The Guardian article, by Suriyah Bi, links to her work compiling an “Index of Islamophobia,” in which one can give numerical scores to the types and severity of anti-Muslim actions, which includes not just physical violence or harassment (rightly regarded as legally intolerable bigotry), but also verbal and pictorial mockery of Muslims and Islam that would be legal in America. The index is intended as a guide for how judges would punish transgressors. An excerpt:
How might it work? Let’s look at some flagrant examples of Islamophobia, including Boris Johnson’s infamous comments on burqa-wearing Muslim women as “letterboxes”, the distribution of violence-inducing “Punish a Muslim Day” letters, a headscarf being torn from a Muslim woman, and being called Shamima Begum in the workplace.
With reference to Johnson’s comments, his then position as foreign secretary contributed to a score of 10 in the recklessness category. A score of 10 was also applied in the impact category, as the comments reportedly orchestrated a 375% rise in Islamophobic attacks against Muslim women in the UK. Intensity and intention were scored at a seven and eight respectively, resulting in a total index score of 35. As a legal case before a judge, the high index score would place squarely at the heart of the prosecution process the human impact of Johnson’s comments, compelling an appropriate sentence.
If we consider being called Shamima Begum in the workplace – an experience several Muslim women have shared with me – a score of seven was applied across the four sub-categories. An index score of 28 would enable a judge to situate the incident on the scale of severity, thus handing down a lesser but appropriate sentence to, for example, the Johnson case.
Note that even the “letterbox” statement, which is tasteless, is considered legally punishable. It goes on:
My proposed form therefore allows for victims and police professionals to identify the laws that have been breached for any and all cases of Islamophobia. A completed index and pathways to prosecution form would help judges to contextualise the incidents from the experience of the victim.
But there is more that must be done if the courts are to be equipped to bear down on Islamophobia. The Equality Act 2010 must be updated to criminalise its deliberate deployment in print and media. There should also be a specific offence of Islamophobia in the legal landscape. The Crown Prosecution Service must urgently define “hostility” in order to bring incidents of Islamophobia (and other religious hate crimes) to justice. Reviews are also needed to update the Public Order Act 1986 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
I’m not sure what the Equality Act of 2010 states specifically, but I don’t think it covers hate crimes so much as discrimination. At least Bi has the decency to lump “other religious hate crimes” along with Islamophobia, but, as Jesus points out, Muslims are guilty of Jew-hatred all the time.
And to make it global, here I am some years ago in the Mani in Greece, holding up a feral cat at a fish restaurant. I believe i named it Odysseus:
*In the news, climate-change activists threw two cans of tomato soup on a van Gogh painting of sunflowers at London’s National Gallery. Click to read the story:
Fortunately, there was glass in front of this famous painting (van Gogh did several versions of “Sunflowers”), so only minor damage was done to the frame, while the two miscreants glued their hands to the wall. They were both arrested.
At just after 11 a.m. on Friday, two members of Just Stop Oil, a group that seeks to stop oil and gas extraction in Britain, entered room 43 of the National Gallery in London, opened two tins of Heinz cream of tomato soup, and threw them at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” one of the treasures of the museum’s collection. It is one of six surviving images of sunflowers that van Gogh made in 1888 and 1889.
As the gloppy orange liquid dripped down the glazing that was protecting the painting, the pair smeared their hands with glue and stuck themselves to the wall beneath the work. In videos of the incident posted online, gallery visitors can be heard saying “Oh, my gosh!” and calling for security; one of the activists delivers a speech in which they ask visitors whether they “are more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?”
. . .Mel Carrington, a spokeswoman for Just Stop Oil, said in a telephone interview that the group’s intention had been to generate publicity and to create debate around the climate crisis and the actions needed to stop it.
Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” had nothing to do with climate change, she said. It was simply “an iconic painting, by an iconic painter” and an attack on it would generate headlines. But the choice of soup was more symbolic, Carrington said: In Britain, many householders were struggling to pay fuel and food bills because of soaring inflation, and some could not even afford to heat up a can of soup. The government should be helping ordinary people deal with “the cost of living crisis,” rather than enabling fossil fuel extraction, she added.
Is there anybody willing to defend this group, or the two morons who threw the soup? I found only one comment in the NYT defending the action, but I didn’t read all 972 comments. The painting had nothing to do with oil, van Gogh is one of the world’s most beloved artists, and the defacing will do nothing but degrade the “Just Stop Oil” group.
*Once again the Washington Post’s staff writer Aaron Blake lists the top ten Democratic Presidential candidates for 2024, which at this point serves only as an amusing exercise in prognostication. Here they are from 1 to 10, with their position in the last ranking given) in parentheses.
Joe Biden (1). Too old, but if he runs, he’s got my vote.
Pete Buttigieg (2). My favorite candidate to date.
Kamala Harris (3). God help us if she’s nominated.
Gretchen Whitmer (8). She’s moved up quite a bit in this ranking, and is my favorite woman candidate.
Gavin Newsom (7). A dissimulator.
Amy Klobuchar (4). Another creditable candidate.
Bernie Sanders (6). WAY too old (he’ll be 83 at election time). I voted for him in the last primary election, but wouldn’t again.
Elizabeth Warren (5). Not for me.
Roy Cooper (9). I haven’t followed him closely enough to judge.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thank goodness she has no chance of winning. Her character is summed up in her already making excuses for losing:
On the one hand, she said, she wants to believe someone like her could run and win. “But at the same time,” she said, “my experience here has given me a front-row seat to how deeply and unconsciously, as well as consciously, so many people in this country hate women. And they hate women of color.”
But let’s face it: if Uncle Joe wants to run in 2024, the Dems will let him. However, someone should talk him out of it. He’s done a good job before, but I don’t want the President to die in office.
Since opening five decades ago under the shah, Evin Prison has been a symbol of political repression in Iran. It is the detention center for an untold number of protesters who have demonstrated against the Iranian government since the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman in police custody for allegedly not adhering to strict Islamic dress code, authorities said.
Violence erupted Saturday between detained protesters and Evin Prison guards, with a sewing workshop being set on fire, according to Iran’s state media. Smoke could be seen rising from Evin Prison in northern Tehran, and gunshots and explosions could be heard on numerous videos shared on social media.
. . . The blaze and unrest among Evin prisoners demonstrated how the uprising against the Iranian government has become the biggest challenge of President Ebrahim Raisi’s young government. The protests started with Ms. Amini’s death and focused on the country’s mandatory hijab, or headcovering, for women, but they have morphed into something larger, calling for the end of the strict Islamic governance ushered in with the country’s 1979 revolution.
And I predict, with less confidence than usual, that the Islamic government will indeed meet its end, perhaps in just a year or so.
*Disgraced startup fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, creator of Theranos, now has her sentencing hearing for wire fraud scheduled for November 18. She could face years in prison, though the fact that she has a kid may reduce her sentence. She also has a hearing for a new trial on Monday, though it’s unlikely her bid will succeed. Her sentencing has been delayed twice before:
After a jury convicted Holmes in January on four counts of defrauding investors out of more than $144 million, Holmes’ sentencing has been delayed twice. Originally, she was to be sentenced Sept. 26, then the date was pushed to Oct. 17. On Wednesday, Judge Edward Davila in U.S. District Court in San Jose set the new date, with the hearing to start at 10 a.m. in the courtroom where her four-month trial took place.
Holmes, 38, founded the blood-testing startup in 2003. The company closed in 2018 after a 2015 newspaper exposé led to federal investigations. Holmes in 2018 was banned for 10 years from serving as an officer or director of a public company and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine in a deal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The jury acquitted her on charges of defrauding patients.
I don’t think she’ll get another trial this time, but she’s canny, and I’m wondering if she’ll somehow manage to flee the country before she goes to jail.
From Masih. If the Iranian regime is overthrown, cellphone cameras will have played a big role. Look at this brutality!
Horrifying. The Islamic Republic security forces beating and abducting peaceful protesters and shoving them in the trunk of the car. This is a crime against humanity. People just protesting the murder of #MahsaAmini. pic.twitter.com/QvrjDGY17l
A fantastic photo from the Webb Space Telescope, and taken 5,000 light years away (that’s 29,000,000,000,000,000 miles!):
A pair of stars just over 5,000 lightyears away called Wolf–Rayet 140 orbit each other such that, every eight years, they come close enough that their stellar winds meet, compressing the gas and dust they naturally release into shells.
The Free Voice, the website of the United States Free Speech Union, takes up the issue of “words as violence”, instantiated by two issues: the claim of some Muslims that anti-Islamic speech is more dangerous than speech criticizing other faiths, and the cancellation of a Dave Chappelle comedy show in Minneapolis because some transgender activists claim that Chappelle is a “transphobe” and that his act is harmful to transsexual people. Both the religious and transsexual activists see criticisms as “violence”, demanding special immunity from both criticism and mockery. Click to read.
I’ve seen only snippets of Dave Chappelle’s act that got him in trouble, and it seemed to me to be the Lenny Bruce brand of humor: saying what makes people simultaneously laugh and be discomfited—all with the aim of getting them to examine their views. While I didn’t find it nearly as funny as some of his other bits, it is free speech, people would have filled Chappelle’s audience, and it’s wrong to allow the bullies to cancel his show on free-speech grounds.
As for Islam, I regard it as the most dangerous current religion, though Catholicism used to be at the top. Right now only four words need be said, “Charlie Hebdo” and “Salman Rushdie”. All religions should be criticized and, when necessary, mocked, and none are exempt, including Islam, which especially deserves opprobrium for its violence and oppression. (Note: I’m not saying that all Muslims are violent and oppressive.)
Author Jon Zobenica cites a paper from the journal Critical Inquiry arguing that Islam is uniquely harmed by criticism, mainly because, in contrast to Christianity (but not Orthodox Judaism!), Islam is a way of life, not merely a set of beliefs. My response is “so what”? If something offends you, don’t listen, and above all don’t try to cancel it. Or protest if you will, as vociferously as you can, but don’t claim that you’re being harmed by verbiage that’s “violent.”
This goes for Chappelle as well. Zobenica tries to defend him by a tactic I don’t find particularly palatable: showing that the rate of murder of transssexual people is much lower than people think—about 24 per year. His point seems to be that transsexuals aren’t really being “harmed” in disproportionate numbers:
The CDC and TMMP date ranges don’t exactly align, of course, and the numbers do increase (as homicides did overall, significantly, for 2020), but the percentages are a sliver of those established by Pew, indicating—reassuringly, one would think—that trans people are at the very least not disproportionately the victims of the most violent of violent crimes in America. Indeed, something like the opposite seems to be the case.
But this addresses an argument that differs from the free-speech argument: the claim that transsexual people are especially vulnerable victims of violence. While the data don’t seem to support that (and the issue of high murder of sex workers needs to be addressed), this says nothing about whether criticizing transsexual activism or making it part of a comedy routine is wrong, much less causing that “violence.” Routines like Chappelle’s almost certainly don’t provoke violence. While every death is to be mourned, and, in my view, transsexual people should be treated with respect and, with very few exceptions, given the same privileges and rights as anyone else, that view says nothing about one’s right to criticize them or make them into subjects for comedy. This might be tasteless, as people claim Chappelle’s routine is (I’d need to see it first), but to say that he—or Islam—are to be censored because they promote violence is putting the blame on the wrong people. Zobenica explains how American courts judge whether words are “violence”:
But what if there really has been someone of bigoted leanings who, after seeing a Chappelle special, was motivated to commit a hate crime against a trans person? Or what if there really has been a trans person who, after seeing a Chappelle special, felt so violated by the comic’s sentiments that he/she/they was driven to self-harm? And what if, in both cases, this could be established? Would Chappelle be responsible?
No, he would not. Just as abridging speech is a double wrong (committed not just against the speaker but also against all who have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to hear and listen to that speaker), speech itself entails a double responsibility—that of the listener as well as the speaker. Actions taken on the part of a listener are not the direct responsibility of the speaker unless that speaker has engaged in speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action,” per the Supreme Court’s June 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio (yes, the Klan case).
That same summer of 1969, Nina Simone took to a stage in Harlem and chanted to a lively and receptive audience the following words: “Are you ready black people? Are you really ready? Ready to do what is necessary? To do what is necessary to do? . . . Are you ready to kill, if necessary? Is your mind ready? Is your body ready? . . . Are you ready to smash white things? To burn buildings? Are you ready?”
One doubts there’s anything quite so explicit and exhortatory in Dave Chappelle’s oeuvre, but even if someone in the audience left that concert and saw fit to smash white things, even to kill, Simone—per the Brandenburg standard—is guilty of nothing more than performing political art (and being one of the most singular talents and distinctive voices in twentieth-century American music). Simone does sound awfully close to advocating violence, but the standard upheld in Brandenburg is that advocacy is not the same as action, and that this distinction must be kept strictly in mind, lest the urge to aggressively suppress get the better of us.
The Charlie Hebdo affair and the attacks on Salman Rushdie and others who have criticized Islam worry me. If you think of words of criticism—words that are permissible under the First Amendment—as “violence”, then you’ll be more likely to use violence against those who utter them. I don’t think Dave Chappelle or J.K. Rowling are endangered, but as the “hate speech as violence” meme spreads, who knows? Indeed, that’s what this article warns against:
As we have argued elsewhere, the danger of incessantly and recklessly equating words with violence must be far more carefully scrutinized than has become the custom. The more we’re encouraged to think of words as violence, the more some among us will likely come to think of violence as a proportional response to words. . .
This kind of rhetorical inflation has to be stopped. When someone brings up the “words as violence” trope, remind them of the decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio.
I am really isolated from the news on this trip: we get no newspapers and I have no time to either read the papers online or listen to news on television. But I gather that Elon Musk has now acquired Twitter.
I also gather that he wants to turn it into a “free speech” platform, and, as he tweeted below, his intention is to allow “free speech” that is simply speech permitted by the First Amendment as adjudicated by the courts (i.e., no personal harassment, false advertising, child pornography, speech that incites imminent lawless action such as violence, and so on).
By “free speech”, I simply mean that which matches the law.
I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.
If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect.
Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.
I see no immediate problem with this, even though Twitter, as a private company, need not abide by the First Amendment. In my view, the closer institutions like Twitter get to construing “free speech” as the courts have construed the First Amendment, the better. The same goes for universities.
Yet there are cries I see online that if Musk acquires Twitter, he will allow “hate speech” (see one example of these objections here.) God forbid, he might allow Donald Trump to tweet again! Thus people are saying that “moderation” will be needed. If that’s the case, who will be the moderator, and who will be moderated? What will be “hate speech” that should be banned, and what will be controversial speech that will not be banned?
I ask readers to discuss this issue. Is Musk’s First-Amendment policy, which will of course lead to “hate speech” (i.e., any speech some people find offensive) an execrable policy, or is it what Twitter needs? Should some people like Trump (who’s already banned from Twitter) be allowed back? Is it bad to have a Twitter policy that allows First-Amendment-permitted speech? As Hitchens asked, who would you trust to decide which speech to allow?
I’ll be reading the discussion, and am seeking edification. I have to say that I’m upset that the opponents of Musk’s “free speech” policy seem to be mostly on the Left, but I may be wrong.
I hadn’t realized that if, in the UK, if you express lawful speech, you can still be put in police records for creating a “hate incident”, described by the first link below (from the BBC) this way:
A hate incident is “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”, according to the College of Policing’s guidance on hate crimes.
(Note that it’s the perception of the “victim”—or anyone else—that makes it an “incident”. Intention itself doesn’t matter, just the perception of intention.)
And a Brit named Harry Miller, a retired policeman, created a “hate incident” by issuing, in 2018 and 2019, a number of tweets that were considered “transphobic”, including one that questioned whether transgender women were “real women”. Another tweet said “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.” That was reported as another transphobic hate tweet.
So someone complained, the cops showed up at Miller’s house and questioned him, and although his speech was legal, a record and a report of Miller’s behavior was made by the police.
It was recorded on a national database as a non-crime hate incident.
But the Court of Appeal ruled on Monday the guidance was wrongly used and it had a “chilling effect” on Mr Miller’s freedom of speech.
Speaking outside court, Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, said being offensive was “one of the cornerstones of freedom”.
“Being offensive is not, cannot and should not be an offence,” he said.
“Only when speech turns to malicious communication or targeted harassment against an individual should it be a problem.”
That, in effect, is what the First Amendment in the U.S. stipulates. While Twitter can take down Miller’s tweets as “violating community standards,” the government, in the form of the police, cannot prosecute you, nor can it give you a permanent record for doing nothing illegal.
Miller first challenged Humberside Police’s actions at the High Court, which ruled in February 2020 that the force’s response was unlawful and a “disproportionate interference” with Mr Miller’s right to freedom of expression; but also ruled that the guidance itself was legal, served “legitimate purposes” and was “not disproportionate.” That’s when Miller took his case to the higher Court of Appeals.
And the Court of Appeals just ruled for Miller (Britain’s Free Speech Union helped with the appeal):
The Court of Appeal said national rules set by the College of Policing had placed too much emphasis on the perception of transphobic hostility, despite no evidence recorded by police.
Dame Victoria Sharp, one of England’s most senior judges, said: “The net for ‘non-crime hate speech’ is an exceptionally wide one which is designed to capture speech which is perceived to be motivated by hostility… regardless of whether there is evidence that the speech is motivated by such hostility.
“The volume of non-crime hate speech is enormous and the police do not have the resources or the capacity to investigate all the complaints that are made.
“There is nothing in the guidance about excluding irrational complaints, including those where there is no evidence of hostility and little, if anything, to address the chilling effect which this may have on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”
The court heard the guidance had been revised with updates including “a strong warning against police taking a disproportionate response to reports of a non-crime hate incident”.
However, Dame Victoria added: “In my opinion [the revisions] do not go very far or not nearly far enough to address the chilling effect of perception-based recording more generally.”
An analysis of what all this means was made by Dominic Casciani, the Home and Legal Correspondent for the BBC:
Today’s ruling backs Harry Miller’s legal right to speak his mind and potentially cause offence – a freedom that he says is fundamental in the battle of ideas in a democratic society.
His victory is a headache for the College of Policing, which now has to come up with new “safeguards” to ensure that any future recording of non-crime hate incidents does not disproportionately interfere with the legal right to speak one’s mind.
That means rethinking guidance that dates back to the fallout from the 1993 racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Mr Miller says it was obvious back then what the police should have been recording: genuinely hateful gestures that were a prelude to awful crimes. He urges them today to remember that lesson and to focus on rooting out hate speech – rather than taking it upon themselves to police provocative thought and debate.
So the College of Policing has been called off, and has to rethink what it does vis-à-vis “hate speech”.
What this has come down to is a tentative ruling that takes British law on speech closer to the U.S. First Amendment, but it’s not all the way there yet. For example, saying “gas the Jews” is legal in America, but almost certainly not in Britain. And posting a video on YouTube of a dog making a Nazi salute might violate YouTube’s standards, but it’s not illegal in America. But in the UK it is, for in 2018 Mark Meechan was convicted of a “hate crime” in Scotland for an action that caused physical damage to nobody. It only hurt feelings. As the Washington Post reported:
[Meechan was] guilty of a charge under the Communications Act that he posted a video on social media and YouTube that was “anti-semitic and racist in nature” and was aggravated by religious prejudice.
Meechan was fined £800 pounds, which was seized from his bank account. I’m sure you remember the Nazi Dog Incident.
I don’t see America as the best country in the world, but it is one of the best for freedom of speech, and is superior to the UK in dealing with “hate speech”. For “hate speech” is a slippery term, and there is no good reason I can see for someone training a dog to make a Nazi salute or emitting tweets that weren’t really transphobic (though truly tranphobic tweets, like, “transsexuals shouldn’t have the same legal rights as cis people”, would also be legal). The issue is whether society incurs damage by allowing such speech, or whether it’s damaged more by chilling such speech. My view aligns with that of Mill and Hitchens, and goes along with the American court’s interpretation of the First Amendment: unless your speech creates immediate, predictable, and imminent harm to people or property, it is legal. Private companies can ban it, but the government cannot.
Miller was clearly being “chilled” by the UK’s hate-speech policy. If the government can decide that speech that hurts nobody, and is merely offensive, is illegal or can give you a mark against your name for perpetuating a “hate incident”, then speech has the potential to be impeded. And, as we know in these fraught days, nearly anything can be seen as hateful or offensive.
Good morning on Thursday, September 2, 2021: National “Grits for Breakfast” Day. The scare quotes are baffling, but don’t let them scare you: grits are very good, though I’ve met many misguided people who reject them. Here’s the optimal breakfast: grits, fried eggs, country ham with red-eye gravy, and the world’s best biscuits with homemade fruit preserves, all consumed during a seminar trip to Nashville with breakfast at the Loveless Cafe. The grits are in the bowl at upper right, first picture.
I bet you’re hungry now.
It’s also World Coconut Day, Pierce Your Ears Day, and Victory over Japan Day, celebrating the day in 1945 when the Japanese ended WWII by surrendering aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. Here’s I photo I took when touring the ship, which now rests in Pearl Harbor; there’s a plaque on the deck where the surrender took place:
Today’s Google Doodle (click on screensht) celebrates the life and achievements of Rudolf Weigl, born on this day in 1883 (d. 1957). He’s described by Wikipedia as:
. . . a Polish biologist, physician and inventor, known for creating the first effective vaccine against epidemic typhus. He was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1942 and 1948.
Weigl worked during the Holocaust to save the lives of countless Jews by developing the vaccine for typhus and providing shelter to protect those suffering under the Nazis in occupied Poland. For his contributions, he was named a Righteous Among the Nations in 2003.
He helped by Jews by employing them in his lab (the Germans were too scared to enter) and by supplying vaccine to partisans and people in the ghetto. News of the Day:
The new and highly restrictive Texas anti-abortion law went into effect yesterday, prohibiting all abortions after about six weeks of fertilization (the key feature is a fetal heartbeat). Further, there are no exceptions for rape or incest, making it extra inhumane. To make the law even more nefarious, it was designed to make it difficult to sue the state of Texas over it. (The law violates Roe v. Wade, which allows abortions up to the point of fetal viability outside the womb—ca. 6 months.) Look at this!:
Usually, a lawsuit seeking to block a law because it is unconstitutional would name state officials as defendants. However, the Texas law bars state officials from enforcing it and instead deputizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs the procedure or “aids and abets” it.
The patient may not be sued, but doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors, people who help pay for the procedure, even an Uber driver taking a patient to an abortion clinic are all potential defendants. Plaintiffs, who need not have any connection to the matter or show any injury from it, are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees recovered if they win. Prevailing defendants are not entitled to legal fees.
In other words, the law intimidates anybody abetting an abortion, including doctors, from helping, while deputizing all Texans to sue to enforce the law, paying them off to the tune of ten thousand bucks (plus legal fees). And if the defendant wins, they don’t get the legal fees.
You might think that the law was designed to go up to the Supreme Court as an attempt to challenge Roe v. Wade. But the way it was written makes it unclear if it can even go to federal courts as opposed to Texas state courts. A consortium of abortion providers appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the law from coming into effect, but the court was silent. I’m not sure whether, given the law, they can even stop it, in which case it will be a model for other states that want to control women’s reproduction. Roe v. Wade will, however, be adjudicated by the Supreme Court in its fall term, which will rule on a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. Like many, I’m worried about both of these laws.
The Associated Press did a fact check on Biden’s promises surrounding the evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan. And they found that promises weren’t kept. These include his vow to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until the last Americans were out. Further, his claim that the remaining 100-200 Americans there were mostly “dual nationals” who decided to stay because they had family in the country isn’t true either: most were desperate to get out, but had no way to get to the Kabul airport. Biden added that if, in two weeks, those dual citizens want to leave, “we will get you out.” I wouldn’t count on that!
The Washington Post reports that a judge ordered an Ohio hospital, against the hospital’s advice, to give the horse dewormer ivermectin to a patient on a ventilator with Covid. His wife got the horse medicine, insisted that the hospital give it to him. The hospital refused, and the woman sued. The judge is a moron. (h/t Randy)
Here’s a painting of that fire, with the Wikipedia caption: “The Great Fire of London, depicted by an unknown painter (1675), as it would have appeared from a boat in the vicinity of Tower Wharf on the evening of Tuesday, 4 September 1666. To the left is London Bridge; to the right, the Tower of London. Old St Paul’s Cathedral is in the distance, surrounded by the tallest flames.”
The first is said to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the 80,000 inhabitants of the city. The death toll was small, with six reported victims, but that figure might omit the poorer and unrecorded people of London.
1898 – Battle of Omdurman: British and Egyptian troops defeat Sudanese tribesmen and establish British dominance in Sudan.
Here’s the victory that elevated General Kitchener to fame, as the British defeated a force twice their size. Present at the battle was Winston Churchill, both participating and reporting on it. Here’s a painting of a British charge from Wikipedia:
1901 – Vice President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt utters the famous phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” at the Minnesota State Fair.
I visited Peggy’s Cove and the crash memorial in Nova Scotia a few years ago, but the crash was 8 km offshore (it was caused by an uncontrollable fire). Two paintings by Picasso were also lost in the crash.
Notables born on this day include:
1946 – Billy Preston, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actor (d. 2006)
This was sad, as McAuliffe was selected to be the “teacher astronaut”, and all her students were surely watching the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in which she and the other six members of the crew perished.
1964 – Keanu Reeves, Lebanese-Canadian actor, singer, and producer
1966 – Salma Hayek, Mexican-American actress, director, and producer
Hayek as Frida, asking Diego’s opinion from the 2002 movie “Frida“:
Those who went back to dust on September 2 include:
From Titania, who wrote an article about Oli London, a Brit who has come out as transracial and had multiple surgeries to look Korean. They (using London’s preferred pronoun) aspire to resemble a male Korean singer, Jimin. I hadn’t known about this case. Oli is also bisexual, but transracialism isn’t approved by the woke, however sincere it may be, and they’ve received considerable criticism.(I still think transracialism is not always to be denigrated and that arguments about it are made up to preserve race as more than a social construct.) Titania’s piece, which of course is a spoof, is here.
“Those born in the wrong skin have always been persecuted for living their truth.”
A tweet from Barry. As we know from David Attenborough, lyrebirds are fantastic mimics of all kinds of sounds, including chainsaws, camera shutters, and car alarms (don’t miss the linked video!). Here a lyrebird in a zoo mimics what can only be a crying child. Sound up, of course.
Javalinas are also known as collared peccaries, and are delightful, though noisy and smelly beasts. A friend and I were once overrun by a big herd of stampeding javelinas in Texas’s Big Bend National Park, and were plenty scared, but they just raced around us and left us alone. Here a group of them cross a road, with a straggler racing to catch up:
Author Freddie deBoer, in his Substack column below, answers my title question with a firm “no”. And although the evidence is circumstantial (see below), I tend to think he’s right. (If you don’t know who deBoer is, his bio is here; he’s an author who says he’s “a Marxist of an old-school variety” and has little sympathy with modern social-justice movements.)
Click on the screenshot to read his claims:
deBoer begins with a good point: the issue of whether we should censor “hate speech” (which of course is a slippery concept) can be taken both as an empirical issue—do laws against hate speech actually work in suppressing both speech and hate?—and a normative one—is it ethical to censor speech in this way? The first question should be answered before the second. For if laws against hate speech are ineffective, there’s no point in debating whether we should have them: we shouldn’t. Why create laws that have no palpable consequences?
deBoer then presents two pieces of evidence that laws against hate speech don’t work. These involve countries having such laws: Germany and France. I’ll show just his thoughts on Germany:
Germany has arguably the most aggressive anti-hate speech etc. laws in the world, or at least outside of those authoritarian countries that already significantly restrict speech in general. The concept is called Volksverhetzung, or incitement to hatred, and it has been broadly interpreted for decades, resulting in aggressive government action against perceived bigotry. The country is home to the expansive and frequently-evolving Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, which is the legal framework that outlaws overt Nazi symbols and literature in the country and which renders Holocaust denial illegal. Federal prosecutors and the Ministry of the Interior regularly move against organizations deemed far-right or hate groups. Does all of that aggressive government posture actually prevent those groups from flourishing?
No! No it does not! Germany has a vast, varied, and influential far-right movement. All those hate speech laws have not prevented extremist parties from operating out in the open, or their leaders from occupying positions of power, or the parties themselves from earning significant victories. As in, 12.5% of the vote and third place overall kind of victories. Germany bans groups it declares far-right extremists all the time. They respond in the way any child would be able to predict: they just rebrand. All of Germany’s many protections against far-right extremism have not prevented fascists from infesting the country’s security services. Racism? Not shrinking, growing. Anti-Semitism? You got it, baby! The Holocaust denial I mentioned is illegal? Well, they’re stepping up efforts to shut it down, which might seem encouraging until you realize that people only step up efforts to shut something down when it’s been on the rise. Of course, Germans didn’t need more evidence of the futility of censoring far-right views, given that the Weimar Republic had laws forbidding what we would now call hate speech. How did that go?
The utter failure of German hate speech laws to actually slow the growth of right-wing extremism doesn’t make them harmless. On the contrary, their bad ideas have been exported to countries with repressive governments and the onus placed on private internet companies makes them de facto arbiters of what can and cannot be expressed.
He makes the same argument for France, which bans hate speech and “permits the government to disband groups that promote racism”, as well as banning Nazi symbols and groups. Yet, deBoer argues, “hate groups” like the National Front/Rally party are doing quite well in France, there’s hatred of Muslims by non-Muslims and vice versa, and Marine Le Pen has become politically quite popular.
Now these are not controlled experiments. One could argue, for example, that without hate speech laws the amount of hatred, racism, and pervasiveness of hate groups would be even higher than they are in Germany and France. But at least you can see that there is surely not less hate speech in these countries than in, say, the U.S., where we have no hate speech laws. Hatred and racism don’t seem to have been driven to ground in Germany and France.
deBoer also points out, as many have before (including Hitchens), that once you give a government power to restrict speech in this way, you can’t guarantee that the restrictions will always operate in your favor. His example is France’s recent attempt to prevent citizens from sharing photos and videos of police violence, something that surely should not be restricted. As always, the salient question is “Who will decide what speech is permitted and what speech banned?” There is no good answer to this question; the censor should always be the person who’s making the argument.
Besides claiming that hate speech laws are ineffective, and thus not worth considering, one might make positive arguments for allowing hate speech. I’ve always said, for example, that Holocaust denialism should not only be legal, but people should read it. That is the way I learned what the evidence for the Holocaust really was—in the face of denialist claims like “neither Hitler nor any other high Nazi official promulgated a policy of exterminating the Jews.” (That claim was bogus, but I didn’t know the counterevidence.) The same goes for creationism: if you’re going to counter the 73% of Americans who believe in some form of creationism, you need to know what their arguments for it are (that is, arguments beyond religious brainwashing.) Note that I am not saying that creationism should be taught as science in biology class, only that one shouldn’t ban creationist arguments. And, as Mill pointed out, if you allow people to broadcast hate speech rather than doing it in samizdat, you learn who your enemies are and what they really believe, making it easier to identify and thus counter them.
At the end, deBoer makes a good point and then offers a solution to “hate”, though he himself undercuts that solution:
When people say they want to ban hate speech, what they really mean is that they want to ban hate. And you may as well say that we should ban jealousy, or anger, or greed, or fear. Hate is an endemic part of the human experience and so hate speech always will be too, even after they implant behavior-modification chips in our brains. Ban all the words you like; people will find new ways to express hate. Censorship is always an end run around a larger issue, a deeper, more vexing, stickier issue. The problem is never the expressions you wish to repress themselves but the existence of the people who would express them, and those people are ultimately the product of conditions in the world you can’t control. You cannot eliminate hate from the world, and no one alive will live to see the end of fascism. What you can do is to mitigate the negative effects of hate as best you can by empowering targeted groups and by trying to present a more compelling and attractive vision than the fascists. But that’s wild, unrealistic stuff. Try to stamp out extremism and hate with censorship when every attempt to do so has failed in the history of the world, cool. Try to make people see why you’re right and the other side is wrong? That’s too crazy to contemplate.
In my view, the only kinds of “hate speech” that should be banned are the types already banned under the U.S. courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment: personal and persistent harassment, calls for action and physical threats that are likely to lead to imminent violence, and harassment that creates an intolerable and uncomfortable workplace.
Wine of the Day. As I said, I’m breaking into my pricier wines to treat myself in dispiriting times. The bottle below, nigh on $35 when I bought it (but still a damn sight cheaper than a good wine in a good restaurant; see “news” below), is a French version of a chenin blanc, and, according to Robert Parker, who rated it a high “95”, could age for a long time to come. So perhaps I’m committing infanticide drinking it two years after the vintage. The food: fettucine Alfredo containing a pound of fresh garden peas from the farmer’s market. (I use Trader Joe’s excellent fettucine sauce, and bucatini noodles sent to me by a very kind reader.)
This was the most complex and finest example of chenin blanc that I’ve had. It was dry, but full of fruit in the nose (I detected honeydew melon and pear). Amazingly, it tasted a tad off-dry with the fettucine, which was great; it was a good pairing. I will have the other half ofthe bottle to drink tomorrow, but, sadly, I have only one bottle, so I won’t be able to test Parker’s assertion: ” A terrific and buoyant Vouvray that any Chenin lover should try—or, better yet, cellar!” Even if this is outside your budget, you should be investigating chenin blancs as go-to summer whites, for there are some terrific values out there.
News of the Day:
We’re now 158 days into the Biden administration, and there’s still no sign of a White House cat. Uncle Joe doesn’t even bipartisanship to get one; has he lied to us?
The death toll at the collapsed Surfside, Florida condominium has climbed from four to nine as more bodies have been recovered. But more than 150 people are still missing, and investigators are taking DNA from relatives of those not yet found. It’s already been reported that scattered body parts have turned up in the wreckage.
You may find Nicholas Kristof a bit unctuous, but his latest NYT column (click on screenshot below) is worth a read, for it describes a black musician, Daryl Davis, who hangs out with neo-Nazis and genuine Klan members, trying to convert them. And it often works, at least according to Kristof. Here’s a summary of Davis’s methods:
One of Davis’s methods — and there’s research from social psychology to confirm the effectiveness of this approach — is not to confront antagonists and denounce their bigotry but rather to start in listening mode. Once people feel they are being listened to, he says, it is easier to plant a seed of doubt.
In one case, Davis said, he listened as a K.K.K. district leader brought up crime by African Americans and told him that Black people are genetically wired to be violent. Davis responded by acknowledging that many crimes are committed by Black people but then noted that almost all well-known serial killers have been white and mused that white people must have a gene to be serial killers.
When the K.K.K. leader sputtered that this was ridiculous, Davis agreed: It’s silly to say that white people are predisposed to be serial killers, just as it’s ridiculous to say that Black people have crime genes.
The man went silent, Davis said, and about five months later quit the K.K.K.
Davis claims to have converted over 200 bigots this way. While Kristof adds, “society can hardly ask Black people to reach out to racists, gay people to sit down with homophobes, immigrants to win over xenophobes, women to try to reform misogynists, and so on. Victims of discrimination have endured enough without being called upon to redeem their tormentors”, that’s what his hero is doing, so maybe he’s just saying, ashe does at the end, that you should talk to family members whose views contradict yours. That’s an anodyne lesson, typical of Kristof. I would like to meet Davis, though!
A woman holding a cardboard sign stepped into the road in front of Tour de France riders near the beginning of the race on Saturday, causing a massive crash (see video below). As the Washington Post reports:
A woman holding a large sign bearing the words “ALLEZ OPI-OMI!” (German terms of endearment for grandparents) clipped Germany’s Tony Martin, who lost his balance and set off a chain reaction that sent cyclists sprawling across the pavement as she stepped in front of the peloton to display the sign for TV cameras. Several spectators and cyclists were injured in the first crash.
“We are suing this woman who behaved so badly,” Pierre-Yves Thouault, the tour’s deputy director, told Agence France-Presse. “We are doing this so that the tiny minority of people who do this don’t spoil the show for everyone.”
The problem is that the woman fled the scene and they can’t find her.
Here’s a tweet that shows the onlooker with the sign:
I visited Venice only once: for just a few hours on a day trip from a conference in Padua. Even though it was off season, the main part of the city was intolerably crowded. In season, it’s much worse. The city, already declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is now up for status of World Heritage in Danger sites. The AP reports:
“This is not something we propose lightly,” Mechtild Roessler, director of the World Heritage Center, told AP. “It is to alert the international community to do more to address these matters together.”
Veneto regional officials have submitted a plan for relaunching the tourism-dependent city to Rome that calls for controlling arrivals of day-trippers, boosting permanent residents, encouraging startups, limiting the stock of private apartment rentals and gaining control over commercial zoning to protect Venetian artisans.
Lettie Teague, the Wall Street Journal’s wine columnist, is running a three-part series to acquaint would-be oenophiles to the basics of tasting wine, buying it, and pairing it with food. Have a look, especially if you’re just getting into wine: here are the first two articles:
1). Always bring your own wine to a restaurant if you can, and pay corkage (the fee they charge to open and serve your own bottle) so long as that fee reasonable. Even at $15 a bottle, corkage is still considerably cheaper than buying the restaurant’s wine, which is nearly always unconscionably overpriced
The police raid on the Stonewall Inn was indeed an iconic moment. Here’s a photo from Wikipedia showing the protestors confronting the police, who had been regularly paid off by the bar for protection (the Stonewall was owned by the Genovese crime family). This form of extortion was called “gayola.”
In 1971, the recombinant DNA debate began on this day. Here’s a relevant tweet from Matthew, who’s writing a book on the topic:
1703 – John Wesley, English cleric and theologian (d. 1791)
1824 – Paul Broca, French physician, anatomist, and anthropologist (d. 1880)
1873 – Alexis Carrel, French surgeon and biologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1944)
Carrel, whose photo is below, appears due for reexamination and/or cancellation. As Wikipedia describes him:
Alexis Carrel (French: [alɛksi kaʁɛl]; 28 June 1873 – 5 November 1944) was a French surgeon and biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912 for pioneering vascular suturing techniques. He invented the first perfusion pump with Charles A. Lindbergh opening the way to organ transplantation. His positive description of a miraculous healing he witnessed during a pilgrimage earned him scorn of some of his colleagues. This prompted him to relocate to the United States, where he lived most of his life. He had a leading role in implementing eugenic policies in Vichy France.
1902 – Richard Rodgers, American playwright and composer (d. 1979)
1926 – Mel Brooks, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter
In 1974, Johanson and his team discovered the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton called “Lucy”. It was a remarkably complete hominin skeleton, though we don’t know if it’s one of our direct ancestors. As I noted in WEIT, it’s an apelike cranium sitting atop a remarkably “human” postcranial skeleton.
1946 – Gilda Radner, American actress and comedian (d. 1989)
What a comedic talent! I always thought that she and John Belushi were the two most talented cast members of Saturday Night Live (Dan Akroyd comes close behind). Here’s Radner as a child presenting the “I Hate Jennifer Show”. I don’t know any adult who can do a child better.
1971 – Elon Musk, South African-born American entrepreneur
Those who began pushing up daisies on June 28 include:
1914 – Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria (b. 1863)
1975 – Rod Serling, American screenwriter and producer (b. 1924)
2001 – Mortimer J. Adler, American philosopher and author (b. 1902)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is philosophical again. Malgorzata explains:
“To kid oneself, to lie to oneself, to convince oneself about something which is convenient, is a feature common to all humans. It’s easier to fool yourself than to fool other people. Here Andrzej suggests putting a stop to such behavior, and wise Hili, who knows her humans, is surprised what reasons could Andrzej have for proposing something so radical and so against human nature.”
A: Let’s not kid ourselves.
Hili: Is there any reason for introducing such radical politics?
Ja: Nie oszukujmy się.
Hili: Czy jest jakiś powód do wprowadzania tak drastycznej polityki?
Meanwhile, Szaron is on Malgorzata’s pillow in bed and tells her to go elsewhere:
— Rick Repetti, Fallacy Patrol Officer (@rickrepetti) June 26, 2021
Tweets from Matthew: First, an amazing display of male prowess (he’s clearly trying to impress a female with his leaps). Wikipedia notes this:
During the breeding season, males leap suddenly from the grass with a peculiar croaking or knocking call, flutter their wings and fall back with slightly open wings. At the apogee of the leap the neck is arched backwards and the legs folded as if in a sitting posture. These jumps are repeated after intervals of about three or more minutes. The displays are made mainly in the early mornings and late evenings, but during other parts of the day in cloudy weather.
Cole argues strenuously, and gives examples, that the ACLU is still actively engaged in defending civil liberties—often of people or groups despised by the Left, including the NRA, Milo Yiannopoulos, Donald Trump, and so on. He gives a list of five years of civil-rights lawsuits that the ACLU has brought—from 2017 to 2021.
And, as I’ve said before, he’s got a point here: the ACLU is indeed continuing its mission. My point, and the New York Times’s was that it’s diluting its classic mission by engaging in social justice work, which isn’t in itself bad, but because some of that social justice work is not even-handed but one sided in terms of rights. Further, there are many other organizations doing social-justice work, but only the ACLU (and now the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE), has the resources and chops to defend the civil liberties of the despiséd.
In other words, the ACLU is doing what the Southern Poverty Law Center has done: taken its classic mission and, by branching off into questionable social justice activities (damning Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the SPLC), diluted not just its mission, but also its credibility.
I’ve written at length about the dubious stuff the ACLU is engaged in; and here’s a partial list of posts:
First, the ACLU is on the side of diluting the changes in Title IX made by Betsy DeVos to guarantee a fair hearing to college students accused of sexual misconduct. Nearly all these changes brought college hearings closer to court hearings, at least in terms of guaranteeing fairness. As I’ve said, these changes are one of the few positive things accomplished by the Trump administration, and the ACLU should have favored them. Instead, as you see in one piece below, they were characterized as “inappropriately favoring the accused.” If you read the changes, I suspect you’ll agree that the ACLU should have been in favor of them, not opposed to them.
Second, the ACLU is on a big-time movement to ensure that transgender women can compete on a level playing field (i.e., competing under their gender identity) with men in sports. This is a complex issue (see here for one possible solution), but becomes less complex with the ACLU’s claim that medically untreated transgender women (that is, biological males who have undergone neither surgery nor hormone treatment but claim a female identity) should be able to compete in sports against biological women. This is a very bad call as it’s the equivalent of biological men competing against biological women, and this violates the very reason why we separate men’s and women’s sport. Further, even with medicallytreated transgender women, there is an issue of fairness to biological women, since transgender women may retain strength, bone density, and muscle mass that gives them an average advantage over biological women. The ACLU’s kneejerk reaction here does not take into account the “rights” of biological women. It is an ideological stand that deviates far from the ACLU’s mission to assure civil rights for all.
Third, in tweets by ACLU branches and attorneys, they have favored censorship of books like Abigail Schrier’s, and accused cops of murder who were, by all reasonable accounts, doing their jobs. How is this fulfilling their mission of extending civil rights to all? (Chase Strangio is the ACLU staff attorney in charges of transgender issues.)
Here is an ACLU lawyer saying their goal is to stop the circulation of books and ideas…
The systems that allowed George Floyd to be murdered remain FULLY intact. Moments after we celebrated a win for police accountability in Minneapolis, news broke that @ColumbusPolice murdered a 15 year old Black girl. Her name was Ma'Khia Bryant. Say her name. #BlackLivesMatterpic.twitter.com/tufTaia9lR
Fourth, as I discussed in a post a while back, the ACLU circulated a document in samizdat that explicitly said that they now have to consider diluting their mission when defending speech involves defending “hate speech”. As I wrote at the time (my words are indented in regular type; the ACLU’s words are indented further and italicized):
The ACLU is committed to the fundamental rights to equality and justice embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights laws. See Policies #301-332. We are determined to fight racism in all its forms, whether explicit or implicit, and the deep-rooted institutional biases that continue to reify inequality. We are also firmly committed to fighting bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, religious groups, LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. Accordingly, we work to extend the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights to people who have traditionally been denied those rights. And the ACLU understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.
Note that they now claim that speech that denigrates groups—including religion!—can “inflict serious harms” and “impede progress toward equality”. Here is the beginning of the slippery slope of “hate speech”. Is criticism of the Vatican, or the excesses of Islam, sufficiently harmful that the ACLU will not defend it? What about religionists who demonstrate for the right of bakers and others not to serve gays?
And remember when the ACLU defended the Klan when it wanted to march through the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois? Well, no more.
We recognize that taking a position on one issue can affect our advocacy in other areas and create particular challenges for staff members engaged in that advocacy. For example, a decision by the ACLU to represent a white supremacist group may well undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners, create distrust with particular communities, necessitate the expenditure of resources to mitigate the impact of those harms, make it more difficult to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board across multiple dimensions, and in some circumstances, directly further an agenda that is antithetical to our mission and values and that may inflict harm on listeners.
Yes this document, which was leaked and is now publicly available, is characterized by Cole this way in his post of yesterday:
I led a committee representing a wide range of divergent views within the ACLU in developing guidelines for selecting cases where they present conflicts between values that the ACLU defends. We reaffirmed in that document that “As human rights, these rights extend to all, even to the most repugnant speakers — including white supremacists — and pursuant to ACLU policy, we will continue our longstanding practice of representing such groups in appropriate circumstances to prevent unlawful government censorship of speech.”
At the same time, we acknowledged the costs that can come with that representation, including to other interests and work of the organization, and outlined ways to address and mitigate the costs when we do decide to embark on that representation. That can mean making clear in public statements that we abhor the speakers’ views even as we defend their right to express them, supporting counter-protesters, and investing any attorneys’ fees we obtain in connection with the work to advance the views that the speaker opposed and that we support. Some saw even this document’s acknowledgment of the complexity of such work as an abandonment of principle, but we saw it as an honest effort to confront the challenge of being a multi-issue organization.
Read the document yourself, and see if you think that’s a fair summary. Their “mitigation of costs” completely ignores the implication in the document that they might reject cases that they’d normally take because it involves hate speech that can cause “harm”.
At any rate, there’s also been negative reaction from other quarters to what I saw as a fair report in the NYT (see this piece in The New Republic). The TNR piece is misguided in the same way the ACLU’s mission creep is misguided: they do not prioritize free speech over hate speech. You cannot pretend that free speech will never be construed as “hate speech”—it’s nearly always seen that way by the speech opponents.
But thank Ceiling Cat for organizations like FIRE whose principle of promulgating free speech in higher education has not been diluted.
Truly, I don’t understand why author John McWhorter, professor of linguistics at Columbia University, hasn’t yet been the subject of a social-justice campaign to demonize and erase him. While he’s black, he’s also strongly opposed to what he sees as the “religion” of anti-racism promulgated by people like Ibram X. Kendi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Robin DiAngelo, and McWhorter speaks plainly and passionately. The first piece below is an example of his strong and uncompromising views and language.
I suppose McWhorter is still afloat because his arguments against the more extreme forms of anti-racism, as evinced in the following two pieces, are both clear and hard to refute. He’s fiercely smart and writes really well, and if you come up against him with ammunition consisting solely of offense and outrage, you’re not going to fare well. This week, McWhorter published two pieces worth reading, one on his Substack site and the other at The Atlantic, where he’s a contributing writer. Ibram X. Kendi struck back at the second piece on Twitter, accusing McWhorter of distortion and confusion. I’ll maintain that Kendi didn’t read McWhorter very carefully.
Both pieces characterize recent anti-racist protests and strikes on campus as examples of “performances”—presumably rituals of the religion that McWhorter says anti-racism has become.
First, here’s a free article at McWhorter’s new Substack site, It Bears Mentioning. Click on the screenshot to read:
This piece recounts the suspension of a law professor, Jason Kilborn, at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Kilborn’s crime was citing the n- and b-words on an exam this way: “n*****” and “b****”. We all know what those redacted symbols stand for, and Kilborn was not using them to incite students, but as examples in an exam question about an employment discrimination case.
Kilborn has used this kind of expurgation on exams for a long time, but, the Zeitgeist being what it is, this year’s outcome was predictable: a group of students got highly offended and protested strongly. Kilborn was suspended from his class as well as from some of his university duties. He’s also now banned from campus because he supposedly poses a physical threat to the students:
One black student claimed that they experienced heart palpitations upon reading the words. During an hours-long Zoom talk with a black student representing the protesters, Kilborn made a flippant remark to the effect that the law school dean may suppose that he is some kind of “homicidal maniac” – upon which the student reported to the dean that Kilborn indeed may be one. Kilborn is no longer teaching the class, is relieved of his administrative duties, and because of the possible physical threat he poses to black students because of the Hyde-like tendency he referred to, he is barred from campus.
McWhorter goes on to say what few would dare to say, even though the point is worth arguing:
But let’s pull the camera back, take a deep breath, and look at something like this pillorying of Kilborn with clear eyes. If a black student is traumatized to such a degree by seeing “n*****” on a piece of paper, then that student needs psychological counseling. We all understand the history and power of the N-word, but we all also understand the simple issue of degree. That student who got heart palpitations needs help, and what the suits at the University of Illinois in Chicago should have done as gently direct this student to the proper services, which the school surely provides, for people who have fallen away from the ability to cope with normal life. . .
. . . To be a modern enlightened American is to have internalized a kind of cognitive shunt or patch upon our processing of cases like this. We are to pretend that until slurs of this kind no longer exist, we must accept it as ordinary and perhaps even healthy for smart young people to fall to pieces at the mere of sight of one even in writing and carefully expurgated. . .
. . . in all of this, we are taught not to make sense. We are taught to suspend our rational faculties in favor of larger, abstract, and often incoherent imperatives valued as demonstration of our moral fitness. In other words, we are taught to think about race issues religiously.
And has the following interpretation not crossed people’s minds—not just with protests against black racism, but protests against nearly all form of presumed “bigotry” on campus? It’s the overreaction of the offended that is so striking:
Yes, I am taking the students too seriously. As in, I am only pretending to take them seriously at all. As all of us can detect on some level, black students who purport upset of this degree, at passing things that their very equivalents just some years ago never even noticed, are faking it.
They are acting. It is a performance. The issue here is not “black fragility,” which is why there is a question mark after the title of this post. Such students are not fragile; they are histrionic. They are pretending to be hurt.
McWhorter, though, tries to empathize, and in fact he seems angrier at white people who bow to these protests than to the African-Americans who make them:
The formal expression is one of anger and injury, but behind this is a balm, the sense that you are worthy on some level of a cookie or a pat on the head just for getting through your days and weeks. It gives a person a sense of significance. It gives you a sense of significance as a member of a group on a fraught but epic trajectory towards justice. You, in times when civil rights can seem so much less dramatic a thing than it was 50 years ago and before, have a sense of being part of that “Struggle,” as it used to be put. That doesn’t make a person a monster.
It goes on, with McWhorter ending by saying that people who sympathize with people so easily offended should not only refer those people to counseling (that’s incendiary enough!), but, by refusing to call the students out, are themselves being racists:
Protests of this kind test us on how committed we really are to assessing black people according to the content of their character. Normal people don’t fall to pieces when seeing “n*****” on a piece of paper, regardless of their race. The neoracists who have barred Jason Kilborn from campus in pretending this isn’t true are operating upon an assumption that black people are morons. This is a rather fascinating rendition of “antiracism,” and to treat it as “allyship” is nothing less than a cultural sickness.
I doubt that you could get away with writing words like that in a magazine like The Atlantic; they’ll have to be on your own website. But surely hyperfragility—which is not new; remember Haidt and Lukianoff’s 2018 book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure? (See my post on it here.) That book advances the thesis that modern parents and educational institutions have instilled three guiding principles in the young: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people.” It’s a book well worth reading, and explains a lot of the outrage and claimed hyperfragility (indeed, it’s not just claimed, it’s often internalized) among the young.
But I digress. This week’s fracas is between McWhorter’s piece in TheAtlantic (below), and Ibram X. Kendi’s response on twitter. Click the screenshot to read:
I can be briefer here, as McWhorter summarizes anti-racism protests that I’ve described many times on this site: protests at Princeton (here and here), Bryn Mawr, New York City’s private Dalton School, and Northwestern University. (There are others that McWhorter doesn’t mention, including Smith College, Harvard, Middlebury College, and, of course, the poster boy for knee-jerk offense, The Evergreen State College.
What the anti-racism protests have in common at these schools is that the students have indicted the institutions for pervasive, ubiquitous and clear “structural racism”, despite the fact that none of the schools are really that way at all. (Neither is the University of Chicago, which hasn’t yet been shaken by nationally-publicized accusations.) Yes, of course some people are racists at these institutions, but one would be hard pressed to find “structural racism”: that is, policies and practices embedded in the institution that predictably lead to discriminatory outcomes. In fact, all of these schools, my own included, are deeply engaged in trying to admit students and faculty of color and to create programs that give support to minority students.
McWhorter is evenhanded on the issue, but will not admit that such schools have a deep problem with racism (and, as far as I can see, he’s right):
As extreme as these documents and actions seem, they would qualify as legitimate if these campuses actually were bastions of social injustice. This is doubtful.
My colleague Conor Friedersdorf has documented that even some of the faculty who signed the Princeton petition were not necessarily united in adherence to its specific demands, or in agreement as to the depths of the university’s depravity. Many wanted, simply, to deliver a nebulous acknowledgment that some anti-racist efforts would be beneficial. Although racism surely exists at Princeton, as it does throughout American society, Princeton is not the utter sinkhole of bigotry and insensitivity that the letter implies. American universities have long been more committed to anti-racism than almost any other institutions. Princeton is where, for example, Woodrow Wilson’s name was recently removed from the name of the School of Public and International Affairs in acknowledgment of his implacably racist beliefs—albeit in response to student pressure.
The issue, as so often, is degree. Most liberals will acknowledge that it is useful and even urgent for institutions such as Princeton to be vigilant against subtle biases in attitudes and procedures. The question is whether, despite this modus operandi having been well established in such places for a few decades now, they remain so infested with entrenched racism that transformational manifestos such as the Princeton letter constitute progress as opposed to manipulation.
Dalton and Princeton in particular have, even before the recent protests began, been examining themselves for racist practices or policies, and have made substantial changes in the last decade. Indeed, all of those schools have.
You can read McWhorter’s Atlantic piece yourself, but his message, at it was in the Substack piece, is that administrators and rational people must stand up to irrational protests and demands, for there is never any end to them. Demands that are reasonable, of course, should be accommodated, but every list of “demands” that I’ve seen is at least 60% “unreasonable.” The point is that if you cave into unreasonable demands, as Bryn Mawr, Evergreen State, and the Dalton School has (or is set to), the protestors learn that making demands is not just a way to assert power, but to institute both the programmatic and ideological changes they want. As McWhorter concludes,
The writers of manifestos might classify resistance as racist, denialist backlash. But the civil, firm dismissal of irrational demands is, rather, a kind of civic valor. School officials must attend to the fine line between enlightenment and cowardice—for the benefit of not only themselves, but the Black people they see themselves as protecting.
That was too much for Ibram Kendi, who, in a series of nine tweets in this thread, highlights and attack’s McWhorter’s piece. Here you go.
In fact it is Kendi who misrepresents McWhorter. As you see above, McWhorter notes that all these campuses probably have some residual racism; but they’re not festering hotbeds of structural racism where crosses get burned on a regular basis.
Kendi argues, for example, that McWhorter praises a professor who said that student and faculty demands will lead to a “civil war on campus.” Here’s what McWhorter said about that professor.
Thus the model must be classics professor Joshua Katz at Princeton, who last summer took issue with the Princeton letter in a Quillette article, pointing out that the demands would lead to “civil war on campus,” and calling out a Black student association that serially harassed several Black students who disagreed with its philosophy. (Inadvisedly, he referred to the association as a “terrorist” group.) Predictable calls on social media for his dismissal were not successful because his tenure would have made it difficult, but in September, the American Council of Learned Societies withdrew his recent appointment as one of the federation’s two delegates to the Union Académique Internationale, on the basis of the social-media response to his article.
This is not McWhorter agreeing that there will be a civil war at Princeton, but quoting Katz, and even disagreeing with him about calling the black student association terrorists. McWhorter does agree that continual bowing before extreme anti-racist demands will eventually destroy the reputation of colleges (see his piece), but that’s all, and that’s his point. Evergreen State has already gone down the tubes, and I suspect that Smith and Bryn Mawr are circling the drain.
Kendi adds that “white supremacist violence is being fomented” by pieces like McWhorter’s. That’s the same kind of hyperbolic overreaction that we see in the students themselves. Remember that McWhorter is a black man and certainly not a white supremacist. But even so, I defy you to read his piece and point out places where he’s fomenting “white supremacist violence.”
Kendi argues that all the institutions have “widespread and pervasive inequities and injustices,” and that McWhorter overlooks these. Well, as far as the “inequities” are concerned, yes, there are inequalities of outcome (that’s my definition of “inequities”), but those are surely the results of historical injustice that have set back African-American, not of present “structural racism” at these schools. And what are the injustices? I can’t think of any, though I’ve tried. Remember, they have to be “pervasive.”
In a later tweet, Kendi unfairly lumps McWhorter with Trump and “white supremactists” when asserting that bowing to anti-racist demands will destroy or damage universities. But it will surely damage them, just as it’s fatally damaged Evergreen State. Perhaps places like Harvard and Princeton won’t go down completely, for their names are so revered, and the education there is still top notch, but eventually this kind of catering to student demands—and here I mean the unreasonable ones—changes the mission of American universities from allowing students to learn and debate freely into engineering social justice along the lines of critical theory (Critical Race Theory, in fact). Even as I write, curricula are being molded to the tenets of Critical Theory, and that will eventually create a culture of ideological conformity and an output of students not trained to either argue or think for themselves. The universities may endure, but they won’t be the places of learning that have attracted students from throughout the world.
The problem with Kendi is that he thinks one has to accept the whole hog of Critical Race Theory, and if you don’t you’re a racist. And if colleges don’t, they are racist. In response, McWhorter probably thinks that Kendi himself is a racist by adhering to the soft bigotry of low expections and the assumption that minorities are hyperfragile in a way that must to be catered to. Kendi simply can’t grasp McWhorter’s contention that these issues are “matters of degree,” which is true. To Kendi and his minions, you’re either a Kendian antiracist or a racist; there is no in between.
And so the debate continues, and it’s fascinating. The important thing is that it remains a debate (and one in which I’m participating). Many students and faculty, however, would construe McWhorter’s words as “hate speech” and demand that they be censored. And that would end the debate. And that’s what they want when they hedge about “free speech”. The last thing the “free speech, but. . .” crowd wantw to hear is McWhorter’s claim:
The neoracists who have barred Jason Kilborn from campus in pretending this isn’t true are operating upon an assumption that black people are morons. This is a rather fascinating rendition of “antiracism,” and to treat it as “allyship” is nothing less than a cultural sickness.
If anything would be construed by the Offended as “hate speech”, that is it. But it isn’t: it’s a strong claim that McWhorter buttresses with evidence.