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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some people's thoughts about censorship and harassment

...Forced apologies come perilously close to a contradiction in terms, the point of an apology being the willing recognition of a genuine wrong and sincere regret for having caused it. Rather than, as in Laurier’s case, a desperate hope to pacify angry donors and reel back the good will of an outraged and astonished public.

May I summarize the points so far by saying that my positionality on their apologies is problematic and my problematics on their positionality is profound.

The real mess here, however, is that they are choosing not to see the full problem at all: that their dealings with Shepherd are but a particular of a general phenomenon, a parable, if you will, of a collapse in the understanding of the university, what education is, and how it is being delivered.

Here’s what is not in the apology. That this is not some one-off incident, but rather an egregious illustration that some humanities courses at all universities (mainly with the tag “studies”) function not as educative undertakings, but as commitments to a narrow, predestined ideological viewpoint. That such studies are enclosed universes of fixed thought, or intellectual predisposition. That wedding any course to a pre-chosen political goal — social justice, identity studies, oppression studies, feminism — turns it into a sophisticated vehicle of indoctrination and propaganda. Such courses inculcate doctrines, disoblige inquiry, abhor dissent, and are the reverse of an educational exercise...

Niall Ferguson in The Sunday Times:
 yet it was not a professional feminist who exposed the allegations of rape and sexual assault against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but the male broadcaster Ronan Farrow. And he cannot have foreseen, when he published his devastating j’accuse in The New Yorker last month, that it would unleash a cascade of accusations fatal to the reputations of such erstwhile darlings of New Yorker readers as the comedian-turned-senator Al Franken, the actor Kevin Spacey, the comedian Louis CK, the political journalist Mark Halperin and the interviewer Charlie Rose.

The New York Times — which along with The Washington Post has been working the phones to keep the cascade going — is keeping score. To date, it reckons, 34 “high-profile men have resigned, been fired or experienced other fallout after accusations that have ranged from inappropriate text messages to rape”. Embarrassingly, it emerged last week that one of them was that newspaper’s very own Glenn Thrush.
It would be interesting to know what proportion of these people waxed indignant last year about Donald Trump’s confession — in a conversation recorded on a “hot mic” during an Access Hollywood appearance in 2005 — to being a serial sexual harasser. Rather a high one, I would guess. Here was Mark Halperin’s response on Twitter: “When people say some new Trump tape could have material that is WORSE than the @accesshollywood video, what exactly could be WORSE?!?”

Al Franken also commented. “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms,” he said in an interview on NBC. “I belong to a health club in Minneapolis . . . Our locker-room banter is stuff like, ‘Is Trump crazy?’”
Louis CK preferred to equate Trump with Hitler, the least of whose crimes was inappropriate behaviour towards women. On Stephen Colbert’s show in April, CK called Trump a “gross, crook, dirty, rotten, lying sack of shit”. Well, who’s gross now?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sexual harassment was supposed to be the kind of thing only Republicans did — inveterate sexists such as Trump or alleged molesters of underage schoolgirls such as Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. How very awkward that the majority of names in the New York Times list of top harassers are men of the left, not the right...

And a ridiculously inane bit of hysteria that relies on false characterizations and frantic, stupid equivalences of intellectual critique and exploration of ideas with "violence" in order to justify suppression of free speech - this from an idiot Assistant Professor of Sociology at Wilfred Laurier University named Greg Bird

...The brand of free speech being promoted in most of the articles is hypocritical. It is actually a silencing form of speech. Other than a few champions of free speech who are using this as an opportunity to advance their neo-conservative agenda, all other voices have been silenced. Two-spirit, transgender, and non-binary people have been left out of the discussion, again. Why have student and faculty organizations, community organizations, or notable thinkers, which represent these communities not been consulted by the authors? What is the significance of the complete erasure of these voices?

The tightly controlled framing of this story has helped to reaffirm the message of peripheral and extreme alt-right scholars like Jordan Peterson and his followers: that the voices of trans people do not matter. Sit silently on the side and wait for your turn, if it is ever presented, to speak up and defend yourself. Wait for those who question your existence to present their case first. Those who deem your very existence to be illegitimate are legitimate voices. Peterson's opinions have been given a carte blanche and thus validated. Now that this stage has been set, if you do speak out, you will face the wrath of the free speech campaigners. Bravo, this has been a well-orchestrated manoeuvre — there are few grounds left for trans people to defend themselves from. Are we debating about whether or not trans people have a right to express themselves, to receive support and protection from non-trans people, to be recognized as people who not only welcome but also to live without discrimination and harassment in our society? This is not a "neutral" conversation.

What are the impacts of this media frenzy? Given the widespread and firmly entrenched transphobia in our society, including alarmingly high rates of physical and sexual assault, discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and a litany of other forms of attacks faced by members of the trans community, non-trans people should take a breath, pause, and think seriously about the broader set of problems that have not only been ignored but actually been granted a bigger platform. Many have already suffered greatly by the spotlight our media has placed on Peterson. Now that this circus show has turned up on our campus, more people are being hurt and our community has been deeply impacted.

On Tuesday, the Wilfrid Laurier University Rainbow Centre released a statement that they have received an uptake in transphobic and homophobic attacks and harassment, and they expect much more, as a direct result of the media's framing of this event. This was on full display in comments made about their statement on Facebook and Twitter. The fact that the only issue up for discussion in the media has been one of free speech, speaks loudly to how normalized transphobia is in our society. Is freedom of speech more important than the safety and well-being of members of our society? Do we want to be living in Donald Trump's America?

Universities are supposed to be spaces where students should learn, grow, and flourish. They are not supposed to be violent institutions that teach students to feel shame about who they are, to remain silent, and to repress themselves. This is a form of education that has already been employed in our country, in the residential schools. It is time for us to think seriously about how free speech is being used and abused in our institutions. Why is it being used, how is it being used, and who is using it? Is freedom of speech merely about exposing students to new ideas? This is a very shallow notion of learning, one that could be easily obtained by surfing the internet. Universities should be providing a lot more, but what exactly the more is, and how it can be realized, is an issue that we need to start thinking about.

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