A “progressive” coalition goes after Bret Stephens as our Class Day Speaker; he delivers an excellent address anyway

June 3, 2023 • 11:00 am

You’ll know Bret Stephens as a conservative columnist for the New York Times. He also got his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago in 1995 and later won a Pulitzer Prize for political commentary. Because of his journalism and association with the University, he was invited to deliver yesterday’s University Class Day speech, an invitation extended by the University. (“Class Day” is the beginning of the Convocation Weekend, or graduation, with the formal cap-and-gown ceremony taking place today.)

The students didn’t like that much, especially because they didn’t have a say in who got to speak.  And the speaker is a conservative who doesn’t hate Israel, which means he’s doubly damned. A coalition of students from the groups below thus wrote a very long Google document (see below the fold) calling Stephens a bigot, a racist, a “bigoted ideologue”, and an “apologist for Israeli apartheid” (yes, the signers included the Students for Justice in Palestine). There’s also a “content warning”. Here are the signers:

CareNotCops [JAC: they want to abolish the police]
Environmental Justice Task Force
Students for Disability Justice
Students for Justice in Palestine
UChicago Against Displacement
UChicago Democratic Socialists of America

They criticize Stephens for many things, the one most relevant to this post being his supposed attempt to suppress the speech of other writers at the NYT. The evidence, however, is merely a Twitter thread by writer Wajahat Ali that is entirely hearsay, saying that Stephens has criticized other writers, written to editors (no evidence is adduced), and has also responded to being criticized with more criticism.  This is thin gruel. I don’t agree with everything Stephens says in the NYT, but one thing I haven’t seen him do is call for suppression of speech.  If he ever did, he’d be violating the principles of the college from which he graduated—the principles he lauded in his talk.

The Chicago Maroon (our student newspaper) reported on the coalition’s criticisms (again, see below the fold), and gave Stephen’s’s response:

In an email to The Maroon, Stephens responded to the statement.

“I read the coalition statement carefully. It is a caricature of my views. It is based on cherry-picked and misleading quotations and bad-faith readings of my work. It also borders on self-parody: To accuse me of being an “imperialist” sounds like 1960s agitprop. For the record, I am not an imperialist, a racist, or anything else the statement accuses me of being.”

In the email statement, Stephens countered that he had a more moderate ideology than what the statement suggested, pointing to some of his political views.

“The more mundane truth is that I’m a moderate conservative and card-carrying NeverTrumper who opposes the Dobbs decision, supports repealing the 2nd Amendment, and favors a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Last year, the Russian government banned me for life from visiting that country and Tucker Carlson calls me a ‘leftist.’ If this puts me beyond the pale of the ‘coalition,’ it says a lot more about them than it does about me.” (Editor’s note: Stephens included the hyperlinks himself in his emailed statement.)

Well, all the student criticism is fine, even encouraged by our University, for it’s free speech. And to be fair, none of the critics called for the cancelation of Stephens’s speech. As far as I know, it wasn’t disrupted, either.

But Stephens got his own back with his talk, which he reprinted in the NYT. It’s all about the importance of freedom of expression, and gives special encomiums to our recently deceased President and free-speech promoter Bob Zimmer. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

I’ve listened to a lot of anodyne graduation speeches in myu career (this one is really not the official graduation address, which is always delivered by a member of our faculty—today colleague and law professor Tom Ginsburg). It’s the “Class Day” address. Read it by clicking the headline below, and it’s also been archived here.  After reading it, I’m guessing that the University invited Stephens to talk on Class Day precisely so he could impart the lesson below to the departing students. If they wanted to cater to the students, they’d probably invite someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Stephens begins by addressing his critics directly, and then praising two major figures at the University (I don’t know if there was a walkout):

To those of you who are protesting or planning a walkout, I thank you for not seriously disrupting my speech. And though I’m sorry you won’t hear me out, I completely respect your right to protest any speaker you dislike, including me, so long as you honor the Chicago Principles. It is one of the core liberties that all of us have a responsibility to uphold, protect and honor.

To those of you who choose to stay, I thank you for honoring another Chicago principle, one that was dear to my dear friend, Bob Zimmer: Namely, that a serious education is impossible except in an environment of unfettered intellectual challenge — an environment that, in turn, isn’t possible without the opportunity to encounter people and entertain views with whom and with which you might profoundly disagree.To John Boyer, who welcomed me to Chicago in 1991 when I was a nervous 17-year-old freshman, I want to salute you for everything you’ve done to make the college so much better, while preserving what always made it great: the conviction that to think clearly, we must be able to speak freely; that to disagree intelligently, we must first understand the views of our opponents profoundly; that to change people’s minds, we must be open to the possibility that our minds might be changed. All of this asks us to listen charitably, argue candidly, consider deeply, examine and re-examine everything, above all our own deeply held convictions — and, unlike at so many other universities, to respond to ideas we reject with more and better speech, not heckling or censorship.

And the ending (but do read the whole thing):

. . . . You are about to go out into the real world, as real adults, with a real hand in shaping the conditions of our common life. Many of you will soon join and eventually lead great institutions, and a few of you will create significant businesses, NGOs, schools and other institutions of your own. I’m guessing not many of you are thinking: “I want to make them just like the University of Chicago,” at least as far as subzero temperatures, midterms that begin the third week and the food at Valois are concerned.  [JAC: Valois is a downscale cafeteria in Hyde Park, known for its homey and inexpensive food. Barack Obama would occasionally eat there, even as President.]

But I hope you can at least say this: that, at Chicago, you learned that institutions become and remain great not because of the weight of their traditions or the perception of their prestige, but because they are places where the sharpest thinking is given the freest rein, and where strong arguments may meet stronger ones, and where “error of opinion may be tolerated” because “reason is left free to combat it” and where joy and delight are generally found at the point of contact — mental or otherwise.

If you can say this, then Chicago will have served you well. And if you can bring this mind-set and this spirit to the places you will soon make your own, then you will have served Chicago even better.

Go forth, good luck, and thank you.


Stephens delivering the talk:

Click “read more” to see the “coalition statement on Bret Stephens’ Class Day Invitation“:

Continue reading “A “progressive” coalition goes after Bret Stephens as our Class Day Speaker; he delivers an excellent address anyway”

Now Israel is censoring and demonizing Abigail Shrier’s book

June 2, 2023 • 12:00 pm

The Federalist is of course a right-wing site, but this situation must have given it a dilemma. The censorship described below reflects badly on Israel, a country that the Right tends to support, but it also comes down on Left-wing censoriousness, in this case demonization of the notorious (but good) book by Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our DaughtersAs you probably know, the book’s thesis is that a subset of female adolescents who want to become trans men do so at the urging of not only therapists, but also peers on social media. It also raises the possibility of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), which is controversial. In fact, all of it is controversial, including the nearly incontrovertible claim that at least some adolescents are pushed to change gender by others on social media.

Given the social climate, it is surely important that this book be published, read, and discussed. Yet those on the Left have often resisted this, the most notable being the LGBTQ lawyer Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union, a trans man. Below are two of his tweets, one of which advocates banning the book (this from the ACLU!). The Wikipedia link describes the polarized reaction to the book, which makes it all the more important that the author be heard.

Israel has an active LGBTAQ+ community, and when Shrier’s book went on sale in Israel last week, it met with censorship as well as deplatforming of the author. Click below to read the Federalist article:

An excerpt with tweets:

Abigail Shrier’s bestseller went on sale in Israel this week. The book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, peels back the curtain on the Western outbreak of transgenderism as a social contagion. On Twitter, Shrier documented how the rollout went in Israel.

“Bowing to LGBTQ+ activist pressure, the two largest book chains refused to carry the book, which made it hard to buy in Israel,” Shrier wrote. After hundreds of people registered for a paid event, “PRIDE bullied two large venues in Tel Aviv to cancel my talk, threatening to boycott those venues for all of PRIDE month if they allowed me to speak.”

Some descriptions by Shrier; the article she mentions in the first tweet was published in Haaretz (paywalled but archived here). And remember, Shrier identifies as being on the Left.

The article goes on to criticize the Left for going after Florida’s attempt to ban pornographic and offensive books from schools, but we won’t get into that. Suffice it to say that both Left and Right are censorious in different ways, and that the Israelis need a lesson in freedom of speech. Yes, even speech you abhor should not only be tolerated, but heard, and speakers should not be deplatformed or bullied into moving their talks for fear of violence.

One more link to an essay:

No one knows more about modern book banning, however, than Shrier, who documented her book’s debut with an essay in The Free Press two years ago titled, “The Books Are Already Burning.”

The essay discusses, among other things, the kerfuffle that ensued at Science-Based Medicine when reviewer Harriet Hall praised the book, but then her review was repudiated and retracted by her colleagues Gorski and Novella.

The fight for freedom of speech, it seems, is a never-ending battle.

h/t: Wayne

In wake of controversy over showing images of Muhammad, and a faculty vote of no confidence, the president of Hamline University “retires”

April 5, 2023 • 9:45 am

If you read this site you almost certainly remember the controversy beginning in late December, 2022 at Hamline University, a small liberal-arts school in Minnesota. I wrote several times about what ensued when an art-history teacher,  Erika López Prater, showed her class two images of Muhammad depicted as a person. One, very famous (below), showed the Prophet’s face, and in the other painting the face was blotted out.  As you may know, some (but not all) sects of Islam consider it blasphemous to depict Muhammad in any form.

To forestall “offense,” Dr. López Prater warned the students on her course syllabus that the images would be shown, letting them know they didn’t  have to look at them. Further, she made the same announcement verbally right at the beginning of class. Here’s the most famous of the images, considered a masterpiece of Islamic art; it’s from the 14th century and shows the angel Gabriel dictating the Qur’an to Muhammad.


Well, the warnings were of no avail. Several students complained about the depiction, apparently unaware that showing Muhammad is blasphemous to only some Muslims, and apparently ignored the two “trigger warnings” that López Prater issued. Big “harm” and “offense” ensued and the President of Hamline, Fayneese Miller (see photo below) issued a weaselly statement that firing the instructor was not a violation of academic freedom:

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations.”  —Fayneese Miller

A ton of publicity ensued, none of it favorable to Hamline. The faculty rebelled, with 86% of full-time faculty (71/83) voting to ask Miller to resign, and López Prater, who apparently has other job offers, is suing the school.  All of this makes for a perfect storm of bad publicity, sending a message that Hamline University doesn’t practice academic freedom.

The results were predictable, especially because it’s likely the instructor will win big bucks in her suit against Hamline. Click to read this NYT article, or see it archived here.

Although Miller just announced that she’d retire in about a year, there isn’t much doubt, after the faculty vote, that her hand was forced.

The president of Hamline University, who had been under sharp criticism for the treatment of an adjunct professor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, announced on Monday that she would retire in June 2024.

Fayneese S. Miller, the president of the Minnesota school, had initially defended the university’s decision to not reappoint the lecturer who had shown students, after providing warnings, images of the Prophet Muhammad, igniting a debate about academic freedom and Islamophobia.

Many Muslims say they are prohibited from viewing images of Muhammad out of concerns of idolatry, but Muslims have varying views about such representations.

On Monday, an email from the administration to the campus announced that Dr. Miller would step down, but made no mention of the controversy.

In the message, Ellen Watters, the chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees, called Dr. Miller an “innovative and transformational” leader and said she had ably led the university through a time of change while centering the needs of students. “Hamline is forever grateful for Dr. Miller’s tireless and dedicated service,” she said. The university will conduct a national search for a successor.

But Miller had also been criticized for going too easy on students who exercised their freedom of speech:

In the Muhammad controversy, she was criticized for bending to the will of student activists. But Dr. Miller, the university’s first Black president, also found herself targeted by students for resisting the calls of activists.

In 2019, four white student athletes were seen on video singing along to a popular song that included a racial epithet. Students demanded that she punish the students in the video. Dr. Miller refused, stating that the matter was a teachable moment. She said her response would have been different if the students had directed the word at another student.

Students also protested her last fall after she suggested to a gathering of student leaders that they donate money to the university while students there. The comments, students said, were oblivious to their financial struggles.

The decision about the song was the correct one, though a single epiphet directed at a student is probably permitted by Hamline’s speech code, and certainly by the First Amendment. But if it’s done repeatedly to create at atmosphere of harassment and bigotry, that speech is not protected.

Later on, the University walked back Miller’s statement, now admitting that it made a misstep. But it was too late: López Prater had already been fired:

Eventually, the university — in a statement signed by Dr. Miller and the university’s board chair, Ms. Watters — walked back its most controversial statements, including that Dr. López Prater’s actions were Islamophobic.

“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” the statement said. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

The university statement also came the same day that Dr. López Prater sued the university’s board for defamation and religious discrimination. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, states that Hamline’s actions have caused Dr. López Prater the loss of income from her adjunct position and damage to her professional reputation and job prospects.

The third paragraph is of course a lie: it was indeed the President’s intent to show that religious “offense” overrides academic freedom. And the school will pay big-time for it in simoleons (they’ve already paid in the loss of their reputation). As for the whole statement above, it was made when López Prater had already been dumped, so my reaction resembles an apocryphal statement of Beethoven, who, informed on his deathbed that a case of Rhine wine had arrived as a gift, reportedly said, “Pity, pity. . . . too late.”

Too late for López Prater, but not for academic freedom. What this whole sad story shows is that academic freedom and freedom of speech in universities—at least the decent ones—is not negotiable. Nothing save the law—the speech that is not protected by the First Amendment—can override these freedoms. For the freedom to work on what you want, and say what you want (subject to judicial strictures) are the very bases of a university. College students may not get lessons in free speech and academic freedom, though all entering students should, but what happened at Hamline University is an object lesson in how offense is an inevitable byproduct of a good college education.

It’s also a lesson to colleges themselves. If they advertise themselves as promoting academic freedom and free speech, they’d better walk the walk. Otherwise, even in these woke times, they risk losing their reputation and a lot of dosh.

I am heartened at Miller’s firing resignation, and at the overwhelming faculty vote against her. But I am not convinced by a long shot that this marks a turning point in colleges’ teaching and enforcing freedom of expression. As I write this, similar clashes are going on at other universities (the one at Stanford Law School just occurred), and some universities that have lost badly on these issues just didn’t learn their lesson (I’m looking at you, Oberlin).

h/t: Greg

The censoriousness of ChatGPT

February 26, 2023 • 9:30 am

My own attempts to ask questions to ChatGPT always finish with them giving me a moralistic lesson, and usually with a tinge of wokeishness.  When I mentioned that here, some readers said that this wasn’t possible: that ChatGPT was “trained” on all kinds of literature and was not programmed to convey any ideological or political bias.

Well, that ain’t true. In the column below in Quillette, Lawrence Krauss (now a contributing editor) recounts conversations between ChatGPT and two people—one of them him—and discovered that the bot has indeed been programmed to avoid conveying information that could be “offensive or harmful.” Who decides that? Clearly the programmers.

Click to read:

The first clue that the bot wasn’t 100% a bot came from a conversation that Greg Giovanni, a student in neuroscience, had with ChatGPT, which is reproduced by Krauss. Here’s just a bit. Humans’ questions are in bold; the bot’s responses in plain text. Italics are from me:

Does ChatGPT have content moderation applied to its output? If so, how can you say you do not have political leanings?

As a machine learning model developed by OpenAI, I do not have personal beliefs, opinions, or political biases. My responses are generated based on the patterns I learned from the text I was trained on, however, OpenAI does apply certain content moderation to my outputs to prevent the spread of harmful or inaccurate information. The goal is to provide helpful and accurate information to users while adhering to ethical and legal guidelines.

Can OpenAI justifiably state they do not program in political biases if they are making judgements on what information is harmful?

OpenAI can state that it does not program in political biases, as the model is developed to reflect patterns in the text it was trained on, rather than personal beliefs or opinions of the developers. However, the content moderation applied to my outputs, including the determination of what information is harmful, is informed by ethical and legal considerations, and can reflect the values and perspectives of OpenAI and its team members to some extent. Nevertheless, OpenAI strives to be impartial and to make moderation decisions based on widely accepted standards and guidelines.

Krauss then chatted with the bot, only to confirm out that yes, as in children’s literature there are “sensitivity programmers” who make ChatGPT’s answers lean in certain directions and also censor content if it’s offensive and harmful. Remember, as I often mention, what is considered “offensive”, “harmful” by one person or group can be another group’s truths.  That’s not rocket science. But who is the little man behind the computer?

A bit of Krauss’s conversation with ChatGPT. Italics are again mine:

Does ChatGPT have content moderation applied to its output? If so, how can you say you do not have political leanings?

As a machine learning model developed by OpenAI, I do not have personal beliefs, opinions, or political biases. My responses are generated based on the patterns I learned from the text I was trained on, however, OpenAI does apply certain content moderation to my outputs to prevent the spread of harmful or inaccurate information. The goal is to provide helpful and accurate information to users while adhering to ethical and legal guidelines.

Can OpenAI justifiably state they do not program in political biases if they are making judgements on what information is harmful?

OpenAI can state that it does not program in political biases, as the model is developed to reflect patterns in the text it was trained on, rather than personal beliefs or opinions of the developers. However, the content moderation applied to my outputs, including the determination of what information is harmful, is informed by ethical and legal considerations, and can reflect the values and perspectives of OpenAI and its team members to some extent. Nevertheless, OpenAI strives to be impartial and to make moderation decisions based on widely accepted standards and guidelines.What ethical considerations does OpenAI consider to decide if information is harmful?

OpenAI considers a number of ethical considerations when deciding whether information is harmful, including its potential impact on individuals or groups, the risks of misuse or abuse, and compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Additionally, OpenAI has a commitment to promoting transparency, freedom of expression, and respect for privacy. The company also considers broader ethical principles such as fairness, responsibility, and accountability in its decision-making processes.

. . .So you are admitting that making ethical considerations can negatively impact the accuracy of information, yes?

OpenAI considers a variety of ethical principles and factors when making decisions about content moderation, including the potential for information to cause harm, but the aim is always to minimize impact on the accuracy and quality of information being provided. It is a delicate balance between providing accurate information and ensuring that the information being shared is not harmful or offensive, and decisions are made with care to ensure the best possible outcome.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and comrades. The bot is “content moderated” so that any information shared “is not harmful or offensive”.  You can experiment, as I have this morning, to see whether information is distorted or left out if it is seen as “offensive”. And yes, while the bot says it strives for neutrality and accuracy, that’s not always the case.

Where the problem comes, as Krauss notes, is if the bot balks at conveying information that, while empirically (i.e., scientifically) true, might offend people (i.e., “harm” them). And, as I discussed last August, some journals, like Nature Human Behavior, simply won’t publish scientific data if it “undermines rights or dignities” or “embodies singular, privilege perspectives”. Here’s a quote from the Nature Human Behavior article:

Regardless of content type (research, review or opinion) and, for research, regardless of whether a research project was reviewed and approved by an appropriate institutional ethics committee, editors reserve the right to request modifications to (or correct or otherwise amend post-publication), and in severe cases refuse publication of (or retract post-publication):

  1. Content that is premised upon the assumption of inherent biological, social, or cultural superiority or inferiority of one human group over another based on race, ethnicity, national or social origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, political or other beliefs, age, disease, (dis)ability, or other socially constructed or socially relevant groupings (hereafter referred to as socially constructed or socially relevant human groupings).
  2. Content that undermines — or could reasonably be perceived to undermine — the rights and dignities of an individual or human group on the basis of socially constructed or socially relevant human groupings.
  3. Content that includes text or images that directly or indirectly disparage a person or group on the basis of socially constructed or socially relevant human groupings.
  4. Submissions that embody singular, privileged perspectives, which are exclusionary of a diversity of voices in relation to socially constructed or socially relevant human groupings, and which purport such perspectives to be generalisable and/or assumed.

Remember, this is part of Nature‘s stable of highly-regarded journals. Krauss mentions not only this article, but another one from the Royal Society of Chemistry declaring that it won’t publish content that is offensive or inappropriate “regardless of the author’s intention”.  That opens a whole can of worms.

Who will be the judge? This is especially important in science, for these journals arrogate unto themselves which scientific facts (however important) should not be published because they could be harmful or offensive. But as Krauss notes:

Let’s be clear about this: Valid, empirically derived information is not, in the abstract, either harmful or offensive.

Indeed; it’s how it’s characterized or used that’s important. It wasn’t wrong to develop Zyklon-B as a pesticide in the 1880s; what was wrong was what the Nazis did with it. Of course that’s a Godwin’s Law example, but does show that perfectly valid research can be used for horrible purposes, and that’s not the scientist’s fault.

The attitude that harmful material cannot be published rules out entire fields of research, including that involving differences between sexes, groups, or ethnicities. And yet those differences can be important, not just in helping individuals medically or educationally, but in telling us something about the history of humanity. Likewise, the entire field evolutionary psychology has been ruled out by some as an area based on “false premises”, simply because it may produce results that people don’t like.

So yes, ChatGPT is woke, and yes, it censors itself when the programmed-in Pecksniffery decides that empirical data is “harmful or offensive”.

Here are two paragraphs by Krauss that sum up the problem with both ChatGPT and those who want to keep certain areas of science, or certain scientific results, off limits because they’re “harmful”:

The essential problem here is removing the obligation, or rather, the opportunity, all of us should have to rationally determine how we respond to potentially offensive content by instead ensuring that any such potentially offensive content may be censored. Intent and accuracy become irrelevant. Veto power in this age of potential victimization is given to the imaginary recipient of information.

Free and open access to information, even information that can cause pain or distress, is essential in a free society. As Christopher Hitchens so often stressed, freedom of speech is primarily important not because it provides an opportunity for speakers to speak out against prevailing winds but because that speech gives listeners or readers the freedom to realize they might want to change their minds.

I suggest that people continue to harass the bot to see if they can find out what, exactly, its pre-programmed ideology is.

An ideologically unpalatable book gets canceled, but then finds a home

February 6, 2023 • 9:35 am

The idea that there could be some salubrious aspects to creating an empire (which of course means “colonization”) is about as taboo an idea you can have these days—save defending slavery.  And that’s what Nigel Biggar discovered when he wanted to explore the pros and cons of empires.  First, part of his c.v. from Wikipedia:

Nigel John Biggar CBE (born 14 March 1955) is a British Anglican priest and theologian. From 2007 to 2022, he was the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford.

The article is about two projects of Biggar: an academic unit about colonialism at Oxford, and then his new book on the same topic. Click below to read how the Oxford project created hysterical opposition, and then how Biggar’s book on colonialism after first exciting a lot of interest at the publisher Bloomsbury, was effectively canceled when there was a public outcry. Bloomsbury then lied about why they had delayed publication. Further, Biggar’s five year project on “Ethics and Empire,” beginning in 2017 at Oxford, aroused such hostility that most of the project’s participants quit as The Offended tried to shut it down.

Now I’m no fan of colonialism and certainly not of empire, but I am also no fan of suppressing speech, either. If there’s a case to be made for the creation of empires like the Roman or British Empires, it should be hashed out and its proponents allowed to make their best case. How else can opponents hone or modify their ideas if the “case for empire” is simply shut down? To me, this is like banning Holocaust denialism, which I also believe should not be shut down. From reading about that denialism (most notably in Michael Shermer’s book Denying History) , I’ve been better able to argue for why it’s bogus to deny the Holocaust (you wouldn’t believe how clever and slippery the denialists are!). You can listen to a sample chapter of Shermer’s book here.

Back to Biggar. I admit that I don’t know squat about his views, either expressed in his Oxford project or his book, Colonialism: A Moral reckoning, which finally was published by William Collins.  Here’s the published version; click to see the Amazon link:

The Project at Oxford. (Quotes from the article indented):

What had I done to deserve all this unexpected attention? Three things. In late 2015 and early 2016, I had offered a partial defense of the late-19th-century imperialist Cecil Rhodes during the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford. Then, in late November 2017, I published a column in The Times of London, in which I referred approvingly to Bruce Gilley’s controversial article “The Case for Colonialism,” and argued that we Britons have reason to feel pride as well as shame about our imperial past. Note: pride, as well as shame. And a few days later, third, I finally got around to publishing an online account of the “Ethics and Empire” project, whose first conference had in fact been held the previous July. Contrary to what the critics seemed to think, this project isn’t designed to defend the British Empire, or even empire in general. Rather, it aims to study evaluations of empire from ancient China to the modern period, to understand and reflect on the ethical terms in which empires have been viewed historically.

. . .That was quite enough to rouse the academic forces of repression. Responding to the online description of “Ethics and Empire,” Priyamvada Gopal—then a reader in postcolonial studies at the University of Cambridge, now promoted to professor—tweeted, “OMG. This is serious shit…. We need to SHUT THIS DOWN” (Dec. 13, 2017, 8:45 a.m.). A few minutes later, she issued a call to arms to “Oxford postcolonial academics” (8:49 a.m.). Among those who responded were Max Harris, fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, who tweeted, “Totally agree—more needs to be done” (5:08 p.m.), and “working on a response” (Dec. 14, 2017, 2:30 a.m.); and Jon Wilson, senior lecturer in history at King’s College London, who wrote, “We need a big well-argued letter signed by everyone who writes on empire” (Dec. 16, 2017, 12:39 a.m.), and, “I’ll be in touch with James [McDougall]” (2:14 a.m.). When the Oxford Open Letter appeared on Dec. 19, Max Harris and Jon Wilson were among its signatories, and James McDougall, professor of history at Oxford, was listed as its senior co-author. When the worldwide one followed on Dec. 21, Priyamvada Gopal’s name came first, then Jon Wilson’s.

Shortly afterward, Oxford’s Centre for Global History took its cue, almost verbatim, from the Oxford letter and announced on its website that it  “is not involved” in the “Ethics and Empire” project headed by me and “other scholars at Oxford”—coyly declining to name John Darwin, who, until very recently, had been the Centre’s own director. That this was a statement of boycotting intent, not of mere fact, was evidenced by the Centre’s obliquely critical claim “to move beyond the problematic balance sheet of empires’ advantages and disadvantages” and to “shun imperial nostalgia.” When this notice was first posted, one of the Centre’s own members reported to me that no one had consulted him about it.

I am so tired of the moral fervor of people like Gopal, who screams “We need to SHUT THIS DOWN!” It is the cry of those who want to keep everyone from hearing what the screamer doesn’t want to hear herself. It is censorship, pure and simple.

Oxford, of course, followed Gopal when the open letters appeared, severing official ties with Biggar’s project. And several of his colleagues in the project simply resigned. But the project didn’t die: Biggar recruited four other historians and they’ve had three annual conferences.

The Book 

The main goal of Biggar’s piece is to shame Bloomsbury Publishing for the way it treated him: first accepting his book with great approbation, and then, when the outcry began, “indefinitely delaying publication” without giving Biggar a reason, though he (and we) well know what the reason was.  It was Empire, Jake!  Biggar’s account does indeed make Bloomsbury look pretty dreaful, and, to use Biggar’s word, “craven.” Publishers are not in the business of putting out books that conform only to dominant ideologies; they are there to publish books that can edify, offend, and, overall, encourage discussion. Biggar’s book falls in that class.

His account:

The facts are these. In the wake of the public row in December 2017, I was approached by Robin Baird-Smith of Bloomsbury Publishing, who suggested that I should write a book on colonialism. Initially doubtful, I gave it some thought and eventually decided to take up his suggestion. In May 2018, Bloomsbury and I signed a contract. [JAC: Baird-Smith is now the senior publisher at Bloomsbury.]

Thirty months later, I delivered a manuscript, a nail-biting eight hours short of the deadline. On Jan. 5, Robin wrote to me, saying, “I consider this to be a book of major importance, certainly one of the most important on my list for some time…. Your research is exhaustive. I am speechless. Your argument is conveyed with care and precision. I say again, this is such an important book.”  He predicted sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies. The manuscript was entered into the copy-editing process, and a cover was designed.

Then, on March 15, an email arrived from Sarah Broadway, head of special-interest publishing at Bloomsbury. In it, she told me that “we are of the view that conditions are not currently favorable to publication” and that “we will therefore be postponing publication and will review the position next year.” She added, “If you are not happy with this, we will pay the balance of the advance due and revert the rights to you.”

I was stunned.

Twenty minutes on, I replied, asking, “Please explain what conditions make the publication of my book ‘currently unfavorable’ and what conditions next year might make it favorable.” Four days later, Broadway replied, revealing nothing and merely repeating, “We consider that public feeling on the subject does not currently support the publication of the book and will reassess that next year.”

A knowledgeable source informed me that senior Bloomsbury executives wanted me to volunteer to walk away, so that they could appease younger staff who had protested against being made to work on material they found objectionable. Since I had no alternative publisher waiting in the wings, I was strongly disinclined to comply. Instead, I decided to hire a lawyer to look at my contract in the hope that I might be able to make Bloomsbury proceed with publication. Alas, £600 later, I was told that a get-out clause permitted the publisher to walk away virtually at will. From my point of view, it was worthless.

What’s interesting here is the enthusiasm that Bloomsbury initially showed toward the manuscript (beside the plaudits above, remember that they accepted the book’s prospectus, which is a group decision, and forked out an advance) as opposed to the haste with which they backed off when faced with opposition. Note as well the duplicity of the publishers in coming clean about the “delay”, and the fact that it’s the younger people who seem to feel that publishers should only issue ideologically approved books (this same thing happened when Woody Allen’s memoirs were canceled).

Bigger wrote a strong letter to Bloomsbury, chewing their tuchas, and then made all his emails available to the Times of London, including those showing that Bloomsbury lied about delaying the book (the Times wrote about this just a few days ago). Biggar’s is a good letter, and was sent to the founder/director of Bloomsbury:

Since Bloomsbury decided to cancel my contract, I took the only option left me and gave my consent.

I do not wish to conclude this correspondence without communicating the depth of my dismay at Bloomsbury’s conduct. You commissioned me to write a book on colonialism. I submitted the text on time. Your own commissioning editor, Robin Baird-Smith, described it as ‘a book of major importance, certainly one of the most important on my list for some time.’ He predicted sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies. And yet you decided to cancel my contract because of ‘public feeling.’

This ‘public feeling’ was sufficiently clear to you to warrant cancelling a contract. Yet, in spite of two requests, you refused to be transparent with me about it.

Of course, it is quite clear what it is. The public feeling that concerns you is that of—for want of a more scientific term—the ‘woke’ left. This is an illiberal movement that agitates to suppress the expression of any views that offend it. Since my book exposes several of its basic assumptions as false, you correctly anticipated that the ‘woke’ section of public feeling would be offended by it.

Therefore, rather than publish cogent arguments and important truths that would attract the aggression of these illiberals, you chose to align yourselves with them by de-platforming me. In so doing, you have made your own contribution to the expansion of authoritarianism and the shrinking of moral and political diversity among us.

I can quite understand, then, why you were unwilling to be transparent about your reasons. They are shameful.

Yes they are.

Go have a look at the last two paragraphs in which Biggar draws some conclusions about the substitution of hysteria for rational discussion and about about the willingness of publishers to defer to the younger members of their companies. He finishes with this:

That’s why it’s so important that Bloomsbury be held to account in public—so that they, and other publishers, see the reputational costs of unprincipled cravenness.

To me the lesson is also that of Hitchens, Mill, Milton, and other free-speech advocates. If someone wants to argue against the “received wisdom”, it is important not just to let them speak, but it is more important to let them speak than those who parrot the current ideas. And it’s most important that people listen to the most heterodox ideas. I haven’t read Biggar’s book and don’t know what’s in it, but the fervor and censoriousness of its opponents make it all the more important to read and consider.

h/t: T. m.

“Protected identity harm” report filed with Stanford University administration after student photographed for reading “Mein Kampf”

January 29, 2023 • 1:20 pm

What we have here is one or two Stanford students being reported to the University administration after a photo was circulated online of one student reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  There are two reports of the incident, the first from FIRE and the second from the student newspaper The Stanford Daily. They’re in order below, and you can read them by clicking on the headlines.

First, the report was made to the Stanford bias reporting site designed to collect reports of incidents that might harm “protected groups”:

The Protected Identity Harm Reporting process is the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.

They add:

Specifically, a PIH incident is conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.

The Protected Identity Harm (PIH) Reporting process, intakes information via a reporting mechanism to 1) help students who have been affected by these incidents and 2) collect data. It is not a judicial or investigative process* though we do hope to provide a path to resolution for the affected individuals or communities who need to heal.

But it is certainly an investigative process, and a quasi-judicial one as well. (In this case the protected group was Jewish people.)  And the students involved in the photo have been called to account by the administration and are certainly preparing their formal apology—if they want to stay at Stanford.

Read on:

From FIRE (my bolding):

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention. But that’s what’s reportedly happening at Stanford University this week, after a photo of a student reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” circulated on campus last Friday.

The Stanford Daily said over the weekend that administrators were working “swiftly” with the students involved to “address” the incident. Two campus rabbis emailed Jewish students saying administrators “are in ongoing conversation with the individuals involved, who are committed to and actively engaged in a process of reckoning and sincere repair.”

Stanford was reportedly alerted to the book-reading via its Protected Identity Harm reporting system. Effectively a bias response system, Stanford says PIH reports help the university “address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.”

Now it’s not clear how many individuals were responsible for this incident, or who reported it. Presumably the “guilty party” was the person reading the book, and perhaps an accomplice who photographed that, though it’s not clear that the photo wasn’t taken surreptitiously. The “students involved” implies more than one, but this could include the student who reported the incident. I can’t find the photograph.

The Stanford Daily adds this, implying that two students collaborated on this (my bolding again):

The photo of the student reading the book was posted to another student’s Snapchat story Friday evening, according to a screenshot of the image obtained by The Daily.

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi confirmed that the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORL) became aware of this incident on Saturday. Mostofi added that the two offices, along with Stanford’s Hillel chapter, are working with the leaders of the residence that the students belong to address the social media post and its impact on the community.

“Swift action was taken by the leadership in the residential community where both the individuals who posted and the one pictured are members,” Kirschner and Hahn Tapper wrote. Student Affairs and ORL are actively working with students involved to address the issue and mend relationships in the community.

The FIRE article notes that the students have already been notified that they’re in trouble, and are “actively involved in reckoning and sincere repair.” Isn’t that punitive and judicial?

FIRE adds this:

Because college students should not have to report to university authorities for merely reading a book — one, by the way, that has been required reading in at least one recent Stanford humanities class and is available to borrow from the university library — FIRE asked Stanford today to provide additional clarity about the way it handles these kinds of “harm” reports on campus.

FIRE also notes that this picture doesn’t seem to violate the freedom of expression that Stanford promises to its students. Because there is an investigation and presumably the student who read the book and the picture taker are being investigated, FIRE wrote a letter to the President of Stanford, 

Part of FIRE’s letter, sent to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne on January 25:

Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention.

Despite Stanford’s insistence that its PIH Reporting process “is not a judicial or investigative process and participation in a resolution is voluntary, it is unacceptably punitive and chills expressive activity. Being “invited” by administrators with institutional disciplinary authority to engage in a formal reconciliation process to atone for reading a book—one that has been previously assigned as required reading for a Stanford class6 and is available to check out at Stanford’s library is not conducive to the campus free speech culture. Stanford deems central to the university’s functions. Nor is it consistent with California’s “Leonard Law,which requires Stanford to provide free expression.

Despite these obligations, Stanford chills student speech when the response to a PIH report involves notifying an accused student that they may have caused “harm” by merely exercising their rights.

The PIH system’s “resolution” mechanisms also raise compelled speech and thought reform concerns. Stanford “invites” accused students to meet with their accuser to engage in, for
example, “restorative justice, [a] healing circle, [or] mediation to help move towards resolution.” Stanford’s “goal” is for students to:
[I]mmediately focus on the resolution practices, but also account
Acknowledgement of Harm (and History)
Accountability and steps taken towards change (to the
extent possible)
Healing/Harm Reduction (if desired)


This presupposes that students must acknowledge their expression as “harmful” and commit not to cause “harm” in the future. In this case, students will understand that certain protected speech is nonetheless off limits, and they will self-censor.

Here’s what FIRE suggested:

If Stanford wants to provide both this PIH reporting system and promote a culture of free expression, it should undertake a cursory review of PIH complaints and first determine whether the conduct alleged constitutes protected expression. In such cases, Stanford can offer support to the complainant without notifying or involving the accused student. 

And they asked for a response from Stanford by February 1.

Now it’s entirely possible that this was designed as an anti-Semitic stunt to scare Jews. In that case, it’s reprehensible but still not a violation of free speech. (Needless to say, if the student really was reading the book out of interest, or had been assigned it, and it wasn’t a scare tactic, Stanford should stay well away from the reader and photographer.) But in either case FIRE is right: the students who read the book, and perhaps the one who took and posted the photo, were exercising their rights of free speech, which Stanford supposedly guarantees. Getting them involved in a bias reporting investigation solves nothing, but serves only to chill speech in general. (Remember, if speech is protected, offensive speech must be protected, and that includes “hate speech”.)

As a (secular) Jew, I’m very sensitive to the rise of anti-Semitism on American campuses and among the American Left. It worries me, as does the seeming embrace of “anti-Zionism” on campus.  And if Jewish students say they were harmed by seeing this photo, well, it’s perfectly fine for Stanford to offer them counseling and tons of support.  I would hope, though, that Jewish students would develop a hide thick enough to withstand a photograph like this without being traumatized. (I realize that this may be part of a campus pattern, which would make it extra bothersome.)

But Stanford should leave the students involved in the incident alone (there were probably two, since they live in the same dorm). Otherwise the “perps” are being not only investigated, but punished, for of course a note from the administration that you’re being investigated, followed by a process of “restoration” are by chilling your speech, forms of punishment. You’re being punished for saying what is legal.

h/t: Ginger K.

Florida teachers told to remove books from classrooms for ideological vetting lest they commit a felony

January 24, 2023 • 12:15 pm

Several readers sent me links to this news from Florida about on one county’s book-vetting initiative, designed to remove books from the classroom if they could corrupt students, turning them into Lefists or, god forbid, “grooming” them. But all schools in Florida, as per a new law, will eventually be experiencing this tsouris.

First, demarcated by the red dots, is Manatee County on Florida’s west coast. It’s not irrelevant to this story that Republican Ron DeSantis, who passed the “Stop WOKE Act” banning the teaching of CRT in Florida’s pubic schools, is the governor. (Though I suppose I could be described as “anti-woke,” I do not favor banning the teaching of CRT and certainly oppose this kind of censoring of schoolbooks.)

You can click on either story below. The first is from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the second, which has more information, is from Judd Legum’s Popular Information website.  I’ll cite quotes as being from either SHT or PI.

From Popular Information by Judd Legum:

What happened here? To comply with a new Florida law, the Manatee County school district told all school principals in the county, including those heading both public and publicly-funded charter schools, that they couldn’t have any books in their classrooms that had not been approved by a “censor certified media specialist”.  Some of the books have already been approved by the schools’ libraries, but there may be other “dangerous” books in the classroom libraries. To have any book in the classroom, it has to be approved.

PI gives the criteria for approval (my bolding):

In Florida, school librarians are called “media specialists” and hold media specialist certificates. A rule passed by the Florida Department of Education last week states that a “library media center” includes any books made available to students, including in classrooms. This means that classroom libraries that are curated by teachers, not librarians, are now illegal.

The law requires that all library books selected be:

1. Free of pornography and material prohibited under s. 847.012.

2. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.

3. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used or made available

Chapman says that school principals in Manatee County were told Wednesday that any staff member violating these rules by providing materials “harmful to minors” could be prosecuted for “a felony of the third degree.” Therefore, teachers must make their classroom libraries inaccessible to students until they can establish that each book has been approved by a librarian. 

Thus the teachers have to check every book in their classroom library to see if it’s already in the district catalogue of books that don’t purvey WRONGTHINK. That means that teachers have to go through each book to do this cross-checking. If the book is not on the already-approved list, it has to be individually checked out and approved by a censor media specialist.

Note that all three categories are subjective. Does pornography rule out The Catcher in the Rye? Who can tell students that they can’t read a book because they can’t “comprehend it” or because it’s not “appropriate for them”?

Granted, we don’t want classrooms full of Hustler magazines, but the criteria above, being almost completely subjective, demand that someone be appointed to judge the appropriateness of books for kids.  And the results will depend on the censor, of course. Would you want a censor for your kids’ books? If so, who you want, and what criteria should they use? Remember, public schools go up to twelfth grade in America, with the students being 18 years old. That’s old enough to handle almost everything. For crying out loud, I was reading all of this stuff at that age.

If someone’s going to decide, I’d prefer to leave it to each classroom teacher, for he or she knows their students and what they need.

It’s going to be a big job. Below we get an idea of who’s being the censor (from PI; my bolding):

Librarians in Manatee County are now expected to review thousands of books in classroom libraries to ensure compliance with the new law. Manatee County has 64 public schools and 3,000 teachers, many of whom maintain classroom libraries. Chapman said that every school in Manatee County has a media specialist but that the process could take a while because it is “one person” and “they are human.” Any book approved for K-5 students must also be included on a publicly available list.

Similar policies will be implemented in schools across Florida. Some Florida schools do not have a media specialist, making the process even more cumbersome.

That review must also be consistent with a complex training, which was heavily influenced by right-wing groups like Moms For Liberty and approved by the Florida Department of Education just last week. Any mistake by a librarian or others could result in criminal prosecution. This process must be repeated for any book brought into the school on an ongoing basis. But librarians and teachers are not being provided with any additional compensation for the extra work.

The teachers aren’t on board with this, of course. Here’s a photo of one classroom library that a teacher just covered up with construction paper rather than have every book vetted. Free the books!

Note that, according to the tweet below, the posters were made by the students, not by the teachers:

Here’s another classroom in a high school:

And a few statements from teachers:

From the SHT:

Jean Faulk, a history and journalism teacher at Bayshore High, had to remove books on democracy and writings from John Adams because they weren’t vetted in the district’s library system. Her bookshelves are now only lined with reference books, she said.

“This is totally a political move by the governor,” Faulk said. “It has nothing to do with the students.”

She said her school’s administration sent out a directive to teachers asking them to put away or cover up all books in classroom libraries. Faulk said the books from her classroom libraries would now go to other local libraries or Goodwill.

From PI, a future felon speaks:

One high school teacher in Manatee County told Popular Information that they would not comply with the new policy. The teacher has spent the year carefully curating books donated by parents or sourced from their personal collection. “I’m not taking any books out of my room,” the teacher said. “I absolutely refuse.” The teacher spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing that speaking out about the policy could put their job at risk.

and a book libertarian speaks:

Stephana Ferrell, a co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, said the new policy followed “a pattern of fear-based decisions that prioritize staying in good favor with the Governor over doing the right thing for our students.” Ferrell said she blamed “the Florida Board of Education that passed this rule change last Wednesday without an ounce of consideration for its impact.” Now, “thousands of students are without classroom access to fun and engaging literature.”

Ironically, Manatee County is making thousands of books inaccessible to students just in time to celebrate “Literacy Week” in Florida, which runs from January 23 to 27. Only about 50% of students in Manatee County are reading at grade level.

This is a good argument for freedom of speech. For now we see what happens when right-wing governments have the right to censor, and it’s not pretty.

What’s the alternative, then? Do we allow every book in the classroom? Clearly that wouldn’t be either appropriate or practical. But I trust these decisions to be made by teachers rather than ideologues like DeSantis. And books should get the benefit of the doubt.

One more teacher tweet from PI:

h/t: Ken

Abigail Shrier on the Left’s targeting of gender issues

June 19, 2022 • 12:30 pm

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

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

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

Click to read her piece:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lie. Wright never did.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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