiding support from true liberals. Some are world famous like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. You may even recall that Theo van Gogh was murdered for his work to help bring about the emancipation of Muslim women. There are many other true liberals—too many to name here—whom I met over the years in various countries whose views are completely aligned with yours and mine.

I bring up the distinction between the true liberals and the woke because I believe this is the reason you are wrong when you argue that the woke have won—that they are the empire now, and the rest of us are the underdog rebels.

As long as there are true liberals out there, I do not think the woke are anywhere near any kind of victory. The key thing to remember is the resilience of the philosophy of liberalism—the sheer strength of the institutions that evolved based on those principles and the strength of the ideas and ideals of universal human rights, individual freedom, the sanctity of life, the rule of law and property rights, the democratic process, free inquiry, science, and free markets.

and the ending:

It seems to me that the more the woke turn their fire against true liberals—for example, the author J.K. Rowling—the more they reveal the fundamental intellectual bankruptcy of their cult, and the more they encourage other true liberals to cease the appeasement of wokeism that has characterized the past decade or so.

In short, I am more optimistic than you because I believe both battles—against the Islamists and against the woke—can be won. And the latter are in fact the much weaker foe.

Note that this dialogue will continue for a while, so check back at the site to see what’s happening, as I may not call attention to all new posts.

As for me, I think the war is lost, at least for a long time, as there are few “true liberals” in the mainstream media (Nick Cohen is one) compared to the Wokeists who run the New York Times, the Washington Post, all magazines with “New York” in the title, nearly all American and British colleges and universities, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a host of other influential organs and organizations. We’ll know the Woke have lost when we can look at the New York Times and not see the entire front page derived from Critical Theory. We’re a long way from that day.

Nick Cohen on a creepy case of cancel culture

Like me, every once in a while Nick Cohen has to display his bona fides and assert that no, he’s no right-winger. That’s because—also like me—his interest is largely in identifying and decrying the excesses of the Left, which he considers damaging to our side. And so, in September, he wrote a piece in the Guardian asserting (and I’m with him here as well) that the far right is a much greater danger to Western societies than is the far left.  We both have to do this from time to time lest we be labeled as Nazis for criticizing our own Left. (While I’m on Cohen, I highly recommend his book on this issue, What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way, as well as his book on modern censorship, You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom.)

So far, so good. But I was pleased to see that, in a new piece in the Spectator (click on screenshot below), Cohen is back beating up Cancel Culture, which is good because a) he does it so well and b) he’s an old Leftie, and thus could be said to have extra credibility on such issues.  What happened to the victim, the Scottish poet Jenny Lindsay, is horrific, but the good news is that Lindsay refuses to truckle to the social-media mob, for she did nothing wrong.

The upshot: in 2019, Lindsay objected on Twitter to a piece by a writer for The Skinny (a cultural magazine), when the writer called for “violent action” against TERFS (trans-exclusionary radical feminists: feminists who don’t fully accept trans people as equivalent in every sense to biological women). The people for whom violent action was recommended were “lesbian activists at Pride”, and I have no knowledge of that group beyond what Cohen says.

At any rate, Lindsay tweeted this:

‘Hello! One of your commentators here advocates violence against lesbian activists at Pride. I find it extraordinary that such views are given an airing in The Skinny.’

And that was all it took to incite the Outrage Brigade against her. Mind you, according to Cohen, Lindsay has been supportive of transwomen all her life. She is no transphobe. But, as Cohen says,

Although the magazine privately admitted to her it had made a mistake, Lindsay was publicly accused of transphobia. As in so many other witch crazes, Lindsay found the extremes had been sanctified. No criticism of an extremist could be permitted. The religion or ideology in this case must be accepted in its totality. The all-or-nothing character of the ideology guarantees that the extremes define it. Raising doubts about the tactics of one militant was enough to damn her as an enemy of all trans people.

Note that, like John McWhorter, Cohen sees Cancel Culture as a form of religion.  Cohen also notes that Linday’s feelings about trans people somewhat resemble those of J. K. Rowling’s:

And indeed on the extreme reading, which is to say the only reading that matters, Lindsay has a phobia. She believes in showing trans women every kindness but does not think that anyone can be a woman, and that there is no material basis for being female. As she and others point out, women’s oppression becomes impossible to fight if the material reality of the female body is wished away.

Then the following happened:

1.) Lindsay was accused of transphobia

2.) She was roundly assaulted on social media, with demands that she “prove her commitment to trans people” and was accused of “colonialist” thinking. (How colonialism comes into play here defies me.)

3.) People scoured her poems and found other supposed instances of “anti-trans” sentiments, like using menstruation as a metaphor.  Colleagues were warned to avoid her, and one poet publicly declared she wouldn’t share the stage with Lindsay, a declaration for which that poet was praised.

4.) When pressed, her critics admitted that her condemnation of violence wasn’t the reason she was ostracized.  But no reasons were explicitly given. The reason, of course, was that she had indeed condemned violence against a group that had reservations about the status of trans women.

5.) The Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) issued a statement supporting Lindsay last February. Though it didn’t mention her name, it was prompted by her ostracism and bad treatment, and said, among other things:

We support freedom of expression. We are a values-led organisation that embraces inclusivity, collaboration and a respect for pluralism – of languages, cultures and faiths.

What we do not support, and will no longer ignore, is bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers in events programmes and in publishing. This does not mean that we are taking sides in any particular debate but we will not be passive if we are made aware of behaviours within our community that do not align with our values.

6.) But Scottish PEN, which like the American PEN is supposed to support freedom of expression, issued a statement not supporting Lindsay at all (American PEN has also shown some cowardice on issues like this). From the Scottish PEN statement:

Unfortunately, the statement by the SPL fails to address equality issues, particularly in relation to bullying, non-platforming and preventing “pile-ons”. The statement offers no definitions or criteria to support identification of when these behaviours have reached a threshold to warrant punitive action by the library. Without clarity, accessible definitions, transparency and broad engagement with all stakeholders, questions remain as to how free expression can be protected for all who engage with the library. It is important that there is always a space for responsible and legitimate criticism. Addressing this would not weaken the library’s commitment to tackling these issues, instead it would demonstrate a commitment to ensuring the principles and policies adopted by the institution are equally distributed across the community, without bias or prejudice.

Further to this, no method of redress or appeal has been identified, offering no way for users to challenge the decisions made by the library. Free expression is complex and any policy that ignores such complexity can stifle the free expression of a range of stakeholders, most notably members of marginalised communities. We are disappointed that the library, prior to the launch of this statement, failed to reach out to partners, stakeholders and the broader community to help build this policy in a manner that responds to different points of view, defends legitimate criticism and protects everyone seeking to speak out through poetry.

This is just a “we like free speech but. . . ” statement, is cowardly and unnecessary, and doesn’t deal with the fact that the whole kerfuffle was about criticizing the threat of violence. Scottish PEN’s behavior was shameful.

7.)  A group of people then accused the Scottish Poetry library of “transphobia” on an open letter signed by “friends of Lindsay’s and writers she had mentored”. Some of the petition’s boilerplate (again, have a look at the SPL’s unobjectionable statement) From the petition:

 We are worried that current communications may reflect serious institutional transphobia, and a failure to understand the Library’s obligations regarding trans people’s legal protections from discrimination. We have all heard extensive distress from our trans friends, both readers and writers, as a result of your recent communications. Despite the Library’s previous work supporting LGBT+ writers and events, many trans people do not now think the Scottish Poetry Library is a welcoming and supportive space. We also write in solidarity with writers combatting racism, misogyny, ableism and other structural oppressions, so that oppressive action can be freely spoken about. We are asking for clarification on your Code of Conduct, your grievance processes, and the work you do to support and respect trans writers. We hope you will take seriously the need to rebuild trust.

Is anything missing from this virtue-signaling litany? Cohen makes a point here that I’ve brought up before:

Scottish PEN and the authors of the open letter made one decent point. They said Lindsay and the Scottish Poetry Library could not say they believed in freedom of speech and ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’. If you believe in the inclusion of trans people, you had to exclude anti-trans poets. The logic is impeccable until you ask who decides whether a writer is anti-trans. In Lindsay’s case it is the most extreme figures in the movement.

If offending a group counts as “exclusion”, then no, you can’t have free speech and inclusivity, for every bit of progress that has been made through free speech has offended somebody. That’s why free speech should be completely free save for exceptions carved out by U.S. courts, like speech that is calculated to produce immediate violence, harassment, defamation, and so on. “Inclusivity” is a worthwhile goal, but has been stretched so far that it’s simply not compatible with the goal of free speech.

8.) Finally, Lindsay wrote an essay in the latest issue of the literary magazine Dark Horse about her experience. Cohen recommends the essay highly, but you’ll have to buy the magazine to read it, and it’s not online.

Remember, all the opprobrium that came down on Lindsay originated with her tweet against violence, leading to a scouring of her work and life to the point that the Scottish Poetry Library had to defend her right of free speech, whereupon the Library itself  became demonized. It’s a bloody mess, and shows that rational debate about trans issues has become impossible. “Transphobia” is now the term for anyone wanting to debate the wisdom or validity of regarding trans people as full members of the sex to which they transitioned, just as “Islamophobia” is now used for anyone wanting to debate the wisdom and social effects of Muslim doctrine. Both words are substitutes for rational discussion, and are used to smear your opponents.

Cohen is rightfully angered about all this, and finishes with a flourish:

Witch hunters will tolerate only two possible outcomes to their chase. Either they destroy the heretic by driving her out of work and making her name a by-word for ignominy. Or they force her into a total capitulation. The artist, politician, journalist or left-wing activist must engage in public self-flagellation. They must make an obsequious apology. They must accept that their critics were wholly right and beg forgiveness for the offence they caused.

I am always struck by how no one cares that the apology is fake and has been forced from the target. Sincerity is not required. Rather the accusers demand that their victims bend the knee and acknowledge their mastery. If rape is about power not sex, then witch-hunts are about power not truth.

Lindsay to her immense credit won’t grovel. She will not accept an art world where the first lesson a writer must learn is how to self-censor. Banal work will be the inevitable consequence – indeed, you only need to look around the arts to see that in many cases it already is. Poets may not be Shelley’s unacknowledged legislators of the world, Lindsay concludes, ‘but let us ensure the Twitter mob is not either’. It may be late in the day, but that remains a slogan worth rallying to.

h/t: Jeremy

An exchange about Wokeism featuring Sarah Haider and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Well, there’s only one letter in the “exchange” so far: from Sarah Haider (co-founder and development director of Ex-Muslims of North America) to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The exchange will appear bit by bit at the Letter site (click on screenshot below, and you may want to subscribe):


The exchange will not be about Islam, as you might expect (both Haider and Hirsi Ali are vocal ex-Muslims, critical of the faith), but about “wokeism”, which intersected—pardon the word—with Haider’s criticisms of Islam to inspire the coming dialogue.  We all know that although Islam is, in general, an oppressive religion, seeing gays as immoral and women as inferior (this of course is not true of all Muslims), it is still defended by the Woke, who regard criticism of the faith’s tenets as “Islamophobia”. The Left’s defense of Islam is based on one reason only: Muslims are seen as “people of color”, and so their oppressive practices become immune from censure. That immunity does not extend to faiths like Catholicism or Protestantism, which are seen as “white” faiths. This is also one of the reasons why the Woke blast Israel at the expense of the much more oppressive Palestinian Territories, for Palestinians are also seen as people of color, although Palestine is really the “apartheid state” that Israel is said to be.

But I digress. Haider’s eyes opened to Wokeism when she couldn’t find people who would join her in criticizing Islam. Excerpts from Haider’s letter:

In fact, it was my activism with religion that first drove me to investigate this issue many years ago. When I first began speaking publicly about Islam, I quickly found (as did you), that those whom I anticipated would be on our side viewed me with suspicion. My criticisms of Islam were based on the very principles that those liberals claimed to champion, and yet I was swiftly rejected by them. This behavior left me stunned and confused, so I set out to understand it.

Very quickly, it became evident that the hesitancy to critique Islam actually had nothing to do with Islam. Educating my fellow liberals would not be enough—as ignorance was not the root of the problem.

Over the previous few decades, a new ideology had taken hold throughout liberal and progressive circles: writer and cultural critic Wesley Yang called it “the successor ideology,” but now it’s more usually called wokeism. At its core, this ideology is a delegitimization project—and it targets the very foundations of humanist, Enlightenment values. Wokeism is not the only movement to exploit the same programming that makes us vulnerable to religion. But it has achieved astounding success because it has also managed to neutralize liberals, who might otherwise stand against religious impulses, by hijacking our caring instinct, and by ruthlessly exploiting social dynamics to crush dissent.

It’s curious that the aspect of Wokeism that leads to the hesitancy to criticize Islam—the movement’s embrace of Critical Race Theory, so that Muslims are seen as oppressed people of color—isn’t mentioned by Haider, and I’m not sure why.  That is in fact the dominant impetus of Wokeism, and can’t be neglected. Yes, Wokeism denigrates some Enlightenment values, like freedom of speech, but it also embraces (to an extreme and unwarranted extent) an Enlightenment value: concern for the underdog. It’s not a battle against all Enlightenment values, but a dog’s breakfast of extreme Enlightenment values (the holiness of the oppressed) and anti-Enlightenment values.

At any rate, Haider thinks the Woke have won—for the time being. She’s right, for they’ve hijacked the universities and the media, as well as other organizations, including scientific societies. They’ve won because nobody wants to be seen as a racist, and so people have, as John McWhorter said, gone along to get along.


I believe that what we are witnessing is not the dawn of open war, but its conclusion. The woke have won, and decisively. But all is never truly lost, and this is not a prelude to submission. My approach is one of pragmatic optimism: In order to fight this—and we must fight it—we need to understand what lies ahead of us.

. . .Wokeism has won because it has captured our cultural and sense-making institutions.

Nearly all our educational, media, and non-profit institutions (including major grant-making organizations) are advancing in one direction. Meanwhile, the hearts and minds of the global elite are almost uniformly supportive of this new secular faith.

. . .it is no anomaly that the New York Times can hire and stand by an employee who speaks of white people as “dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” but cannot publish an op-ed by a sitting US congressman without a major staff insurrection. The conditions required for the extremists to thrive already exist. The door is open; they only need to walk through.

One may object, however, and point out that the majority of Americans are not woke. I believe that this is true. I also believe that it doesn’t matter. When so many of our fundamental institutions are in cult-like consensus, when the richest and most powerful among us routinely display public allegiance to one faith [Haider mentions that Jeff Bezos has pledged nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars to “social justice causes”], the preferences of the average American are largely irrelevant.

We must adjust our approach accordingly. To put it rather dramatically: we are not meeting the barbarians at the gate; we are rebelling against the empire.

So what does Haider think we must do? Well, she argues that to fight Wokeism we must first understand it, and you can do that by reading Pluckrose and Linday’s book, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody.  They provide a scholarly but lucid account of the roots of Wokeism.  Yet once you see Wokeism as a religion—the topic of McWhorter’s next book—you might agree with him that “battling it out” directly isn’t the way to fight. That’s no more efficacious than trying to engage the faithful to make them give up their religion. As with “militant” atheism, I’m with McWhorter in thinking that no, we shouldn’t engage the Woke directly. They will not be moved, and will simply call you names and try to ruin your life.  The way to fight them is the way atheists have been successful in eroding religion: mocking your opponents, refusing to buy what they’re selling, and writing books taking Wokeism apart.

I am not buying the stuff any more, and will mock it despite the possibility of being called a racist. And so should we all, for we need, as did atheists, to appeal to those on the fence—the uncommitted and open-minded. As for writing those books, well, Pluckrose and Lindsay have a good one, and McWhorter’s will, I suspect, be a powerful salvo against Wokeism.

In the meantime, keep your eye on the Haider/Hirsi Ali exchange.


h/t: Luana

Richard Dawkins canceled at Trinity College Dublin

The University Times, the student newspaper of Trinity College Dublin, reports that an invited address by Richard Dawkins has been canceled. The rescinded invitation was initially tendered by “The Hist”, the University Historical Society, who withdrew it. Why? Because Dawkins’s past statements on Islam and sexual assault might cause “discomfort” to the students. Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s a summary of what happened, which is almost humorous in the emphasis on “discomfort”—apparently the most important factor in deciding whether a speaker is appropriate (my emphasis):

The College Historical Society (the Hist) has tonight rescinded its invitation to Richard Dawkins to address the society next year.

Auditor of the Hist Bríd O’Donnell announced the cancellation in a statement on her [actually The Hist’s] Instagram page, saying that she had been “unaware of Richard Dawkins’ opinions on Islam and sexual assault until this evening”, adding that the society “will not be moving ahead with his address as we value our members comfort above all else”.

“The invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak at the society was made by my predecessor and I followed up the invitation with limited knowledge of Mr. Dawkins”, O’Donnell said. “I had read his Wikipedia page and researched him briefly. Regretfully I didn’t look further into him before moving forward with the invitation.”

“I want to thank everyone who pointed out this valuable information to me”, O’Donnell added. “I truthfully hope we didn’t cause too much discomfort and if so, I apologise and will rectify it.

. . . In an email statement to The University Times, O’Donnell said: “I was not previously aware of the harmful statements made by Richard Dawkins. The invitation was issued in advance of this committee’s tenure, and we are deeply grateful to the members and students who brought this to our attention.”

“The comfort of our membership is paramount, and we will not be proceeding with Professor Dawkins address. I apologize for any distress caused by this announcement, and the Hist will continue to listen and adapt to the needs and comfort of students”, she added.

It looks as if a social-media mob descended on Ms. O’Donnell and “convinced” her to withdraw the invitation. Apparently what Dawkins said in the past (more on that in a minute) is sufficient to prevent him from ever speaking again, as I’m pretty sure his address to The Hist would not have been about Islam or sexual assault! And, of course, by no means should any speaker make the audience uncomfortable!  The Hist needs to learn the lessons of history: every controversial and progressive talk makes some people uncomfortable.

I wrote Richard to find out what he was going to talk about and got this response:

I had not been going to speak about anything in particular. I had been graciously offered a Gold Medal, and I would doubtless have been expected to say a few gracious words in accepting the medal.
Ironically, the Gold Medal, not mentioned in the report, was described in the invitation as “the prestigious ‘Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse'” (and the Medal has presumably been withdrawn as well).

So what were the offensive statements? Gript reports on the sexual assault issue:

And what has he said about sexual assault, you might ask?  Well apparently it refers to two tweets he sent in 2014 [below], in which he suggested that being drunk and unable to remember being assaulted might make it more difficult to secure a prosecution:

Is he right or wrong there? That’s a matter of opinion. Are those views so dangerous and discomfiting that students should be protected from them? Not on your life.

Here are the 2014 tweets that Gript says are at issue. Some people apparently construed them as “blaming the victim” tweets. Given today’s climate, I would not have made them myself, but surely they don’t warrant canceling a talk six years later.

As for the anti-Islam tweets, well, Dawkins has issued many of those. And note that they’re anti-Islam, not anti-Muslim. It would have helped had O’Donnell specified which tweets or views made Dawkins an unacceptable speaker. At any rate, Dawkins has also issued at least as many tweets (and an entire book) on religions besides Islam, especially Christianity. Apparently those opinions aren’t supposed to make people uncomfortable!

The fact that Islam is singled out above the other faiths criticized by Dawkins tells us what The Hist is really afraid of: not of making religious people of any stripe uncomfortable, but of making Muslims uncomfortable. This is again the bigotry of low expectations, for Muslims should be able to listen to Dawkins as readily as Christians. And if you’re “uncomfortable” for statements made in the past, but probably not planned to be made in the scheduled talk, well, suck it up—along with all those who beefed to O’Donnell and made her cancel the talk.

One Trinity professor, an economist, responded appropriately:



h/t: Melissa

Art exhibit “postponed” because of hooded Klan figures in paintings

The tide of wokeism has come so far into shore that now it’s forbidden to even depict any subject that offends people, even if you’re depicting it to decry, criticize, and demonize bigotry or racism. Or, if you’re doing that, but are not of the “right” race or group to do it, you will still get criticized. That’s what happened, for instance, to artist Dana Schutz, who in April 2017 exhibited a painting at the Whitney Biennial Exhibition depicting the mutilated body of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered by racists in Mississippi in 1955. (His mother, to make a strong point about racial hatred, had an open-casket funeral that displayed his battered corpse.) Schutz’s painting was called “Open Casket.”

Schutz produced a powerful work of art underscoring that point, but she was criticized and demonized by many for her painting. Why? Because Schutz was white and Till was black. That’s all there was to the protests. Apparently, Schutz had the wrong pigmentation to give her artistic credibility. Some even called for the painting to be destroyed, while protestors stood in front of the painting to block people’s view and the painting was not included in a subsequent Schutz subsequent exhibit, being replaced by a placard (see my posts here and here). The behavior of protestors was itself offensive—and unhinged.

Now the New York Times reports the first kind of transgression: an artist decrying racism but, in decrying it, had to depict it in the form of hooded Ku Klux Klan members. The artist was Philip Guston, an influential Canadian artist who died in 1980, after having turned from abstraction to politically-themed representational paintings. And some of the things he represented, and hated, was racism. In some paintings it took the form of robed Ku Klux Klan figures, a group that hated both blacks and Jews (Guston was a Jew whose birth name was Goldstein, and he was also an anti-racist when it came to African-Americans). As the article below reports, this led to a three-year delay in a Guston exhibit scheduled for next year:

The exhibition had previously been described as including Guston’s small panel paintings from 1968 through 1972, a time period in which he was “developing his new vocabulary of hoods, books, bricks, and shoes.” Some of the figures in Guston’s works included cartoonish white-hooded figures smoking cigarsriding in a car, or, in one of Guston’s most well-known works, painting a self portrait at an easel.

As that article reports (click on screenshot below), the delay is solely due to Klan figures in some of Guston’s work:

An enlargement of the painting above:

A Philip Guston retrospective has been postponed until 2024. The delay may have been rooted in concerns that trenchant works like “Edge of Town” (1969), which was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, show hooded Klansmen. Credit: Vincent Tullo for The New York Times


The exhibit was scheduled for next year at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Those are some major venues, but now the exhibit has been postponed for three years after that. The reason is given in a joint statement by the directors of the galleries, which includes this:

The statement:

After a great deal of reflection and extensive consultation, our four institutions have jointly made the decision to delay our successive presentations of Philip Guston Now. We are postponing the exhibition until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.

We recognize that the world we live in is very different from the one in which we first began to collaborate on this project five years ago. The racial justice movement that started in the U.S. and radiated to countries around the world, in addition to challenges of a global health crisis, have led us to pause.

As museum directors, we have a responsibility to meet the very real urgencies of the moment. We feel it is necessary to reframe our programming and, in this case, step back, and bring in additional perspectives and voices to shape how we present Guston’s work to our public. That process will take time.

What, exactly, do they mean “at a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted”? THEY JUST INTERPRETED IT CLEARLY! What they mean is this, “We’re waiting three years to see if all this offense will die down.”

One would think that the resurgence of a racial justice movement would make the display of antiracist paintings even more pressing, but that’s not the way the world works these days. Even the depiction of a racist figure to denigrate it is off limits; it’s as if the museum directors (who are supposed to be advocates of free speech through art) wish to efface the idea that there even is or was racism!

Fortunately, sane people have pushed back on the delay, including Guston’s daughter as well as one of my Chicago colleagues:

Guston’s daughter, Musa Mayer, who wrote a memoir of her father, said in a statement that she was “deeply saddened” by the decision from the museums to postpone the exhibition, writing that her father had “dared to unveil white culpability, our shared role in allowing the racist terror that he had witnessed since boyhood.”

“This should be a time of reckoning, of dialogue,” she wrote. “These paintings meet the moment we are in today. The danger is not in looking at Philip Guston’s work, but in looking away.”

She noted that her father’s family were Jewish immigrants who fled Ukraine to escape persecution and that he “understood what hatred was.”

. . . and an art-history colleague here:

Darby English, a professor of art history at the University of Chicago and former adjunct curator at the Museum of Modern Art, called the decision by the museums to delay the Guston exhibition “cowardly and patronizing, an insult to art and the public alike.” He called the artist’s works “counterintuitive” and “thoughtfully created in identification with history’s victims.”

“It should be part of one’s attitude to see them as opportunities to think, to improve thinking, to sharpen perception, to talk to one another,” Professor English said of the works in an email. “Not to grimly proceed with one’s head in the sand, avoiding difficult conversations because you think the timing is bad.”

I must email English and thank him for his stand. I agree with every word of his statement. “Cowardly” and “patronizing” are especially apposite.

Finally, the Times notes two other instances (beside Schutz’s painting) of shows canceled or redacted because they depicted bigotry—in a negative way:

But art museums have in the last three years increasingly found themselves on the defensive for showing works that depict polarizing subjects and racial violence. Some observers have protested the showing of work considered traumatizing to communities scarred by that violence; others have objected that institutions put that pain on display gratuitously. Recently, some work has been removed from major exhibitions.

. . . [in 2017], in Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center, removed a work by the white artist Sam Durant, called “Scaffold,” a gallows-like sculpture intended to memorialize several executions, including the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Minnesota after the United States-Dakota war in 1862, after local Native American communities objected to it.

Just this summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland canceled an exhibition of the artist Shaun Leonardo’s drawings of police killings of Black and Latino boys and men after several Black activists and some of the museum’s staff members objected to it. The artist called the move censorship; the museum’s director, Jill Snyder, later apologized to Mr. Leonardo for canceling the show, saying “we breached his trust, and we failed ourselves.”

Nearly two weeks later, she resigned.

The words that now make art curators quail are these, “That art offends me!”  But that’s ludicrous, for art prompts emotion, and some of that emotion will be offense.

The history of art is littered with people who deemed art in a new style, or art that depicted “unpleasant” subjects, as unacceptable. This is just one more case. But in these cases the art that offends is art that agrees with the ideology of the offended! The offended are acting like spoiled children having tantrums, and we shouldn’t pay attention to their beefs, as they are prima facie unhinged. Nor should the curators truckle to the offended mob. That will lead to all art becoming bland, homogeneous, and afraid to tackle certain subjects. We’ll be left with galleries full of pictures of dogs playing poker (or is that an offense to dogs?).

h/t: cesar

More college overkill: Professor suspended for using the term “chinese virus” to refer to Covid-19

A simple in-person admonition to instructor John Ucker, who teaches mechanical and materials engineering at the University of Cincinnati, would have sufficed to correct the egregious misstep described in the title, at least egregious by the lights of “thousands of people.” But Ucker has instead been suspended for calling Covid-19 “the chinese virus”. You can see the story at the local news site in Cincinnati (click screenshot below) or at Inside Higher Ed.

An excerpt:

The university has put on administrative leave an engineering professor who used the term “Chinese virus” when talking about the coronavirus. The communication went viral.

“I really just want him to apologize,” said Evan Solzing, a UC engineering student. “I want a sincere apology for his comment.”

Sotzing is referring to a comment Professor John Ucker made to him via email after he told Ucker he was quarantined due to the coronavirus and couldn’t make it to lab.

The professor responded, “For students testing positive for the chinese (sic) virus, I will give no grade.”

“I was shocked at first that anyone in power, any professor, would say that because of how xenophobic it is and how much of a racist comment it is,” Sotzing said

So, he posted the email, it went viral and thousands of people weighed in, demanding the professor be ousted.

Thousands of people demanded that he be fired? Students hurt and shocked? Seriously, people still refer to the 1918 pandemic as “The Spanish flu”—not because people were anti-Spanish racists, but because the flu was thought to have come from Spain, just like Covid-19 came from China. Maybe Ucker was thinking of it that way. If so, then he’s not a racist.

Now I wouldn’t use that term, as it is insensitive, and Chinese-Americans or Chinese nationals have been badmouthed by Americans for either supposedly carrying the virus or being held responsible for it. But to put the guy on leave is simply ridiculous. I would have called him in for a chat, explained why he shouldn’t use the term, and tell him not to do it again. End of story.

But of course the University put him on leave and proffered a fulsome apology. From Inside Higher Ed:

President Neville Pinto of Cincinnati later said on Twitter, “There is no place for bigotry in our community or any other. We are better than this. Every Bearcat deserves to feel welcomed, respected and supported. Greatness starts with inclusion. And inclusion starts with each of us.”

John Weidner, Ucker’s dean, referred the incident to the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access for review and confirmed that Ucker was on administrative leave. “These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling,” Weidner wrote in an email to CNN. “We know we can better protect and care for all when we speak about COVID-19 with both accuracy and empathy — something we should all strive for.”

This is known as cancellation. And shouldn’t they ask about intent before kicking somebody’s butt out the door? At least one person got it right:

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech program, said in a statement that the “use of the phrase reflects poor judgement and the university should speak out to affirm its commitment to rejecting racism, bigotry and hate.” Yet, as a “matter of free speech and academic freedom, a disciplinary response to a single statement, in the absence of evidence of a broader pattern of biased or harassing conduct, risks constricting the space for open discussion on contentious issues.”

Going forward, Cincinnati “can and should continue to speak out on this issue, raise awareness and unequivocally condemn what the professor said,” Friedman added. “And they can and should pursue an effort at dialogue with the professor, in the hope that he can hear out just how deeply and negatively this phrase may affect students and the wider community. But efforts at dialogue and community support will be more sensible, effective and justifiable than a punitive response.”

I think that’s about right. But people don’t want gentle corrective action, even if it stops the slur. Ending the problem is not enough these days. People want the instructor’s head on a platter.  I hope they don’t get it.

Could it be the pandemic that’s getting people overly riled up this way?

h/t: William

J. K. Rowling again demonized on bogus grounds

There is no middle ground on J. K. Rowling; you consider her either an unrepentant transphobe or a feminist who, while accepting transgendered women’s self-identification in most respects, doesn’t think that they should always be treated the same as biological women. I hold the latter point of view, as I’ve read her explanation for the statements that got her “canceled” and find it convincing. For the Woke, though, no explanation is good enough, and Rowling will always be considered beyond the pale. There are even TikTok videos circulating of people burning her books! If anybody is being fully canceled, it’s Rowling, but her cancellation isn’t very thorough because too many people like her writing. (I’ve read only one Harry Potter novel, and thought it was just okay—but didn’t develop a taste for more.)

Rowling has a new detective novel, Troubled Blood, that people are criticizing as transphobic without having read it. (It came out Tuesday.) It’s in her Cormoran Strike series (the name of the private dick), and she writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (at this point I don’t know why).

The novel is “problematic” for the Excessive Left because it features a serial killer who occasionally dons women’s clothing to disguise himself. This is apparently not a major element in the story, but has been picked up by the Outrage Brigade as another instance of transphobia. But of course transvestites—those who dress in clothing of the opposite sex—are not transsexuals. This is conflated in many of the nasty reviews, like this predictable one in HuffPost (click on the screenshot). The statements of the reviewer, and of the predictably outraged on Twitter, show clearly that they haven’t read the book; for one thing, it’s wasn’t even out before the hating started. Nick Cohen did read the book, and has a different view (see below).


HuffPo goes after the book as transphobic, dishonestly quoting a Times of London review with the HuffPost author apparently not having read the book either. She takes everything from the Times piece, but takes it out of context.


J.K. Rowling is apparently dissatisfied with merely sharing her transphobic views on Twitter and in 3,600-word essays.

According to an early review in The Telegraph, “Troubled Blood,” the fifth installment in her Cormoran Strike series written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is about a cold case from 1974 that involves “a transvestite serial killer.”

“One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress,” the reviewer wrote of the book that comes out Tuesday.

“Reviewer” Elyse Wanshel then quotes a bunch of tweets, some accusing the book of making fun of transsexuals, like this one, which apparently didn’t read the Pink News quote that the book is about a cis man:



You can see the same kind of demonization in this Vanity Fair article, which again uses the Times phrase to damn the whole book:

An excerpt:

According to an early review in The Telegraph, Troubled Blood—the fifth installment in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series written under the pen name Robert Galbraith—deals with the cold case of a woman who disappeared in 1974 and is believed to be the victim of Dennis Creed, “a transvestite serial killer.” (Transvestite is considered an outdated and derogatory term for cross-dressing, which is not the same as being trans.) The review goes on to say, “One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress.”

How lazy can a reporter be?

Ah, such vehement virtue signaling. The thing is, there are no transsexuals in the book, nor a killer who wears a dress. You can see this from reading Nick Cohen’s piece in The Spectator (click on screenshot):

First, his summary:

The ‘evidence’ that provoked the malice [against Rowling] was so flimsy, even Twitter should have been embarrassed to publish it. Pink News, which dominates the LGBTQ+ outrage market, gave the case for the prosecution. According to the first review, ‘JK Rowling’s latest book is about a murderous cis man who dresses as a woman to kill his victims’, it announced.

It is about nothing of the sort, I thought. And I could say that with authority because I had just finished a review copy of Troubled Blood, the fifth novel in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series, as research for a long piece on her politics and art I’m working on for the Critic. No honest person who takes the trouble to read it can see the novel as transphobic. But then honest people are hard to find in a culture war.

About the Times quote that forms HuffPost’s sole basis for damning the book, Cohen says this:

One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress’.

That slippery ‘seems’ should have put readers on their guard. The moral of the book is not ‘never trust a man in a dress’. Transvestism barely features. When it does, nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat (not a dress) as a disguise when approaching one of his victims. Maybe this tiny detail is enough for the wilfully ignorant to damn Rowling as a ‘witch’ – I’m not making it up, for this is how Everton goalkeeper turned Twitter celebrity Neville Southall described her. But no one else should be satisfied.

Cohen’s assessment of the book’s merits is mixed, saying that it’s “Dickensian in its scope and gallery of characters” but also that Rowling’s theme of opposition to Scottish nationalism is “clumsy.”  But he adds that claims that the novel is transphobic are nonsense.

Cohen reveals, without giving away too much of the plot, that:

1.) The killer is, as seen above, not a transsexual but a transvestite cis man. Transphobia has nothing to do with transvestites. Further, the transvestite wears a woman’s wig and coat (not a dress!) to disguise himself as a killer.

2.) The transvestite serial killer is only one of several suspects, and is apparently apprehended when he tries to abduct a woman without wearing his wig and woman’s coat.

3.) The wig and coat are worn when the killer approaches only one of his victims, and nothing is made of it save that it’s a disguise.

4.) The totality of the damnation hurled on the book comes from this passage, described by Cohen:

You have to search hard to find a justification for the belief that the book’s moral ‘seems’ to be ‘never trust a man in a dress’. But then relentless searches for the tiniest evidence of guilt are the marks of heresy hunters

It amounts to this. On page 75, Strike is listening to the son of an investigating officer tell him what he knows about Creed.

He had his failures you know. Penny Hiskett, she got away from him and gave the police a description in ’71, but that didn’t help them much. She said he was dark and stocky, because he was wearing a wig at the time and all padded out in a woman’s coat. They caught him in the end because of Melody Bower. Nightclub singer, looked like Diana Ross. Creed got chatting to her at the bus stop, offered her a lift, then tried to drag her into the van when she said no. She escaped, gave the police a proper description and told them he’d said his house was of Paradise Park.

Creed mentions the advantage of lipstick and a wig in making women think he’s ‘a harmless old queer’ when Strike interviews him, and that’s about that. A novelist uses a passing detail to explain how a murderer got close to one of his victims – for presumably the victim who gave the police a ‘proper description’ did not see him in a woman’s coat and wig. A critic, unintentionally or not, whips up a rage, and thousands allow themselves to be whipped. Pavlov’s dogs showed more critical independence.

Cohen adds, “when you reach the last pages the full absurdity of the statement that Rowling’s ‘moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress’ will be revealed.” But he won’t give away the ending; this is, after all, a crime novel. He then argues that Rowling’s writing is becoming not more transphobic, but more feminist, portraying how men repeatedly condescend to and mistreat Robin Ellacott, Strike’s female partner.  Rowling, of course, experienced this kind of sexism when trying to get started as a writer. As Cohen concludes, “In this sense, if nothing else, Rowling’s latest work honestly mirrors her online life. She knows, as her characters know, that women who speak out of turn find themselves alone in a free-fire zone.”

This still leaves the question about why people are going so hard after Rowling, even in a case where she’s not transphobic by any stretch of the imagination. Well, we know the answer. Arguing that transsexual women aren’t 100% identical to biological women, and in some cases (like sports) should not be treated like them, is seen as a grave sin in the religion of Wokism, punishable by placement in the lowest circle of Hell. And everything you write after that will be damned, even if it has nothing to do with transsexuals.

Over at Spiked, Brendan O’Neill goes a bit deeper when attacking those who demonize Rowling and burn her books:

The blinkered philistinism of the anti-Rowling mob is confirmed in the fact that none of them has read her new Strike novel. It isn’t even published yet. But when did censorious mobs ever stop to read or observe or properly think about the book or painting or movie that they want to boycott or burn? Mobs are not known for reasoned engagement. Nor do they have any respect for the right of writers and artists to depict whatever they want. So just as National Socialists sought to erase degenerate art, and Mary Whitehouse types wanted to ban rude plays, so the anti-Rowling mob fantasises about setting fire to a novel they haven’t read because it’s by a woman they irrationally loathe.

Why is the hatred for Rowling so heated, so unstable? It strikes me that there are two reasons. First, the very uncancellable nature of Rowling infuriates these mobs who are so used to extracting mea culpas from every public figure they set upon. Rowling is too big, too established, too global to be easily slain by the PC speechpolice. Her refusal to abandon her beliefs and opinions on sex and gender drives these self-styled moral guardians insane because it reminds them of the limitations to their censorious power. Rowling’s resoluteness is a beacon to everyone else, too, reminding people that even in this darkly censorious era you can cling to your principles. And that is intolerable to PC mobs who want nothing less than unflinching, society-wide conformity to their political and moral dogmas.

And secondly, Rowling’s rejection of the idea that people can self-identify as whatever sex they like represents a challenge to the entire church of identitarianism. . ..

The second paragraph, I think, is right on the mark.


J. K. Rowling (from Biography). Photo by Mike Marsland/Wireimage

Will Darwin be canceled?

Given the scientific and political luminaries who have fallen under the axe, it’s not beyond possibility that Charles Darwin himself may undergo a “reevaluation,” with people discovering what we already knew: Darwin, like many people of the mid-19th century, had some bigoted views of whites (i.e., Brits) as a superior race. Yet Darwin never did anything but write a bit about it in The Voyage of the Beagle and The Descent of Man, and was, to boot, an ardent abolitionist along with his wife’s family, the Wedgewoods. Josiah Wedgewood, Darwin’s grandfather (and also his wife Emma’s), designed this ceramic medallion that was popular among abolitionists as early as 1787. That may be enough to save Charles but, as we know, one misstep can cancel you for keeps. And Darwin made more than one—according to today’s lights.

“Am I not a man and a brother?”

It’s thus possible that Darwin could meet the fate of other scientists who unfortunately didn’t foresee the change in morality in the last century and a half, and his statues and other honorifics could come down. In a piece before the one I’m mentioning today, sociologist Noah Carl (who’s had a bit of tumultuous history, having been canceled himself) wrote in RT about the possibility that Darwin might be canceled because of his views:

In summary, Darwin believed that men were on average more intelligent than women, and that some races were “civilised” whereas others were “savage.” His views on eugenics are not entirely clear (the term was coined one year after Darwin died), but it is obvious from his remarks in The Descent of Man that he believed industrial society could have dysgenic effects. Over the years, many scientists who have expressed views less invidious than these have been defenestrated, and one wonders whether Darwin will now suffer the same fate.

In the piece below from Medium, Carl has gone a bit farther, predicting the impending cancellation of Darwin. I don’t share his fears, mainly because Darwin hedged his bets a bit, was an abolitionist, and I suppose I’m optimistic enough to think that Darwin’s great contribution to biology—indeed, to all humanity—must outweigh any of the minimal conventional bigotry he espoused during his lifetime. But I guess I could have said that about Jefferson, too, and look what happened to him.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Carl’s method is to give quotes that resulted in the “cancellation” of figures like Hume and Linnaeus, and then quote Darwin on the issue of race, with the quotes not being that different in tenor from those of The Canceled.

Here are a few passages from Darwin, all from The Descent of Man (1871):

The taste for the beautiful, at least as far as female beauty is concerned, is not of a special nature in the human mind; for it differs widely in the different races of man, as will hereafter be shewn, and is not quite the same even in the different nations of the same race. Judging from the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages, it might be urged that their æsthetic faculty was not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance, in birds. Obviously no animal would be capable of admiring such scenes as the heavens at night, a beautiful landscape, or refined music; but such high tastes, depending as they do on culture and complex associations, are not enjoyed by barbarians or by uneducated persons.

There are passages similar to this throughout the Voyage of the Beagle, with the terms “barbarian” and “savage” used liberally.  Here’s another from The Descent of Man:

Most savages are utterly indifferent to the sufferings of strangers, or even delight in witnessing them. It is well known that the women and children of the North-American Indians aided in torturing their enemies. Some savages take a horrid pleasure in cruelty to animals, and humanity with them is an unknown virtue. Nevertheless, feelings of sympathy and kindness are common, especially during sickness, between the members of the same tribe, and are sometimes extended beyond the limits of the tribe. Mungo Park’s touching account of the kindness of the negro women of the interior to him is well known. Many instances could be given of the noble fidelity of savages towards each other, but not to strangers; common experience justifies the maxim of the Spaniard, “Never, never trust an Indian.”

That alone should be enough to do in Darwin. Why couldn’t he have anticipated the greater enlightenment of 20th-century Europeans. But wait! There’s more!

The belief that there exists in man some close relation between the size of the brain and the development of the intellectual faculties is supported by the comparison of the skulls of savage and civilised races, of ancient and modern people, and by the analogy of the whole vertebrate series. Dr. J. Barnard Davis has proved by many careful measurements, that the mean internal capacity of the skull in Europeans is 92·3 cubic inches; in Americans 87·5; in Asiatics 87·1; and in Australians only 81·9 inches.

You could even make the case that Darwin favored eugenics, but you’d have to do so by taking one of his quotes out of context. (That’s no problem for the Cancel Culture, as we saw from the attack on Steve Pinker.) Here Darwin analogizes humans with artificially selected animals, and suggests that scientific advances have actually led to the hereditary degeneration of humans (this is also from The Descent of Man):

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

That last sentence is alone sufficient ammunition to cancel poor Charles.

But if you ever see this quote used against Darwin, be aware that although it’s true that medical care has allowed the preservation of genes that would be injurious “in the wild”, Darwin adheres to our own view of what we should do about this—nothing. On the same page he says this:

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature […] Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage.

Carl concludes that if there’s a valid case for dethroning people like Hume, Galton, Fisher, and Linnaeus for their “retrograde” views on race and white superiority, then you can make an equally compelling case against Darwin. Well, in principle you could, especially if you’re not overly fastidious about viewing the entirety of his views and actions. But I don’t think this will happen.

Carl also concludes—and I agree—that the “defenestration” of figures like those mentioned above is not warranted unless you’re willing to cancel Darwin as well. As we discussed yesterday, morality advances, and if your views were the “received wisdom” of those in an earlier time, you become much less culpable than if you expressed them now.

h/t: Ben