Here’s a theory that is mine. And now, my theory: Canada is more woke than the United States. Why? Because although the innate degree of wokeness may be the same, Canadians are famous for their politeness, and thus don’t push back very hard on Woke insanity, like the article I describe below. Without pushback, Wokeness, with its drive for power, spreads inexorably.
So here’s the article, which you can get translated automatically from the French (at least I could with Chrome). It’s from Le Figaro. Sadly, the story it tells seems true.
Nadia Murad is an Iraqi who now lives in Germany. In 2018 she and Denis Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize; she for her campaign “to help women and children who are victims of abuse and human trafficking, and Mukwege for “repeatedly condemn[ing] impunity for mass rape and criticiz[ing] the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war.
Murad’s drive came from personal experience, for as the Nobel Committee notes:
Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, and in 2014 the Islamic State (IS) launched a brutal attack on her home village. Several hundred people were massacred, and girls and young women were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. After three months she managed to flee.
Murad is the first Yazidi and first Iraqi to be awarded the Nobel Prize for anything. She was invited to a Toronto school book club, and what a catch she would be, for she was talking about her latest and autobiographical book. (There was another guest as well; see below.) But she and the other participant were canceled. As the paper describes (note: this is an automatic translation so I’ve tweaked it a bit to make it clearer):
The Toronto school board has withdrawn its support for a book club dedicated to young girls. The presence of the Nobel Peace Prize, committed to the Yazidi cause, could, according to its representatives, offend Muslim students.
Founded by Tanya Lee about four years ago, the book club where Nadia Murad is a guest welcomes young girls aged 13 to 18, from various secondary schools, themselves overseen by the said school board. Without being directly governed by the institution, the club is promoted by its members to the students. The organizer of this literary meeting told the Globe and Mail of her misunderstanding , explaining that the superintendent of the school, Helen Fisher, allegedly said that the students would not participate in the event, scheduled for February 2022 .
The reason given? Her book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against Islamic State , may promote Islamophobia, reports The Globe and Mail . This is to forget that the 28-year-old Iraqi girl was, for three months, the sexual slavery of no less than 13 Daesh soldiers in 2014, before she managed to flee to Germany. Shocked by the exchange with Helen Fisher, Tanya Lee says she then sent her an email containing detailed information on the Islamic organization, coming from the BBC and CNN. “This is what the Islamic State means ,” she wrote to the superintendent.It is a terrorist organization. It has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims. The Toronto school board should be aware of the difference. ”
Apparently a council of the school board finally decided not to distribute the book to students. That’s absurd. What better role model for girls of that age than a woman who was abused and fought back hard—gaining a Nobel Prize in the end? The “Islamophibia” excuse of course comes from fear: that Muslims might take offense at the topic and cause trouble. But remember, Murad was abducted and sexually abused by an extremist group of Muslims. All rational Muslims should support Murad and her appearance. But of course religion has a way of eroding rationality. What the school board is doing is in effect saying that what ISIS did to Murad shouldn’t be criticized publicly, thus condoning religiously-inspired sexual slavery.
By the way, another person, also canceled, was supposed to appear with Murad in a joint event:
The event was supposed to carry discussion on two books in presence of their authors — Marie Henein’s ‘Nothing But the Truth: A Memoir‘ and Nadia Murad’s ‘The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State‘.
The board said it has withdrawn support to hold the October event with Henein, the daughter of Egyptian immigrants and one of Canada’s most prominent lawyers, because her book was “problematic” as she “defended” former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi when he was accused of sexual assault.
As far as I know, Ghomeshi was found “not guilty.” This is going too damn far, school board! Why aren’t Canadians objecting to this and writing letters to the Toronto school board?
The saga of Dorian Abbot began quietly on my campus, and when it was resolved at the University of Chicago, I thought that was the end of it. But then, because Abbot had written and made videos criticizing affirmative action and DEI initiatives, he was disinvited from the prestigious Carlson lectures at MIT, where he was supposed to speak on global warming (they later offered him a smaller technical lecture on his work). This deplatforming was picked up by several venues in the conservative media, including the conservative columnist Bret Stephens at the NYT, but I was frustrated that the non-conservative press ignored such an egregious incident of cancellation.
It was especially egregious because Abbot wasn’t going to talk at MIT about DEI or the like, but about global warming and other planets. In other words, he was being punished for saying things in other venues that offended people. More than that: there is a valid debate about the methods of DEI initiatives, though their intent is admirable. I accept the need for some affirmative action as a means of reparation, but others don’t, and none of us should be punished or cancelled for our views.
Now both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have published new pieces on Abbotgate, which you can access by clicking below. The NYT piece is an article by Michael Powell, and seems to me pretty favorable by way of making Abbot seem unfairly treated by MIT. (He’s not biased, but the facts do indict MIT.) The op-ed in the WSJ is by Lawrence Krauss, and also deals with Abbot, further describing how DEI initiatives are stifling science and swallowing up academia. There’s also a piece in Quillette (third screenshot below) that is largely about Abbot.
All in all, MIT has not come out of this looking good. And although the MIT President, Provost, and head of the department that invited Abbot, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (DEAPS) originally affirmed that yes, the school was strongly in favor free speech, and that Abbot had not really been canceled, but offered another (far inferior!) lecture, now they’re getting more defensive and hostile. Such is the Streisand effect.
I’ll give just the new information from the NYT piece. First, some anti-free-speech sentiments from the head of EAPS, much stronger than we’ve heard previously:
On Sept. 30, M.I.T. reversed course. The head of its earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences department called off Dr. Abbot’s lecture, to be delivered to professors, graduate students and the public, including some top Black and Latino high school students.
“Besides freedom of speech, we have the freedom to pick the speaker who best fits our needs,” said Robert van der Hilst, the head of the department at M.I.T. “Words matter and have consequences.”
The consequences are that you don’t get to talk about something irrelevant to words you’ve said before. And, as I emphasized, though Abbot and a colleague went a bit too far at the end of their Newsweek editorial on free speech, why should criticism of DEI, a perfectly valid philosophical and ethical debate, have such dire consequences? (Abbot notes correctly at the end that “these controversies will have a negative impact on my scientific career”.)
I’m quoted as well after a long interview with Powell, expressing surprise that scientists would get just as wokified as humanities people:
“I thought scientists would not get on board with the denial-of-free-speech movement,” said Jerry Coyne, an emeritus professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. “I was absolutely wrong, 100 percent so.”
My point was that freedom of speech is taken for granted in science: each of us has the right—nay, duty—to criticize others whose work we think is wrong. I assumed (wrongly) that that scientists’ emphasis on free speech would carry over into politics. Well, I’m neither a politician nor a pundit.
A professor at Princeton asked Abbot to give his Carlson lecture at his school, and that will happen today. But there were other consequences:
The story took another turn this week, as David Romps, a professor of climate physics at the University of California, Berkeley, announced that he would resign as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center. He said he had tried to persuade his fellow scientists and professors to invite Dr. Abbot to speak and so reaffirm the importance of separating science from politics.
“In my view, there are some institutional principles that we have to hold sacred,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
His colleagues weren’t persuaded, so Romps resigned.
Now the NYT piece isn’t perfect, for in the two paragraphs below I see reporter Powell trying to imply that science is guilty of present-day as well as past racism:
The history of science is no less marked than other fields of learning by abhorrent chapters of suppression and prejudice. Nazi and Communist regimes twisted science to their own end, and scientists buckled, fled or suffered perilous consequences. Some professors point to aspects of that history as a cautionary tale for American science. In the United States, so-called race science — including the measurement of skulls with the intent to determine intelligence — was used to justify the subordination of Black people, Chinese, Italians, Jews and others. Experiments were carried out on people without their consent.
The worst of that history lies decades past. That said, the faculty at geoscience departments in the United States has more white faculty than some other sciences. Departments have attracted more female professors of late but struggle to recruit Black and Latino candidates. The number of Asian Americans earning geoscience degrees has decreased since the mid-1990s.
Indeed, the worst of that history lies decades past; at present, science departments are lining up in droves to hire good minority candidates. But the second paragraph, at least to me, is a Kendi-an implication that inequities in geoscience departments still reflect racism in those departments. That’s simply not true. It is a “pipeline problem” whose rectification requires a huge and necessary societal effort well beyond DEI efforts on the college and grad-school level.
There were professors who supported Abbot’s cancellation, of course. One is Phoebe Cohen, a geoscience professor at Williams College, who makes an unbelievably dumb statement that I’ve put in bold below:
Phoebe A. Cohen is a geosciences professor and department chair at Williams College and one of many who expressed anger on Twitter at M.I.T.’s decision to invite Dr. Abbot to speak, given that he has spoken against affirmative action in the past.
Dr. Cohen agreed that Dr. Abbot’s views reflect a broad current in American society. Ideally, she said, a university should not invite speakers who do not share its values on diversity and affirmative action. Nor was she enamored of M.I.T.’s offer to let him speak at a later date to the M.I.T. professors. “Honestly, I don’t know that I agree with that choice,” she said. “To me, the professional consequences are extremely minimal.”
What, she was asked, of the effect on academic debate? Should the academy serve as a bastion of unfettered speech?
“This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” she replied.
What? Intellectual debate and rigor are signs of toxic male white supremacy? What an outrageously stupid statement! Intellectual debate and rigor are de rigueur not just in science, but in academia as a whole. I mourn for Dr. Cohen’s geoscience students at Williams: are they taught to go with their feelings and emotions instead of “intellectual rigor” when they take her classes?
Finally, we return to the chair of MIT’s EAPS defending the cancelation. I’d be surprised if Abbot takes up the invitation to address his department (my emphasis):
Dr. van der Hilst speculated that Black students might well have been repelled if they learned of Dr. Abbot’s views on affirmative action. This lecture program was founded to explore new findings on climate science and M.I.T. has hoped to attract such students to the school. He acknowledged that these same students might well in years to come encounter professors, mentors even, who hold political views at odds with their own.
“Those are good questions but somewhat hypothetical,” Dr. van der Hilst said. “Freedom of speech goes very far but it makes civility difficult.”
Dr. van der Hilst added that he invited Dr. Abbot to meet privately with faculty there to discuss his research.
What happened to the departmental lecture? Has it been replaced by “private meetings with faculty”? At any rate, yes, students might have been repelled or offended by what Abbot said outside MIT, but they have plenty of recourse. They don’t have to go to Abbot’s lecture, they could picket it outside quietly, or they could use counterspeech. But Hilst even admits that the world is full of encounters with speech you don’t like, so why is Abbot being deplatformed? This is not “somewhat hypothetical”—those are weasel words—but real. So why can’t MIT use the Carlson Lecture as an example?
As for his last sentence, “Freedom of speech makes civility difficult,” yes, it’s partly true but not inevitable, and so what? Violation of civility is not protected by the Constitution, but freedom of speech is.
All in all, I’m pleased that the NYT not only covered Abbot’s disinvitation, but, in describing it objectively, still makes MIT look pretty bad. (I am of course biased, but I am not alone in my feelings.)
Here’s Lawrence Krauss’s short piece in the Wall Street Journal. He’s careful not to go after DEI initiatives in the way Abbot did, but still calls them out for injuring science and causing academic bloat. Click on screenshot:
Just two short from Krauss:
Several years ago, one began to see an additional criterion in advertisements for faculty openings. As a recent Cornell ad puts it: “Also required is a statement of diversity, equity and inclusion describing the applicant’s efforts and aspirations to promote equity, inclusion and diversity through teaching, research and service.” This sort of requirement became more common and is now virtually ubiquitous. Of the 25 most recent advertisements for junior faculty that appeared in Physics Today online listings as of Oct. 15—from research institutions like Caltech to liberal-arts colleges like Bryn Mawr, and even in areas as esoteric as quantum engineering and theoretical astrophysics—24 require applicants to demonstrate an explicit, active commitment to the DEI agenda.
This isn’t merely pro forma; it’s a real barrier to employment. The life-sciences department at the University of California, Berkeley reports that it rejected 76% of applicants in 2018-19 based on their diversity statements without looking at their research records. A colleague at a major research institution, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her students, wrote to me: “I have a student on the market this year, agonizing more on the diversity statement than on the research proposal. He even took training where they taught them how to write one. It breaks my heart to see this.” Other colleagues relate that their white male postdocs aren’t getting interviews or have chosen to seek jobs outside academia.
This is happening not only in universities. Last week the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a biomedical research charity, announced a $2.2 billion initiative aimed at reducing racial disparity, made possible by a contraction in its funding of significant research for senior investigators. The initiative includes $1.2 billion in grants for early-career researchers. Science magazine reports that because antidiscrimination law prohibits disqualifying applicants on the basis of race and sex, the recipients will be chosen based on their “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” in the words of the institute’s president, Erin O’Shea. How? “Diversity statements,” she says, are “a very promising approach.”
In other words, diversity statements are a surrogate for the candidate’s race, and you can do an end run around illegal race-based hiring by ranking diversity statements. We’ve known this for a while, though.
Beyond these fearful faculty members, and talented would-be scientists who will be dissuaded or excluded from academic research, DEI offices are working to indoctrinate incoming students. This year at Princeton, the New York Post reports, freshmen were required to watch a video promoting “social justice” and describing dissenting debate as “masculine-ized bravado.” If such efforts succeed, a new generation of students won’t have the opportunity to subject their own viewpoints to challenge—surely one of the benefits of higher education.
Critics have likened DEI statements to the loyalty oaths of the Red Scare. In 1950 the University of California fired 31 faculty members for refusing to sign a statement disavowing any party advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. That violated their freedom of speech and conscience, but this is worse. Whereas a loyalty oath compels assent to authority, a DEI statement demands active ideological engagement. It’s less like the excesses of anticommunism than like communism itself.
And now I’ve run out of space (and steam), so I’ll refer you to the article in Quillette (click on screenshot below) by Peter Schuck, the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law school. It ends like this:
The MIT fiasco should remind us how much cancel culture has to answer for. Although this culture’s activists are relatively few and its rhetoric is often risible in its hyperbole, its militants on college campuses sometimes have an outsize effect on others: cruelly blighted reputations, perverse policy agendas, stigmatization of moderate Democrats, and much more. But Princeton’s swift response to Abbot’s cancellation by providing an alternative, honored forum also suggests a hopeful, low-cost remedy, consistent with free speech and liberal academic values. MIT should be ashamed of its craven support for bullying—and perhaps other more principled institutions will heed this simple exemplary lesson.
There are two items today that I commend to your attention.
The first is Andrew Sullivan’s latest newsletter on The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below), in particular his main piece on a new phenomenon: people confronting politicians or those whom thy oppose in private venues, and harassing them or vandalizing their property. You might remember that this started in the days running up to the Trump election, when people would accost Republican politicians in restaurants, scream at them, or, sometimes, the restaurant owner would ask them to leave. Although some readers thought this was fine, I didn’t. People should be able to dine in restaurants in public with their families and be left in peace, whether they be Trumpites or Bernie bros. (Most of the hectoring was done by the Left, but as Sullivan notes in this week’s column, the Right is not immune.)
Both sides need to lay off disturbing people’s regular lives, for it has no salubrious result; it allows some people to blow of steam while hardening the divisions in America. And it inspires other people to go off on their enemies in public.
Click on the screenshot to read, and remember to subscribe if you read often:
The title itself shows one example of Leftist damage to the home of Oakland’s mayor. As you see, it says “defund the OPD [Oakland Police Department]”, “cancel rent!” (that would work well) and so on. That mess of paint requires serious cleaning up! Sullivan cites a bunch of examples of similar attacks by the Left, but you can read for yourself. I’ll adduce one more: the mayor of Portland, Oregon had to move because protestors went after his condo, even breaking windows of other people’s offices and throwing burning material in them. Yelling at people is insufficient these days! No, you have to follow them into the bathroom and yell at them in their stalls when they’re trying to micturate, as happened to Kyrsten Sinema.
And attacks by the Right as well:
Although not as persistent or as widespread as the far left’s invasion of the privacy of public figures, the far right is not innocent either. LA Mayor Garcetti’s residence was targeted by anti-lockdown activists; LA County’s public health director was also targeted at home; some folks brought menacing tiki-torches to the Boise mayor’s home; in Duluth, Trump supporters organized 20 trucks to circle the mayor’s home. Over the new year, Nancy Pelosi’s private home was vandalized, graffiti written on her garage door, and a bloody pig’s head was thrown into the mix for good measure.
There are also attacks on school board members around the country, who favor teaching the concepts of critical race theory to kids, or are implementing Covid mask policies. It’s fine and good to protest; it is not fine and good to force these people and their families to live under personal siege.
Anti-mask demonstrators, for example, hounded one Brevard School Board member and mother, Jennifer Jenkins, at her Florida home, at one point coming to her doorstep and coughing in her face. She later testified that she was ok with demonstrators outside her home, but that “I object to them following my car around, I reject them saying they are coming for me and I need to beg for mercy … that they are going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors. That they’re making false DCF [child welfare agency] claims against me to my daughter. That I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks. That’s what I’m against.”
All of this is to make the point that the personal is not political, a phrase that never made a lot of sense to me. Sullivan, like me, is opposed to this kind of stuff, and is and was also opposed to outing closeted gays. As he says, “I have long felt that way even about ‘outing’ public figures who have bad records on gay rights. Legitimize outing gays to combat homophobia and you legitimize other people outing gays in order to shame and humiliate.”
Sullivan ends like this:
What we’re losing, I fear, is the idea that we can take on a role as public citizens that is separate from our role as private human beings; that we can place limits on what the state can do to us, and what we can do to each other. As Hannah Arendt perhaps best grasped, a liberal society is almost defined by its belief that politics has limits, and that it exists to defend us from either the government or our fellow citizens leveraging private human flaws for political purposes. There are, in fact, many worse things than hypocrisy. Shamelessness, for example. The first is human; the second is sociopathic. I want to live in a world where the former prevails.
The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.
Let’s not lose the distinction between public and private. Let’s remember that everything we decide to do to violate the privacy of others comes back to legitimize others’ violation of ours. The immediate payoff may be gratifying; but what it does to a society over time, as the tit-for-tats cascade, is to remove the chance for civil debate, and enhance the power of personal hatred, and, ultimately political violence. That’s where this leads: a descent from civil argument to civil war.
That last sentence might be hyperbole, but it’s not out of the question.
Can we have a little civility around here? America is so polarized that even at the University of Chicago, when our administration refused to get rid of its police department, students camped out in the street in front of our Provost’s house for a week (an illegal act, but the police let them be for a while), and even painted a parking space for the Provost, who’s of Chinese descent. She’s not by any means a racist, but that’s the worst thing that the Woke can call someone, and so they painted it in front of her house, helpfully in Chinese and English (I don’t even know if she reads or speaks Chinese). “CareNotCops” is the local student “progressive” group.
Second item (h/t Paul): a 28-minute interview of Bari Weiss by Brian Stelter, CNN’s lead reporter on the media. The topic is why she, like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, and others, have moved from “MSM” to Substack. Click on the screenshot below to go to the page with the audio interview, and then on the arrow by the header below.
As Stelter notes, Weiss now makes a lot more money on Substack than she did before she resigned from the New York Times, but I’m sure she did it for the freedom to write without censorship, not for money (she couldn’t predict that she’d get over 100,000 subscribers). She indicts the NYT for pushing a defined narrative rather than “all the news that’s fit to print.” She wants her column, Common Sense, to be “the op-ed column I would like to read”, the place that cover stories that the MSM won’t touch. She gives a laundry list of “the ways that the world’s gone mad”; you’ll be familiar with many of them, including MIT’s cancellation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot’s invited lecture, which was completely ignored by the major media save the Wall Street Journal. (She also indicts CNN itself.)
In the end, her aim is to publish things that will affect our “fear-based society” in a good way, so that people don’t become afraid, as many are, to say what they think. Stelter pushes back at some points, and it’s a very good interview.
I’ve been criticized for concentrating on “cancelling” by the Left and ignoring the same activities by the Right. If that’s true, it’s because I think the Left’s activities will help the Republicans in the next elections, while everybody in the liberal media concentrates on the Right. But it is true that we shouldn’t forget that the Right is guilty of some equally stupid attempts at censorship, several of them described in this article in The Daily Beast. Among the things that the Right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” are fighting to ban in schools are predictable ones: mentions of race, the struggle for civil rights, Native Americans, descriptions of segregation in schools, and so on.
But click on the screenshot below to read some new and unpredictable targets of Right-Wing opprobrium, including, for crying out loud, the reproduction of seahorses!
At the heart of that fight is a conservative group, led by a private-schoolparent, that has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Many of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad little owls, and hurricanes.
. . .With school back in session, the Williamson County feud has been renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even broader and loonier than MFL’s June letter suggests.
Accompanying that letter is an 11-page spreadsheet with complaints about books on the district’s curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books about poisonous animals (“text speaks of horned lizard squirting blood out of its eyes”), Johnny Appleseed (“story is sad and dark”), and Greek and Roman mythology (“illustration of the goddess Venus naked coming out of the ocean…story of Tantalus and how he cooks up, serves, and eats his son.”) A book about hurricanes is no good (“1st grade is too young to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes”) and a book about owls is designated as a downer. (“It’s a sad book, but turns out ok. Not a book I would want to read for fun,” an adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)
You can find what I think are the 11 pages of spreadsheets here and here (enlarge a download), and you can see a pdf presentation of some of the offensive stuff here, along with some videos by The Offended.
But wait—there’s more! Foreign words don’t make the cut, and the parents also join those historians of science who say that the affair of Galileo does not show antiscientific behavior of the Catholic church!
Multiple books that contain Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article about crackdowns on civil rights demonstrators, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “negative view of Firemen and police.” A fictional book about the Civil War (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part due to depictions of “out of marriage families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’”
At one juncture, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth revolves around the sun.
“Where is the HERO of the church?” the group’s spreadsheet asks, “to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Both good and bad should be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.”
Finally, my favorite bit is the seahorse ban. As I’ve written before, both seahorses and pipefishes reverse the usual course of offspring care. In both groups, males have pouches to contain and incubate the fertilized eggs, and females compete for those eggs to get into those pouches. (This is because females can produce eggs faster than males can incubate broods.) Because here females compete for rare space in male pouches, sexual selection is reversed, and in seahorses and pipefish it is the females rather than the males that is the highly decorated sex (see here and here).
You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality! And so they object:
MFL’s Williamson County chapter also takes issue with a picture book about seahorses, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.”
The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s story time YouTube channel.
Readers looking for a Kama Sutra of seahorse sex will be disappointed. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea contains nothing more risqué than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never—heavens—at the same time).
The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “they twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. Sea horses are faithful to one mate and often pair up for life. Today Sea Horse’s mate is full of ripe eggs. The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch. [JAC: OMG that is HOT!] Barbour sea horses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male sea horse has a pouch. Only the female sea horse can grow eggs.”
MFL recommends the book be reserved for older children, up to grade eight.
As your reward, here’s a video of a male seahorse giving birth to hundreds of miniatures (warning: sex-role reversal!):
It’s a sad day when the American Civil Liberties Union has to alter a quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (one of our mutual heroes) to placate the potentially offended. Here’s one of their recent tweets:
With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, we lost a champion for abortion and gender equality. And on the anniversary of her death, the fight to protect abortion access is more urgent than ever. pic.twitter.com/vIKadIHouN
“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”
― Ruth Bader Ginsburg
There are six changes, five in brackets, getting rid of “woman” and “her” (substituting “persons” and “people” for “woman” and “they” or “their” for three “hers”). The missing part of the quote, which is “It is a decision she must make for herself”, could have been altered to “It is a decision they must make for themselves,” but that would add two more sets of brackets and make the whole quotation look really weird.
The explanation is simple and obvious; they are removing RBG’s reference to women having babies since the ACLU, whose mission now includes a substantial amount of transgender activism, is onboard with the idea that transmen, who are now given the pronouns “he” and “men”, can have babies. And indeed, transmen have given birth.
I have no quarrel with asserting that transsexual men can have offspring while using male pronouns. What bothers me is the alteration of RBG’s quotation, which strikes me as disingenuous, as it alters what somebody actually said with the purpose of conforming to an ideology that didn’t exist during most of RBG’s life. Would it cause harm if people were to read the actual quote? Would the quote really be considered transphobic given that RBG was not a transphobe?
I doubt it; we know that usage has changed in the past decade. And if we can go ahead and alter quotes any way we want so they are seen as less offensive and less “harmful”, well, we’re in trouble.
As I’ve said for a while, the ACLU is circling the drain. If they were offended by the original quote, they should have either used it as it was spoken, or not used it at all.
To be fair, I’ll link you to a defense of this kind of usage (which to me still doesn’t justify altering RBG’s quote), in this article by Emma Green in the Atlantic.
I recently wrote about an matter involving Anna Krylov, a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC). Fed up with the politicization of science, Krylov published a letter in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, which you can read by clicking the screenshot below.
Krylov’s point was to show the similarity between the scientific censorship and “erasure” in the Soviet Russia of her youth with academic censorship of scientists in the West today. I’ll give one quote from her article showing the kind of “erasure” of scientists that Krylov deplores (I’ve omitted the references save for a self-aggrandizing one):
As an example of political censorship and cancel culture, consider a recent viewpoint discussing the centuries-old tradition of attaching names to scientific concepts and discoveries (Archimede’s [sic] Principle, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Schrödinger equation, Curie Law, etc.). The authors call for vigilance in naming discoveries and assert that “basing the name with inclusive priorities may provide a path to a richer, deeper, and more robust understanding of the science and its advancement.” Really? On what empirical grounds is this based? History teaches us the opposite: the outcomes of the merit-based science of liberal, pluralistic societies are vastly superior to those of the ideologically controlled science of the USSR and other totalitarian regimes. The authors call for removing the names of people who “crossed the line” of moral or ethical standards. Examples include Fritz Haber, Peter Debye, and William Shockley, but the list could have been easily extended to include Stark (defended expulsion of Jews from German institutions), Heisenberg (led Germany’s nuclear weapons program), and Schrödinger (had romantic relationships with under-age girls). Indeed, learned societies are now devoting considerable effort to such renaming campaigns—among the most-recent cancellations is the renaming of the Fisher Prize by the Evolution Society, despite well-argued opposition by 10 past presidents and vice-presidents of the society.(20)
For writing her piece in the journal, Krylov of course received considerable pushback, for there are people whose raison d’être is to sniff out any bad things that famous scientists did, and then use that as an excuse to vilify them and remove any honorifics attached to them. (The shabby treatment of Ronald Fisher by the Society for the Study of Evolution is but one example; another is the impending removal of Thomas Henry Huxley’s name from an Institute at Western Washington University).
In the wake of the Rose Ritch affair, we have been promised that a series of activities will be implemented to improve our campus climate. We were hoping to see educational activities that aim to combat zionophobia and antisemitism, as well as other forms of hate and discrimination, to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and to enable discussion of controversial issues in a respectful environment. We are still waiting for concrete actions from the administration.
The letter above comprises the usual overblown rhetoric and misleading statements about Israel, including the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state, a call for the “right of return” that would destroy Israel, and a call for solidarity of these feminist departments with Palestine, stating that “Palestine is a Feminist Issue.”
Well indeed it is, but not in the way the authors think. The culture of Palestine, unlike that of Israel—except for Orthodox Jews)—is deeply misogynistic, with women oppressed and treated as second-class citizens. It’s ironic, and highlights the blindness of this faction of the Left, that these women believe that supporting Palestine against Israel is a “feminist stand.” How nuts can you get? But so it goes.
Enough palaver; I won’t summarize the letter above because it’s short and you can read it for yourself.
The salient point for Krylov and her colleagues was not that academics were taking a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stand, which is their right, but that entire academic departments and units were speaking as a whole, presumably on behalf of their members. Yet surely not everyone in these many departments throughout the US share the histrionics about Israel. But, if they dissent, what can they do? Their dissenting views are lumped together with the opposite views of their colleagues. What this does is chill the speech of the dissenters. What grad student, undergraduate student, or untenured professor in these departments would dare take a stand against their department as a whole?
It is this chilling of speech—this promulgating of official ideological, political, and moral views by departments of universities, indeed of universities as a whole—which led the University to issue the Kalven Report in 1967 and deem it one of our “Foundational Principles“. The Kalven Report, named after the committee’s chairman, expressly forbids the University from taking any official stands on political and ideological issues, though of course individual faculty are encouraged to do so. (There were also a few exceptions when the University may take a stand on an issue affecting the educational mission of the University itself.) The reason for the Kalven Report: because taking such stands chills the speech of dissenters and quashes free expression. Here’s a paragraph from the Report:
So Krylov and her colleagues, in their letter to the USC administration responding to the feminist calls for solidarity with Israel, promote principles identical to those limned by our Kalven Report: units of universities should not engage in wholesale political grandstanding lest it act to repress free speech: the lifeblood of any good university. The letter by Krylov and colleagues can be seen by clicking the screenshot below.
And here’s the crucial statement, which aligns very well with my University’s own stand. Note as well the misguided criticisms of Israel contained in these “official” statements:
We do not know whether such departmental declarations of political support are legal, but they are certainly unethical. They have nothing to do with freedom of speech of individuals; rather, they fall under compelled speech because they appear to speak on behalf of all members of the department (e.g. faculty, staff, and students), many of whom are untenured or supervised by more senior members and thus not in a position to openly disagree. Most concerning, this signing implies endorsement by USC itself. Thus, we call on USC leadership to publicly rebuke the practice of USC departments (or units) making statements for specific political agendas that have nothing to do with the University’s educational and research missions. The Statement above contains extreme, indeed fabricated, claims that criminalize the very creation of the State of Israel and, by implication, indict all its citizens and supporters, including us. Not doing so, would make USC complicit in comments within the Statement that describe the State of Israel as “settler colonialism”, “ethnonationalist violence”, “ongoing ethnic cleansing”, and “apartheid”. If USC’s implicit support stands, many Jewish students and others who believe in Israel’s right to exist will be reluctant to attend our university.
Do you think that USC will rebuke the posting of official departmental statements about issues having nothing to do with the departments’ educational mission? Will they make the departments take the statements down? I wouldn’t count on it. Even the University of Chicago, in response to repeated pleas by people like me, lets departmental political statements stand at the same time arguing that such statements violate university policy. I suppose it’s one thing to declare a policy, but another to tell a department that they’ve violated it and take “restorative” action.
Nevertheless these statements are examples of compelled speech applying to everybody in the units and departments, even if no individual signatures appear.
In these fraught times, such statements, which often seem to be a form of virtue signaling, aren’t uncommon. Here’s one issued not long ago by nine departments and programs (and some individual faculty) at the University of California at Davis. Like the USC statement, it’s a misguided and politically heated heap of denunciation of Israel and valorization of Palestine (click on the screenshot):
The statement was “updated” by adding a disclaimer at the top: “The statements below are part of our educational mission and reflect the views of the faculty in the department and not official University policy.”
But that’s deeply unclear. Why is demonizing Israel and lauding Palestine (the usual accusations against Israel, like “apartheid state” are pervasive) part of UCD’s “educational mission”? There are, of course, many political statements that could have been made: against Iran, China, North Korea, and so on, but the usual suspect is, of course, Israel. Further, the disclaimer says that the statements “reflect the views of the faculty in the department”. Well, which faculty? ALL the faculty? Or only some? If the latter, then only the faculty who agreed should have signed, not entire departments and programs.
UCD, like USC, is violating its education mission by chilling speech, by allowing official units to take political and ideological stands (a pretty misguided one in this case) that will brook no dissent. No wonder that more than half of college students, at least in a recent survey, said they felt intimidated from speaking:
A majority—53%—also reported that they often “felt intimidated” in sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they were different from those of the professors. A slightly larger majority feared expressing themselves because of differences with classmates.
Even accounting for shy people, that figure is way too high.
As for UC Davis, the administration basically took the coward’s way out, pretending that their refusal to prohibit compelled speech was actually a way of ensuring free speech. How’s this for doublespeak?
A spokesperson for the university told J. [the Jewish News of Northern California] in an email Wednesday that Davis “is committed to ensuring that all persons may exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly and worship, even in instances in which the positions expressed may be viewed by some as controversial and unpopular.”
The spokesperson, Melissa Lutz Blouin, wrote that UC Davis had “consulted with University lawyers and learned that, provided that these statements do not engage in electioneering, including advocating for or against political candidates or ballot measures, these statements do not violate the law.” [JAC: they may not violate the law, but they still act to impede freedom of speech.]
She added that campus leadership is “consulting with campus stakeholders about whether there needs to be more regulation” in the area of “who may speak for a department” and “what may be posted on academic websites.”
The answer, UCD, is YES, there needs to be less promulgation of compelled speech.
I wonder if this politicization of universities is only a temporary phenomenon, and will one day be looked at as a sad overreaction to the George Floyd Era. Or is it here to stay? Because if it’s here to stay, you can kiss academic freedom of speech—and academic freedom itself—goodbye.
Author Freddie deBoer, in his Substack column below, answers my title question with a firm “no”. And although the evidence is circumstantial (see below), I tend to think he’s right. (If you don’t know who deBoer is, his bio is here; he’s an author who says he’s “a Marxist of an old-school variety” and has little sympathy with modern social-justice movements.)
Click on the screenshot to read his claims:
deBoer begins with a good point: the issue of whether we should censor “hate speech” (which of course is a slippery concept) can be taken both as an empirical issue—do laws against hate speech actually work in suppressing both speech and hate?—and a normative one—is it ethical to censor speech in this way? The first question should be answered before the second. For if laws against hate speech are ineffective, there’s no point in debating whether we should have them: we shouldn’t. Why create laws that have no palpable consequences?
deBoer then presents two pieces of evidence that laws against hate speech don’t work. These involve countries having such laws: Germany and France. I’ll show just his thoughts on Germany:
Germany has arguably the most aggressive anti-hate speech etc. laws in the world, or at least outside of those authoritarian countries that already significantly restrict speech in general. The concept is called Volksverhetzung, or incitement to hatred, and it has been broadly interpreted for decades, resulting in aggressive government action against perceived bigotry. The country is home to the expansive and frequently-evolving Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, which is the legal framework that outlaws overt Nazi symbols and literature in the country and which renders Holocaust denial illegal. Federal prosecutors and the Ministry of the Interior regularly move against organizations deemed far-right or hate groups. Does all of that aggressive government posture actually prevent those groups from flourishing?
No! No it does not! Germany has a vast, varied, and influential far-right movement. All those hate speech laws have not prevented extremist parties from operating out in the open, or their leaders from occupying positions of power, or the parties themselves from earning significant victories. As in, 12.5% of the vote and third place overall kind of victories. Germany bans groups it declares far-right extremists all the time. They respond in the way any child would be able to predict: they just rebrand. All of Germany’s many protections against far-right extremism have not prevented fascists from infesting the country’s security services. Racism? Not shrinking, growing. Anti-Semitism? You got it, baby! The Holocaust denial I mentioned is illegal? Well, they’re stepping up efforts to shut it down, which might seem encouraging until you realize that people only step up efforts to shut something down when it’s been on the rise. Of course, Germans didn’t need more evidence of the futility of censoring far-right views, given that the Weimar Republic had laws forbidding what we would now call hate speech. How did that go?
The utter failure of German hate speech laws to actually slow the growth of right-wing extremism doesn’t make them harmless. On the contrary, their bad ideas have been exported to countries with repressive governments and the onus placed on private internet companies makes them de facto arbiters of what can and cannot be expressed.
He makes the same argument for France, which bans hate speech and “permits the government to disband groups that promote racism”, as well as banning Nazi symbols and groups. Yet, deBoer argues, “hate groups” like the National Front/Rally party are doing quite well in France, there’s hatred of Muslims by non-Muslims and vice versa, and Marine Le Pen has become politically quite popular.
Now these are not controlled experiments. One could argue, for example, that without hate speech laws the amount of hatred, racism, and pervasiveness of hate groups would be even higher than they are in Germany and France. But at least you can see that there is surely not less hate speech in these countries than in, say, the U.S., where we have no hate speech laws. Hatred and racism don’t seem to have been driven to ground in Germany and France.
deBoer also points out, as many have before (including Hitchens), that once you give a government power to restrict speech in this way, you can’t guarantee that the restrictions will always operate in your favor. His example is France’s recent attempt to prevent citizens from sharing photos and videos of police violence, something that surely should not be restricted. As always, the salient question is “Who will decide what speech is permitted and what speech banned?” There is no good answer to this question; the censor should always be the person who’s making the argument.
Besides claiming that hate speech laws are ineffective, and thus not worth considering, one might make positive arguments for allowing hate speech. I’ve always said, for example, that Holocaust denialism should not only be legal, but people should read it. That is the way I learned what the evidence for the Holocaust really was—in the face of denialist claims like “neither Hitler nor any other high Nazi official promulgated a policy of exterminating the Jews.” (That claim was bogus, but I didn’t know the counterevidence.) The same goes for creationism: if you’re going to counter the 73% of Americans who believe in some form of creationism, you need to know what their arguments for it are (that is, arguments beyond religious brainwashing.) Note that I am not saying that creationism should be taught as science in biology class, only that one shouldn’t ban creationist arguments. And, as Mill pointed out, if you allow people to broadcast hate speech rather than doing it in samizdat, you learn who your enemies are and what they really believe, making it easier to identify and thus counter them.
At the end, deBoer makes a good point and then offers a solution to “hate”, though he himself undercuts that solution:
When people say they want to ban hate speech, what they really mean is that they want to ban hate. And you may as well say that we should ban jealousy, or anger, or greed, or fear. Hate is an endemic part of the human experience and so hate speech always will be too, even after they implant behavior-modification chips in our brains. Ban all the words you like; people will find new ways to express hate. Censorship is always an end run around a larger issue, a deeper, more vexing, stickier issue. The problem is never the expressions you wish to repress themselves but the existence of the people who would express them, and those people are ultimately the product of conditions in the world you can’t control. You cannot eliminate hate from the world, and no one alive will live to see the end of fascism. What you can do is to mitigate the negative effects of hate as best you can by empowering targeted groups and by trying to present a more compelling and attractive vision than the fascists. But that’s wild, unrealistic stuff. Try to stamp out extremism and hate with censorship when every attempt to do so has failed in the history of the world, cool. Try to make people see why you’re right and the other side is wrong? That’s too crazy to contemplate.
In my view, the only kinds of “hate speech” that should be banned are the types already banned under the U.S. courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment: personal and persistent harassment, calls for action and physical threats that are likely to lead to imminent violence, and harassment that creates an intolerable and uncomfortable workplace.
There’s an article worth reading in a recent issue of Areo Magazine. It’s by Izabella Tabarovsky, a former immigrant from the Soviet Union identified as “a scholar with the Kennan Institute (Wilson Center) and contributing writer at Tablet” (see also here).
Click on the screenshot to read the article (from May of this year):
Although the article seems to be about censorship in America and its comparison with the censorship in the U.S.S.R. experienced by Tabarovsky before she came to America, it’s really more about censorship culture: the political and sociological climate in the U.S. that makes people afraid to speak out.
But it begins by comparing Soviet government censorship of books like Doctor Zhivago and The Gulag Archipelago with information “bans” in the U.S., or the downplaying of what Tabarovsky considers important stories by the mainstream media. Official Soviet censorship, says the author, severely stunted her cultural awareness, so when she came to American she began a binge of reading novels, watching movies, and absorbing other information that she couldn’t access in the U.S.S.R., including political information like the nature of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. She’s a lot more aware now and with a much richer background of culture, but still chafes at the American form of censorship:
Over the past year, as I have watched instances of American censorship multiply, and extend to speech, books, movies, opinions and plain facts, memories from those early years of my American life, when I first began to grapple with the consequences of living under censorship, have resurfaced. I have been flabbergasted to watch the staff of publishing houses become enraged over the publication of authors they disagree with, designate those works as harmful and demand that they be “cancelled.” I have been utterly perplexed to discover that some California schools have banned venerable classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, because of concerns about their use of racial slurs and stereotypes. Of course, we don’t want children to read racist literature. But believing that these particular works propagate racial hatred requires the same mental contortions that Soviet censors exercised when they laboured so hard to imagine all the ways a work of art might lead citizens astray.
Now you can argue, and Tabarovsky realizes this, that “censorship” by publishers, libraries, and schools isn’t at all like Soviet censorship. After all, children can still get access to these works, though they can’t read them and discuss them in schools. That wasn’t true in the USSR. And while it’s true that some books by American authors simply don’t get published because they’re ideologically unpalatable, there’s always self-publishing, and most “rejected” books eventually get published somewhere. But I think most of us can agree that it’s worth reading the three books she mentions, for they’re only banned for one reason: the use of the “n” word. I strongly believe that they can still be taught with sensitivity and awareness of the racial climate obtaining when these classics were written. Let’s face it: banning these books does not eliminate children’s exposure to racism and racial slurs, and there is much in these novels that is good.
As I said, Tabarovsky realizes the differences between Soviet and American censorship:
Of course, America is not the Soviet Union, and American governmental bodies aren’t the ones doing the censoring. Nor have the clampdowns on dissent been all-encompassing. But they are still enormously effective, partly because so many groups and individuals now depend heavily on privately owned internet platforms to reach their audiences. The conservative social media platform Parler was effectively silenced when Big Tech wiped it off the internet. The New York Post’s audience was massively curtailed when Twitter froze its account in response to its publication of a damaging story about Hunter Biden on the eve of the US presidential election. (Twitter then tagged the story as “harmful” and joined Facebook in preventing people from sharing it.) For a year and a half, people were ridiculed and kicked out of polite company for suggesting that Covid-19 may have originated in a lab in Wuhan as social media muzzled debate on this crucial subject. Today we are learning that this is a highly realistic hypothesis.
Actions like these have far-reaching consequences. Suppressing stories of national significance doesn’t stop them from continuing to develop and affect people’s lives. Soviet censorship didn’t stop Soviet troops from being maimed, murdered and defeated in Afghanistan. The untold stories of Stalin’s repressions came back to haunt us decades later—and still haunt many of us today. American activist journalists and politicians who are now engaged in shaping narratives to benefit their end of the political spectrum should worry that their reading public will later get blindsided, suddenly finding things out that they had previously been prevented from learning. For example, how does it serve the Democrats if those who voted for their candidates continue to believe that last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were “mostly peaceful”—the received dogma that by far outweighed scant reporting on how badly they affected immigrants and minorities? How does it benefit their party to ignore the fact that it is minorities again that are most likely to suffer from the thinning police presence in some cities as a result of those protests? How does it help the Democrats to fail to say out loud that their party’s racialized messages don’t necessarily resonate with members of racial and ethnic minorities? Have they considered that these stories might come to light at a politically inconvenient moment, such as the eve of some future election?
And she still feels that Americans aren’t sufficiently aware of the perils of censorship and “the absolute value of free speech.” With this I agree. During every orientation period of students entering American colleges and universities, or even earlier, there should be a unit on free speech. I am not aware of any of these, though there are plenty of other topics on which new students get indoctrinated, particularly in maters of racial sensitivity and sexual harassment. Those are fine, but please add a bit on the First Amendment or the Chicago Principles!
Here’s another comparison I found instructive, and we all know about stuff like this:
A couple of weeks into last summer’s protests, I got a message on Twitter from someone I followed but had never interacted with. She summarized her (incorrect) assumptions about my political beliefs, then told me that she had scrolled through several weeks of my Twitter feed and noticed that I had failed “to voice outrage about police brutality or the death of yet another unarmed Black individual.” (“Please correct me if I’m wrong,” she added.) She concluded with a brief lecture on the politics of the moment and exhorted me to join her in condemning white supremacy.
This message stunned me. It was the first time since I’d left the USSR that someone had demanded that I engage in ritualistic political expression. In its author’s brash and invasive tone I heard the voice of Soviet communist league activists who believed they had a right to demand that everyone around them march to the same tune. But there was more to it than that. The message felt intimidating. All around me, people were losing jobs, careers and reputations for what was characterised as voicing wrong opinions, sharing wrong content or failing to convey enough enthusiasm for the new, still nameless ideology that was now sweeping through our lives. A long forgotten fear crept up my spine. My great-grandfather had been murdered by the NKVD in 1941 because of four short phrases he’d used over the course of eight months, which a friend reported to the police. I knew how easy it was to weave together a destructive narrative about a person using disparate pieces of information.
Tabarovsky’s first instinct was to explain herself and apologize, to reveal that she was a Jew and wrote about the Holocaust, which are her bona fides, but she decided that wasn’t the way to go: she was not going to let herself live in fear.
Her message becomes clearer when she goes after “cancel culture”, using as an example the attack on Steve Pinker that I wrote about in July of last year, when a big group of people circulated a petition to strip Steve Pinker of his honor of being a fellow of the Linguistics Society of America. That petition is still online, and has now been signed by 638 academics. But as I showed in my post about this fracas, the entire mess was generated by a few Pecksniffs, out for blood, taking five tweets and one passage from Pinker’s work out of context and distorting the whole shebang to make him look like a racist and sexist. He is neither. And of course that campaign went nowhere.
At least the signatories gave their names, but, as Tabarovsky reports, the New York Times approached the signers, including some well known people, and nobody wanted to comment on the record. This is from the NYT article:
The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.
Clearly a bunch of yellowbellies—at least the ones who did sign the document. Now Pinker notes that, as a tenured Harvard Professor, he’s not in any danger. It’s not people like Pinker whom we’re kvetching about being “canceled”. Instead, it’s the 62% of Americans who “say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.” How can we have a national discourse, how can we engage in discussion of sensitive issues—which are often the most important ones—if nearly two out of three people are cowed into silence?
Tabarovsky is confident that “censorship culture” will come to an end, as it largely has in Russia. I’m not as sanguine, for I want it to end in my lifetime, and I don’t have long before the Earth reclaims my clay.
In the meantime, Tabarovsky does have some good advice, based on her experience in the USSR, on how to combat the climate of censorship:
So it is on all of us to do what we can to resist this culture, no matter how pervasive and intimidating it feels.
How can you do this? Master your fear: if you are reading this from the US or elsewhere in the democratic west, remember that you are a free person living in a free country. Become well informed: read across the aisle. Question everything—especially if it comes from a source whose ideology is close to your heart. Assume that the other side holds grains of truth—and look for them. Add shades of grey to your thinking on every issue. Align your speech with your true self: resist falling into lockstep. Refuse to speak in slogans. Do not say things you don’t mean. Say only things that are true for you in the moment. Do not let others dictate what you should think or feel. And, for heaven’s sake, sign only those group letters that you are ready to defend personally, and on the record.
I’ll add this: USE YOUR REAL NAME. Stand behind the things you say by showing who said them. It is cowardly to to sign group letters anonymously.
First, though, let’s refresh you on Chase Strangio, the ACLU staff attorney in charge of gender issues, who emitted two tweets asking for “stopping the book’s circulation.” That’s a call for censorship. Here are the tweets.
Here is an ACLU lawyer saying their goal is to stop the circulation of books and ideas…
And of course we’ve talked a bit about Shrier’s book, which I’ve just read. It is neither transphobic nor full of hate; it simply raises issues connected with “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), an exponentially increasing condition among adolescent girls in which they decide they want to be boys and, with the help of compliant parents, therapists, and doctors (and often without proper vetting) begin taking puberty blockers and then have hormonal and often surgical treatment. Shrier’s point was that this phenomenon may partly stem from social-media pressure and the valorization of being “trans”, which brings you attention you wouldn’t get if you simply declared yourself a lesbian. It may often be associated with mental illness, and in many cases may go away on its own. Further, ROGD is often not treated according to rigorous standards promoted by some medical associations.
Shrier’s point, and that of Jesse Singal, whom we discussed yesterday, is that we have little data on the form of gender dysphoria which comes on quickly in adolescent girls (it’s much rarer in boys), and before we go injecting hormones and cutting, we need much more extensive medical and psychological data. Shrier’s book is valuable because it calls attention to a phenomenon that needs attention, and should promote not only discussion, but the necessary research. Shrier’s book is thus a valuable contribution to a discussion.
But many trans activists don’t want that discussion. Like Chase Strangio, they want Shrier’s book banned, arguing that simply bringing up the issue is itself a case of “transphobia.” That’s as far from the truth as you can get, for if you read Irreversible Damage, you’ll see that Shrier is sympathetic to the plight of transsexual people and only wants to ensure that those with ROGD are treated properly.
Strangio isn’t the only one who is deeply offended by Shrier’s book. As Sykes reports:
After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed . . . and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.
And yes, I just checked the Target site; Shrier’s book, once reinstated, has now been eliminated again. But it’s still on Amazon, where it’s selling like hotcakes.
Which brings us to the American Bookseller’s Association (ABA). According to Charlie Sykes’s column, which you can read for free below (click on the screenshot), the ABA is dedicated, as all such associations should be, to free expression. Yet the story of the ABA and Shrier’s book belies that promise (read more details in the story at Publisher’s Weekly).
Here’s the ABA statement noted by Sykes, and it still appears on the ABA’s webpage (click on screenshot):
Well, they didn’t adhere to these principles of free expression after booksellers who received Shrier’s book in their sample box pushed back HARD. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly reports:
At Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstores, book buyer Casey Morrissey was the first person in the store to open the box. Morrissey shared their reactions on Twitter, and other booksellers quickly joined in, echoing their comments.
@ABAbook I’m seething. I was excited to open our July white box, and then the first book I pulled out is “Irreversible Damage.” Do you know how that feels, as a trans bookseller and book buyer? It isn’t even a new title, so it really caught me in the gut. Do better. pic.twitter.com/VYb1ZKrv9A
Needless to say, Casey Morrissey’s Twitter account is now restricted.
And there was this (from PW):
Among booksellers, however, there was little disagreement about the content of the book. “As longtime @ABAbook members with beloved staff across the gender spectrum, we’re extremely disappointed and angered to see the ABA promoting dangerous, widely discredited anti-trans propaganda, and we’re calling for accountability,” the Harvard Book Store wrote on Twitter.
No, Shrier’s book is neither dangerous nor “widely discredited.” So much for the Harvard Bookstore.
After a few reactions like this, the ABA issued a groveling apology. Get a load of this:
The “anti-trans” book was Shrier’s. Note how the ABA (which itself has now restricted its tweets), notes that merely sending out the book was a “serious, violent incident”. No it wasn’t: there was no violence involved, and sending it out did not violate the ABA policies. It’s absolutely pathetic that the ABA has to grovel and mewl like this. The debasing of the word “violence”, making a peaceful act sound warlike, continues.
But of course apologies are never good enough for the Woke, which suggests that you should never apologize for something you did if you were expressing your honest views. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly adds:
But booksellers said the statement fell short, calling out the organization’s use of the passive voice in the opening sentence. They also demanded greater transparency about how the decision to include the book was initially made, and called for demonstrable steps to restore trust with trans book workers and authors. Some called on the ABA to offer promotions for trans authors’ books at no cost.
ABA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee member Luis Correa, who works as a bookseller at Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., was first made aware of the issue when fellow booksellers emailed him Morrissey’s tweet. Correa identifies as a queer, Latino, and fat-bodied person, and said he thought the apology was flawed.
“I’m disappointed with the use of the passive language at the beginning of the statement and the shift in blame. They really should say that ‘we included this book,’” Correa said. The DEI Committee is comprised of ABA member booksellers and does not consult on the selections for the white boxes.
They don’t like the passive voice in the first sentence, apparently wanting the ABA to say “WE included an anti-trans book in our July mailing to members”! Now the wording of apologies has to be perfect as well!
“These incidents harmed booksellers, ABA board members, and ABA staff who identify as LGBTQIA+ and/or BIPOC, as well as the wider community. They also added to a toxic culture overall,” they wrote. “We are not the ABA of two years ago. These actions are antithetical to the values we are working to promote in our organization under the strong leadership of our CEO, Allison Hill, and COO, Joy Dallanegra-Sanger. This is not acceptable behavior and goes against the bylaws changes instituted last year.”
********** UPDATE: The ABA, as reader Coel notes below, has issued a second and even more cringeworthy apology. It’s unbelievable; have a look:
“Horrific harm”? “Traumatized and endangered members of the trans community.” How, exactly, did people get endangered?
No, nobody was “harmed.” People might have been offended, but damaged? I doubt it. And, as Stephen Fry points out repeatedly, being offended is not an argument; it’s an emotion.
Apparently the “new” ABA is in favor of restricting free expression.
But there are some who still stood up for free expression on Twitter. One of them was, of course, Shrier herself, though the tweet she references is now hidden. I do take some satisfaction in feeling that all this brouhaha about Irreversible Damage can only be good for Shrier by getting people to read her book. It’s a literary Streisand Effect, and shows why campaigns like the ABA’s are ineffectual. The book is now #75 on Amazon, and it’s been out for over a year.
And a few more gems reproduced by Sykes:
Books are violence, so says the American Violencesellers Association
Ginger K. called my attention to what seems to me a violation of ethical and journalistic standards by a respected website, all in the name of appeasing the woke. Science-Based Medicine, whose editors include David Gorski and Steve Novella, is a site designed to promote the kind of medicine described in its title, as well as to debunk medical woo. I haven’t read it often, but I’m sure a lot of readers have, and I know the site is greatly respected.
So much the worse, then, that the site removed a book review written by another respected physician, Harriet Hall, known for being one of the Air Forces’s first women flight surgeons as well as a notable advocate for science based medicine and a vociferous debunker of quackery. And—get this—Hall is one of the journal’s five editors.
Hall’s “mistake” was to write a fair and objective review of Abigail Shrier’s new book, Irreversible Damage (see my post here) about the sudden increase in transgender males drawn from teenaged girls. (The numbers have increased 4,400% from 2008 to 2018!) Shrier and Hall, who admittedly note that there are very few studies about why these transitions have skyrocketed, and involve nearly all girls who want to transition to males rather than the other way round, call for more research and argue that transitions should be done under “a research setting”. From Hall’s review (it’s been removed, but the screenshot below will take you to an archived copy):
This book will undoubtedly be criticized just as Lisa Littman’s study was. Yes, it’s full of anecdotes and horror stories, and we know the plural of anecdote is not data, but Shrier looked diligently for good scientific studies and didn’t find much. And that’s the problem. We desperately need good science, and it’s not likely to happen in the current political climate. Anyone who addresses this subject can expect to be attacked by activists. Is ROGD [rapid onset gender dysphoria, a phenomenon discussed by Shrier] a legitimate category? We don’t know, since the necessary controlled studies have not been done. I fully expect Shrier to be called a transphobe and to be vilified for harming transgender people, and I’m sure I will be labeled a transphobe just for reviewing her book. [JAC: Yep, Hall got it right!]
She brings up some alarming facts that desperately need to be looked into. The incidence of teen gender dysphoria is rising and appears to be linked to internet influences and social peer groups. The number of people identifying as lesbians is dropping. Therapists are accepting patients’ self-diagnoses unquestioningly, and irreversible treatments are being offered without therapist involvement. We know at least some of these patients will desist and detransition, and we have no way to predict which ones. Children are being instructed in how to lie to parents and doctors to coerce them into providing the treatments they want. Families are being destroyed.
For what it’s worth, I will stress again that I am not a transphobe. I support hormones and gender surgeries for adults who will benefit from them. I care about the welfare of these adolescent girls and it bothers me that some of them may be unduly influenced and take irreversible steps they will later regret.
What to do? I think limiting surgeries to a research setting is a good idea. I think the affirmative care model is a mistake and a dereliction of duty and should stop.
Shrier’s hypothesis is that many of these girls who want to transition do so without proper supervision, and are eagerly and uncautiously urged to do so by peers, some parents, and the medical establishment. Some, she says, may be doing so because of social pressure (presumably the status that transitioning confers) rather than gender dysphoria. Many, she thinks, might be lesbians (whose numbers have dropped precipitously), and some have wanted to detransition once the process is begun, though once you start taking puberty-blocking hormones—the first step in becoming a transsexual male—it’s usually too late. Shrier is not a transphobe at all and fully supports the rights of transsexual people, but is calling for careful evaluation, both sociological and medical, before the drastic step of medical intervention is taken. Instead, the standard is invariably “affirmation, which Hall summarizes in seven “matras” used by the affirmationists. (See her review for the list.)
Neither Shrier nor her reviewer Hall are transphobes, but now they are irrevocably typed as that. The ACLU staff attorney for transgender issues, Chase Strangio, has called for the banning of Shrier’s book from bookstores (odd for the ACLU, no?), and an uproar has arisen—all because Shrier is urging caution about a social phenomenon whose sudden increase demands scrutiny and investigation. To even deny the need for instant affirmation of a wish to be a boy if you’re a girl is to label yourself someone dedicated to eliminating transsexual rights or even advocating the genocide of transsexuals. That is hogwash, of course, and Shrier’s book and Hall’s careful review implicitly show that. She was instantly labeled a transphobe for not damning the book, and Science-Based Medicine got hundreds of outraged comments (see below).
At any rate, read the original version of Hall’s book review by clicking the screenshot below:
The reason Hall’s review was archived is because Science-Based Medicine retracted it—a review by one of its own editors! (I don’t expect Hall will be an editor much longer.) When you go to the site where the review formerly reside (click on screenshot below), you see this note:
I don’t fully believe Novella and Gorski’s claim that readers’ objections had nothing to do with the removal. What else would call their attention to opponents of Hall’s review? Since they didn’t vet the review themselves, how would they find out that the article was “below their standards”? Note, too, how they use the euphemism “quality control” for “censorship”.
I ask readers to look at Hall’s original review (and read Shrier’s book) and see where the “quality” falls off. Hall, after all, calls attention to the lack of research on the epidemic of girls becoming transgender boys, but the data on its prevalence, and the ubiquity and unquestioning nature of “affirmation therapy”, are undeniable.
On Bari Weiss’s Substack website Common Sense, Weiss allows Shrier to respond to Hall’s “cancelation” and her own demonization as the book’s author (click on screenshot below). There’s also a brief intro by Weiss herself; I’ll give one quote from that:
You do not need to agree with Shrier about whether or not children should be able to medically transition genders without their parents’ permission (she is opposed), or for that matter with Weinstein and Heying’s bullishness about ivermectin (I had never heard of of the drug before they put it on my radar). That’s not the point. The point is that the questions they ask are not just legitimate, they are of critical importance. Meantime, some of the most powerful forces in our culture are conspiring to silence them.
That is precisely the reason it is so important to stand up and say: no. To say: progress comes only when we have the freedom to disagree. To say: It is outrageous that tech platforms are censoring such debates and that some journalists are cheering them on. To say, in public: enough. In my case, that means making sure to publish those voices who have been shut out of so many other channels that ought to be open to them.
I’ll highlight just three bits of Shrier’s piece on Weiss’s site. First, the circumstances under which Hall’s review was removed from Science-Based Medicine were dubious:
On Tuesday, one of the blog’s long-time contributors, Dr. Harriet Hall — a family physician and flight surgeon in the Air Force with dozens of publications to her name — posted a favorable review of my book. She examined the scientific claims as well as the medical ones and wrote that the book “combines well-researched facts with horrifying stories about botched surgeries, people who later regret their choices and therapists who are not providing therapy but just validating their patient’s self-diagnosis.” Dr. Hall not only shared my criticisms of “affirmative care” — that is, immediately agreeing with a teen’s self-diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proceeding to hormones and surgeries — but also noted that many physicians and therapists feel the same way but are afraid to say so.
Within a day, Dr. Hall’s article was flooded with nearly 1,000 comments, mostly, she says, from activists demanding the article be stripped from the site, but also from some readers expressing their appreciation. Angry emails from activists swamped the blog’s editors. Within two days, those editors had given Dr. Hall an ultimatum: retract, rewrite, or allow them to add a disclaimer.
“What surprised me was that my fellow editors attacked me, too. Basically what they said was that my article was not up to my usual standards as far as medicine, science and critical thinking went. And I didn’t feel that I did anything but what I always do. That surprised me,” she told me. Considering the editors’ ultimatum, she elected to have the editors who disagreed add a disclaimer to the website. “I told them I did not want it retracted. And the next thing I knew, they had retracted it.”
Second, there are two copies of Shrier’s book in the Halifax Public Library in Canada, and a line of 146 people waiting to read them. Meanwhile Canadian activists are trying to bully the library into getting rid of the book. (So far the library has not relented.)
It’s not only corporations facing this type of activist pressure. Public libraries now do, too.
Halifax Pride, the annual LGBTQ festival, announced late last month that it would cut ties with the city’s library system over its insistence on carrying Irreversible Damage, calling it “transphobic,” and claiming that it “jeopardizes the safety of trans youth” and “debates the existence of trans people.”
So far, the Halifax Public Libraries have resisted. Their position is straightforward and apolitical: libraries exist to expose the public to the widest array of views, “including those which may be regarded as unorthodox or unpopular with the majority.”
The Halifax Public Libraries tried to compromise with the activists by pasting a note inside the book’s cover, directing readers to a list of “trans-affirming” resources. But the activists were unappeased. No ties with the libraries were restored. They want the book gone from the library and scrubbed from existence. Two copies in a library of nearly 1.2 million volumes are two too many. [JAC: I would suggest that readers buy more copies of Shrier’s book and donate them to the library so people won’t have to wait so long to read it.]
Not even the Nova Scotia Library Association or the Canadian Library Association has come to the library’s defense, though their standing orders explicitly require member libraries “to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those which some elements of society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable.”
The lack of support by the Nova Scotia Library Association and the Canadian Library Association are reprehensible. Librarians, famous for promulgating free speech and avoiding censorship or making books unavailable, should spring to the defense of the Halifax Public Library. I find it odious that the HPL has even pasted a note inside the books’s cover “directing readers to trans-affirming resources”. Do they do that with other books to which people object? This shows that there’s something about transsexuality that brooks no questioning of the tenets of its enthusiasts, or of “affirmationists”. The topic is simply taboo. If you don’t toe the line of the enthusiasts, you are a “transphobe.”
And what Shrier writes about is, as Weiss notes, worthy of discussion: it’s not like it’s Mein Kampf or anything (and even that book should be available in libraries).
Finally, Shrier (whose book I’ve publicly defended as something worth reading and considering) is now fed up with people supporting her via emails but not doing so publicly, nor revealing their names. She wants people to publicly affirm her right to write such a book, using their names. The epidemic of transsexual boys is a phenomenon that needs to be examined, and if some young people are making irreversible medical changes in their bodies and lives without proper consideration, or proper caveats, well, that also needs to be examined.
The reasons for private approbation for Shrier but lack of public support is clear: nobody wants to be seen as a “transphobe”, just as nobody wants to be called a “racist.” Such is the power of demonizing labels. From Shrier’s conclusions:
Whether or not most people admit it, what keeps them from speaking up in the face of what they know is wrong is fear. Fear not primarily of unemployment, though that is a pressing concern, but fear of ostracism. This deep and ancient fear is behind our desperate reach for innocence and safety when we virtue signal. By contrast, we stand exposed when we speak unpopular truth. Within your tribe, there will be people who pull away from you, and if you think well of them — and sadly, even if you don’t — this causes pain.
. . . What can make it bearable? According to Professor Williams, getting yourself accepted by another group. This is also the way to confront most of life’s heartaches — surrounded by those you love. And there is no better way to gain respect from those you don’t already know than by being identified with truthfulness.
Fear of ostracism is rational. But we are now living in a world in which evolutionary biologists are threatened with losing their platforms for engaging in debate about the source and treatment of a deadly virus; in which prize-winning composers have been professionally ruined for saying arson is bad; in which authors are editing already-published books to placate online mobs. That should scare us far more than losing friends or status.
So look to the Halifax Library. Summon what faith you can in those things you know to be right and true: a person is not defined by her race; biological sex is real; scientific research requires ideologically unencumbered investigation; activists shouldn’t bully libraries; and books should not be banned.
The first hundred or so silent supporter emails meant the most to me. They made me feel less crazy and less alone. But the inescapable reality is that defeating this ideology will take courage. And courage is not something that can happen in private. Courage requires each one of us to speak up, publicly, for what we believe in. Even when — especially when — it carries costs.
You are not a transphobe if you read Shrier’s book. You are not a transphobe if you read her book and see that it highlights a problem that needs to be addressed. You are not a transphobe if you refuse to call for the censorship of Shrier’s book. Those who sling about insults without addressing the problem Shrier discusses are not virtuous, nor are they “transphiles”. They are censors, pure and simple, and the embodiment of the Authoritarian Left. They are opponents of free speech, who think that some topics don’t need discussion because their own views are the right views. They are the Big Brothers of our time.
So, Ms. Shrier, here is my public statement of support for your book. My name is Jerry Coyne, and I think your book deserves to be read widely by anybody interested in the new onset of transsexual conversions. And I deplore the ad hominem arguments used to attack it.