Jon Stewart gets pushback for dissing science and insisting on a lab-leak origin for Covid-19

June 23, 2021 • 11:00 am

On the first live Stephen Colbert show, he hosted his predecessor Jon Stewart, who went on a rant that partly dissed science (Stewart said, for instance, that the pandemic was more than likely caused by science”.)  More important, though was Stewart’s unwavering contention that the coronavirus, WITHOUT ANY DOUBT, came from the Wuhan Virology lab rather than transmission from an unknown host to humans. (Let me add that Stewart has worked for good causes: his testimony before Congress about getting more help from those exposed to toxins in the 9/11 incident was eloquent and moving.)

People have interpreted this rant, as I do, as Stewart’s being very serious about both science and the origins of the coronavirus. I remain agnostic about the latter, but do disagree with Stewart’s take that science itself has some inherently bad aspects to it. (I would argue that the scientific toolkit is amoral, but that the tools of science, since they’re used by humans, can be used to do bad things.)

Watch the piece below where it self starts (2:47) until it ends at 8:38 and listen for yourself.

The exchange is funny, as it would have to be given the participants (Stewart’s “chocolate” analogy is a chuckle), but several people, including two editorial writers from the Washington Post as well as journalist Dan Rather, have taken out after Stewart for a.) dissing science and arguing that science is inherently unreliable, and b.) making no bones about where the coronavirus came from.  Now the second question isn’t so important except for historical interest, but having Stewart, a role model from whom many young folk get their real news, make such unsubstantiated assertions about science and the virus has angered the writers (see below).

Here are three articles (the first two from WaPo, the other from Dan Rather’s Substack site) going after Stewart for his monologue above. I’ll give one quote from each (click on screenshots to read):


The segment was practically tailor-made to blow up in the current debate over the lab leak. It’s funny and good viewing and features a guy who often lampooned conservatives promoting a theory they have warmed to more than the other side. Even Jon Stewart is saying the theory Donald Trump once (briefly) espoused but was dismissed by scientists and the media was right about the lab leak!

The conventional wisdom on the validity of the lab leak has changed in recent weeks, but Stewart goes even beyond that new conventional wisdom that holds the theory is suddenly more valid. Scientists still generally regard the theory that the virus emerged naturally as more plausible than a lab leak, although that thinking is definitely evolving.

But if there’s one thing Stewart was often criticized for — especially by conservatives — it’s in oversimplifying complex issues to land a joke. (He often shrugged off that criticism by saying he was a comedian, not a newsman. But his show was the news to many young people, and it clearly had a political bent to it.)

And his summation of the argument for the lab leak theory suffers from some of that. Stewart pitches it as an irreconcilably massive coincidence that that virus emerged from a place with a high-level virology lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that worked on novel coronaviruses.

Well, that’s not such a biting critique, but the next one is a bit more critical, concentrating on why we shouldn’t trust celebrities’ opinions on Covid-19 (or, for that matter, the opinions of politicians. Remember Trump and his “bleach our insides” theory of cures?). This piece, and the article by Dan Rather below it, emphasize that science is not a one-way street to the truth, and opinions about what’s true or best to do can change as the data change, as they did during the pandemic. The alterations about how we should behave changed over time, leading some people to reject the science altogether.

Some excerpts:

But these days, [Stewart] is retired and only emerges from time to time, and because he always delighted more in skewering Republicans, it was a bit shocking to see him go on an extended rant on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” about the coronavirus lab leak theory.

This theory has become associated with conservatives trying to prove that former president Donald Trump was right about everything. Yet Stewart apparently thinks it’s the only plausible explanation for the source of the virus.

This provides an important lesson about celebrities: You shouldn’t get your political opinions from them, or your scientific opinions either

. . .Even though Trump briefly claimed in 2020 (a claim he quickly dropped) that he had lots of evidence that the lab leak theory was true, what did it change? Had we had definitive proof from the get-go that it came from a lab, would Trump’s response to the pandemic, and the resulting death toll, have been less disastrous? Once the pandemic was here, it was here.

But set that aside for the moment, and consider Stewart.

Yes, he has every right to go on as many talk shows as he wants and explain his coronavirus theories. But his attack on expertise reminds us why expertise is so important.

The world is full of amateurs who think they’ve stumbled across some piece of information or logical connection that the people who know a lot more about the subject at hand have missed. There are a thousand unpublished manuscripts titled “Einstein Was Wrong About Relativity” stored on the home computers of people with no formal training in physics.

That’s not to say that experts don’t often have biases or blind spots, because they do. Sometimes, they can be catastrophic. But it’s not because experts can’t be trusted, it’s because something kept them from seeing what they should have, or — perhaps more often — they just didn’t have enough information to arrive at the best judgment.

. . .As long as they’re “raising awareness,” no one gets upset; it’s when they take stances on controversial issues that people decide that if that athlete or singer doesn’t agree with them, then he should shut up and stick to the thing that got him famous in the first place.

. . . But they’re not experts, and the reason we listen to experts is that they know more than we do. And if they know more about some things than others, then we have to understand where we shouldn’t listen to them and where the limits of their knowledge are.

That’s why it’s problematic when liberals say “I believe in science” as though science always shows you exactly which political decisions to make. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it has gaps that can lead you in the wrong direction. That’s why we need elected leaders who’ll listen to scientists, then make judgments built on a broad range of considerations.

The nature of human existence is that we have to outsource much of what we learn about the world to people we trust. But if a celebrity agrees with you today about one thing, it doesn’t make them any more trustworthy than they will be tomorrow when they disagree with you about something else.

Well, I’m not sure how many people will now adhere to the lab-leak theory just because of Stewart’s rant. After all, the truth or falsity of that theory isn’t all that important. What is important is the point that Dan Rather makes in the next article: science is our best (and, in this case, only) weapon to defeat such a deadly pandemic. And yet science is a set of tools, and must be wielded by fallible humans.

In many important ways Rather’s commentary is the most trenchant, as it defends the enterprise of science against those who think that it is either inherently unreliable or contains some elements that motivate people to do bad things. No, bad people do bad things. As I’ve said before, blaming science for the spread of the coronavirus is like blaming architecture for the Nazis’ gas chambers.

Here are a few excerpts from Rather’s piece:

All this underscores a simple truth: science, nature, the universe, is complicated. What we have seen in this pandemic is the public witnessing scientific research in real time. Scientists will be the first to tell you that a lot of what they initially think, their hypotheses, turn out to be wrong. That is what experimentation is for. That is what data is for. We learn from our failures as well as our successes. At first we got guidance that COVID was spread largely on surfaces, even as some scientists were warning early on about it being aerosolized. We eventually got mask mandates. Many researchers felt that that came too late. This is not a sign of good faith or bad faith. Science isn’t faith. It’s about teasing out what we know, and pivoting our thinking when we learn something new. Scientists, especially in the early stages of examining a phenomenon (like a deadly virus they haven’t seen before), often disagree.

. . .On The Late Show, Stewart didn’t leave his criticism of science and scientists at COVID and lab leaks. He extrapolated. “Can I say this about scientists?” he added. “I love them and they do such good work but they are going to kill us all.” Let that sink in. Scientists are going to “kill us all?” And he finished up by predicting how the world would end. “The last words man utters are somewhere in a lab a guy goes, ‘Huhuh! It worked.’”

I cannot overemphasize how dangerous this line of thinking is. It is true that some scientists have done some bad things in the name of research — such as the Tuskegee experiments. Scientists have been wrong. Science and technology have been tools that supported colonialism and oppression. Science does not release us from our moral responsibilities. All of this is the case because science is a human endeavor and scientists are human, subject to the same frailties and base instincts as any member of our species. But science is also a way of thinking, where we challenge our own dogmas and beliefs, whe

. . .I am old enough to remember when childhood was plagued by horrible diseases that have now been almost completely eliminated by vaccines. I remember when cancer was an automatic death sentence. I remember when we couldn’t imagine going to distant planets. I remember when we didn’t understand how our climate worked. I remember times when we were less knowledgeable and prepared, until science helped open our eyes. At the same time, I know that science itself is not a substitute for morality or public policy. It is a method for us to understand the choices we might have to make.

What we need is to teach people what science is, and what it is not. We need to show how the process of discovery works, how ideas are tested and sometimes found to be wrong. We need to investigate such stories like the origins of the virus. But we need to put that into the context of life on the planet, our interconnectedness, and all the other factors that shaped this pandemic. We need to embrace science as a quintessentially human endeavor, our instinct as a species to cross horizons of knowledge and experience. Like all of our actions there is a fine line between benefit and harm. So we must strive to create structures and systems of government and society that promote the former and minimize the latter. That does not include fanning the flames of ignorance or demonizing scientists who are dedicating themselves to opening our collective minds to information and data and have done so much to lessen the suffering of the human condition.

I know people think Rather is superannuated, a has-been with little to say. But his piece, as in the words above, is a far better take on science than that of any non-scientist journalist I’ve seen. The man understand how science works, and how it’s intertwined with human wants and desires. Jon Stewart, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a clue.

And you could argue that Stewart is just making an extended joke. Indeed, his line about the “last words man utters” is funny. But also misguided. And I don’t think for a second that Stewart is just joking here.

But I’ll grant you this: Stewart has a good sense of humor.

“Progressophobia” demolished by Bill Maher: “Kids, there actually was a world before you got here.”

June 12, 2021 • 11:00 am

Reader Tim found this video from Bill Maher’s latest show in which the host attacks “progressophobia”—the claim that everything, including morality and social justice, is getting worse. This is palpably untrue, as Steve Pinker shows for many aspects of society in his book Better Angels. (Maher says the term “progressophobia” was coined by Pinker.) Yet for simply documenting progress (while noting that it’s not always steady and some areas regress), Pinker has been demonized. This baffles me.

I’m not sure why the “”progressophobes” persist. Some people seem to have an interest in claiming that the world is getting worse in nearly every way. I suppose this comes from the fear that if you admit that things like race relations and civil rights are getting better, you’re undercutting your mission in some way. After all, if equal opportunity (or even numerical equity) finally obtain in colleges, then diversity and inclusion administrators will be out of a job. And if your self-importance and the attention you get from others depend on complaining about lack of progress, then real progress undercuts those traits.

But I don’t see why we can’t fight to improve things at the same time we admit that they have improved. Who but a historical ignoramus (or Kevin Hart; see below) could clam that the rights of people of color haven’t improved in the last 75 years? I’m not going to bother to list all the ignominies visited on African-Americans, even when I was a little boy, that are diminished or gone. And do I need to add here that there’s still substantial room for improvement: improvement in housing, income, education, and so on? Or that racism has not completely disappeared?

I often tell the story of arriving at the College of William and Mary in 1967 on a Greyhound bus. At the bus station there were two bathrooms for each sex and two water fountains. It took me a minute to figure out what that meant. Only a few years before, those bathrooms and water fountains had been labeled “white” and “colored”. (William and Mary is in Virginia.) The labels had been removed, probably in 1964.

This bit by Bill Maher, in which he underlines moral progress, will surely dispel the claim that he’s an alt-righter (maybe he was an anti-vaxer, but he’s still on the Left). It’s one of his better bits, honest but humorous. And he takes “progressophobia to bits, asserting “There is a recurring theme on the far Left that things have never been worse,” and giving the example of Kevin Hart telling the New York Times, “You’re witnessing White power and White privilege at an all-time high” (article here).

Now no chronicler of progress, least of all Pinker, would claim that progress has been steadily upward, or in some areas, there’s been actual regression. Maher notes in this segment that areas that have worsened include the environment, the degree of homelessness in Los Angeles, and “the prospects for maintaining an actual democracy in America”.  But seriously, if you were a Jew, a black person, a gay person, or a woman, would you rather have lived in 1850 or now? This is a no-brainer.

McWhorter on Maher

May 8, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Reader Paul called my attention to the appearance of John McWhorter on Bill Maher’s show last night, along with Rick Wilson, Rob Reiner and Elissa Slotkin. Here’s the whole one-hour episode, and the McWhorter segment extends from 7:35 to 22:10.  I haven’t listened to the rest. (For a five-minute segment, go here.)

It’s clear that Maher is a huge admirer of McWhorter, who doesn’t pull any punches in this interview (he says, for example, that the only use for Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility is “to keep tables from wobbling”). McWhorter also denies that most black people have internalized themselves as victims of a white-supremacist system.

A hard case for free-speech advocates

February 21, 2021 • 12:30 pm

If you read this site even cursorily, you’ll know that I’m pretty much what they call a “hard-liner” on free speech. That is, I adhere to the Constitution’s First Amendment, which (with important exceptions) stipulates that the government cannot prevent you from speaking as a citizen. The exceptions, as carved out by American courts over the years, include harassment in the workplace, false advertising, defamation (deliberately lying with intent to harm), speech intended and liable to create imminent violence, and so on. I can’t think of a single form of speech that the courts haven’t already dealt with that should be prohibited. I don’t adhere to European blasphemy or “hate speech” laws, for instance: I think that Holocaust denialism should be allowed and that people should be able to say “gas the Jews”, so long as there aren’t Jews, a gas chamber, and an angry mob at hand.

Moreover, I go further, arguing that even private organizations should go as far as they can in allowing the kind of speech permitted by the First Amendment. For example, I think all colleges should adhere to what public colleges and universities must already adhere to: First-Amendment freedoms.  Facebook and Twitter, as far as they can, should do likewise. Nevertheless, I recognize that in some cases private organizations can and should be able to restrict speech. It wouldn’t do, for example, for a business to allow its employees to hurl racial slurs at customers.

So here’s a hard case for me, one that gave me pause. It involves a Canadian comedian, Quebecois Mike Ward, making fun of a disabled kid as part of his act. For that, Ward is now facing judgment by Canada’s Supreme Court. Click on the screenshot to read. 

The article notes that Canada, like the U.S., has pretty broad speech laws, but it also has “hate speech laws” against “identifiable groups” and, at least in Quebec, a “right to dignity”. In the case of the disabled kid, Jérémy Gabriel, these rights came into conflict. The minority group in question is the disabled, and the dignity attacked was Gabriel’s, as comedian Ward made fun of him in his act.

About a decade ago, the comedian Mike Ward, of Quebec, mocked the voice of a well-known disabled teenage singer in a standup routine, roasting him for being off-key, making fun of his hearing aid and calling him “ugly.” But he said he had defended the boy to others because he would soon die. When the teen didn’t die of his illness, the comedian joked, he tried to drown him.

Here’s Gabriel’s disability:

Mr. Gabriel has Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare congenital disease characterized by skull and facial deformities. He was born deaf and received a hearing aid implant at age 6. At age 8, he captured hearts across Quebec after singing the national anthem at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game. He went on to meet Celine Dion in Las Vegas, serenade Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and write an autobiography.

Gabriel is thus a public figure, which to some makes him less immune to mockery. I have to admit that Ward’s comedy crossed the line for me, as I don’t find it funny at all. It’s mean-spirited. But that’s a different question from whether what he said was illegal. Remember that comedians often cross the line to make a point. Sarah Silverman, Lenny Bruce, and Dave Chappelle are just three. Chappelle, in fact, often goes after other black people, like Jussie Smollett, using the n-word, and that’s legal in the U.S. (the piece on Smollett, at the link, is also very funny). Silverman, I believe, has made fun of the aged, and perhaps the disabled. A lot of American comedy would, it seems, violate Canada’s “hate speech” and “right to dignity” laws.

The mockery of Gabriel was part of Ward’s act that also went after other folks:

Mr. Ward, a stand-up comic who has twice won “comedian of the year” in a prestigious Quebec comedy award show, has appeared on television internationally, and is known for his trenchant comedic style. In 2008, his joke about a 9-year-old girl who was abducted spurred death threats against him.

The Supreme Court case took root in 2010, when the comedian used his act to make fun of people in Quebec seen as being above criticism, and targeted celebrities like Celine Dion. He also targeted Mr. Gabriel and, among other jokes, made fun of his hearing aid, calling him “the kid with the subwoofer” on his head. The show was performed hundreds of times between 2010 and 2013, and disseminated online.

And Gabriel said that he was harmed by Ward’s mockery:

Mr. Gabriel, now a 24-year-old political science student in Quebec City, said in an interview that the comedy routine — and the raucous laughter it provoked — destroyed his self-esteem during difficult teenage years when he was already grappling with being disabled. As a result of the routine, he said he was bullied at school, and became depressed and suicidal, while his parents were crushed. He said that after his complaint against Mr. Ward, he also received death threats from the comedian’s fans.

“You are already dealing with prejudices when you have a disability and the process of self-acceptance is even harder when you are a teenager,” he said. “It became a thousand times harder when people were laughing at the idea of me dying. I felt like my life was worth less than others.”

I don’t doubt that Gabriel experienced harm as he describes. But bullying by others was not the intention of Ward, so this isn’t equivalent to the comedian harassing him personally and repeatedly. Further, Ward was a public figure, and making fun of public figures is a regular trope of comedy. Usually it’s not for a disability, but remember that Trump, in his inadvertent Presidential comedy act, made fun of a disabled reporter and was not prosecuted.  If one went after Justin Trudeau in a nasty way—and one could!—it could deprive him of his “right to dignity,” even if Trudeau was not a member of an “identifiable group.”  But perhaps if someone in Newfoundland made fun of Quebecois, that would be a “hate crime.” I don’t really know how it works in Canada.

At any rate, 9 years ago Gabriel’s family filed a complaint against Ward for breaching the human rights code of Quebec, and the commission found Ward culpable for breaching Gabriel’s dignity, ordering Ward to pay him $35,000 (Canadian) and his family $7000. Ward appealed, and the appellate court upheld the decision except for eliminating the damages given to Gabriel’s family. Ward then appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court, which has heard the case and will rule soon.

Note that other comedians have equally odious aspects of their acts, none of which I think should be illegal:

In the United States, Lenny Bruce was labeled a “sick comic” for his expletive-laced routines, and in 1961 he was arrested on obscenity charges in San Francisco. His defiance helped to clear the way for other iconoclastic comedians.

In France, the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has been repeatedly charged with violating anti-hate laws. He is widely associated with an inverted Nazi salute known as the quenelle. In 2013, he lamented that a prominent Jewish journalist had not died in “the gas chambers.”

As a secular Jew, I find that disgusting bigotry, but it’s not and shouldn’t be illegal.

Canadian comedians are upset, of course, because if the Supreme Court upholds the verdict, it puts comedy on a slippery slope. Remember, the offense Ward committed wasn’t hate speech, but the “right to dignity.” In my view, nobody has a “right to dignity”—at least, not a right to immune from mockery, which is what that right appears to comprise. Once you define a “right” in that sense, there’s no stopping anybody from bringing lawsuits. It would be the death of substantive comedy.

Granted, Ward’s making fun of Gabriel was reprehensible. It served no comedic purpose that I can see, and was mean spirited. And yes, it did harm Gabriel, but I don’t think that Ward intended the bullying and threats to ensue.

Ward may be found guilty under Canadian law, but he wouldn’t be under American law. And, in my own judgment, though what Ward did was vile and not in the least humorous, that’s what people have said about comedians like Lenny Bruce for years. A nasty and uncalled-for joke, for sure; speech worthy of censorship and punishment, no. Not in my view.

Another interview with Titania McGrath

January 13, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Titania McGrath, who is actually comedian Andrew Doyle, goes on Fox News—who else would have him?—to talk for 26 minutes about Titania McGrath, Her Wokeness. You can hear the show by clicking on the screenshot below

Some of the stuff you might know from the talk by Doyle I posted before, but there’s also new stuff here, too.  One is Doyle’s reaction to Ricky Gervais’s “comedy” monologue at the Golden Globes, where he was host. I’ve put the monologue below, which didn’t go down well at all with the privileged audience who took themselves quite seriously.

Another is that Titania is writing another book—for children! Have a listen.

Gervais’s comedy was really biting, and I pretty much liked it, as did Doyle. You can see why.  My favorite line is this: “If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.”

He also goes after Apple, Amazon, and other corporations. You can be sure that he won’t be hosting this, or any other similar show, in the future.



Titania McGrath pwns The Independent

December 11, 2019 • 12:00 pm

This Independent article by Liam Evans (click on screenshot below; I’ve also saved it in the Wayback Machine here), is a strongly worded piece by an apparently woke person of color offended by “reactionary comedy”, with the tirade supposedly triggered by a Fin Taylor show that included an anti-#MeToo sketch called “When Harassy Met Sally”.  (This appears to be a real sketch by Taylor.)

A few quotes from author “Liam Evans”:

Satire is a powerful tool. Tyrants have always feared ridicule, because there is nothing more likely to undermine authority than the sound of derisory laughter. But male comedians like Taylor taking pot shots at women who have had the courage to speak out can hardly be described as “punching up”. As a comedy aficionado, I’ve seen a disturbing rise in this kind of victim-bashing on the circuit over the past few years. It’s got to the point where I have to research the acts on any given lineup very carefully before booking a ticket.

. . . “Alt-right comedy” might sound like an oxymoron, but the immense popularity of internet “sh*tposters” such as PewDiePie and Sargon of Akkad has persuaded some comedians that there is money to be made from belittling social justice.

Speaking as a person of colour in an irredeemably racist culture, I’m sick of being accused of hypersensitivity by straight white men who are blind to their own privilege. What makes them believe that comedy should just be for them?

The hallmark of a good satirist is the ability to expose the follies of the powerful and the corrupt, not to embolden them at the expense of those of us who are already marginalised.

After decrying Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle, “Evans” goes on:

Perhaps it’s time for the comedy community to reflect. Danish comedian Sofie Hagen has successfully toured with “reduced-anxiety” performances in which all toilet facilities are gender-neutral and audience members can contact her in advance if they have particular needs.

The success of Hannah Gadsby’s game-changing masterpiece Nanette has also proven beyond doubt that woke comedy is commercially viable.

And yet the likes of Gervais, Chappelle and CK still fail to recognise that they no longer have to rely on shock tactics to appeal to a modern audience. As role models to a new generation of comics, they have a responsibility to be mindful of the damage they can do to an already divided society.

I would go so far as to argue that some of the jokes I have heard on the comedy circuit of late constitute actual hate speech.

. . .The battle for equality will not be won by activists alone. We all need to play our part. Sometimes this will mean risking the accusation of being a “prude” or a “killjoy”, but this is surely a price worth paying.

Such tactics are designed to silence us, to make us feel ashamed for standing up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.

It takes an astonishing degree of entitlement to claim the right to free speech without accepting the consequences of one’s choices. In a country poised on the brink of a far-right resurgence, is a cheap laugh really worth the risk? The kind of jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and normalise bigotry should no longer be tolerated in our society. This really isn’t too much to ask.

Okay, so we have a humorless Pecksniff decrying free speech and “alt-right comedy” as instantiations of “hate speech”. It also includes the word “woke.” It sounds a bit like Titania McGrath, doesn’t it? Or does it? After all, often Titania’s satire works because it’s very close to the real thing, if not indistinguishable from it.

Well, it’s certainly Titania, who apparently has tricked The Independent. Here’s what “she” said (Titiana is the alter ego of Andrew Doyle), and if you go to the original article, her “coincidence” is true.

So how did a reputable newspaper get fooled by someone who doesn’t exist? Probably because Titania’s hoax was ideologically compatible with the editorial view of The Independent, and claimed to be written by a “person of colour”. Shame on them for not doing their fact-checking! Tip to newspapers: always verify the existence of a new author, or any author!

Because The Independent is likely to pull the piece, I archived it at the link above.

h/t: Al

Is the Pope Catholic?

March 18, 2019 • 1:30 pm

Here’s a video from the British comedy game show QI (“Quite Interesting”) about the official title of the Pope Francis. It turns out that it’s not “Pope”. Further, you’ll learn that THE POPE IS NOT A CATHOLIC! In fact, the man who is officially the Pope is also NOT a Catholic. Listen and learn.

h/t: Michael

Accusations of cultural appropriation gone wild: Canadian comedy club bars white comedian with dreadlocks

January 16, 2019 • 12:30 pm

Canada has always been a rival to the U.S. for ludicrous behavior by the authoritarian Left, but now our northern neighbor has taken the prize. As the Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star report (click on the Gazette screenshot below), well, the headline tells it all:

Zach Poitras, the comedian shown in the photo below, was barred from performing two shows, one at (I’m not making this up) the “Snowflake Club” and the other at the Coop les Recoltes. This is solely because Poitras sports dreadlocks, as you see below:

From the Monreal paper:

The Coop les Récoltes is a bar but also a solidarity co-operative created by the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Groupe de recherches d’intérêt public, a collective that deals with social and environmental issues.

The establishment confirmed its decision to exclude comedian Zach Poitras in a message posted on its Facebook page.

Poitras was barred from performing at the Snowflake Comedy Club and He refused to comment on the decision.

In its online explanation, the co-operative defended its mission to be “a safe space, free from any link to oppression,” and described cultural appropriation as a form of violence. [JAC: There goes “comedy” in that safe space!]

“We will not tolerate any discrimination or harassment within our spaces,” they wrote. The group argues that cultural appropriation is when “a person from a dominant culture appropriates the symbols, clothing or even the hairstyles of persons from a historically dominated culture.”

JAC: The Facebook page adds that only oppressed groups can experience this kind of cultural appropriation, which is also construed as actual violence. That’s palpably absurd hyperbole.

This part of the Facebook post sounds weird, but that’s because it’s apparently automatic translation from the French:

For a person from a historically dominated culture, see his culture being appropriate, that is to say, diverted or emptied of its meaning, capitalized, fetishized, etc., is violence. After decades of colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide where the people of black have been persecuted and forbidden to practise their culture, wear their clothes and their hairstyles (we are thinking here of the English settlers who prohibited yogis from practicing their spirituality, Black women forced to shave their hair or to indigenous people whose spiritual practices and rites have been banned by the Canadian state in an explicit objective of assimilation), it is a slap in the face to see that this is why a group has been persecuted , another group can take it without problems or consequences.

To those who speak of cultural exchange, we would like to recall that an exchange is made on an egalitarian basis between people from different cultures, that is, when there is no power report involving the domination of a culture.

These paragraphs are why I call this kind of ideology “authoritarian Leftism.” There is a simple assertion of what is right and wrong, with debate not allowed. Some questions are beyond discussion, and if you try to discuss them, you’re a racist or a bigot.

More from the Montreal Gazette:

The posting says the co-op understands that Poitras’s intention isn’t racist, but adds the hairstyle “conveys racism,” adding that “cultural appropriation is not a debate or an opinion,” but rather “a form of passive oppression, a deconstructive privilege and, above all, a manifestation of ordinary racism.”

Greg Robinson, a UQAM professor specializing in black history, compared the situation to a larger interpretation of the concept of “black face,” which saw white performers darken their faces to portray black people.

“White people would dress as black people to mock them,” he said. But Robinson added that even when the intention wasn’t to mock but rather embrace or immerse one’s self in a culture, it’s still necessary to be careful.

“It’s like the N-word — black people can use it in their community, but when someone from outside uses it, even if they want to be like black people, there still remains an aspect that is rooted in history.”

The Coop Les Récoltes did not reply to requests for an interview.

These people, as well as Dr. Robinson, are way, way off the mark. As Wikipedia notes in its entry on “dreadlocks”, this hairstyle has been worn for millennia:

The ancient Vedic scriptures of India which are thousands of years old have the earliest evidence of jaata/locks which are almost exclusively worn by holy men and women. It has been part of a religious practice for Shiva followers.

Some of the earliest depictions of dreadlocks date back as far as 3600 years to the Minoan Civilization, one of Europe’s earliest civilizations, centred in Crete (now part of Greece). Frescoes discovered on the Aegean island of Thera (modern Santorini, Greece) depict individuals with braided hair styled in long dreadlocks.

In ancient Egypt, examples of Egyptians wearing locked hairstyles and wigs have appeared on bas-reliefs, statuary and other artifacts. Mummified remains of ancient Egyptians with locked wigs have also been recovered from archaeological sites.

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age, many peoples in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa such as the Sumerians, Elamites, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Amorites,
Mitanni, Hattians, Hurrians, Arameans, Eblaites, Israelites, Phrygians, Lydians,
Persians, Medes, Parthians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Georgians, Azeris, Cilicians
and Canaanites/Phoenicians/Carthaginians are depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards.

True, most whites who wear dreadlocks became aware of them because the hairstyle is popular among modern blacks, but that hairstyle has been appropriated time after time, with black dreadlocks being only the most recent instantiation of cultural borrowing that goes back to India.

More important, wearing dreadlocks is not at all like blackface and certainly unlike the word “nigger”— tropes and words historically used to mock and denigrate black people.

In contrast, dreadlocks, like nearly all instances of cultural appropriation I’ve seen and reported about, are worn by people because THEY LIKE THEM and admire that aspect of another group’s culture.  In what respect, exactly, is it racist to wear dreadlocks? Am I being racist when I go to a Chicago soul food restaurant, or buy ribs, in a place where all the other patrons are black? I don’t think so: I’m enjoying part of another group’s culture. Am I supposed to avoid such places, or pay some kind of verbal homage to the oppression of African-Americans? Isn’t it enough to enjoy another group’s food in their company?

The argument that it’s okay to culturally appropriate so long as the borrowing is from a “dominant” group not only makes no ethical sense, but runs into its own problems. How do you rank groups as being more or less oppressed than yours? Are Asians lower on the oppression scale than Europeans? I’m told that in some places in Asia, Europeans are regarded as inferior, so does the ethics of cultural appropriation depend on where you are?

What the comedy club in Montreal is doing is not only ridiculous, but is a prime example of virtue signaling: making a gesture to trumpet your own ideological purity, but a gesture that has no effect on society and no mitigation of injustice. 

In fact, as I’ve argued before, the more cultures borrow from each other (in respectful ways, which is the case nearly 100% of the time), the more they’ll come to understand and appreciate each other. Saying, “we’ll punish you for wearing dreadlocks” just enforces otherness and cultural segregation.

I wonder if there was this kind of outcry when Justin Trudeau visited Canada and wore Indian clothes (something I do when visiting as they’re more comfortable, and also a sign of respect for local culture). Yes, I know people made fun of Trudeau et famille, but did the Outrage Brigade come out? Was he prohibited from entering Indian restaurants?

This is the brand of social-justice warriorism that we must combat, for it has the opposite effect of what is intended. The fact that the “cultural appropriation” meme is spreading is due simply to people being afraid to criticize this kind of nonsense for fear of being called racists.

O Canada!

h/t: Stephen

Godfrey Elfwick writes for the Spectator again!

December 16, 2018 • 1:45 pm

I presume that the Spectator knows that Godfrey Elfwick, like Titania McGrath, is a fake name for a spoofer of the Authoritarian Left. Indeed, I think it likely that Godfrey and Titania are the same person. Now the Spectator has published yet another funny piece by Elfwick, a piece that masquerades as a serious attack on comedy. Click on the screenshot below to read it.

Elfwick, starting with the odious “don’t-offend-anyone” contract (rather, a “Behavioural Agreement” that the University of London offered the comedian Konstantin Kisin, doesn’t defend Kisin. Rather, as a good satirist would, he calls for the death of comedy itself.  An excerpt:

I am literally shaking with rage at the thought of a room filled with people mocking the need for safe spaces. It’s like encountering hundreds of micro-aggressions all at once, like tiny paper cuts embedding themselves into my crevices. The first time I saw that clip [JAC: it’s below], I zipped myself into my portable isolation chamber and ate nothing but tinned pineapple until the fear subsided.

It’s time for us to admit that comedy is a problem. For too long comedians have got away with making light of issues using the flimsy excuse of it being their job to make people laugh. Like ‘free speech’, comedy is now a far right dogwhistle. The Internet is filled with unregulated and dangerous comedy. Laughter has become a weapon, with sharpened japes and poisoned memes its ammunition.

For a while now, the wokest and most progressive of us have forgone humor. Hannah Gadsby being the first to perform a brave anti-humor show on Netflix, setting the bar as low as possible when it comes to not making people laugh. In the US, they made the decision to remove Roseanne Barr from the Roseanne show which stripped it of all traces of toxic wit, thus saving people who may have otherwise been mentally scarred by a stray wisecrack. It’s been cancelled now of course, but that only proves that the far right is scared! They fear our refusal to take a joke. They quake at our ability to find the most innocuous one-liner offensive.

Elfwick then presents his “anti-comedy” schtick, which distorts some old comedy chestnuts to push social justice. Have a look at the article, and let’s hope that Godfrey and Titania will be with us for a long time.

Here’s Kisin doing a real comedy routine about the UoL “agreement”; this is the clip that made Elfwick shake with rage. Be sure you watch the whole thing, and notice that the UoL agreement itself is a source of great mirth to the audience.