How the ACLU got woke, became political, and changed its mission

April 1, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’ve written before about the newish movie “Mighty Ira“, a documentary about former American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) head Ira Glasser and his involvement in civil-liberties litigation in the 1970s (see my posts here and here). I highly recommend the movie, as it’s not just about Glasser or the ACLU, but also involves baseball, Jackie Robinson, and William F. Buckley. If you’re into free speech or civil liberties, and want to see them defended as they should be defended, see the movie.

In the movie, Glasser makes an offhand comment or two about how the ACLU has changed direction since he was its head, and implies he doesn’t much approve of that change. This becomes clearer in the new Tablet article below, which expands on and details something I’ve said for a while: the ACLU, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, is going down the tubes. And they’re both disintegrating for the same reason: Wokeness, i.e., they’re abandoning their original mission to engage in political activities promoting aspects of “social justice” not connected with their avowed missions.

The ACLU long had a special place in my heart because they represented me for free when I discovered I’d been drafted illegally as a conscientious objector in 1972. With their help, we initiated a successful class action suit, and it got many COs who were in my predicament released from required service. (I’ve told this story before.)

Now, however, the ACLU is making noises about how free speech might not be all it’s cracked up to be. And they’re adopting a big-time transgender agenda headed by lawyer Chase Strangio, described below. With the latter, the ACLU is taking the distinctly odd position that medically unmodified biological men who identify as women should be treated for all purposes as biological women, including sports. (The “civil liberties” of the women who have to compete against these trans women are, of course, neglected.) The original mission of the ACLU was to defend the First Amendment, no matter how offensive someone’s free speech might be (ergo they defended the Nazis in the famous Skokie case). Now they’re engaged in dismantling Title IX and backing off on free speech.

Click on the screenshot to read:

A lot of the article recounts Glasser’s history in his days with the ACLU, and sketches what the movie is about, but there’s also some telling criticism of the organization itself as its changed its mission. This is what they’re up to now:

“My successor, and the board of directors that have supported him, have basically tried to transform the organization from a politically neutral, nonpartisan civil liberties organization into a progressive liberal organization,” Glasser says about Anthony Romero, an ex-Ford Foundation executive who continues to serve as the ACLU’s executive director. According to former ACLU national board member Wendy Kaminer in her 2009 book Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU, Romero and his enablers routinely engaged in the sort of undemocratic and unaccountable behavior practiced by the individuals and institutions the ACLU usually took to court, like withholding information (concerning a breach of ACLU members’ privacy, no less), shredding documents in violation of its own record-preservation and transparency procedures, and attempting to muzzle board members from criticizing the organization publicly. (“You sure that didn’t come out of Dick Cheney’s office?” remarked the late, great former Village Voice columnist and ACLU board member Nat Hentoff of this last gambit). Eerily prescient, Worst Instincts foreshadowed the hypocrisy and fecklessness that has since come to characterize the leadership of so many other, previously liberal institutions confronted by the forces of illiberalism within their own ranks.

In 2018, the ACLU spent over $1 million on advertisements likening Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, essentially accusing him of crimes for which he was never tried or convicted. More egregious than their brazen political partisanship was the way in which the ads traduced the presumption of innocence, a bedrock of American jurisprudence and a principle the ACLU was founded to uphold. Asked why his organization was willing to further violate its tradition of political neutrality, Faiz Shakir, a Democratic Party operative then serving as the ACLU’s national political director, was brutally honest. “People have funded us and I think they expect a return,” he said. Glasser also points to the group’s decision to run a television advertisement supporting then-Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as a telling sign of its transformation. “I mean, I love Stacey Abrams,” Glasser told me. “She has become my favorite political character in the country. But the ACLU has always stayed away from that. Nobody attacked Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan on their civil liberties violations more vigorously and strenuously than I did. But we always stayed away from political partisanship, and it was critical for the ACLU, virtually for all its history, to have standards that were as applicable to those most of us politically supported as to those who most of us politically opposed.”

I wrote about this incident in 2018, which was the first sign to me that the ACLU was backing off on a full-fledged defense of the First Amendment. The stand of the old ACLU resembled that of the University of Chicago’s Founding Principles: there was one overriding principle that trumped almost everything else: the fostering of a climate of free speech, thought, and discussion. Our Kalven Report made it another principle for the University to avoid taking stands on political, moral, and ideological issues, which were seen as compromising this primary mission by chilling the speech of dissenters. And that is precisely what the ACLU is doing now: allowing speech to be chilled, or even promoting, as does Chase Strangio with his censoriousness, the chilling of speech (see below).

More from Tablet:

Accompanying this influx of new members and money, however, were pressures for the group to become another run-of-the-mill #Resistance outfit. In 2017, the ACLU of Virginia had supported the right of white nationalists to rally in Charlottesville. But once the rally turned violent, the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.

That’s the Wokeness that’s bringing down the organization: “Free speech for all, so long as they’re not the Oppressor.” The ACLU didn’t used to consider whether speech was “contrary to our values,” for its principle was that regardless of the values of the members, the First Amendment must be defended for all speakers.

Finally, the machinations of ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio:

If the public face of the ACLU was Ira Glasser during the latter part of the previous century, today that honor can be claimed by a staff attorney named Chase Strangio. Named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine last year, Strangio is the ACLU’s deputy director for transgender justice. Like many activists consumed by this issue, he is uncompromising in demanding strict adherence to a set of highly contestable orthodoxies, and merciless toward anyone who dares question them. Two women who have—J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, and Abigail Shrier, author of a book about the role of “peer contagion” in the rising rate of teenage girls declaring themselves transgender—are “closely aligned with white supremacists in power,” Strangio declared on Twitter, offering not a shred of evidence for this claim. “Stopping the circulation of [Shrier’s] book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on,” he wrote, a rather bizarre position for an ACLU employee to endorse. Strangio later deleted the tweet, explaining that his intention was not to call for the government to ban Shrier’s book, but rather “to create the information climate for the market to be more supportive of trans self-determination than the alternative.”

There’s a lot more, and I’ve already excerpted a much more than I should have; but these passages especially resonate with me.  We need someone like Ira Glasser back, but good luck in finding any leader in these troubled days to support an uncompromising defense of the First Amendment.

But congrats to Tablet, which is doing some damned good reporting these days.

 

h/t: Robert

Is the Left bailing on free speech in social media?

March 26, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I haven’t read much from Matt Taibbi, nor do I know much about him. Finally, I can’t vouch for a lot of assertions in his substack column below, but I thought it was interesting enough to post (click on the screenshot to read).

The headline was what grabbed me, for I wouldn’t be keen on somebody important in the Biden administration having “troubling” views on free speech. It turns out that I’m not sure how important Timothy Wu is (Biden appointed him to the National Economic Council), but he does write op-eds for the New York Times and has spent a lot of time criticizing the biases of social media networks like Facebook, so let’s see what he says.

Taibbi’s point is that although the First Amendment isn’t in danger—not with the Supreme Court as it is—the actions of Twitter, Facebook, and other such venues do endanger speech. It happens, argues Taibbi, because the Left is now trying to get those companies to censor the kind of speech they don’t like. (I’m not arguing, of course, that only the Left is censorious. We know that the opposite is true: remember Donald Trump and the “fake news” trope?) But now that the Left is in power in the executive and legislative branches, Taibbi’s worried that they are going to control what can be said on social media.

Here’s Taibbi’s take on Wu’s views (Taibbi’s words):

The Cliff’s Notes version of Wu’s thesis:

— The framers wrote the Bill of Rights in an atmosphere where speech was expensive and rare. The Internet made speech cheap, and human attentionrare. Speech-hostile societies like Russia and China have already shown how to capitalize on this “cheap speech” era, eschewing censorship and bans in favor of “flooding” the Internet with pro-government propaganda.

— As a result, those who place faith in the First Amendment to solve speech dilemmas should “admit defeat” and imagine new solutions for repelling foreign propaganda, fake news, and other problems. “In some cases,” Wu writes, “this could mean that the First Amendment must broaden its own reach to encompass new techniques of speech control.” What might that look like? He writes, without irony: “I think the elected branches should be allowed, within reasonable limits, to try returning the country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s.”

— More ominously, Wu suggests that in modern times, the government may be more of a bystander to a problem in which private platforms play the largest roles. Therefore, a potential solution (emphasis mine) “boils down to asking whether these platforms should adopt (or be forced to adopt) norms and policies traditionally associated with twentieth-century journalism.”

That last line is what should make speech advocates worry.

Why should we worry? Because, says Taibbi, authoritarian “progressive” liberals may be looking not to break up companies like Facebook, but rather to influence them to ban just those sources that they don’t like.  As evidence for this, Taibbi posts this video of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilling Mark Zuckerberg before Congress (“AOC” is, of course, the face of “progressive Democrats”):

His take:

You can see this mentality in the repeated exchanges between Congress and Silicon Valley executives. An example is the celebrated October 23, 2019 questioning of Mark Zuckerberg by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a House Financial Services Committee hearing. The congresswoman, as staunch a believer in the new approach to speech as there is in modern Democratic Party politics, repeatedly asks Zuckerberg questions like, “So, you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies?” and “Why you label the Daily Caller, a publication well-documented with ties to white supremacists, as an official fact-checker for Facebook?”

Grasping that everyone who’s ever thought about speech issues throughout our history has been concerned with the publication of falsehoods, incitement to violence, libel, hate speech, and other problems, the issue here isn’t the what, but the who. The question isn’t whether or not you think the Daily Caller should be fact-checking, but whether you think it’s appropriate to leave Mark Zuckerberg in charge of naming anyone at all a fact-checker. AOC doesn’t seem to be upset that Zuckerberg has so much authority, but rather that he’s not using it to her liking.

While the first bit of the grilling didn’t seem so bad, I could see by the end what Taibbi was worried about. Zuckerberg isn’t concerned about angering the Right; he’s worried about angering the Left, who now have the power to monitor him and, if he doesn’t act the way they want, to shut him down.  While of course companies like Facebook should and do monitor First Amendment violations like false advertising and threats or defamation, they should, in my view, conform as closely to the First Amendment as they can, realizing that they do this voluntarily since they’re not arms of the government. Why should “offensive” but legal speech be allowed in public but banned on Facebook?

To prove libel or slander, which are not permitted under the First Amendment, you have to show that the poster deliberately lied knowing it would cause damage to someone. And that’s not easy to do on a platform the size of Facebook. I tend to want them to err on the side of permitting speech, and I’m not sure that AOC is on that boat.

Finally, Taibbi has one more worry: Wu’s comment, “I think the elected branches should be allowed, within reasonable limits, to try returning the country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s.”

Taibbi’s take:

Wu’s comment about “returning… to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s” is telling. This was a disastrous period in American media that not only resulted in a historically repressive atmosphere of conformity, but saw all sorts of glaring social problems covered up or de-emphasized with relative ease, from Jim Crow laws to fraudulent propaganda about communist infiltration to overthrows and assassinations in foreign countries.

The wink-wink arrangement that big media companies had with the government persisted through the early sixties, and enabled horribly destructive lies about everything from the Bay of Pigs catastrophe to the Missile Gap to go mostly unchallenged, for a simple reason: if you give someone formal or informal power to choke off lies, they themselves may now lie with impunity. It’s Whac-a-Mole: in an effort to solve one problem, you create a much bigger one elsewhere, incentivizing official deceptions.

That 1950s period is attractive to modern politicians because it was a top-down system. This was the era in which worship of rule by technocratic experts became common, when the wisdom of the “Best and the Brightest” was unchallenged. A yearning to return to those times runs through these new theories about speech, and is prevalent throughout today’s Washington, a city that seems to think everything should be run by people with graduate degrees.

And his conclusion:

Going back to a system of stewardship of the information landscape by such types isn’t a 21st-century idea. It’s a proven 20th-century failure, and signing up Silicon Valley for a journey backward in time won’t make it work any better.

Well, I don’t know whether to worry, but I’ll put this on the back burner, for there are real violations of the First Amendment going on in organizations like public schools and universities that must adhere to Constitutional freedom of speech. However, some readers must have thought more deeply about this issue than I, and I welcome your thoughts below.

______________

UPDATE: In his latest Substack column (paywalled, but you can see the entirety in an email if you subscribe), Glenn Greeenwald faults Zuckerberg for being scripted and robotic, but also the Democrates for favoring social-media censorship:

But it is vital not to lose sight of how truly despotic hearings like this are. It is easy to overlook because we have become so accustomed to political leaders successfully demanding that social media companies censor the internet in accordance with their whims. Recall that Parler, at the time it was the most-downloaded app in the country, was removed in January from the Apple and Google Play Stores and then denied internet service by Amazon, only after two very prominent Democratic House members publicly demanded this. At the last pro-censorship hearing convened by Congress, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) explicitly declared that the Democrats’ grievance is not that these companies are censoring too much but rather not enough. One Democrat after the next at Thursday’s hearing described all the content on the internet they want gone: or else. Many of them said this explicitly.

 

Gender studies professor has freedom of speech chilled for “transphobia”

March 26, 2021 • 10:15 am

This instance of free-speech suppression has a twist, as the victim is an endowed professor of gender and women’s studies at a public university. She’s Donna M. Hughes, who holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Endowed Chair of Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island (URI).  She’s known for her work on human trafficking and sex work, but has now ventured into the minefield of transgender analysis. As Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reports, her university has, while grudgingly affirming her freedom of speech (always guaranteed at state schools), nevertheless done everything it can to demonize her and distance itself from her. Why? Because she feels—as do I—that there are some limits to the rights and privileges of transgender women considered as “women”. That makes Hughes, of course, a “transphobe”.

Click the screenshot to read the piece by Coleen Flaherty.

Hughes was somewhat out of mainstream feminist ideology when she wrote in the past that “there’s a fine line between sex work and sex trafficking and that legalizing prostitution helps only pimps and johns, not sex workers.” But that didn’t get her in nearly as much trouble as her February essay in 4W (a “fourth wave feminist” site), in which she not only called out QAnon, but made an analogy with that group and some of the proponents of the “transsexual women are fully women” view:

The political left is quick to denounce the campaign of disinformation that led to the Capitol riot on January 6. But fake news and harmful politicized beliefs leading to real harm are not solely a right-wing phenomenon. The American political left is increasingly diving headfirst into their own world of lies and fantasy and, unlike in the imaginary world of QAnon, real children are becoming actual victims.

The trans-sex fantasy, the belief that a person can change his or her sex, either from male to female or from female to male, is spreading largely unquestioned among the political left.

The trans-sex fantasy returns us to the question: “What is a woman?”. . .

. . .The trans-sex/“gender identity” ideology challenges same-sex rights, particularly those of women and girls. Interestingly, men and boys have had no attack on their rights. The biological category of sex, particularly women’s sex, is being smashed. Women and girls are expected to give up their places of privacy such as restrooms, locker rooms, and even prison cells. When biological males identify as trans-women, they can compete in women’s and girls’ sports. There are now cases of women being injured, some severely, by biologically larger and stronger biological men competing as “transwomen.” In the most well-known case in 2014, a transgender competitor broke the skull (linked video is graphic) of a female during a mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. In Fall 2020, World Rugby banned the participation of transwomen (biological males) in rugby citing the high risk of injury. Even Title IX, which granted women equal access to educational opportunities, such as those provided by sports and scholarships, are being taken away. It used to be when someone took unfair advantage, we’d call it cheating, but that is no longer recognized in this fantasy world.

The dystopian trans-sex/“gender identity” world claims that female mammalian characteristics should be redefined and disappeared from the female body to satisfy the feelings of biological males who identify as women. Basic biological words like breast and vagina are replaced by misogynistic, trans-sex/trans-gender language so that a female has a “front hole” instead of a vagina; females “chest feed” instead of breastfeed. All references to women disappear into terms such: “people who menstruate,” “people with uteruses,” “a pregnant person,” or “a birthing parent.” No such changes in terms are proposed for men’s bodies and anatomy. These redefinitions are hatred targeted at women’s bodies and their rights.

Strong stuff, but not irrational or hateful stuff. Nevertheless, that can’t be allowed to stand in a liberal university! And so, as IHE reports, the University of Rhode Island has issued the usual statement that criticizes the views of a faculty member while at the same time saying that it “honors and respects” her right of freedom of speech. That’s a form of hypocrisy. A good free-speech university, like the University of Chicago is at present, affirms that it will make no official statement supporting political, ideological, or moral views, and in response to the mob that’s descending on Hughes, would have said something like “Professor Hughes has the right to say whatever she wants, and the University supports that right.”

But URI has to flaunt its virtue, and so issued the statement below:

I find this statement weaselly to the extreme. While it’s entirely proper for the URI to have a page of resources and policies for supporting transgender students, faculty, or staff, it should not issue statements criticizing individual faculty members’ political views. (They even name Hughes!). What that does, as Hughes claims in the article, is to chill the speech of those who hold similar views, and it’s not at all “transphobic” to want a rational discussion about the extent to which transgender women (or men) are identical to biological women (or men). In other words, URI’s statement acts to squelch the speech of others—and they are many—who want a public discussion of the issue, and a discussion without being demonized as a “transphobe.”  This is why the University of Chicago enshrined in the Kalven Report the principle of not officially endorsing political/ideological/moral views. (Faculty members and others, of course, are free to issue their own personal statements on the issue.) Imagine how brave you’d have to be to risk being named as a public enemy by your own university!

It’s no wonder that Hughes takes this as an affront. It’s a blatant attempt to stifle the speech of URI members who have views different from those of extreme pro-trans-rights people.  The statement below says, in effect, that “Hughes can say what she wants, but she really shouldn’t have said this stuff”:

A faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights are not boundless, however, and should be exercised responsibly with due regard for the faculty member’s other obligations, including their obligations to the University’s students and the University community. As stated in the above referenced documents, faculty have a special obligation to show due respect for the opinions of others and to “exercise critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint” in transmitting their personal opinions.

In other words, her own University is calling Hughes irresponsible and disrespectful of the opinions of others, lacking “critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint”. If that’s not an attempt to stifle speech that’s not ideologically approved, I don’t know what is.

I could go on, but you can read the articles for yourself. Let me just add that Hughes has a lawyer, which means that a free-speech/academic freedom lawsuit may be in the offing. While the University may have had the right to publicly criticize Hughes’s views, and even name her, any respectable institution wouldn’t have done that, nor implied in the statement that there are limitations to freedom of speech and academic freedom. I have no respect for what URI has done to Hughes.

And here’s a statement she gave to IHE:

Via email, Hughes said it’s “just sad that we have reached a point in society where difficult issues cannot be freely and openly discussed without resort to personal attacks and calls for censorship.”

The marketplace of ideas, she added, “has broken down and increasingly, university faculty are terrified to speak out on a wide range of important issues for fear that — as seems to be happening here — they will draw criticism from their students and their institution will throw them under the bus.”

Bingo. No academic institution should make its members afraid to express views on political issues, nor try to enforce a political orthodoxy, no matter what it is. They can affirm that they won’t discriminate against various targeted groups (after all, that creates a climate for free discussion), but that’s as far as it should go.

h/t: William

Wendy Kaminer on free speech, compulsory race and bias training, and why they’re related

March 25, 2021 • 9:30 am

Because the “progressive” Left brooks no criticism, if you’re against the pernicious form of anti-racism promulgated by the people John McWhorter calls “the elect,” or are worried about the divisiveness and hatred that, ironically, is promulgated by Critical Race Theory, then you wind up finding yourself in bed with some unsavory people—as if you had a drunken assignation with someone who, by daylight, is repugnant. And by that I mean some of the more extreme conservatives.

So it’s a bit of a relief to find an ally in someone with impeccable liberal credentials, who’s advocated for free speech, women’s rights, and who was a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union for years. I’m speaking of lawyer and author Wendy Kaminer, who is only two days older than I am. I’ve read several of her books and always found her not only liberal, but levelheaded and clear in her thinking. And her article in a recent Tablet, on the invidious nature of compulsory race and bias training (a piece that would never, of course, appear in the New York Times), should be read as the views of a left-centrist.

Click on the screenshot to see the article (scroll down after clicking):

The answer to Kaminer’s question is “probably not,” for, as she argues, even left-wing judges would be loath to deny to whites the same kind of protections against racially based opprobrium that they would give to blacks. Just as one cannot force black people to get training to overcome any bias against whites, and be criticized in a group because of their skin color, so the reverse must hold as well, regardless of one’s admirable intentions. Nor can the government, at least in public institutions, “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” (This is a quote by Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in a case which prohibited schools from forcing students to salute the American flag.)

Yet such forced profession is precisely what bias training, as described by Jodi Shaw, intends to do: compel its consumers to admit to their biases and racism, even if they don’t feel they’re bigots. Kaminer describes the case of Jodi Shaw, which we already know about. Although her complaint is against a private school (Smith “College”), Shaw’s upcoming lawsuit could be based on “state and federal workplace discrimination.”

Kaminer also details a case brought by a Nevada student against his charter school, and I haven’t described this. Here’s Kaminer’s summary:

High school senior William Clark and his mother, Gabrielle, are suing Democracy Prep, a Nevada charter school, for punishing William, subjecting him to a hostile educational environment, and threatening to deny him a diploma for refusing to participate in mandatory social justice training. The curriculum, titled “sociology of change,” declared that “reverse racism doesn’t exist,” and required students to “make professions about their gender, sex, religious and racial identities”; it then “subjected those professions to interrogation, scrutiny, and derogatory labeling,” Clark’s complaint alleges. William, a light-skinned, mixed-race student, is the only apparent white student in his class, and his various identities, including his Christianity, categorized him as an oppressor: According to the curriculum, he had an “inherent belief in the inferiority” of others and was instructed to “unlearn” the principles instilled in him by his mother, a conservative Christian.

The Clarks are seeking an injunction in federal court allowing William to graduate, deleting his failing grade for the course, and demanding monetary damages. They invoke his rights under federal equal education guarantees (Title VI and Title IX) and his First Amendment right against compelled speech. . .

Given the intransigence of CRT advocates, it will take lawsuits like these to force them to stop the indoctrinations. And it’s helpful for those of us who hold views that could get us tarred with phony “racism” epithets to nevertheless make our cases, rationally. As Kaminer notes in the video below, many students indoctrinated in this stuff simply haven’t learned how to argue rationally, and just hurl names or yell instead.

While Kaminer, who says she’s an “old fashioned liberal,” is a bit worried by having to associate by groups that are on the extreme right, she nevertheless lays out her views, to wit:

We don’t always enjoy the legal right to act on our convictions, but we should enjoy an inalienable freedom to harbor and express them. Anti-racism programs that aim to compel students and employees to “unlearn” their beliefs, and internalize new, ideologically mandated self-images, violate fundamental freedoms of speech and conscience. The likelihood that they’ll succeed mainly in promoting self-censorship and insincere self-flagellations doesn’t mitigate their intolerance of dissent and intrusive authoritarianism.

Does structural racism exist? I believe so. But sending white people to mandatory thought reform camps seems more likely to impede than advance efforts to redress it. Do many, maybe most of us, harbor unconscious biases? Probably. But they’re not the business of our teachers or employers, much less our legislators.

Social justice/anti-racism trainers who disagree and consider me a racist are free to evangelize, and those white people eager to prove their allyship are free to submit voluntarily to their preaching. Others should be free to debate and reject it, in schools and workplaces, without suffering retaliation. It doesn’t matter if the cause of anti-racism trainers is just, when freedom of conscience is at stake: “Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men,” Justice Jackson wisely wrote in Barnette. “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters.” Of course anti-racism training refuseniks don’t risk extermination, but they do risk the loss of educational opportunities and employment on account of their race—as the cases of Jodi Shaw and William Clark make clear.

Can white people suffer race discrimination? Apparently. Discrimination is the resort of people in power, as social justice warriors correctly assert, and they hold power in compulsory anti-racism trainings and the structures that support them. As mere human beings, they’re not above abusing it.

Here’s a six-minute video from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) giving Kaminer’s views of free speech, offensiveness, and bullying (the social-media form). You may have heard these views already, but it’s good to hear them reinforced.

Another reason for opposing this mandatory (as opposed to optional) training, is that it doesn’t seem to work, with any changes quickly disappearing with time. The article below (surprisingly, from The Guardian) suggests that there are better and more permanent ways to improve race relations in and out of the workplace, including voluntary training, training developed locally rather than sourced from the outside, and focusing on positive rather than negative consequences (e.g., lawsuits).  And there are more mechanistic changes that seem to work:

Once that information is found, tried and tested methods can create change. Having a system where managers train people to move up through the ranks, rather than relying on an ad-hoc promotion system works well, particularly for women. Putting in “special recruitment structures” – which basically means you no longer recruit exclusively at historically white colleges, but also approach historically Black universities, or engineering programs with lots of women in them, also works well.

Mentorship programs that are open to everybody – so that women and people of color get mentors even if they’re at the lowest levels of a firm – are also a good way to ensure talent can rise.

“We know what kinds of systemic changes promote diversity. Pointing the finger of blame at managers, and trying to adjust their individual bias, they just don’t work. So, to me, it’s just, it’s crazy that companies are still doing these things,” explains Dobbin.

So is diversity training just a money-maker, I ask Kalev?

“Most diversity training doesn’t work. Most of it is not for free. So you can do the 1+1,” she says.

 

How to ensure academic freedom

March 17, 2021 • 1:45 pm

The article below, from Quillette, is by Eric Kaufmann, a professor of Politics at Birkbeck College of the University of London, who works with the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI).  Kaufmann’s paper reports on a study of attitudes towards free expression in the U.K. and U.S. His U.K. work led to  a CSPI report that apparently became the basis of an official UK government policy paper on Academic Freedom and Free Speech that will likely become U.K. law.

You can click on the screenshot to read the piece for free; below I’ll just list Kaurfmann’s major findings and then his conclusions, which involve government intervention to ensure the freedoms he wants preserved. Note that the sample size was not large.

Kaufmann’s findings:

a.)  Few academics have been subject to threats or disciplinary actions over their speech, but it’s been far more frequent in the U.S. than in the UK.

b.) Right-wing academics, especially if they are Ph.D. students, experience threats and disciplinary actions far more often than do left-wing academics.

c.) While most academics would not support campaigns to oust other academics who take unpopular possessions (Kaufmann gives a list of five hypotheticals, of which I put two below), a substantial proportion (around 40%) would remain neutral, not opposing campaigns to fire professors. This is a “silent moiety” that, says Kauffmann, are enablers of those who censor others.

Here are two of his five examples of unpopular positions that were used to query his subjects; these are based on real episodes on campuses:

  1. If a staff member in your institution did research showing that greater ethnic diversity leads to increased societal tension and poorer social outcomes, would you support or oppose efforts by students/the administration to let the staff member know that they should find work elsewhere? [Support, oppose, neither support nor oppose, don’t know]
  2. If a staff member in your institution did research showing that the British Empire did more good than harm, would you support or oppose efforts by students/the administration to let the staff member know that they should find work elsewhere? [Support, oppose, neither support nor oppose, don’t know]

d). Roughly half of academics, and a large majority of Ph.D. students, support “diversity quotas” for reading lists.

e). Support for dismissing academics who hold unpopular positions decreases significantly with age (5 classes from 35 to 65 years old). It’s the young folk who are the authoritarians.

f). Self-reporting by academics on whether they find themselves in a hostile climate for their beliefs was much higher for right-wing academics than for far-left, fairly-left, or centrist academics. This is true in both the U.S. and U.K.

Not much of this surprised me—with the exception of high support for diversity quotas on reading lists.

Because Kaufmann’s UK research actually translated into government action, he sees using the government as a way to ensure academic freedom. I’m not completely convinced of using that route, though. Here are what he recommended for the UK, with the first what the government is apparently going to do:

Importantly, most of our recommendations were adopted in the government’s new Academic Freedom white paper, which is likely to become law later this year. Foremost among these is the creation of the new position of Academic Freedom Champion on the Office for Students (OfS), the sector regulator. This individual will be tasked with proactively auditing universities for compliance with their free speech duty to not only defend, but promote, academic freedom. In addition, this office will act as an ombudsman to hear cases from individuals whose rights have been abridged by their universities. The new bill gives the regulator teeth to fine universities, which is vital. Only if the cost is high will administrators be able to face down activists and tell them that they cannot restrict the freedom of dissenting academics, no matter how much they wish to do so.

The second:

. . . our recommendations also include an explicit mention of political discrimination as grounds for bringing a complaint against a university. I recommend that university officers, when speaking in an official administrative capacity, be governed by a duty to remain politically neutral on any issue not directly concerned with the university’s narrow sectoral self-interest.

And the third:

Finally, I’ve argued for a requirement that universities show equivalent action between policies to promote traditional forms of diversity and equality, and moves to promote viewpoint diversity and equality. Institutions would be free to dial down all forms of equity and diversity, but should not be permitted to privilege identity-based diversity over political diversity.

This is all contingent, of course, on the first recommendation: that there be a government body to ensure academic freedom, headed by one individual (a Big Brother?). That seems dangerous, for that individual has enormous power to shape academia via fining universities. There’s a danger that that individual, rather than being neutral, might help bend academic discourse towards what’s acceptable to the current government. As Hitchens used to say, “Who would you entrust to do that job?” I prefer the alternative of private-sector pressuring, as is done by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and similar organizations like the AFA, which has the power to bring lawsuits against universities.

As for the second, I’m heartily in favor of it, for it is the embodiment of the University of Chicago’s Kalven Principle that the University take no official ideological, moral, or political positions—with a few rare exceptions.

As for the third, I’m not sure. While viewpoint diversity is desirable as well as ethnic diversity, there’s a rationale for promoting ethnic diversity that doesn’t hold for other forms. And that rationale is to increase ethnic diversity as a form of reparations for bigotry in the past. That is affirmative action, and I’m in favor of a limited form of it.

“Dear University of Vermont”: a Jodi Shaw equivalent at a different school

March 10, 2021 • 9:45 am

I was alerted to this video by the tweet of Jodi Shaw (below). Shaw, of course, was involved in a huge kerfuffle with Smith College, which first got publicized when she put up a video on YouTube called “Dear Smith College: I have a few requests.

Now there’s a Shaw equivalent at the University of Vermont: Professor Aaron Kindsvatter, who teaches about adult learning and mental health at the Unversity’s College of Education and Social Services. He made a nine-minute video below the tweet. You may have to watch it on YouTube, where for some reason it’s restricted by Kindsvatter himself. The video resembles that of Shaw, whose own videos probably inspired him, in saying that an atmosphere of anti-white racism pervades his campus—and in a very similar way that, according to Shaw, pervades the campus of Smith College.

Kindsvatter’s plaint mirrors that of Shaw: he’s calling out “discrimination against whiteness” at the University of Vermont, a stance adopted by some “desperate persons who need a group to hate.”  He’s worried that this ideology will find its way to hate groups, who will adopt its methods. I’m not sure what methods he’s referring to, however.

At any rate, Kindsvatter finds it hard to see how it became possible for people to denigrate anybody by their race “on such a progressive campus.” This was, he says, instantiated by a recent teach-in on “whiteness” in which “a number of social ills were associated in a causal way with people of a particular race” (he means white people).

He also learned that pushing back against anti-whiteness was “not okay”, and has learned that his University is instituting policies that will chill dissent, like adopting the official definitions of racism and antiracism from Ibram X. Kendi. He concludes that he would be considered a “racist” according to those definitions, which makes it difficult to dissent from University policy.

His requests, similar to those of Shaw.

1.) Stop reducing his personhood to a racial category in the teach-ins.

2.) Do not divide the university into groups of racial categories.

3.) Stop telling Kindsvatter that his values are “harmful” because he doesn’t adhere to the prevailing ideology.

4.) Do not present him with the alternatives of either accepting the policies of Kendi and DiAngelo, or being considered a racist (he says he’s read both authors “and did not find wisdom there”).

In the end, he says the University may be violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits “discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, and national origin is prohibited.” He calls for those who share his concerns to meet up and talk about it.

Is he, like Jodi Shaw, doomed to be toast? I suspect he’s going to get a lot of flak from the administration, but we shall see. Perhaps there’s another GoFundMe campaign in the future. . .

A new and powerful organization to preserve freedom of expression in universities

March 9, 2021 • 1:30 pm

There seems to be lots of organizations forming to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech, and the three I know of (two of which haven’t yet been announced) include a mixture of liberals and conservatives, which is great. After all, freedom of thought and expression isn’t the bailiwick of any one side of the political spectrum.

I found out about this one from my colleague Brian Leiter, who posted this on his website Leiter Reports: (CHE is the Chronicles of Higher Education, and you should read their article; link below). Brian’s short post:

“Academic Freedom Alliance”

Another violation of academic freedom at The University of Chicago

March 8, 2021 • 12:30 pm

As I’ve written here before, the University of Chicago has several “foundational principles”. These include the famous Chicago Principles of Free Expression, promoting complete freedom of speech, which have been adopted by over sixty universities. They also include the Kalven Report, which prohibits the University, with a few rare exceptions, of taking official political, moral, or ideological stands. Both of these principles are designed to foster the widest possible discussion of issues and to avoid “chilling speech”, that is, to avoid creating a climate in which people feel intimidated from speaking their minds. The latter point is especially salient in these times of ideological conformity, especially in colleges (and that means, in general, conformity to the Progressive Left).

I recently found the following statement on the University webpage of the Master of Arts Program in Humanities, described as “a rigorous, one-year graduate program that allows students to focus within a specific academic discipline—such as Art History or English—or to explore their interdisciplinary interests.”

Although it is signed by some faculty, as opposed to the numerous other unsigned statements that appear as official blanket endorsements of ideologies on department or program webpages (e.g., here), it still appears as an official statement by an organization, and is therefore liable to chill speech. I see this as an egregious violation of the Kalven Report.

Note that it not only describes the death of George Floyd as a “police murder”, which is surely a debatable issue rather than a settled matter (can we please wait for the trial and verdict?), but, more important, pushes adherence to a certain point of view as well as calling for action (following the program of Black Lives Matter, defunding the campus police, and supporting current protests). This is a political and ideological statement from an organized unit of the University. It therefore does not belong on an official University webpage. Although I adhere to parts of the statement, even if I adhered to all of it I would still consider it a violation of the University of Chicago’s principles.

As the Kalven Report notes, and I agree, the faculty are welcome to write whatever they want as individuals or groups, but not when appearing to speak for the University or one of its units:

In October of last year, President Robert Zimmer reaffirmed that these principles and clarified that they don’t just apply to the University administration, but to units of the University as well:

The principles of the Kalven Report apply not only to the University as a whole, but to the departments, schools, centers, and divisions as well, and for exactly the same reasons, i.e., these essential components of the University should not take institutional positions on public issues that are not directly related to the core functioning of the University.  Of course, faculty, students, and staff, either individually or in groups, are free to take positions as individuals or as collections of individuals, but this expression must be distinct from expression advanced by official units of the University. This distinction must be maintained, because the process of assessing complex issues must always allow for the broadest diversity of views to be heard and held, and the diversity of views that lies at the heart of a great university must never be chilled by formal institutional positions on such issues.

I love that paragraph, as well as the one above it. “It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.”

Some departments, faculty, and students apparently don’t realize that by pushing their political points of view as statements of departments, committees, and other official units of the University, they are chilling the speech of those who might disagree with them. By all means, write on your own time; write a letter to the Chicago Maroon newspaper; write an op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education giving your personal take on politics. But don’t try to make your views into official University statements, thereby inhibiting free discussion.

Glenn Greenwald excoriates Dems for assailing free speech

February 25, 2021 • 12:30 pm

As I’ve said before, I find Glenn Greenwald a mixed bag, but it’s worth checking his Substack site to see what he has to say. This week’s column is a critique of the Democrats’ new drive to single out media venues as a possible way of suppressing conservative speech. The fight between government and social media/regular media is not something I follow regularly, but Greenwald does, and he’s angry about the use of government to intimidate those who provide news. He’s not particularly concerned about regulating news as being “fake” because, he says, authoritarians have always used the excuse of “fake and harmful news” to suppress their opponents.

Click on the screenshot to read: (it’s free, but you should consider subscribing if you read often):

Democratic intimidation, says Greenwald, has taken several forms: calling people like Zuckerberg before Congressional committees (three times in less than three months), a hearing that started yesterday before part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called “Fanning the flames: disinformation and extremism in the media,” and the fact of House Democrats sending letters to the nation’s largest cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and to distributors like Amazon, Apple, and Google, with a list of demands. I have to say, this list is pretty heavy-handed:

But you say that these companies are damaging the country by promulgating “fake news” (invariably conservative news)? Here’s Greenwald’s response:

The way Democrats justify this to themselves is important to consider. They do not, of course, explicitly acknowledge that they are engaged in authoritarian assaults on free speech and a free press. Not even the most despotic tyrants like to think of themselves in that way. All tyrants concoct theories and excuses to justify their censorship as noble and necessary.

Indeed, the justifying script Democrats are using here is the one most commonly employed by autocrats around the world to silence their critics. Those they seek to silence are not merely expressing a different view, but are dangerous. They are not merely advocating alternative ideologies but are destabilizing society with lies, fake news, and speech that deliberately incites violence, subversion and domestic terrorism.

In her boastful posting, Rep. Eshoo says her efforts targeting these cable outlets are necessary because “misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse.” This is the rationale invoked by virtually every repressive state to imprison journalists and ban media outlets.

The Democrats sound a great deal like the Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel el-Sisi. Just two weeks ago, Sisi’s regime finally released an Al Jazeera journalist who had been imprisoned for four years based on accusations that he had “spread false news” and was guilty of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.” Sound familiar? It should, since that is precisely what House Democrats are saying to ennoble their multi-pronged assault on free expression.

And, avers Greenwald, it’s not like liberals don’t pollute the waters with fake news:

Are there conspiracy theories and disinformation sometimes found on the conservative cable outlets which House Democrats want taken off the air? Of course there are: all media outlets disseminate conspiracy theories and fake news at times. MSNBC and CNN spent four years endorsing the most deranged conspiracy theory imaginable, one with very toxic roots in the Cold War: namely, the McCarthyite script that the Kremlin had taken over control of key U.S. institutions through sexual blackmail over the President, invasions into the nation’s heating system and electric grid, and criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the Trump campaign to hack into Democrats’ emails.

He shows a screenshot:

So what’s Greenwald’s solution? Let the companies say whatever they want? (This would be close to my solution, so long as what they say doesn’t transgress the First Amendment.) But he offers another palliative, and one that, if you’ll forgive me, doesn’t seem very workable:

. . . as much as I loathe so much of what those outlets do, it is not the role of the government to regulate let alone silence them. The corrective is for journalists to rebuild trust and faith with the public by exposing their misinformation and proving to the public that they will do accurate and reliable reporting regardless of which faction is aggrandized or angered.

He’s right about the government keeping its hands off the press, but do journalists really have any desire or incentive to rebuild public trust and faith by exposing information? I don’t see that happening with either the Right- or Left-Wing media (I’m not as familiar with the Right, as I don’t read them so much, but who at the New York Times is policing the paper? Not the executive editor, that’s for sure!)

Some readers won’t like Greenwald’s comparison in the last paragraph, but, like Rod Serling, I submit it for your approval:

But corporate media outlets and Democrats (excuse the redundancy) who spent the last four years posturing as virulent defenders of press freedoms never meant it. Like so much of what they claimed to believe, it was fraudulent. The proof is that they are now mute, if not supportive, as Democrats use their status as majority party to launch an assault against press freedoms far more egregious than anything Trump got close to doing.

As I said, this isn’t exactly an area I follow, so I’d be especially interested in readers’ comments. Are the Dems hypocrites in this respect?

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.