ADDENDUM: It appears they revised #5, if anyone has a copy of the original version, send it to me. (It's still pretty bad.)
ANOTHER: Philosopher David Merli (Franklin & Marshall) kindly sends along the November 13th versions of #5 and #6:
5. President Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the “All Lives Matter” and “Free Speech” posters. Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats; alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.
6. President Martin must issue a statement of support for the revision of the Honor Code to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.
I can't wait to read the definition of "racial insensitivity" for which there is zero-tolerance. This spectacle could be the end of Amherst College.
There's a lengthy account here along with three videos; the third is the most shocking. The student behaving that way should be subject to disciplinary proceedings for her abusive misconduct. The student reader who sent this to me asked not to be named (for fear of repercussions given how nuts philosophy cyberspace is), but offered the following apt commentary:
Note the typical absolutist rhetoric of "acknowledging hurt". One must simply answer the question and acknowledge that one had bad thoughts that need to be corrected. Red Herrings are offered in order to rule out the possibility that there is nothing that needs to be apologized for: "We're not saying that you're intrinsically bad for having the bad thoughts. We just want to help correct you. Even if it wasn't your intent, you still caused hurt and need to apologize." The ideology simply does not provide room in logical space for the possibility that the student was being over-sensitive. The real crux of the discussion occurs about 30 seconds into the third clip. It is the precise moment when Christakis says "I don't agree, I have a different vision than you" that the student explodes in rage. Note also how Christakis has been encircled by a couple dozen students shouting him down and demanding his resignation for not providing them a safe space. No doubt the irony is lost on them.
Here. The idea that anything Greer said is "hate speech" is preposterous, but also shows how dangerous that category can be in the hands of zealots.
The response to Greer and her alleged transphobia is just one example of a creeping trend among social justice activists of an identitarian persuasion: a tendency towards ideological totalism, the attempt to determine not only what policies and actions are acceptable, but what thoughts and beliefs are, too. Contemporary identity-based social justice activism is increasingly displaying the kinds of totalising and authoritarian tactics that we usually associate with cults or quasi-religious movements which aim to control the thoughts and inner lives of their members. The doctrine of "gender identity" – the idea that people possess an essential inner gender that is independent both of their sexed body and of the social reality of being treated as a person with such a body – has rapidly been elevated to the status of quasi-religious belief, such that those who do not subscribe to it are seen as not only mistaken and misguided, but dangerous and threatening, and must therefore be silenced.
If you haven't witnessed this first hand, this might sound a touch hyperbolic and overwrought. But in the methods and reactions of those who espouse the doctrine of gender identity, we see many, if not all, of the features of thought control identified by Robert Jay Lifton in his classic study of indoctrination in Chinese re-education camps, to varying degrees:
Milieu control - seeking to establish domain over what the individual sees, hears, reads or writes. Students at Cardiff University must not be permitted to hear Greer's views, because those views are supposedly dangerous.
Demands for purity - dividing the world sharply into pure and impure, good and evil, believer and nonbeliever. There are people who believe that trans women are women, and there are transphobic bigots who "deny trans people's right to exist". No intermediate position is possible.
A cult of confession - individuals are required to reveal their sins and transgressions in order to be redeemed. As a non-trans person, the only way to secure one's status as an ally is to confess to one's "cis privilege" and to engage in repeated, performative privilege checking. (My own personal experience of this came when I publicly stated that I do not accept the label "cisgender", which resulted in my being accused of the chillingly Orwellian-sounding crime of "privilege denial").
Loading the language - the use of thought-terminating clichés and complex and ever changing terminological rules. Just try to critically examine the soundbite "trans women are women" and see how fast the accusations of prejudice and bigotry come flying in. This is a phrase intended to stop you asking difficult questions.
As with so many of the current high-profile no-platforming cases, Greer is being ostracised and shunned, cast out of our moral community and declared beyond redemption, simply for the crime of believing the wrong things, of holding the wrong thoughts in her head, of defining concepts in ways that run counter to those of the newly-established doctrine of gender identity. It is not sufficient to behave towards trans women in a certain way, to respect their preferred pronouns and to support their right to receive the medical treatment they need. You must also really and truly believe that they are women. And if you cannot be made to hold this subjective mental state in your head, that is sufficient to justify silencing you, in the name of protecting the believers.
What all of this assumes is that we have the right to make these kinds of claims on each other's inner lives. It supposes that I can legitimately demand that you believe the things I believe in order to validate my identity, that I can demand that you share my perception of myself because it would be injurious to that perception if you do not. And from there, it's a quick step to the belief that if you do not share my perception of myself, you are committing an act of psychic violence against me. That by refusing to accept the narrative I tell myself about who I am, you harm me just as much as if you really did incite physical violence against me. Thus I become justified in using any tactics at my disposal to ensure that you see me the way I see myself, in making use authoritarian methods of thought control and indoctrination. Acceptance of the doctrine is the only path to salvation and enlightenment, and dissenting views are not only mistaken, but threatening - both to my understanding of myself, and to the ideology itself.
We're familiar with this in academic philosophy too, though mostly, so far, in the bowels of cyberspace. But if the current offenders actually get academic jobs and/or get tenure, then we will be in real trouble.
South Park makes fun of "safe spaces." (A graduate student, whom I'd best not identify given the censorious atmosphere in certain dysfunctional parts of academic philosophy.)
Reader Michael B. sends along this item from Wales and sums up the stupidity aptly:
By now you know the routine: someone says something that some students don't like, so the students quickly muster their rage and start a petition to have that invited speaker banned. Which makes sense: universities are neither the time nor the place to hear or read, much less discuss, things with which one disagrees...
I remember Bertrand Russell writing that he would get attacked by angry mobs when he tried to talk about equality between men and women. Some of the worst were women who would react dramatically to the planned release of rats by saboteurs with whom these women were in cahoots. I suppose these students are too stupid and arrogant to realise their chosen tactic of silencing unpopular (with them) opinions is exactly what kept - and helps keep - people oppressed.
This is obviously crazy, and would not happen in any civilized society, and the backlash is already in progress. But I have to say I am just really sorry for my wonderful colleagues who are being put through this. I fear it will be the end of the University of Texas as a serious university, really one of the best state universities in America. (A few years after joining the UT Austin faculty, I used to joke that this was a great university but it needed to move to a civililzed state. Things have gotten much worse since. I really fear for the future there.)
...has a "safe space policy" which, in non-Orwellian language, is actually a "policy to suppress speech in the name of equality", as its application to the lesbian feminist writer Julie Bindel plainly demonstrates. (Thanks to Phil in an earlier thread for pointing this out.) This is the road some would like American universities to head down, alas. I wonder if anyone familiar with Manchester and this policy can comment on how frequently it is invoked for the suppression of speech that is clearly not unlawful, even under English law?
UPDATE: As explained by several commenters, the Student Union (responsible for the "safe space policy") is a legally distinct entity from the University, over which the latter has, it appears, no control.
...that exactly four years ago Rick "I'm actually dumber than I appear to be" Perry was leading the polls at nearly 30% for the Repug nomination. In other words, there's a lot more mischief ahead of us, long after the Republican Establishment destroys Trump. It's true that Trump is the most overtly racist of the current contenders, but he's far more sane on almost every other issue than the rest of them. So watch what you wish for!
Let’s do away with this shit. Many millions of Americans want their next president to be Carly Fiorina—an inept, failed CEO with no experience of public service who spent last night threatening to make war on half the fucking planet. She was like the eighth most irresponsible psychopath on the stage, and the rest of them, down to the least of them, all represent vast constituencies. This isn’t a failure of the political system—this is the political system working, expressing the will of the governed.
Any polity that can produce such an outcome should be abolished. Dissolve the United States, replacing it with a set of city-states, villages, and thinly-peopled hinterlands; let every public that wants one have their own Carly Fiorina or Bobby Jindal, and let everyone else go about their business. The candidate who proposes that will be the one to get behind.
1. Approximately half of the talk was devoted to narcissistic bluster. Whatever issue he addressed in passing, Trump would interrupt himself to talk about himself. (Surely the pompadour hairstyle is the appropriate one for so pompous a figure.) His solipsism would not be problematic were he just your drunken uncle at Thanksgiving, who entertains and amuses you. But Trump is making messianic claims that resonate among at least a quarter of registered Republicans, who comprise maybe one-third of the electorate. Among registered independents, another one-third, he gets even more support, according to polls. They love his hot air and are possibly gravitating towards a real personality cult. Those are usually bad.
2. The lack of content, too, is troubling. Not that I personally like the content of any of the rival candidates’ speeches...[b]ut at least the others are supplying details about their programs and to some extent appealing to reason. Trump appeals purely to emotion, to faith (in him), to barely disguised racism and mindless nationalism. This too is bad, reminiscent of fascism.
3. Exhibiting a complete lack of knowledge of the Middle East, Trump has declared that as president he would “put boots on the ground” again in Iraq (and maybe Syria), encircle and seize the oil fields funding ISIL, and “take the oil for the United States.” In the Republican presidential candidates’ debate August 6 Trump boasted that he was “the most militaristic person there is.” While some note that at some point he came to oppose the Iraq War (as “stupid”) he is the opposite of an antiwar candidate. (Not that there are any I’m aware of with any prospect of getting elected.) His bravado about nobody messing with the U.S. under his leadership, and making the U.S. military juggernaut even “stronger” is scary.
All apt observations, but the real question is how much of the electorate (outside Alabama and Texas, say) will go for this? African-Americans and Hispanics will vote against him by landslide proportions; so will women. We saw in 2012 that Republicans can't win nationally when the only vote they can count on is white men. So I still think the longer Trump lasts, the more destruction to the Republican brand he will produce.
.,.in a long piece by a lawyer and a psychologist (Jonathan Haidt). They coin the apt term "vindictive protectiveness" to describe the behavior of the enforcers of this infantilization (anyone watching philosophy cyberspace will be familiar with the phenomenon). The article itself is a mixed bag, as one would expect given Haidt's involvement. But they do make some interesting points; for example:
Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at this magazine, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes,” in which opposing parties use claims of offense as cudgels. In the process, the bar for what we consider unacceptable speech is lowered further and further
Since 2013, new pressure from the federal government has reinforced this trend. Federal antidiscrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”
But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well. Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.
If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons—or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings—then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.
...as the recent case of the dentist/hunter is the latest to show. In the United States, section 230 of the misnamed Communications Decency Act is one of the prime enablers of this disgusting behavior, but so too is the failure of law enforcement to aggressively pursue on-line threats of violence and criminality.
Reader Jason Palma kindly sends along this link (which I may have posted before) which is relevant to the "Effective [sic] Altruism" movement we've been discussing; this may be the most honest thing any member of the ruling class ever published in The New York Times:
Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.
Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)