Under pressure from the benighted, Rhodes College refuses to disinvite Peter Singer but issues a “free speech but. . . ” statement

December 1, 2021 • 9:15 am

There are two main parties to this story (besides Rhodes College itself): Peter Singer, the famous ethical philosopher at Princeton, and Rebecca Tuvel, associate professor and Chair of Philosophy at Rhodes College. We’ve encountered them both before as parties to attempted cancellations.

Backstory: Singer got into big trouble when he proposed that under extreme circumstances it might be not only permissible but morally justifiable to euthanize newborns. Here’s what I wrote in July of 2017:

The question of whether one should be able to euthanize newborns who have horrible conditions or deformities, or are doomed to a life that cannot by any reasonable standards afford happiness, has sparked heated debate.  Philosopher Peter Singer has argued that euthanasia is the merciful action in such cases, and I agree with him. If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?  I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral. After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments (and if there’s severe mental disability, would never develop such faculties). It makes little sense to keep alive a suffering child who is doomed to die or suffer life in a vegetative or horribly painful state. After all, doctors and parents face no legal penalty for simply withdrawing care from such newborns, like turning off a respirator, but Singer suggests that we should be allowed, with the parents’ and doctors’ consent, to painlessly end their life with an injection. I agree.

Note that both Singer and I restrict this action to newborns who are doomed to die soon, probably painfully, or will live without any prospect of a meaningful or sentient existence. It was not meant to apply to disabled people who could live reasonably or happily (e.g. children with Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy), but only for extreme cases. But it didn’t matter. Disabled people demonized Singer, saying that his views cancelled or dehumanized all disabled people, and would put us on a slippery slope to euthanizing any unwanted child. This was not the case we were making, and of course we’d both put strictures in place: parents as well as several doctors would have to consent, and so on.

I wrote this in 2020, when Singer had been deplatformed in New Zealand, Germany, and Canada for his “inhumane” stand on euthanizing doomed infants:

It seems to me that an enlightened philosophy would allow people to be able to end their lives in a humane way if they’ve undergone proper medical and psychiatric vetting. Some form of this “assisted suicide” is already legal in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, Switzerland, Victoria in Australia, and and in some states of the U.S. (California, Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, and—by court order—in Montana).

I further believe—and I’ve gotten into trouble for this—that we should also allow newborns afflicted with incurable conditions—conditions from which they will suffer and die young—to be euthanized humanely. The conditions under which I think this is not only allowable, but ethical, were first laid out in this post of mine.  I was aware at the time that philosopher Peter Singer had agreed with and defended this view, but I can’t remember whether I arrived at it independently or read it in some of his writings. No matter, for it’s a view that people need to consider, and of course Singer has defended this view far more extensively and ably than I.

For his views, Singer has undergone considerable pushback, and has been not only deplatformed, but subject to calls for his resignation from Princeton (he splits his time between Princeton and the University of Melbourne). I, too, was subject to a surprising amount of publicity, nearly all negative, for my one website post about this. On her own website Heather’s Homilies, Heather Hastie defended my views, summarizing and answering some of the pushback I got (thanks, Heather!),  I also wrote about the surprising opposition to my views here and here.

See also Russell Blackford’s defense of Singer here.  I have to say that this topic elicited a fair number of very nasty emails and comments, with people accusing me of wanting to kill babies of all kinds. Since a newborn cannot make a decision for itself, someone has to step in—especially in the case of impending death—and I think Singer, a deeply humane and moral man—made the right call.

Now for Rebecca Tuvel. She’s a woman of extraordinary courage, which she demonstrated in the Hypatia transracialism controversy, in which she published a paper in that journal questioning whether there was a meaningful difference in seeing yourself as a member of another sex or seeing yourself as a member of a different race (Caitlan Jenner exemplifies the former; Rachel Dolezal the latter). For reasons that defy me, this was regarded as a taboo question (I see it as very meaningful), and Tuvel was attacked. There were calls for her to be fired, for the journal to retract the article, and Hypatia even apologized. But Tuvel didn’t back down, and the article still stands (you might want to read Tuvel’s piece, “In defense of transracialism“).

These two academics intersected in September when a group of philosophers, including Tuvel, invited Singer to be part of a panel at Rhodes College. The topic was “Pandemic Ethics”. Note that this had nothing to do with euthanizing infants. (That reminds me of Dorian Abbot’s cancellation at MIT not because he was talking about a verboten area, but because he had criticized DEI initiatives on his own, and privately, before his scheduled talk.)

But that didn’t stop the faculty and students at Rhodes College from calling for Singer’s disinvitation, and indeed, Rhodes College itself issued a “free speech but. . . ” statement defending Singer’s right to speak but deploring much of what he said previously.

The fracas is described in two pieces, which you can see in the screenshots below.

From The Daily Nous, a philosophy site:

From Inside Higher Ed:

Three incidents are of special interest.

The faculty objects and urges Singer to be disinvited (from Inside Higher Ed):

Faculty in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology and the Africana Studies Program sent out an email to the college community that said, in part:

We, the faculty in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology and the Africana Studies Program, wish to express our deepest dismay at the invitation of Professor Peter Singer to our campus. We believe that proceeding with this event as currently structured could further alienate students, faculty, and staff, particularly after the unresolved racist “incident” [story here] against African Americans that occurred in early September. 

Professor Singer’s longstanding advancement of philosophical arguments that presume the inferiority of many disabled lives is dehumanizing and dangerous. The creation of a hierarchy of lives as a justification for the allocation or denial of limited resources (whether “pleasure,” medical care, insurance, etc.) is a logic that has a long and violent history. It is a logic that underlies eugenicist arguments marking various marginalized populations as unfit to be a part of the advancement of the human race…

Disability scholars have critiqued Singer’s body of work across a range of themes, and we encourage anyone who reads Singer to also read this rich scholarship. Salient among these themes for the purposes of a panel on pandemic ethics is the denial of some disabled people’s full humanity and the premise that certain disabled people have lives that are less worth living than “normal” people (with whom they might be competing for medical resources). Given that COVID is one of the most profound disability rights issues of our lifetimes, it would seem that any panel on pandemic ethics would include disability scholars (especially given their significant challenges to Singer’s credibility in this area). 

Rather than suggesting an alternative structure to the event such as the inclusion of one of the aforementioned disability scholars, though, the faculty instead says:

[W]e affirm our dedication to disability justice and urge the college to withdraw the invitation. We stand next to our students who are working hard to fight for their ideals of equality, fairness, and diversity, not as lip service, but as the basis of reflection and action. We cherish and advocate for freedom of speech and expression as long as it does not deny others their humanity. 

Note the erroneous characterization of Singer’s views as “denying some disabled people’s full humanity.”  That is simply hyperbole claiming that newborns doomed to suffer and die soon are “denied their humanity.” No, they are denied needless suffering. If your baby was born without a brain and would die within days, and was in great distress, would you be showing “full humanity” to let it suffer until it passes away?

These people either haven’t read Singer’s work or are signaling their virtue with or without understanding what Singer has to say.  I have had doctors and nurses write me privately by email saying that they’ve encountered situations like the one Singer envisions and absolutely agree that putting the infants out of their suffering is the right thing to do. I have had no medical professionals write me and say that they disagree with me. The letters I get are from people who are disabled but have meaningful lives, and accuse me, wrongly, of denying their humanity, or saying that I would have killed them had I had the say.

Some history faculty at Rhodes also sent out an email objecting to the event:

As historians, we the undersigned condemn Prof. Peter Singers’ abhorrent views that some humans have less value than others. We object to inviting him to Rhodes College to speak as part of a “Pandemics Ethics” panel. Positioning him as an expert on ethics only legitimizes his reprehensible beliefs that deny the very humanity of people with disabilities. Hypothetical philosophies on morality cause real violence. We historians are all too familiar with ideas that justify labeling marginalized, vulnerable, and minority populations as “life unworthy of life,” and the murderous consequences for those deemed “unfit” to live. Adhering to the College’s own IDEAS Framework that seeks to foster “a sense of belonging” and embrace “the full range of psychological, physical, and social difference,” we historians assert that Prof. Peter Singers’ blatant inhumanity has no place in serious academic exchange here at Rhodes.  

“Positioning him as an expert on ethics?” Give me a break—he’s the world’s expert on practical ethics. Note as well that they play the race card, mentioning “marginalized, vulnerable, and minority populations.” That is what’s really reprehensible, as race plays no role in Singer’s views on this issue.

The university gives hedged support for Singer.  Rhodes College issued this statement (my bolding):

Yesterday a member of our faculty informed us of his profound disturbance caused by the invitation of Princeton University Prof. Peter Singer to speak on a Rhodes “Pandemic Ethics” virtual panel next week.

We are writing to acknowledge that our institution’s spirit of supporting expressive speech does not prohibit Professor Singer’s participation in this virtual panel. At the same time, our community’s values compel us to denounce some of the views he has expressed repeatedly over years through various addresses, writings, and media interviews.

Fundamentally, Rhodes College is deeply committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. These values extend to every member of our community, including individuals with disabilities. While we view the invitation to Peter Singer in light of our commitment to free and open dialogue at a liberal arts college, his views on disability are unequivocally antithetical to our institutional values of diversity, equity and inclusion. We reject and condemn in the most forceful manner possible any views that call into question the value and worth of all human life. It is within this context that we make the following affirmations:

    • We affirm our strong belief in an inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible community – as outlined in the College’s IDEAS framework – one in which the worth and dignity of all persons is championed and supported.
    • We affirm particular support for disabled members of our community who, justifiably, have expressed anger, outrage, and offense at some of Prof. Singer’s writings. Not only does Rhodes not tolerate discrimination on the basis of disability, the College also strongly believes that disabled people enrich our community by their presence on our campus. We affirm this while recognizing that we still have much work to do as an institution to support individuals with disabilities.

As an academic institution, we re-affirm our Statement on Diversity, which expresses our commitment to providing an “open learning environment,” where “freedom of thought, a healthy exchange of ideas, and an appreciation of diverse perspectives” are fundamental. It is this commitment to freedom of expression that allows academic departments to invite a variety of speakers to campus to enrich the educational experience of our students. Nevertheless, they should do so with responsibility, as well as with careful attention to our values as a diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution.

Note how weaselly this statement is. they should have just issued the first sentence in the second paragraph: “We are writing to acknowledge that our institution’s spirit of supporting expressive speech does not prohibit Professor Singer’s participation in this virtual panel.”  Period.  To affirm “institutional values” that many people doubtlessly disagree with is a view that chills speech.  First, they don’t understand what Singer has said, or willfully misconstrue it to get virtue points with disabled students. Second, people like me (and perhaps Tuvel) disagree with the “institutional values” that call for a doomed infant to suffer needlessly. But with that official position, which student or untenured faculty member would dare stand up to the Rhodes administration? If Rhodes adhered to Chicago’s Kalven Principles, it would not be making official statements on contestable and debatable moral issues.

Finally, although Rhodes pretends to favor free speech, they are giving succor to those people who don’t want free speech—who don’t want this fraught but ethically important subject to even be discussed.

The Rhodes Philosophy Department holds their ground. After that single faculty member (Charles Hughes, Director of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College) objected to Singer’s appearance, the philosphers who organized the event this email to the College:

We write in response to one of our colleagues, who has publicly expressed concern about the Philosophy department’s invitation to Peter Singer—and he has every right to do so. The objection raised is apparently not to the topic, but to the speaker. We are of course aware that Professor Singer has advanced philosophical arguments on bioethical issues that many find not only disturbing but deeply offensive, a reaction by no means confined to members of the disabled community. Indeed, the organizers also take issue with some of Dr. Singer’s views.

Serious intellectual exchange about matters of significance cannot avoid sometimes causing anger, offense, and pain and no one should be cavalier about that fact. It is not clear to us, however, what follows from our colleague’s understandable expression of disturbance at some of Professor Singer’s views. Do those views disqualify Singer from participating in the exchange of ideas that ought to occur at a liberal arts college? If that is the conclusion, we respectfully disagree, for its premise is that ideas that cause anger and dismay ought not, for that reason, be part of the exchange and that premise, we think, is incompatible with our mission to teach students how to engage in productive dialogue even, and indeed especially, with thinkers with whom they vehemently disagree. 

That is an excellent letter—civil but firm. Tuvel then offered to run a reading group on the issue:

I realize that now is not the time to get into the weeds of Singer’s utilitarian ethics. Should there be interest at some point down the line, I would be more than happy to organize a reading group and/or zoom event where myself and other members of the Philosophy department can clarify Singer’s views on these incredibly sensitive topics. At some point, I think our community would also benefit greatly from an event devoted to discussing these delicate matters. On pains of intellectual and moral failure, such an event would absolutely need to include experts in disability rights (such as Professor Charles Hughes), parents of children with disabilities, and relevant others…

The Daily Nous also has a letter from philosophy postdoc Eric Sampson clarifying Singer’s misunderstood views.

Here’s a video of the whole Singer event—a Zoom panel. In Turvel’s first question (3:03), Singer responds to the controversy, and does a great job.

Rhodes College needs to get with the program and stop truckling to the mob. Disinviting someone of the stature of Singer, who is talking about a subject unrelated to the other controversy, is a cowardly thing to do. The administrators of Rhodes are simply invertebrates.

Penn State denounces upcoming appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, but kvetches that they can’t stop him from appearing

October 28, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’d just as soon never listen to Milo Yiannopoulos again, for although there are some debatable issues he brings up, I know them already, and he’s more of a provocateur than a lecturer. Let me restate that: he’s a nasty piece of work.

But according to the article below from the local newspaper, Centre Daily, he’s scheduled to speak at Penn State on November 3. I sure as hell wouldn’t go, but some students will, as Milo is sponsored by Uncensored America, a student group. Yiannopoulos, who once prided himself on being gay, has now declared that he’s not gay, and, as the article says:

He is now hoping to open a “conversion therapy” center in Florida, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or identity. Conversion therapy is banned in 14 states, while dozens of national organizations — such as the American Medical Association — have denounced such practices.

But there’s more:

Yiannopoulos, former editor of far-right media outlet Breitbart News, has been no stranger to controversy. He was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after referring to Black comedian/actress Leslie Jones as a man and an ape, while orchestrating an abusive campaign against her. He was also banned from Facebook and Instagram three years later after the platforms labeled him “dangerous” for his promotion of hate speech and/or violence.

He was forced to resign from Breitbart in 2017 over remarks that appeared to condone sexual relationships between old men and boys as young as 13. (The American Conservative Union rescinded his invitation to to speak at CPAC over the controversy.) And the formerly openly gay commentator — who’s also been accused of being sympathetic to white nationalists — married his boyfriend in 2017 before announcing earlier this year that he is no longer gay.

You can’t get much more odious than that, but since he’s already been invited, he should be allowed to speak. Penn State is a state college and must abide by the First Amendment.

What struck me about the article below was not so much Milo’s antics as the University’s repeated declarations that they don’t endorse his views, oppose him with all their might, and, most important, their implication that they would ban Milo if they only could, but they can’t. They almost seem reluctant that the Constitution prevents them from censoring him. What kind of behavior is that for a campus that purports to favor free speech?

Click to read the article:

That’s all I’ll say about Milo except to give the topic of his talk according to the event webpage: “free speech, faith, conversion therapy, hair style, and more. ”

Now here are some statements from Penn State officials from the article, either direct or reported secondhand:

In a written statement, university officials explained they are opposed to the event but cannot stop it due to the First Amendment.

. . .“(Yiannopoulos’) past presentations on the nation’s college campuses have been antithetical to Penn State’s values, and we share the profound dismay others have already expressed in response to his forthcoming appearance here,” read a joint statement Monday night from three university officials in Steve Dunham, vice president and general counsel; Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs; and Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for educational equity.

The statement continued: “Yet as offensive and hurtful as Yiannopoulos’ comments have been and are likely to be again, and despite our own abhorrence for such statements and the promotional tactics used, Uncensored America has the undeniable Constitutional right to sponsor this presentation on our campus. The university lacks the right to do anything to stop it.”

. . .Despite the backlash, university officials remained adamant they could not prevent Yiannopoulos’ event from happening.

“As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values,” the university’s joint statement read.

“To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution, but would undermine the basic freedom each of us shares to generally think and express ourselves as we wish. … But let us be clear. At his core, Yiannopoulos is a social provocateur — a personality whose central public purpose is to deliberately create controversy, hurt and disruption. That is something we all should recognize.”

Now only the last two lines emphasize freedom of speech, but I have to say that it’s offered grudgingly, and the whole tenor of the Administration’s statement is “We’d ban this joker if we could, but the Constitution won’t let us.”

The LGBTQIA+ group, a student group, said this:

In a joint statement Tuesday, University Park’s undergraduate student government and two LGBTQ groups “strongly condemned” Yiannopoulos’ appearance, saying it promotes homophobia on campus.

“Bigotry and discrimination have no place at Penn State, and the university must take the necessary steps to combat hate speech and protect the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement read, before later continuing, “(Yiannopoulos’) presence serves as a threat to students on-campus, and the university should treat it as such.”

Of course they hate Milo, and they should, but I doubt that his presence threatens students. If anything threatens students, it’s themselves, who might riot and engage in damaging property, as they have with Milo’s appearances before. They should urge a boycott or organize counterspeech.

You know what the University of Chicago would say in response to a Milo appearance here?

Either nothing, or, “Anybody who’s invited to speak here will be allowed to speak, for we adhere to freedom of speech.” There would be no preening statements that the University abhors Milo.

And that’s the way it should be. Colleges and universities should not take public stands on political, moral, or ideological issues, for that leads to chilling of speech. This is embodied in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which is adhered to pretty scrupulously —despite a few slipups that I’ve noted.  What Penn State is doing here is telling students how moral the University is compared to Milo, which of course leads those who like what Milo has to say to keep their mouths shut. Their speech is chilled, and more than half of college students report that they self-censor to avoid getting into trouble.

But Milo, despite his repellent personality, does have things to say worth debating. Penn State should have just done what my own University would do.

And by the way, even if you think that Milo’s statements are always unbearably stupid and don’t deserve to be heard, have a look at this paper in the Journal of Controversial Ideas. It defends the stupidest of all ideas—flat Earth theory—as worth hearing, and if that theory is worth hearing, then almost anything is, as the title of the paper below implies (click on the screenshot):

USA Today defends firing of Chicago docents, and a new theory on why they were fired

October 25, 2021 • 12:15 pm

The article below at yahoo!news originally appeared USA Today. but I’m linking to the former site because the latter has all sorts of annoying ads, even with Adblock. And the headline made me laugh: of course diversity consultants would recommend that the Art Institute of Chicago should get rid of all its highly-trained volunteer docents, because they were mostly older white women of means, and that creates “inequity.” And, if you adhere to Ibram Kendi, a lack of equity is prima facie evidence of currently operating structural racism. This is what diversity consultants are paid to do. Better ask an ethicist!

The AIC plans to replace the fired docents with a smaller number of less trained paid workers, presumably more diverse. But if the AIC wanted more diversity, which is fine, what they did was go about it in the worst way possible. Click to read.

Now a lot of this article has already been covered on this site, but there are a few new comments which got me thinking, and also got the reader thinking who sent me this link.

Put together these quotes from the piece and see if you can come up with another theory of why the docents were fired—a theory that goes beyond their whiteness and class:

“Sometimes equity requires taking bold steps and actions,” said Monica Williams, executive producer of The Equity Project, a Colorado-based consulting firm whose clients include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. “You really have to dismantle and disrupt the systems that have been designed to hold some up and others out.”‘

. . .As a result, Williams said she respects the AIC’s decision, saying more diversity among people who work in museums will strengthen the quality of art education.

“The stories that are told are based on a docents’ experience or expertise, which oftentimes comes from a white space and are not reflective of everyone’s experience,” she said. “So we need to really critically think about how stories get told and who tells them.”

Mike Murawski, a museum consultant and author of “Museums as Agents of Change,” said there has long been a tension between equity efforts and volunteer programs.

“Because of who is leading these groups, there are often gaps in the perspectives and experiences they represent in their work in educating the community,” he said. “So I think a lot of the systemic racism and colonialism that museums have always had in their institutions come through these types of programs.”

. . .But museum consultants say sometimes the way forward is not about making changes to programs.

Docent programs often have “long-standing legacies of how things are supposed to be” that can make them difficult to adapt, Murawski said.

That risks continuing “elements of white dominant culture, colonialism and racism that are systemic within museums,” he added.

“There’s just so many legacy structures and barriers baked into a docent program to begin with that it requires more than just a little editing to fix,” he said. “I think that these programs really need to be put on pause and fully rethought, then rebuilt from the ground up.”

The reader who sent me this link put two and two together (it’s not five!) and realized, as I did when I read it, that this is about radically reforming the whole system of presenting art to the public, so that it’s now viewed not from the artists’ perspectives, but through a lens focused on race and ideology. Remember that some critics of “Critical Theory” argue that its motivation is to overthrow the entirety of Western culture based on Enlightenment values and replace it with an authoritarian one. And so, like the Soviets did, they have to create a class of “approved” art that passes ideological muster. Viewing existing art as expressions of impure thought is the beginning of that.

The reader who sent me the link added this:

My suspicion is that the en masse firing is not merely to get rid of a wealthy, white group of ladies due to diversity issues.   Rather, it’s to bring about a reframing of how art is explained: from one based on aesthetics, formal values, and historical context,   to one based on identity, which might contravene actual meaning of a work of art.

And of course, those erudite docents could have challenged and argued with the pedagogy of the shift, given their knowledge of the collection.   So out they went.

You are, of course, free to broach your own theory, which is yours, or to disagree with ours.

Black Marxist scholar deplatformed for emphasizing class over race

August 15, 2020 • 1:00 pm

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

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

The mob descended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

h/t: cesar

Charles Murray returns to Middlebury College

March 11, 2020 • 1:50 pm

A bad reason to invite Charles Murray to Middlebury College is to incite violence, which is what happened when he was last invited three years ago (see several of my reports here). Although Murray wasn’t going to talk about race or intelligence then, that didn’t matter: he’s been forever deemed a racist for co-authoring The Bell Curve. (I strongly doubt that more than 1% of the protestors had ever read that book [I haven’t]; they were going on social-media outrage). During Murray’s last visit, his talk was interrupted (eventually it was livestreamed from an empty hall) and both he and his host were attacked, with the host, Allison Stanger, sustaining a neck injury and, as I recall, a concussion.  Along with other “cancel culture” incidents at Middlebury in the past few years, this has given the college somewhat of a bad reputation. It was becoming The Evergreen State College of the East.

A good reason for inviting Charles Murray is twofold: so the students can hear what he has to say, and so they can be tested to see if they’ve grown up. If the latter is the case, Middlebury’s reputation will be somewhat restored, and the students will have learned the art of peaceful protest. Or (my recommendation), they shouldn’t protest if they don’t know anything about Murray’s work, but simply ignore his talk, though that’s not so great, either. Actually, they should go to his talk and ask questions.

At any rate, Murray has been re-invited, though the College is now closed because of coronavirus. And the students and faculty are beginning to ramp up their protests, at least according to this letter to the editor (sent to the Middlebury President and her Senior Leadership Group) in the Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper. The letter is written by two named faculty as well as a lot of faculty too scared to divulge their identities (see below). Click on the screenshot to read about the protest.

The authors are a sociology professor and a film and media culture professor (humanities profs, of course: scientists don’t do this stuff). The rest of the signatories are part of the “Middlebury Faculty for an Inclusive Community” (MFIC), whose website says this:

Rather than generating a list of signatories, we offer some specific contacts for different areas of our work and representatives on relevant committees. Not all of members of our group want to identify themselves publicly, but here are many who feel comfortable doing so.

What a bunch of cowards—and they are professors! At any rate, the letter gives four reasons why Murray should not have been invited. Only one is partly valid, and another is weakly valid. The rest is bunk.

The first reason is the usual—Murray’s presence will “endanger members of our community”, “cause significant psychological stress”, and other ridiculous claims:

We believe that over the past three years, our campus has grown significantly in becoming a more inclusive, self-aware and responsive institution, that is open to frank conversations about racial and other inequities that structure our community and broader world. A lecture by an ultimately insignificant, debunked pseudo-scholar, arguing that race, class, and gender inequalities are a product of genetics rather than social systems and practices, would typically be a laughable and easy-to-ignore event. However, the presence of this particular insignificant, debunked pseudo-scholar reopens many wounds that we have worked hard to heal over the past three years.

We write to our administrative colleagues in Old Chapel seeking answers that we hope to receive in a public forum. The largest question that dogs us is, “How did you allow this to happen?” As stewards of Middlebury’s institutional culture, mission and reputation, you certainly recognize the many ways that this is a bad idea — no matter how events might play out on March 31, the event will cause many of us significant psychological distress, provoke in-fighting, generate bad publicity, potentially endanger members of our community, waste hours of time planning and stressing, and ultimately yield nothing beyond rekindled hostility. We believe you could — and should — have taken steps to stop this event from happening on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the institution and goes directly against our core values of integrity, inclusivity and intellectual honesty. Murray’s talk seems predicated on the “pillar” of academic freedom, but also contradicts our other two pillars of integrity and respect.

I am so tired of rebutting this malarkey. First, Murray wasn’t (and probably isn’t) going to talk about the genetics of IQ and race. Ergo, you can’t censor him based on a 26-year-old book about those topics that you haven’t even read. Second, there’s the implicit and shabby claims that free speech is great BUT in this case Murray isn’t a valid scholar and is also purveying hate speech.

As for the psychological damage and stress, my advice to the students is this: DO NOT GO TO THE TALK! Is that so hard? Why torture yourself?

A more valid complaint by the writers is that only three people invited Murray to speak, and even the College Republicans, whom they represent, didn’t get a say. If that’s the case, the procedure for inviting speakers has been violated. Whether that should mandate cancellation is above my pay grade.

The third reason is that the College Handbook says that a full-time faculty or staff member must be the advisor of the inviting group. However, the advisor of the College Republicans is an “Executive in Residence,” one James Douglas—one of the inviters.. However, Douglas happens to be the former (Republican) governor of Vermont, the state where the College resides.  According to the MFIC’s letter, such a man can’t possibly have an understanding of the impact of the decision. That’s dubious, but if the College wanted to censor a speaker based on a technicality, they have this and the reason above to lean on. But those seem like lame excuses for censorship.

Finally, the letter says that Murray’s talk would require significant “security and facilities staffing”. Sadly, the College requires student organizations to “bear full responsibility for arranging and financing any Department of Public Safety Services that may be necessary in connection with controversial speakers.” That should not be the case, for it prevents groups from inviting the very speakers the students need to hear: controversial ones. Middlebury needs to ditch that rule immediately. And besides, if the College Republicans can fund security, why should the MFICers beef?

However, WHY would they need significant security? It’s because the protestors could wreak havoc and possibly attack the speaker and his supporters. This would not be an issue if the protestors were peaceful, or simply had a counter-event or didn’t go to the talk. A group should never be afraid to invite a controversial speaker because the protestors might be violent. If they are, they should be arrested or suspended. (As I recall, some of the protestors of Murray’s last talk were sanctioned by the College, but their punishment was never revealed.) And no group should be the costs of inviting a speaker, or at least the costs should be equalized among student groups.

In the end, because I don’t know Murray’s work or the topic of his prospective talk, I can’t judge the wisdom of inviting him. But it least it will be a test of whether Middlebury truly tolerates free speech, and whether the students and faculty have grown up. Judging by the letter above, they have a ways to go.

I’ll end with a comment made on the article by one writer:


Peter Singer deplatformed in New Zealand for his stand on euthanasia of newborns

February 19, 2020 • 9:30 am

It seems to me that an enlightened philosophy would allow people to be able to end their lives in a humane way if they’ve undergone proper medical and psychiatric vetting. Some form of this “assisted suicide” is already legal in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, Switzerland, Victoria in Australia, and and in some states of the U.S. (California, Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, and—by court order—in Montana).

I further believe—and I’ve gotten into trouble for this—that we should also allow newborns afflicted with incurable conditions—conditions from which they will suffer and die young—to be euthanized humanely. The conditions under which I think this is not only allowable, but ethical, were first laid out in this post of mine.  I was aware at the time that philosopher Peter Singer had agreed with and defended this view, but I can’t remember whether I arrived at it independently or read it in some of his writings. No matter, for it’s a view that people need to consider, and of course Singer has defended this view far more extensively and ably than I.

For his views, Singer has undergone considerable pushback, and has been not only deplatformed, but subject to calls for his resignation from Princeton (he splits his time between Princeton and the University of Melbourne). I, too, was subject to a surprising amount of publicity, nearly all negative, for my one website post about this. On her own website Heather’s Homilies, Heather Hastie defended my views, summarizing and answering some of the pushback I got (thanks, Heather!),  I also wrote about the surprising opposition to my views here and here.

The opposition, of course, comes largely from believers, who see euthanasia of any sort as “playing God.” I swear that some of these people are Mother-Teresa-like in preferring horrible suffering to a merciful end. After all, Jesus suffered! (That was Mother Teresa’s excuse.)

But others object because they see the euthanasia argument as a slippery slope, leading to scenarios in which we can do away with Grandma in the nursing home simply by signing a paper. It doesn’t work like that, of course, as the states and countries who allow adult euthanasia have strict regulations. And euthanizing newborns with horrible and fatal conditions, like anencephaly, is even more unacceptable. Even though such infants are doomed, there’s something about them having been born that makes the prospect of euthanasia especially appalling to people. Of course I agree that strict procedures, including the agreement of doctors and parents, are essential here, but since these infants will die I see no credible objection to letting them have a peaceful death.

Against the strong negative publicity and many emails I got saying I’m a latter-day Satan (I also got emails from some handicapped people accusing me of wanting to deprive them of life), I received several letters from nurses and doctors who, having seen infants suffer and die, agreed with me. But these people, understandably, don’t want their views made public. I stand by what I said, and Singer stands by what he said. The man is clearly no monster, as his books and papers on ethics are extremely humane. And he walks the walk, giving away lots of his own income to the poor. (I should add that Singer is a recipient of the honor of Companion of the Order of Australia, that country’s highest civilian honor.)

Singer has been deplatformed for his views on infant euthanasia (see here, for instance). And, according to the Newshub article below (click on screenshot, and see a similar piece in Think, Inc.), now a country that’s supposed to be extremely liberal and enlightened, New Zealand, has deplatformed him as well. Singer had a contract to speak at SkyCity in Auckland in June, but the venue canceled his contract.  And this was also due to his views on euthanasia.

Although Think, Inc. says that the Auckand incident shows that Singer “has been de-platformed for the first time in his 50-year career”, that’s not really true. Singer was disinvited from a philosophy meeting in Germany and also effectively deplatformed at the University of Victoria in British Columbia when shouting students made his talk inaudible. Those disruptions were also for his views on euthanasia of newborns, although Singer’s talk in Canada was about effective altruism, not euthanasia.

Anyway, the New Zealand story is here:


A quote from the piece above:

Singer, a philosopher who has been recognised both as the Australian Humanist of the Year and the most dangerous person in the world, was scheduled to appear at the Auckland central venue on June 14 for ‘An Evening with Peter Singer’.

However, the figure now says the event had been cancelled by SkyCity after a “news article attacking” his view that it may be ethical for parents to choose euthanasia for severely disabled newborn infants.

“We decided that yes it was a reasonable decision for parents and doctors to make that it was better that infants with this condition should not live,” he has said.

On Saturday, Newshub reported that the New Zealand disabled community was frustrated by his appearance. Dr Huhana Hickey, who has used a wheelchair since 1996 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010, said he wasn’t an expert in disability.

Do you have to be an expert in disability to know when a childhood condition or deformity is invariably fatal and causes suffering

Even Singer says it was the first time he was deplatformed, which mystifies me. But never mind. His contract was canceled because of a “free speech but. . ” argument (my emphasis below):

A statement from Singer on Wednesday said that this was the first time he had been “de-platformed” in his 50-year career.

“It’s extraordinary that Skycity should cancel my speaking engagement on the basis of a newspaper article without contacting either me or the organiser of my speaking tour to check the facts on which it appears to be basing the cancellation,” Singer said.

“I have been welcomed as a speaker in New Zealand on many occasions and spent an enjoyable month as an Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury more than 20 years ago. If New Zealand has become less tolerant of controversial views since then, that’s a matter for deep regret.”

A SkyCity spokesperson told Newshub: “Following concerns raised by the public and local media, SkyCity has cancelled the venue hire agreement for ‘An Evening with Peter Singer’.

“Whilst SkyCity supports the right of free speech, some of the themes promoted by this speaker do not reflect our values of diversity and inclusivity.”

Is it “inclusive” to allow children born with only part of a brain, or a brain outside the skull—children doomed to die within days or weeks—to suffer before their deaths? For that is what this is all about. In fact, in September Kiwi citizens will have a referendum on the legalization of voluntary euthanasia for adults with less than six months to live.  At a time when they’re debating this, it is not only proper but essential to discuss the euthanasia of doomed newborns, who suffer but cannot give consent. As Wikipedia notes, “A poll in July 2019 found that 72% of the [New Zealand] public supported some kind of assisted dying for the terminally ill. Support over the past 20 years has averaged around 68%.” Why must the “terminally ill” include only adults?

In such a climate, it’s unconscionable to deplatform somebody for his views, especially when it’s not even clear that his “evening with Peter Singer” was going to touch on this subject. As the report notes above, nobody checked with Singer before canceling his contect.

Promoters of the talk are looking for a new venue, and I’ll report back if they find one.

Finally, here’s cartoon from Heather’s post, underscoring the futility of religion when it comes to helping the afflicted:

h/t: Paul

Stanford students walk out of talk about whether repealing DACA is legal

February 13, 2020 • 9:15 am

The episode I’ll discuss this morning doesn’t really constitute deplatforming, since the speaker got to speak. It’s not disinvitation, either, as the speaker spoke and his invitation wasn’t rescinded. Nor is it “censorship” in the formal sense because nobody prevented the speaker from speaking. So let’s call it “disruption of a talk”, which is nearly as bad because it prevented people from hearing a speaker whose views contravened those of Left-wing students. Well, it’s not even that since the speaker in this case, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, was supposed to be presenting both sides of the argument for whether DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy) was legal.

A wee bit of background: DACA offers those who came to the United States illegally as children a path to getting a work permit, though not citizenship. (The latter is the purview of the DREAM Act, which has never been passed.) DACA was established by President Obama in 2012, and its remit expanded two years later. Texas and 25 other states sued the government to block the expansion, a federal judge agreed, and an appeal to the Supreme Court gave a divided verdict (4-4) which meant the lower-court ruling stood.

That meant that although the expansion of DACA was blocked, and still is, the original DACA remains in force. Republicans oppose DACA in general, but I’m in favor of it as it’s a reasonable way to deal with those who came to the U.S. as minors and has had beneficial effects on the well-being of immigrants.

But the original and still-in-force DACA is still the subject of legal dispute, hinging on whether Obama had the executive power to create such a program that may really be the purview of Congress. One judge (in Texas) ruled in 2018 that the program is “probably illegal” but left it in place pending further litigation.

The upshot is that there’s a debate about the legality of DACA and whether a President has the power to institute it; and the lawsuits are ongoing.

This report, from the student newspaper The Stanford Daily, gives details about how Hawkins’s talk, which was supposed to give both sides of the issue, was disrupted by students (click on screenshot):

The nature of the disruption was twofold. First, a large number of students showed up, requiring the talk to be moved to a bigger room. They were also holding up posters, which I see as disruptive (it disrupts the speaker and blocks audience view.) When the audience was moved, and after Hawkins’s talk began, three-quarters of the students walked out, which also denied those who wanted to hear the talk, but couldn’t get in, a chance to listen. The walkout was organized by the Stanford Latinx Law Student organization in conjunction with 11 other student groups. (The walk-outs of course didn’t hear the talk either.)

It seems clear that (although Hawkins is probably opposed to DACA, he did give some arguments on both sides, presumably because they couldn’t find a professor to debate with him. From the paper:

Initially speaking before a packed room of students holding posters reading “No human being is illegal” or “Everyone is welcome here,” Hawkins prefaced his talk by saying that, since there was no planned rebuttal for the event, he would be arguing both sides.

But Hawkins’ track record aligns him with DACA’s legal opponents, and he spent the majority of his lecture explaining the substantive and procedural ways Trump could repeal DACA — emphasizing that he was making a purely legal argument.

“[Trump’s motion] did not say DACA is a bad policy,” he said. “It did not say that DACA was unworkable. … It just says that DACA is unlawful.”

Sidestepping questions of the value and impact of DACA, however, was exactly what those who walked out opposed.

“Purely legalistic discussions of DACA ignore the human element, which must be front and center,” SLLSA and the other groups wrote in a joint statement. “We cannot afford to disregard the presence and importance of DREAMers in all places, including here at SLS.”

But apparently Hawkins did argue both sides, though perhaps not with equal vehemence:

“DACA is unlawful for the same reason that DAPA was unlawful, according to the fifth circuit,” Hawkins said.

The arguments against DACA assert that former President Barack Obama did not have the power to institute the measure in the first place. DACA “confers on someone a status Congress would otherwise deny,” Hawkins said, including work authorization and lawful presence.

Pivoting to a pro-DACA legal argument, Hawkins said that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) grants the executive branch some leeway in enacting the U.S.’s body of immigration law.

“What the folks on the right need to grapple with is that the executive has discretion in enforcing the terms of the INA,” he said.

Well, DREAMers aren’t yet in existence, and DACA’s legality is still under debate, so one would think that, given the pending litigation, a discussion of its legality would be of interest. In other words, let the damn speaker talk!

But the students didn’t consider the issue even worth debating. A few excerpts show that view, including the claim above that the lecture was on an “intellectually cheap and morally affronting topic.” “Morally affronting topics” are, however, precisely those that are most crucial to debate! Here’s a student whining about how the talk was inappropriate:

Some who walked out of the event felt DACA’s legality isn’t even a question at all.

“It’s incredibly unfair that my fellow students have to face these extra burdens and then be reminded of them in school,” first-year law student Zoe Packman said. “We shouldn’t be discussing the legality of our student population. It’s not a valid question, there is no question there.”

Yes it is a valid question. Even if I hold, as I do, the position that DACA should be in place; I have no idea whether it’s legal. (The Congress could make it legal, but fat chance of that with a Republican Senate!) I have no sympathy for students like Packman who take it upon themselves to be The Deciders—to pronounce on what questions shouldn’t even be discussed at their school.

The Federalist Society, which sponsored the talk, said that they’d invited 11 professors to give a rebuttal to Hawkins’s talk, but none agreed. The protestors said that this was an inadequate “effort.” Well, for crying out loud, why didn’t they organize their own counter-discussion? (Apparently there was to be no Q&A after Hawkins’s talk.) I guess they can’t be arsed to do that kind of work. Instead, they just assert that debating the legality of DACA is not a valid question.

These are Stanford students, probably from both the Law School and the undergraduate school, and they are among the intellectual elite of America. Yet they’re extraordinarily censorious, and even afraid of hearing certain arguments. One would think that law students, at least, would appreciate the First Amendment. Yes, Stanford is a private school, but the arguments for freedom of speech still obtain. But they haven’t penetrated the crania of many Stanford students.


Vanderbilt students protest Steve Pinker’s appearance because of his “ties” to Jeffrey Epstein

December 3, 2019 • 10:45 am

From the Vanderbilt Hustler, the student newspaper of that Nashville, Tennessee university, we learn that the demonized people subject to being deplatformed by the Left is—you guessed it—Steve Pinker. Read the article below, which describes a petition the students are putting together demanding that Pinker get booted from an upcoming panel on global issues. The reason is given in the sub-headline: Pinker’s “history of ties to Jeffrey Epstein.”

To be sure, there are only about 120 signatures on the petition, and the chances that it will work seem quite low. What’s important is that Pinker is increasingly regarded by the woke as ideologically polluted, regardless of the value of his books and works, because he had a tangential connection with Epstein—a connection that doesn’t implicate Pinker in any misconduct, sexual or otherwise.

Here’s a small excerpt from the Vanderbilt piece:

Junior Edie Duncan started a petition Nov. 25 to protest the upcoming Chancellor’s Lectures Series event that hosts cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker for his ties to the late Jeffrey Epstein.

As of Sunday, Dec. 1, the petition had garnered around 120 signatures. Duncan said a faculty member approached her and suggested that she should spread the word because they thought Vanderbilt administration would listen to students more than a faculty member. [JAC: I wonder who that faculty member is, and why he/she remain anonymous.]

Pinker, a Harvard professor, is scheduled to be featured in a panel event Dec. 3 alongside journalist Carl Zimmer and Vanderbilt professor and author Amanda Little. The panel is set to be moderated by political science professor Jon Meacham. The topic of the panel is “2020 and Beyond: Tackling Global Issues in the Decades to Come.”

The petition goes on to indict Pinker for flying on Epstein’s plane and being photographed next to him, and mentions some construals of legal language that Pinker gave to his friend Alan Dershowitz, who was on Epstein’s defense team:

The petition against Pinker reads: “He has appeared in Epstein’s flight logs among other prominent figures, the same flight that would travel to places across the world, including the island where Epstein allegedly hosted a sex-trafficking ring involving minors. Pinker was also photographed with Epstein in 2014, well after Epstein received his sentence and became a notorious sex offender.”

It also discusses allegations that Pinker gave Epstein advice on how to manipulate the language of a law regarding usage of the internet to lure minors across state lines for sexual abuse, which Epstein was accused of violating in 2006.

The petition acknowledges that Pinker denies association with Epstein but states that the connection cannot be dismissed as a coincidence in good conscience.

“A truly upstanding individual would not agree to manipulate language to downplay the laws surrounding prostitution of minors, and would not casually end up in a photograph with a convicted sex offender years later,” the petition reads.

. . . “My main point is that these connections are too much to be coincidental,” Duncan said. “The theme of the lecture series is ‘caring and respect’ – someone that we look up to for those values would not have coincidentally been involved like this with such a notorious sex offender as Jeffrey Epstein. True role models needs to be intentional about their actions.”

Too much to be coincidental? Is Duncan then implying that Pinker somehow overlooks or excuses Epstein’s behavior, or is a raging misogynist? What we see here is a complete lack of understanding of, and forgiveness for, the only action of Pinker that could possibly be faulted: helping Dershowitz with Epstein’s defense.

But I too am guilty in that way, for I was on O. J. Simpson’s defense team when he was tried for murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. (I helped analyze the DNA evidence against Simpson.) In fact, I surely did at least as much for Simpson as Pinker did for Epstein.

Now Simpson was found not guilty, but I believe he was indeed the murderer. I helped because I wanted to ensure that the government could not use shoddy DNA evidence to convict somebody, even if that somebody was a famous person accused of an egregious crime. And of course Simpson later was found culpable in a civil trial, and, even later, went to jail for nine years for, among other crimes, armed robbery. Simpson is not someone you’d want to associate with.

But I did, in the same way Pinker did with Epstein, though I never met O. J. nor was photographed with him. I therefore tell people, “If you’re going to incriminate Pinker because he helped in a small way with Epstein’s defense, please incriminate and deplatform me as well because I helped in a larger way with O. J. Simpson’s defense.” Well, do it! I’m waiting for my first deplatforming!

In fact, Pinker explained his association with Epstein in a July 12 post on this website. Read it for yourself; here’s an excerpt:

The annoying irony is that I could never stand the guy, never took research funding from him, and always tried to keep my distance. Friends and colleagues described him to me as a quantitative genius and a scientific sophisticate, and they invited me to salons and coffee klatches at which he held court. But I found him to be a kibitzer and a dilettante — he would abruptly change the subject ADD style, dismiss an observation with an adolescent wisecrack, and privilege his own intuitions over systematic data. I think the dislike was mutual—according to a friend, he “voted me off the island,” presumably because he was sick of me trying to keep the conversation on track and correcting him when he shot off his mouth on topics he knew nothing about. But Epstein had insinuated himself with so many people I intersected with (Alan Dershowitz, Martin Nowak, John Brockman, Steve Kosslyn, Lawrence Krauss) and so many institutions he helped fund (Harvard’s Program in Evolutionary Dynamics, ASU’s Origins Project, even Harvard Hillel) that I often ended up at the same place with him. (Most of these gatherings were prior to the revelation of his sex crimes, such as the 2002 plane trip to TED with Dawkins, Dennett, the Brockmans, and others, but Krauss’s Origins Project Meeting came after he served his sentence.) Since I was often the most recognizable person in the room, someone would snap a picture; some of them resurfaced this past week, circulated by people who disagree with me on various topics and apparently believe that the photos are effective arguments.

(Here’s one of the photos, which is included in the Vanderbilt petition, designed to provoke a feeling of guilt by association. Pinker explained it above.

A bit more from Steve’s statement:

In the interests of full disclosure, there was another connection. Alan Dershowitz and I are friends and colleagues, and we taught a course together at Harvard. He often asks me questions about syntax and semantics of laws, most recently the impeachment statute. While he was representing Epstein, he asked me about the natural interpretation of one of the relevant laws, and I offered my opinion; this was cited in a court document. I did it as a favor to a friend and colleague, not as a paid expert witness, but I now regret that I did so. And needless to say I find Epstein’s behavior reprehensible.

So there’s an apology for helping in a small way with Epstein’s defense, and that’s hardly “manipulating the language of a law”—it’s interpreting the language of a law.

What we see here is a group of students so unforgiving, so bent on punishing those who have violated their impossibly difficult standards of purity, that they must deplatform someone who’s already satisfactorily (to me) explained his “association” with Epstein and who’s added he regrets helping Dershowitz.  The overweening message of the Vanderbilt action is that Social Justice Warriors—and I mean by that people who pretend to effect social justice but only pound a keyboard and flaunt their virtue—lack the nuance to discriminate between enablers of Epstein’s behavior and Pinker’s far more innocuous behavior. These people are authoritarians, and that’s why I call this the Authoritarian Left.

What do they hope to accomplish by keeping Pinker off the panel?

h/t: Michael

My alma mater disinvites Ralph Northam

February 5, 2019 • 2:15 pm

Well this is a bit disturbing: reader Woody wrote me that my own alma mater, The College of William and Mary, has disinvited Virginia Governor Ralph Northam from speaking after accusations that he appeared in a picture showing a Klan member and a white person in blackface. Yahoo News reports, apparently from the National Review (click on screenshot):

Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s previously scheduled speaking appearance at the College of William and Mary’s charter day and inauguration ceremony on Friday has been cancelled, the university announced Monday.

Northam, a Democrat, came under fire on Friday after it was revealed that his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page featured an image of two men, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan uniform.

“That behavior has no place in civil society – not 35 years ago, not today. It stands in stark opposition to William & Mary’s core values of equity and inclusion, which sustain our mission of learning, teaching, and research,” College president Katherine Rowe said of the photo in a Monday statement.

Rowe, who was sworn in to her position by Northam in 2017, went on to praise the governor for serving as a “a welcoming ambassador for the Commonwealth,” but said his appearance would disrupt Friday’s proceedings.

“Under the circumstances, it has become clear that the Governor’s presence would fundamentally disrupt the sense of campus unity we aspire to and hope for with this event,” she wrote.

Now Northam denies he was in that picture, or even knew about it. I don’t really believe him, but even if he did, I’m not at all sure whether we should hold such youthful bigotry against him if he’s behaved in exemplary ways since then. I don’t think so, but it’s clear that as Governor, Northam is toast. He’s been neutered as an effective Governor, and will, I think, step down within about four days. And his waffling about the incident has been disturbing.

Even so, unless he’s been proven to be a bigot, the address should not have been canceled. President Rowe is assuming that Northam did indeed appear in that picture, and she’s also saying that he’s still responsible for that bigotry 35 years on.

She’s also saying that Northam would “disrupt Friday’s proceedings.” No, he wouldn’t. It would be other people who would disrupt those proceedings, and they shouldn’t be allowed to. When W&M students shouted down the Virginia ACLU director in 2017, I wrote to the then President in anger, and was told that it wouldn’t happen again. But President Reveley resigned and now we have President Rowe, and she’s blaming any disruption on the speaker. I am not down with that, and am dragging and throwing shade on the new President.


Rutgers pretends it didn’t deplatform a journalist accused of “Isamophobia”, but says it was a “postponement” and yay for free speech

October 18, 2018 • 11:30 am

Lisa Daftari is a journalist who is a Jew of Iranian descent, and, well, I’ll give the Wikipedia data to show she’s a credible person to speak at a university:

Lisa Daftari is an investigative journalist focusing on foreign affairs with a focus on the Middle East and counterterrorism. She regularly appears on television and radio with commentary and analysis, providing exclusive reporting on vital developments in the region. Currently, she is an on-air Fox News political analyst and has previously been featured on CBS, NBC, PBS, the Washington Post, NPR, ABC, Voice of America, and others. Lisa also serves as founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Foreign Desk, an international news and U.S. foreign policy news website.

Should somebody like this be deplatformed or banned from speaking? Well, Rutgers University thought so. As I reported a short while back, Daftari was invited by the University to speak, but they then canceled her appearance because of her supposed “Islamophobia”. As Mediaite reported then:

Fox News contributor Lisa Daftari had a speaking engagement cancelled on her by Rutgers University.

Daftari, a Middle East and counterterrorism analyst who was a graduate from Rutgers and an Iranian Jew, was scheduled to speak on “Radicalism on College Campuses,” which would put focus on free speech on college campuses.

However, a student-led petition accused her of Islamophobia, citing this remark she said to the Heritage Foundation as a “small sample of harmful rhetoric.”

“Islamic terror takes its guidance and teachings from the Quran, which is Sharia law.”

Actually, her quote was this, which isn’t quite the same;

“Islamic terror, as we know, claims to take its teachings and its guidance from the Quran, which is Sharia law.”

Proof? Here’s the recording:

Regardless, the quote happens to be true, and is critical of Islamic terrorism, not Muslims or even Islam in general. And despite that, Rutgers gave Daftari the boot.

Later on, Rutgers issued a statement saying they “postponed” her visit (without giving a reason, which of course was because there was student pushback), and making lip-service noises to free speech. But it wasn’t a postponement in the first place; it was a cancellation, pure and simple:

See Daftari’s claim on Fox News that she was told by Rutgers it would be called a “postponement” for public relations reasons, but really was a cancellation.

After reading Rutgers’s weaselly statement, I wrote to both the President of Rutgers and its director of public relations objecting to this deplatforming (you can see my letter here), and heard back from both offices. Their letters were nearly identical, and neither admitted that they disinvited Daftari, a graduate of Rutgers. You can see the musteline responses below.

Dear Professor Coyne,

Thank you for your message about the postponement of the Rutgers–New Brunswick event organized by Undergraduate Academic Affairs at which alumna Lisa Daftari was to speak.  We appreciate having your viewpoint on this matter.  As you may have learned, the University has written to Ms. Daftari in the hope of rescheduling the event and has proposed several possible dates for her to come to campus in November.  We are also aware that student groups at Rutgers may have also invited her to speak on campus.

We welcome the free exchange of ideas and hope that Ms. Daftari will ultimately agree to speak on one of the proposed new dates, or on another mutually agreeable date, if her schedule permits.  Please see below for Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui’s invitation to Ms. Daftari, which was sent early Monday afternoon.

Michael Meagher
Office of the President

And here’s the letter they enclosed which they sent to Daftari:

Dear Lisa:

I want to write to clear up any confusion regarding your invitation to speak at the University.  To the degree that I may have contributed to the confusion, I hope you will accept my apology.

Please know that Rutgers values the free and open exchange of all viewpoints and that you are welcome to speak here.  I understand, in fact, that you may have been invited by student groups to speak at the University as well as the event that was scheduled for tomorrow night.

With respect to rescheduling the event sponsored by Undergraduate Academic Affairs, I would like to propose the following dates for an appearance at the Rutgers New Brunswick campus:

  • Wednesday, November 14
  • Monday, November 19
  • Monday, November 26
  • Wednesday, November 28

I am certain that in the course of your comments and follow-up questions from our students, your views will be fully articulated and will generate respectful and vigorous discussion both by those who agree and those who disagree with those views.

Our position on the free exchange of ideas is clear; the ability to respectfully present, discuss and debate matters in the public interest is at the heart of what every great university does.  Such free and respectful discussion is fundamental to Rutgers’ core values and is practiced every day at Rutgers.

Please let me know if any of these dates can be accommodated in your schedule.



Daftari didn’t take this lying down, but responded in an article in the Jewish Journal (click on the screenshot to read it). She also notes that the University refuses to admit it canceled her event.

An excerpt from the article:

In a text message to the Journal, Daftari called the timing of Sifuentes-Jáuregui’s email “curious” and that it “only further supports the truth of what happened. She sent the Journal her response to his email “since the university felt it necessary to share our correspondence publicly without my knowledge.”

“With all due respect, in all our previous correspondence and communication, it was clear that the university unilaterally decided to cancel the event,” Daftari wrote to Sifuentes-Jáuregui. “To come back after the damage has been done to my reputation and suggest that this was some misunderstanding and to continue with the premise that the event was merely postponed, lacks the integrity and respect that I would have hoped from my alma mater.”

Daftari said, “Just as the university was sensitive to the concerns of a group of students who slandered my good name based on falsified quotes, I would hope that the university would now demonstrate the same level of consideration as we move on.”

I’ve written back to the President and office of public affairs, asking them to be straight with me and tell me whether or not they disinvited Daftari, and why. Needless to say, I didn’t get a response.

Put Rutgers in the “censorious university” column.

Lisa Daftari