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  If there are such violations, the books should not be published.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

Dueling petitions about banning “Irreversible Damage” by Abigail Shrier

As you may remember, Abigail Shrier’s new book, Irreversible Damage, about the dangers of uncritical support for young girls who want to transition to boys, has met with a lot of criticism as “transphobic”. For a while its sale was banned at Target stores (it’s now reinstated.)  Nevertheless, there’s a change.org petition afoot to ban the book everywhere. Click on the screenshot to read it:

An excerpt:

Shrier makes a number of egregious leaps of logic in order to invalidate transgender boys to suit her conservative values. A frequent false-association she creates is in regards to the attempted suicide rate of trans people coinciding with regretting transitioning or even expressing the urge to detransition. She blatantly ignores the fact these statistics much more coincide with transgender individuals feeling ostracized and attacked in a modern society that insists something is wrong with them.

. . . I am calling for the book’s immediate removal from everywhere it is sold. The blatant misinformation and hate speech that endangers the lives of thousands of growing transgender boys. The removal of the text will protect those men from abusive parents who may use the text to justify emotional abuse.

The main point of contention here is that the petitioner says that the suicide of transgender males is not connected with the urge to de-transition, or with regrets, but is due to their ostracism by society. One could argue that the regret/de-transitioning claim is not Shrier’s main point: that she’s dealing with those who have gender dysphoria, not necessarily those who have already transitioned (I don’t know as I haven’t yet received the book.) Also, gender dysphoria could be a symptom or part of a complex of other mental problems, like a general failure to fit into society, and suicide could result from that—not from either regret or ostracism.

At any rate, you can’t ban a book from “everywhere it is sold” because you take issue with one of the book’s contentions. Nevertheless, 1760 people have signed the petition out of a goal of 2500.  In my years of writing on this site, I don’t remember seeing a request for a book to be banned from “everywhere it is sold,” though there are plenty of instances of books being banned from schools or school districts. This is an attempt to erase the book completely.

In a dueling petition, also at change.org,  there’s a call to not ban the book, which I’ve signed. Reassuringly, it’s gathered more signatures: 4340 out of a goal of 5000. I have signed it, because though I haven’t yet read the book, I’m opposed to any banning of books. Click on the screenshot if you want to read the petition and/or sign it.

An excerpt:

I am calling for you to refuse to give in to pressure from ill-informed random people on the internet to remove the book from your listings when the best they can do to bolster their cause is attempt to tie Shrier and her book to the harassment and abuse of transgender people and to their emotional issues, when it is unlikely that anyone who carries out such abuses has even heard of the book. Vanillian has not provided any proof of the alleged misinformation or hate speech and no amount of signatures on a petition based on lies and appeals to emotion is going to change that.

Please don’t pay attention to people who use emotionally manipulative language and horrible scenarios to try to stop people from learning about the harm being done in the name of a worthy cause. Don’t ban books, discuss them. And don’t give in to pressure from astroturfed mobs. Abigail Shrier’s book deserves scrutiny, not a blanket ban in case some people get upset. If you give in to this, sooner or later every book will have to be banned.

Although the counter-petition doesn’t answer the claim that the suicide of transgender males has nothing to do with the urge to reverse course and destransition, the way to resolve these conflicting claims is not to ban the other side, but read both sides of the argument, look at the data (if they exist), and judge for yourself.  It’s an unfortunate characteristic of woke activists, many of whom uncritically valorize the urge to change gender, even in children, that they demonize the other side as “transphobes” rather than dealing with their arguments. And the only way to judge arguments is to hear both sides and look at the evidence.

Shrier’s book is likely seen as “hate speech” by many, since it’s viewed, erroneously, as “transphobic” (Shrier is not at all opposed to transsexual changes in older people.) And this is one of the reasons why we must fight against the possible resurgence of “hate speech” laws should they be suggested during a Biden presidency or crop up in universities.

In the meantime, all the kerfuffle about Shrier’s book (click on screenshot for Amazon link) has created a Streisand effect, propelling it to #45 among all among books, with an expected bimodality of ratings but an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Amazon is surely not going to ban it, so the opponents of the book have simply increased its sales.

The book-banning petition will have no effect (has a change.org petition ever accomplished anything?), save help sell more books. But it is a sign of the Zeitgeist that so many Americans favor this kind of censorship.

 

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.

 

Norway criminalizes public and private “hate speech” about trans issues

I learned about a new Norwegian law from this tweet by Bari Weiss, who links to a report in Out Magazine.

What struck me, as a free-speech absolutist who adheres to our courts’ interpretation of the American First Amendment, was the notion of “hate speech”, which is slippery at best, as well as the part of the Norwegian law that allows imprisonment for comments made in private. I read the out.com article and also one from the charitable Thomson Reuters Foundation (click on screenshot below).

 

An excerpt from Thomson Reuters:

Norway’s parliament outlawed hate speech against transgender and bisexual people on Tuesday, expanding its penal code which has protected gay and lesbian people since 1981.

People found guilty of hate speech face a fine or up to a year in jail for private remarks, and a maximum of three years in jail for public comments, according to the penal code.

“I’m very relieved actually, because (the lack of legal protection) has been an eyesore for trans people for many, many years,” said Birna Rorslett, vice president of the Association of Transgender People in Norway.

Norway is one of the most liberal countries in Europe for LGBT+ people, allowing trans people to legally change gender without a medical diagnosis in 2016. But reported homophobic crimes have risen, according to advocacy group, ILGA-Europe.

. . . The amendments outlawed discrimination based on “gender, gender identity or expression” and changed “homosexual orientation” to “sexual orientation”, meaning bisexual as well as lesbian and gay people will be protected from discrimination.

Under the penal code, people charged with violent crimes can receive harsher sentences if a judge decides their actions were motivated by someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The law’s opponents argued that it could criminalise free speech criticising LGBT+ rights, said Anine Kierulf, an assistant professor of law at the University of Oslo.

The bar for prosecution is high, requiring direct incitement against people or language that dehumanises them, she said.

“There are a lot of very hateful things you can say about the protected groups,” she said.

Now I object strongly to imprisoning somebody for remarks made in private. In the U.S., I can’t imagine private remarks that would land you in jail save those that involve defamation and have consequent negative consequences that must be proved for a successful lawsuit. Further, private remarks can also constitute harassment of individuals, especially in the workplace. In the latter case, “private” remarks, like those constituting sexual harassment, are and should be illegal, not protected under the First Amendment. But even advocating violence in private is not a crime in America, because private remarks, except under circumstances that seem nearly impossible, don’t incite the immediate and foreseeable violence that constitute First-Amendment violations.

But what do the Norwegians consider “hate speech” against bisexual and transexual people? I was unable to find the exact law (which would have been in Norwegian anyway), so all I got was this,  from LGBTQ Nation:

The law carries a penalty of up to three years in jail for hateful remarks made in public. The law doesn’t ban all forms of hate speech, just language that incites violence against protected categories or dehumanizes them.

Well, the law also carries a penalty of one year in jail for hateful remarks made in private. No matter what is considered “hateful”, remarks in private should not carry a jail term. And as for remarks made in public, this all hinges on what the law considers to be “dehumanizing” transsexual or bisexual people. In America, if you said even “Trans- or bisexual people aren’t humans, but freaks,” that is not a punishable offense when uttered in public. Even if you make a speech saying that transsexual people should be deported, that’s not illegal, either, unless it would inspire immediate and predictable violent efforts to deport transsexuals.

It goes without saying that I consider such remarks boorish, hurtful, and bigoted—but not illegal. I would never make such remarks myself. I’ve given my view of transexual people before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t think they should be discriminated against legally, except perhaps when it comes to sports or issues like whether a transsexual woman should be a rape counselor for women. I am glad to use whatever pronouns people want to use, and to agree with trans people that they are whatever gender they say they are. But in terms of biology, I would argue that a transsexual woman, for example, is still biologically a man, but has the assumed gender of a woman.

But “hate speech”? That’s a different issue. That’s because a lot of what might be considered hate speech in Norway might be seen as free speech in the U.S., and thus allowed. It shouldn’t be illegal to say, “I consider transsexual men to be women.” Or “I don’t think transsexual women should be allowed to compete athletically against biological women.” Or “there should be more stringent requirements about allowing young children or teenagers to transition.” Or “I think transsexual people are mentally ill.”  Some of that is likely to be considered “hate speech,” in Norway but for all the reasons I’ve advanced before, I don’t think such speech should be banned, much less criminalized. (One argument is that it outs the bigots.)

As for hate crimes, I go back and forth on whether your criminal acts should be given an extra penalty because they’re motivated by bigotry. This is one issue in which I truly am open to hearing both sides. If you want to talk about hate crimes in America (where the concept does exist) or elsewhere, be my guest. If you kill someone because they’re Asian, for example, should you get a longer prison term than for the same murder motivated by non-racial reasons?

 

h/t: Luana

More ludicrous erasure: students at Brown demand removal of two Roman statues, while students at UW Madison vote to remove Lincoln statue

At Brown University there are two bronze copies of statues of Roman emperors. One is of Marcus Aurelius:

. . . and the other is of Caesar Augustus (sources of both photos, and a discussion of the statues’ history, are here)

Well, all statues these days are subject to intense scrutiny, and a group of 6 students representing “Decolonization at Brown” (endorsed by 28 student organizations at the University, including the Brown Birding Club), wrote a petition/letter at the Blogonian—an independent student newspaper at Brown University—about the two monuments. The students and groups strongly assert that the two statues are harmful because they exemplify white supremacy and values and thus are offensive to students of color. They have to come down!

Read (click on screenshot) and weep:

What’s telling about all the beefing is that the claim that the statues symbolize colonialism and white supremacy, and were put up to show that Brown was trying to inculcate its students with whiteness, are not based on fact, but on student offense. There’s no record of anything intentions to codify white supremacy. Rather, the statues were clearly erected to symbolize Rome as an antecedent of Western culture and philosophy.  Some quotes from the beef above:

Last spring, Brown’s Public Art Committee proposed to restore and relocate the bronze copy of a Roman statue of Augustus, which currently stands in front of the Ratty, using tens of thousands of dollars solicited from an unnamed donor. Under this proposal, the statue would be moved to the Quiet Green, across from the Slavery Memorial.

We strongly oppose this proposal and urge the Public Art Committee—and any community members or donors who are invested in the role of public art at Brown—to replace both the statue of Augustus and the statue of Marcus Aurelius (currently on Ruth Simmons Quad) with new works of art commissioned from local Black and Indigenous artists.

These monuments were brought to our campus with the goal of upholding the ideals of the “perfect” white form, white civilization, white supremacy, and colonialism—ideas that we believe are incompatible with Brown today. Consequently, removing and replacing these statues is a crucial step in confronting such legacies. We see this as a moment of immense opportunity for transformation and reflection, and we hope that the broader campus community, the Public Art Committee, and potential donors will, too.

It goes on and on like this; the language is by now very familiar:

Because they are not actually from ancient Rome, we must understand them as modern monuments to a set of values and political stances which existed when they were commissioned for Brown’s campus.

. . . The connection between the U.S. and Rome is entirely ideological. There is no natural or direct tie between the two—there is only a fabricated lineage of whiteness. Statues made in the Roman-style, like the two at Brown, are intended to materialize this connection. They convey the supposed supremacy of white values over non-white cultures, a reading in which non-white people should learn and aspire to whiteness. Alt-right groups, like the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa, use this idea of “white virtue” to ground white supremacy.

. . . To the significant number of students, staff, and faculty at Brown today who are not white, these statues function as a constant reminder that Black, Indigenous, and people of color are not included within Brown’s conception of the University community. The presence of these statues is therefore not only incompatible with, but violates Brown’s stated commitment to inclusion, equity, and change.

The authors and supporting organizations call for the complete removal of the statues.

I deny, first of all, that these statues are harmful, or that any students genuinely feel offended by them (there’s also an antiracist monument calling attention to Brown’s involvement in slavery). The offended, I argue are pretending to be offended, using offense as a means of asserting power—of making the campus do what they want. If these statues are removed because Rome engaged in expansion, well, let’s just write off every monument to Greece and Rome, both bellicose empires, but also empires that helped form the ideals of the West. And why not expunge all Roman and Greek writing from the curriculum as well?

At least one student— a woman of color—has pushed back in an article at the Brown Daily Herald, another student newspaper. While Bhaskar could use some lessons in how to write more simply (I’d recommend her reading Strunk and White or Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”), she does make the point that what goes for statues can also go for curricula. After all, if a Roman statue is offensive, what’s to ensure that readings of Roman and Greek thinkers won’t be expunged, too? No more Meditations of Marcus Aurelius the Colonizer and White Supremacist.

A quote from Bhaskar:

Now, more than ever, the world needs graduates and scholars who are able to recognize the many intricacies and layers of the past and who can use this multifaceted knowledge to consume historical and artistic vestiges of the past with intentionality and a capacity to use such lessons to guide progress. The University must move beyond tendencies to censor “uncomfortable” or “controversial” topics that fail to echo the outspoken post-modernist and left-leaning images associated with Brown in favour of upholding the tenets of free inquiry and the preservation of nuance within the exploration of historical relics. Outlining tangible steps for creating robust anti-racist curricula, while equipping students with the patience, wisdom, and skill-set to grapple with uncomfortable realities and relics of the past, is crucial for the University to uphold its mission of “communicating and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry.”

There’s one student who’s much wiser and more thoughtful than the many who have a kneejerk reaction to classical statues as symbols of “white supremacy.”

Meanwhile, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in front of the administration building atop a hill. I saw this when I visited Madison to speak at the FFRF:

Well, Lincoln is in bad odor, too, these days. Lincoln! The man who fought a war against those who wished to preserve slavery, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation! Why Lincoln? Well, read and weep again:

A group of students are calling for the removal of the Abraham Lincoln statue at the top of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

This comes after protesters took down two statues on the state Capitol grounds: one embodying the state’s motto “Forward” and another of Civil War Union Army Col. Hans Christian Heg. The students say despite the former president’s role in the abolition of slavery, he had a racist past in supporting the notion of a “superior” white race.

“I just think he did, you know, some good things…the bad things that he’s done definitely outweighs them,” Nalah McWhorter, president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union, told the Badger Herald.

Lincoln was memorialized on the university campus for his role in creating land grant universities, of which UW-Madison is one. The land for the campuses was largely seized from Native American tribes in 1862 through the Morrill Act. Lincoln also ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men that same year.

The students say the sum of the former president’s actions warrant taking down the statue.

“And I do want the 100% removal of the statue. I don’t want it to be moved somewhere or anything like that. I want it removed,” McWhorter said.

And on what basis did “the bad things Lincoln did definitely outweight the good ones”? Does Ms. McWhorter know how many lives were saved or made better by the ending of slavery in America? Yes, Lincoln did order the execution of 38 Dakota tribesmen who killed settlers and soldiers, but he also commuted the death sentences of many more of the convicted. But against that we must measure Lincoln’s legacy, and I can’t imagine what kind of mind would decide that Lincoln caused more harm than good. Again, I assert that this is faux outrage disguising an attempt to get power over a university. Removing a statue of Lincoln, or of Roman emperors, will do exactly nothing to ameliorate racism or better the opportunities for minorities.

In fact, following a student petition with many demands, the first of which was to remove the Lincoln statue (it also demanded the abolition of the campus police), a resolution was brought before the student government demanding attention to BIPOC demands, including doing something about the Lincoln statue, one of the “remnants of this school’s history of white supremacy.” According to Campus Reform, a right-wing site, the student government passed that resolution unanimously.

I don’t know what’s worse: these student demands to remove statues that not only honor great men, but remind us of history, or the pusillanimous administrators who bow to those demands. Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is a welcome exception, but after the students and African-American Studies Department castigated Schapiro’s hard-nosed response to defund-the-cops protestors, he’s showing signs of caving.

For those who think that all this madness will end when Biden is elected, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The students have had a taste of power, and they won’t stop until they’re running the asylum.

Facebook considers Holocaust denial as “hate speech”, removes it from the site

Facebook’s Vice-President for Content Policy has posted a new notice saying that, as part of the firm’s fight against “hate speech,” they’re removing any content that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.” Click on the screenshot to see the full announcement:

An excerpt:

Today we are updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust. . .

. . . Following a year of consultation with external experts, we recently banned anti-Semitic stereotypes about the collective power of Jews that often depicts them running the world or its major institutions.

Today’s announcement marks another step in our effort to fight hate on our services. Our decision is supported by the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people. According to a recent survey of adults in the US aged 18-39, almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure.

Institutions focused on Holocaust research and remembrance, such as Yad Vashem, have noted that Holocaust education is also a key component in combatting anti-Semitism. Beginning later this year, we will direct anyone to credible information off Facebook if they search for terms associated with the Holocaust or its denial on our platform.

Now Facebook, as a private operation, has the right to ban whatever it wants. And I can see some rationale for banning vicious stereotypes of any group (they also ban white supremacists), though it’s not clear from the announcement above if the anti-Semitic stereotypes they ban are only those that show Jews controlling the world. (What about big-nosed Jews fondling dollar bills or sticking pitchforks into Palestinians?) But with Facebook, as with universities, I favor speech as free as possible—ideally, speech that is “free” as U.S. courts have interpreted the First Amendment. That means all speech is permissible save that speech which harasses individuals, is defamatory, constitutes false advertising, promotes immediate and foreseeable violence and so on.

In other words, I think that the speech permitted on Facebook should be speech that is permitted at the University of Chicago. And that includes both varieties of hate speech noted above.  One advantage, for instance of allowing anti-Semitism is to either out those purveying it, or to realize how widespread the problem really is. One cannot grasp, for instance, how much hatred of Jews is officially purveyed by some Arab states until you see the stuff for yourself.

One can make an even stronger case for Holocaust denialism—that is, to allow it. I speak from personal experience, for it was only by reading Holocaust denialists, and seeing how superficially convincing their arguments were, that I was motivated to do additional reading of those who addressed and attacked the denialism.  And that led me to the strongest denial of Denialism I know: Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman’s 2009 book Denying History (below). Shermer and Grobman not only powerfully refute Holocaust Denialism, but also use the case as an example of “pseudohistory” (which resembles “pseudoscience”) and further analyze the psychology of the denialists and those who follow them.

So I can appreciate Facebook’s aim, which is to prevent hate, but they are setting themselves up as the arbiters of what is “hate speech”, and it’s dangerous for anyone to do that, as Christopher Hitchens often remarked. (He also defended the rights of Holocaust Denialists who had been arrested.) How can you answer those who purvey lies if the lies themselves are censored? Further, is banning something a good way to suppress its message? There is, as we know, the Streisand Effect.

I write this as a secular Jew who despises anti-Semitism and Holocaust denialism. I am not a “self-hating Jew”. But my cultural affinity with Jews is not as strong as my support for freedom of speech.

But let’s take a poll (please vote).

h/t: Ken

Jimmy Fallon mocks explanatory caveats affixed to “problematic” films

I understand that this spoof by Jimmy Fallon was put in the comments of my last post, about the now-obligatory “racism” warning given before the start of HBO’s reissue of the movie “Blazing Saddles”. (HBO did the same thing to “Gone with the Wind.”)

This was sent by reader Simon, who added, “Once comedians start serious mockery a trend is likely on the way out (I hope!)” In support of Simon’s hopes, note the ratio of “thumbs up” to “thumbs down” ratings on YouTube.

Black Marxist scholar deplatformed for emphasizing class over race

The New York Times reports the latest instance of unhinged deplatforming (click on screenshot):

Adolph Reed, Jr., a black antiracist and Marxist who has taught at four universities (now emeritus at Penn) was scheduled to give a talk in May to New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).  Unfortunately for him, it was on one of his areas of expertise: the conflict between emphasizing race versus emphasizing class in striving for social justice.  His topic: how the Left has, in his view, unproductively concentrated on the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on blacks, which he sees as unnecessarily dividing those blacks from  those whites who both belong to the real underclass: the poor. He sees this kind of identity politics as needlessly fracturing people who should be working together to assure equity. (To show how Left Reed is, he’s criticized both Obama and Clinton, the former as a man espousing “vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics.”)

The mob descended:

To let him talk, the organization’s Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus stated, was “reactionary, class reductionist and at best, tone deaf.”

“We cannot be afraid to discuss race and racism because it could get mishandled by racists,” the caucus stated. “That’s cowardly and cedes power to the racial capitalists.”

That last phrase baffled me a bit, but it appears to mean that because Reed was emphasizing class over race, he was “afraid to discuss race and racism”, and that racists could say, “See, a black man thinks we’re talking too much about race.”

After further pushback, Reed and the DSA decided to cancel the virtual talk. (Yes, a virtual talk!). Among those who criticized the cancellation was, to my surprise, Cornel West, who describes himself as a “non-Marxist socialist” and is well known for his antiracism. As the NYT says:

“God have mercy, Adolph is the greatest democratic theorist of his generation,” said Cornel West, a Harvard professor of philosophy and a Socialist. “He has taken some very unpopular stands on identity politics, but he has a track record of a half-century. If you give up discussion, your movement moves toward narrowness.”

I haven’t much followed the race vs. class conflict, but of course if you are a Marxist and concentrate more on class, seeing a racial conflict as inimical to your goals, you’re going to be called a racist. That’s especially true because one can argue that poor blacks are more oppressed than poor whites, though I couldn’t argue that all blacks are on average more disadvantaged than poor whites.  But surely there’s a discussion to be had on this issue, and I know my Chicago colleague Brian Leiter comes down on the side of emphasizing class. Others agree:

A contrary view [to emphasizing race] is offered by Professor Reed and some prominent scholars and activists, many of whom are Black. They see the current emphasis in the culture on race-based politics as a dead-end. They include Dr. West; the historians Barbara Fields of Columbia University and Toure Reed — Adolph’s son — of Illinois State; and Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of Jacobin, a Socialist magazine.

They readily accept the brute reality of America’s racial history and of racism’s toll. They argue, however, that the problems now bedeviling America — such as wealth inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration — affect Black and brown Americans, but also large numbers of working class and poor white Americans.

The most powerful progressive movements, they say, take root in the fight for universal programs. That was true of the laws that empowered labor organizing and established mass jobs programs during the New Deal, and it’s true of the current struggles for free public college tuition, a higher minimum wage, reworked police forces and single-payer health care.

Those programs would disproportionately help Black, Latino and Native American people, who on average have less family wealth and suffer ill health at rates exceeding that of white Americans, Professor Reed and his allies argue. To fixate on race risks dividing a potentially powerful coalition and playing into the hands of conservatives.

Regardless of where you come down on this debate, I vehemently object to the cancellation of a scheduled talk because it was seen as ideologically impure. That is true “cancel culture”, and all it does is stifle discussion. Since “prominent scholars and activists, many of whom are Black,” take Reed’s side, it’s surely worth hearing what they have to say.  For example:

Professor Reed and his compatriots believe the left too often ensnares itself in battles over racial symbols, from statues to language, rather than keeping its eye on fundamental economic change.

“If I said to you, ‘You’re laid off, but we’ve managed to rename Yale to the name of another white person’, you would look at me like I’m crazy,” said Mr. Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin.

Better, they argue, to talk of commonalities. While there is a vast wealth gap between Black and white Americans, poor and working-class white people are remarkably similar to poor and working-class Black people when it comes to income and wealth, which is to say they possess very little of either. Democratic Party politicians, Professor Reed and his allies say, wield race as a dodge to avoid grappling with big economic issues that cut deeper, such as wealth redistribution, as that would upset their base of rich donors.

That second sentence is a zinger, and does make a point. (One could also have said, “we’ve managed to change the name of a bird.”) There was one other money quote, and Brian Leiter also picked it up in his short blog post on this deplatforming:

[Reed]finds a certain humor in being attacked over race.

“I’ve never led with my biography, as that’s become an authenticity-claiming gesture,” he said. “But when my opponents say that I don’t accept that racism is real, I think to myself, ‘OK, we’ve arrived at a strange place.’”

It is a strange place, and I wonder if I’ll live long enough to see us go to a better place.

h/t: cesar

Think “cancel culture” is a fabrication? Think again.

This letter in Areo (click on screenshot) gets the point of the Harper’s letter in a way that many outraged people and offended intellectuals didn’t. The author, who asserts that he’s a “nobody”, isn’t really: his Areo bio says this:

Angel Eduardo is writer, musician, photographer, and designer in New York City. He has been published in The Ocean State Review, The Caribbean Writer, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, among other publications. See more of his work at angeleduardo.com.

But never mind who he is.  His point is that, as Steve Pinker mentioned, the letter wasn’t there to protect the speech and hegemony of the many intellectuals who signed the letter; it was to call attention to a culture that demonizes and, worse, injures the livelihoods of “regular” people who committed ideological transgressions, usually on the Internet. This isn’t in the interest of debate or of producing “counterspeech”, but in the interest of hurting your opponent.

Eduardo now has put his career in danger, for in the Areo letter he says that while he believes in the principles of Black Lives Matter, he often finds their rhetoric “confused, dishonest, and based on misinterpretations of the data.”  Also, while supporting trans people, he says “I cannot deny my own understanding of the science behind biological sex.”  Those two statements—or even one of them—are sufficient to stuff him into the meat grinder of cancel culture. Now, he says, A target is on his back, but he had sufficient courage to write the article, and to say this:

That’s the fulcrum on which the Harper’s letter turns: I could be wrong about everything, and I am willing to hear the reasons why, but I must be given the chance to be wrong. I must be able to not only express my opinions, but to know that my life won’t crumble around me because I happen to be in disagreement with the crowd. We must grant one another compassion and the benefit of the doubt, despite our basest instincts and the social media platforms that cynically incentivize them. I’ve been wrong nearly every day of my life, and there hasn’t been one instance in which I didn’t become a better person for having learned through compassionate correction. If I’d been afraid to speak or act, or if I’d been met with righteous anger instead, I might have never learned at all.

There’s more, but you can read it for yourself. I want instead to highlight one of the links Eduardo gives below:

In the wake of the Harper’s letter, I’ve witnessed flabbergasting displays of casuistry. Critics have attacked the motives and character of certain signatories, as though accusations of hypocrisy—whether justified or not—could invalidate the principles within the letter itself. Many have argued that the cancel culture the letter decries doesn’t even exist, despite seemingly unending examples.

Of course I had to see the link, for many critics of the Harper’s letter beefed about the nonexistence of cancel culture. After all, they wrote uncomprehendingly, all those people who signed the letter didn’t get canceled; they were just defending their right to oppress others who—the beefers claimed—couldn’t speak up because they were marginalized. (The idea that marginalized people have no voice cannot be supported given the outcry and changes following the murder of George Floyd.)

Anyway, the author of the list, who runs the EverythingOppresses Twitter site, put up ten examples of “cancel culture” (non-famous people having their lives and careers damaged, mostly through firings), and then offered to give ten other examples for each 1,000 followers he/she accrued—up to 150. There are now about 7500 followers, and at the site below (click on screenshot), you can see the list.


There are now 101 examples, and I’ve looked at them all. While some don’t really fill the bill (semi-famous people simply being attacked, with calls for them to be fired), and other folks weren’t really fired but were piled on by social-media mobs, most of them do count as real examples of “cancel culture.” Not only were people’s businesses wrecked and their careers damaged, or they got fired, but I can’t imagine any of this happening 30 years ago. The closest example I can think of in our time is the red-baiting that took place during the McCarthy era. But even that wasn’t comparable because the career-wrecking was mostly done by the government and Congress, not by private citizens.

You’re already familiar with many of these examples if you’ve read this site, but I’ll give a few, and if you click on the screenshots you can read the evidence. Some of them are truly horrific examples of mob mentality. Yes, you can be attacked by the outraged if you criticize the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, or if you say something that, however obliquely, can be interpreted as racist, but counterspeech is simply a demonstration of free speech. Pushback on social media is often distressing, but I can’t say I oppose it. What makes these examples odious are the blatant attempts to ruin people’s livelihoods by communicating Ideological Malfeasance to people’s bosses. And yes, boycotts aren’t illegal, but they can be misguided and overblown, as many in the list are.

Here are a few examples (again, click on screenshots to go to the relevant news article). Remember the Burrito Truck Cancellation?

I wrote about this one, too:

One link here to represent all four cases:

You know of this incident:

Although there’s controversy about why Google fired James Damore, it seems pretty clear it was his response to the “diversity memo” that did him in. Regardless of whether he conformed to “received wisdom,” he shouldn’t have been fired:

Young adult fiction is a hotbed of Cancel Culture activity. The author gives a number of examples, but here’s an overview:

Remember this one?

Surprisingly, one of the most fertile hunting grounds for the Offense Police is the “knitting culture”: social-media websites connecting those who knit. Here’s one ludicrous example of hounding after an innocuous statement (another example is here):

And you surely remember the Gibson’s Bakery incident, in which Oberlin College decided to rouse its students by accusing the bakery of racism when in fact there was no racism in evidence (the bakery won a huge judgement against Oberlin, which behaved despicably). There are two screenshots with separate links:

Don’t forget how Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were hounded out of The Evergreen State College (NYT story by Bari Weiss):

Are ten examples enough? (Remember, there are over a hundred.) Let’s make it an even dozen. The next one is particularly odious, and you may not know of it:

To finish off, let’s not forget how Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan was kicked out as head of an undergraduate residential house for having the temerity to join Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. No matter than Sullivan had done a lot in the past for marginalized students; his presence was making students at Winthrop House feel “unsafe” (a word that should raise a red flag):

These, and most of the rest of the examples, clearly show that people’s lives have been damaged or even ruined by social-justice mobs not even offering counterspeech (they often take their positions as un-debatable), but simply baying instead for people’s jobs.

I don’t have a strategy to counteract this kind of climate; all I can suggest is that we stand up against it every time we see it. Given that the liberal media and many other powerful positions are now occupied by woke students who imbibed their ideology in woke colleges like Oberlin and Harvard, it’s going to be a long battle.

Douthat on Cancel Culture

Yes, Ross Douthat is a conservative columnist, but does that mean he can be totally ignored? I don’t think so, at least not this week, when he devotes his New York Times space to a discussion of “cancel culture” (CC), and provides as good a definition of the phenomenon as I’ve seen. He also admits, in his list of “ten theses” about CC, that the Right does it too, but also that “a liberal society should theoretically cancel less frequently than its rivals.” I agree with most of what he says but strongly disagree with his thesis that the Right barely engages in creating CC at all.

Read it by clicking on the screenshot:

I’ve put Douthat’s “theses” in bold, and indented a few excerpts from his article. My own take on his points is flush left:

  1. Cancellation, properly understood, refers to an attack on someone’s employment and reputation by a determined collective of critics, based on an opinion or an action that is alleged to be disgraceful and disqualifying.

Douthat’s definition of cancel culture, above is one of the best I’ve seen, distinguishing it from mere disapprobation and showing that, according to his take (and mine), CC really exists. He adds this:

“Reputation” and “employment” are key terms here. You are not being canceled if you are merely being heckled or insulted — if somebody describes you as a moron or a fascist or some profane alternative to “Douthat” on the internet — no matter how vivid and threatening the heckling becomes. You are decidedly at risk of cancellation, however, if your critics are calling for you to be de-platformed or fired or put out of business, and especially if the call is coming from inside the house — from within your professional community, from co-workers or employees or potential customers or colleagues, on a professional message board or Slack or some interest-specific slice of social media.

Those who deny that CC exists are ostriches; every poll I’ve seen shows that, at least on campus, many students are afraid to speak their minds lest their reputations be sullied. Have a look, for instance, at this 2018 poll from Gallup (click on screenshot):

Two bits of data:

The perception of students is that conservatives are the least able to freely express their views:

Also see FIRE’s “disinvitation database,” since disinvitation, whether for a famous or less famous person, clearly constitutes “cancellation.” Both Left and Right participate in this heinous curbing of free speech, but mostly the Left.

  1. All cultures cancel; the question is for what, how widely and through what means.

I haven’t much to add here, but do have a bit of a beef with Douthat’s trying to get the Right off the hook:

And social conservatives who criticize cancel culture, especially, have to acknowledge that we’re partly just disagreeing with today’s list of cancellation-worthy sins.

Well, he’s underestimating the power of Right-wing cancellation here, especially through Trump and the powerful and much-read right-wing media. These people aren’t just “disagreeing with cancellation-worthy sins,” but attempting to damage people’s reputations based on what they said or wrote.

  1. Cancellation isn’t exactly about free speech, but a liberal society should theoretically cancel less frequently than its rivals.

Douthat is right here: it is conservativism that has often put the clamps on free speech, for free speech is a powerful medium for overthrowing the status quo:

At the same time, under its own self-understanding, liberalism is supposed to clear a wider space for debate than other political systems and allow a wider range of personal expression. So you would expect a liberal society to be slower to cancel, more inclined to separate the personal and the professional (or the ideological and the artistic), and quicker to offer opportunities to regain one’s reputation and start one’s professional life anew.

  1. The internet has changed the way we cancel, and extended cancellation’s reach.

No doubt about this; now everyone can have a say, and they don’t have to know you to try to damage you. In the old days, you could flee your bailiwick to escape local opprobrium, but no longer, as there’s no hiding from Twitter:

But under the rule of the internet there’s no leaving the village: Everywhere is the same place, and so is every time. You can be canceled for something you said in a crowd of complete strangers, if one of them uploads the video, or for a joke that came out wrong if you happened to make it on social media, or for something you said or did a long time ago if the internet remembers. And you don’t have to be prominent or political to be publicly shamed and permanently marked: All you need to do is have a particularly bad day, and the consequences could endure as long as Google.

  1. The internet has also made it harder to figure out whether speech is getting freer or less free.

This is obvious: more people have a platform to speak, but a lot of them try to erode the free speech of others. The solution is to work against the erosion, i.e., promote the First Amendment and its extension to colleges and universities, and call out CC, as the Harper’s letter did.

  1. Celebrities are the easiest people to target, but the hardest people to actually cancel.

Many of the beefs against the idea of CC are that the people who make the most public statements are famous people, people like J.K. Rowling and Dave Chapelle, both mentioned by Douthat. Those people can be attacked but aren’t really “cancelled.” But saying that celebrity statements don’t prove CC exists isn’t the point; see my take on #7 below.

  1. Cancel culture is most effective against people who are still rising in their fields, and it influences many people who don’t actually get canceled.

This was the point Steve Pinker made in this tweet. Even though Pinker is famous, he’s calling out those who chill the speech of the less famous.

Douthat’s response is good here, and gives two chilling examples:

The point of cancellation is ultimately to establish norms for the majority, not to bring the stars back down to earth. So a climate of cancellation can succeed in changing the way people talk and argue and behave even if it doesn’t succeed in destroying the careers of some of the famous people that it targets. You don’t need to cancel Rowling if you can cancel the lesser-known novelist who takes her side; you don’t have to take down the famous academics who signed last week’s Harper’s Magazine letter attacking cancel culture if you can discourage people half their age from saying what they think. The goal isn’t to punish everyone, or even very many someones; it’s to shame or scare just enough people to make the rest conform.

  1. The right and the left both cancel; it’s just that today’s right is too weak to do it effectively.

Here I disagree strongly.  The Right is certainly engaged in attempts to cancel, most notably through Donald Trump, the most powerful man in the country. He uses his Twitter feed to constantly smear people and to damage their careers and reputations. He’s not trying to engage in constructive argument, of course. And there’s also the powerful right-wing media, like Fox News. Douthat is disingenuous when he says this:

Today the people with the most to fear from a right-wing cancel culture usually work inside Trump-era professional conservatism. (And even for them there’s often a new life awaiting as a professional NeverTrumper.) Attempted cancellations on the right are mostly battles for control over diminishing terrain, with occasional forays against red-state academics and anti-Trump celebrities. Meanwhile, the left’s cancel warriors imagine themselves conquering the entire non-Fox News map.

Look at Trump, Fox News, powerful Republican Senators, and so on, and you’ll see that they’re constantly engaged in cancellation in the Douthat-ian sense.

  1. The heat of the cancel-culture debate reflects the intersection of the internet as a medium for cancellation with the increasing power of left-wing moral norms as a justification for cancellation.

Here Douthat notes that the existence of Twitter isn’t sufficient to explain cancel culture, a point I made last week. There are other factors involved, ones discussed in Lukianoff and Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind and Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds, both books I recommend. Here’s Douthat’s take:

It’s not just technology or ideology, in other words, it’s both. The emergent, youthful left wants to take current taboos against racism and anti-Semitism and use them as a model for a wider range of limits — with more expansive definitions of what counts as racism and sexism and homophobia, a more sweeping theory of what sorts of speech and behavior threaten “harm” and a more precise linguistic etiquette for respectable professionals to follow. And the internet and social media, both outside institutions and within, are crucial mechanisms for this push.

And here, as lagniappe, is Professor Ceiling Cat’s list of words that indicate you’re in Woke and Cancel Land:

“I feel unsafe”
“Speech is violence”
“I favor free speech, but . . . ”
“Person on culture X is being erased”
The use of the word “nuanced”.

  1. If you oppose left-wing cancel culture, appeals to liberalism and free speech aren’t enough.

I think Douthat is referring here to the Harper’s Letter, arguing that it isn’t enough to claim a “right” of free speech, though that’s not all the letter did (it limned some of the consequences of chilling speech). He says that one needs arguments for why free speech is good. But he’s preaching to the choir: we have such arguments starting with John Stuart Mill and extending through Christopher Hitchens in our day (see a list here). I won’t reprise the arguments for free speech here, but I’ll put Hitchens’s eloquent defense below on the off chance you haven’t seen it: