Where is the Liberal Support for Feminism in Islam?

I listened to a podcast a couple weeks ago where Sam Harris was interviewing Yasmine Mohammed.  It was a wonderful interview and even emotional.  For those of you who don’t know Yasmine she is an ex-Muslim who immigrated to Canada as a child, and ended up being raised by a very strict Islamist (who incidentally had multiple wives) and was forced to marry a guy who turned out to be a Muslim extremist.  She experienced a lot of abuse from her biological father, adoptive father, and her husband.  Her husband was actually part of ISIS and now supposedly resides in a prison in Egypt although she has been unable to confirm it.  The long and the short of it is, that she has had the full experience of what many women go through in Islamic society as second class citizens.  I would argue that citizens are humans and I am not sure that many women qualify even as human in traditional Islamic communities.  What they go through is absolutely dehumanizing.

But I am not here to talk about the problems with Islam.  What I found really interesting about the interview was the discussion about how in the west, the left rarely criticizes Islam for how it treats women.  We can criticize Christianity’s patriarchal values, have TV shows like Handmaid’s Tale which show just how oppressive Christianity can be, but the rules are different for Islam and how they treat women.  Yasmine finds it despicable that they even try to use the hijab as some sort of symbol of female empowerment in Islam, when that is really not what it is at all.  She says that Muslim women are “othered” in western society, like they are not equally human as white women, that they don’t want the same freedoms that white women have.  And I have to say, that I agree.  I think any practices, whether they be in the context of a religion, culture, or society at large that demean and/or oppress women should be open to criticism.  And women in the west, who enjoy a great deal more freedom than many Muslim women, should be joining Yasmine’s fight again a very patriarchal religion.

However…

So I wanted to support Yasmine and followed her on Twitter where she is fairly active. In many ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense why feminism in the west would be on opposite sides of this battle.  And if I consider myself a feminist, then Yasmine is absolutely correct, she’s just human and humanist values should apply to her.  I see feminism as fitting into the larger umbrella of humanism.  But when I started making comments in support and in defense of her points I noticed something quite interesting.  When I would look at the profiles of many of the people who liked my comments, I was surprised to find that many of them were Trump supporters, conservative white males who consider themselves libertarians, and a lot of people who I would consider to be politically alt-right.  It made me feel uncomfortable.  It made me wonder, what type of person am I supporting here if all these people who I would disagree with on almost about everything else are seeming to be on the same side as me?  So while it doesn’t change my stance that we should be just as critical of patriarchal ideas embedded in any religion, I started to see what the left might be rejecting here.  If supporting an ex-Muslim fighting religious patriarchal values is putting you on the same side as conservative, alt-right racist types, what is the answer to effectively supporting people like Yasmine?

So then the question for me became, okay so what is going on?

  • Is it simply that these people aren’t as racist as they are Christian xenophobes who fear other religions, races, and cultures invading their space? Is it basically just the enemy of the enemy is our friend?
  • Did, as Sam Harris has argued, that the space the left has vacated has simply allowed the right to elevate people like Yasmin in status and use her to spread their more hateful message? We see this phenomena not only in the case of religion here.  But we see women who support men’s issues get support from misogynist members of MRA or incels. Even Sam Harris, who I would argue is at heart liberal, often gets his words used by alt-right people when they want to reinforce Muslim stereotypes.
  • Many white liberal women are of the liberal Christian kind.  They want religious Muslim women to be seen as strong as empowered because they then don’t have to acknowledge the oppressive practices in their own faith?  Would this mean that it’s Yasmine’s atheism that many liberal women are reacting to?
  • Do we have more in common with people who are alt-right than we think?

I don’t really think the last one is true, but I think it’s important to consider the question.  Where do we go from here?  Now I’m not sure whether Yasmine is politically conservative or not.  Certainly I think it’s possible to want equality for women while still supporting fiscally conservative issues, but I would say certainly Yasmine is socially liberal based on what she has said.  Perhaps if more people on the left spoke up in support of Yasmine, all those alt-right followers would flee from her side, not wanting to be allied with us because they would have the same uncomfortable feeling I had!

While I sympathize deeply with what Yasmine Mohammed went through, I do think it’s also a reality in the west that minority races and religion can experience a lot of prejudice and racism, and so in some ways I understand perhaps not wanting to critique a religion that is largely followed by darker skinned people so as to not feed stereotypes that can be used by people that would oppress them.  I also think that if we are concerned with things like freedom of speech, gender equality, LGBQT rights, we have to be constantly fighting against bad ideas, and Islam, just like Christianity has a bunch of bad ones.  Islam is a huge religion and I can only imagine that the amount of women and girls is in the 100s of millions who need liberal voices fighting for their rights in the same way we fight against Christian patriarchal values.  I believe it is possible to fight against both prejudice against Muslims, and also still criticize the oppressive practices that Islam advocates and are practiced daily around the world.

Don’t Do Anything Nice if You’ve Done Something Bad

I read a story this morning that really made me shake my head about how misdirected we’ve become as a society.  I think it’s especially worrying, because we live in times where liberal thinking is necessary to push back against greed, against religion, against white nationalism, etc, and it is those people we need to get angry about the right things.  CNN reported that a young man who was raising money through beer sales for a local hospital had raised a million dollars, but than a Des Moines news paper dug up some 7 year old tweets that were racist (he was 16 at the time) and published them in an article they wrote about him.  The paper claimed that it was standard to do a social media check on people that they write stories about, and that they felt it was important for the sake of transparency to publish these 7 year old tweets so people knew who they were giving their money to.

I’ll tell you who they were giving money to.  A children’s hospital.  The guy was raising money for a FUCKING CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL!

What he wasn’t doing:

  • made any racist tweets since then
  • wasn’t raising money for a white’s only hospital
  • beating black people in the streets
  • remaining a 16 year old

Carson King, who was raising the money, apologized publicly and tried to make the point that he is not that person anymore and that he’s become kind and generous.  Which given what he is trying to do, seems fairly straightforward.  The apology of course cared little wait with Anhauser-Busch who have now distanced themselves from King.

There is good news here.  Although Anhauser-Busch rescinded their offer to give this guy a year’s supply of beer with his face on their can, they did agree to add to the donation to the hospital with what would have been that beer cost.   So the hospital will still get what they were promised.  More importantly the readers of the newspaper turned against them and complained about this ridiculous reporting.  They went further and decided to dig up old tweets on the reporter, Aaron King, who reported the story, forcing him to then apologize for his past tweets.

It seems to me that what’s really going on is that journalism is simply a competition to get clicks, and to do so they use racism as a tool to stir moral outrage among liberals.  And far too many liberals are falling for it hook, line, and sinker.  The way the attention economy has co-opted people with good intention is troubling and of course it happens on both sides of the political aisle.  In this case we can see the ridiculousness of it all, especially since so many products we buy and use are from companies that do far more harm than this man’s two tweets as a 16 year old high school student who thought he was trying to be funny.  It’s further concerning because this mentality of ‘cancel culture’ seems only interested in the condemnation of people, no matter how far in the past they held a certain view or acted in a certain way, and no matter what they have done since then.  No thought has been put into whether there is any apology good enough, or any actions that a person can take to restore public opinion about them.  I think this is important.  If we want to hold people accountable for their actions, we need to be able to also decide what is acceptable to make up for those mistakes.  I realize this is the hard part, there is going to be a lot of disagreement, but that doesn’t make it any less important.  Without that part, all we are doing is punishing and we move farther from creating the society we claim we want to create by supporting great liberal causes like better training for police, justice system reform, and decriminalization of illegal drugs.  These are great causes that indicates a desire for restorative justice over retributive justice.

I’m glad that readers of the newspaper fought back as I think many people also felt that we’re going off the deep end here.  Overall we have to do better.

*quote in feature image is from Quentin Thomas of the Brown Daily Herald

The Unwise and the Immoral

The title of this post is related to another incident of victim blaming that was in the news not too long ago.  The incident involved model Bella Thorne having her computer hacked and the hacker making off with a number of private nude photos.  Bella Thorne, to sort of give a big “fuck you” to the hacker, released the photos herself on Twitter.  On The View, Whoopi Goldberg criticized Thorne saying essentially that one has to know in this day and age that storing such photos on a device connected to the internet (and you are a famous beautiful celebrity) is setting yourself up for this type of theft.  Goldberg then received a ton of backlash including some strong words from Thorne herself for being criticized when it was of course the hacker who was the person who did something wrong and that Goldberg “should know better”.  I suspect Goldberg does know better.  There is nothing about her that makes me think she isn’t a good feminist.  She has always had a no nonsense, blunt style and her comment here I don’t think is meant to give the hacker a pass.  I’ll go so far as to say that I think she makes a good point.  A point we should be able to talk about if framed correctly.  Before I get accused of victim blaming, let me go into more detail about what I mean.

Hacking is a reality of this day and age, and Thorne isn’t the first victim of this type of attack.  This has to be part of our consciousness.  There are laws against hacking, which is invading someone’s privacy and stealing personal property, and their should be.  It is theft and violation, plain and simple.  We can say that the hacker is immoral in his actions.  I think we can say that we all wish we lived in a world in which there were no hackers, and in which a woman’s body wasn’t a commodity that someone could profit on, such that this hacker could ostensibly get leverage over Thorne or other victims of this crime.  As a society we must continue to strive to fix this bigger problem.  Since we don’t live in that kind of society yet, we must also act wisely.  To do so requires us to be able to have conversations about wise and unwise actions to keep people and property from harm.  I am sort of reminded of that old joke where a guy meets a doctor at a social gathering and tries to get some free medical advice and says “Hey doc, my arm hurts whenever I do this. (Imagine whatever arm motion you like).  What should I do?”  And the doctor responds “Don’t move your arm like that.”  Clearly there is a bigger issue to solve Image result for moving arm gifwith that person’s arm, but in the short term, not doing a motion that causes you pain might be wise.  We should be able to simultaneously talk about short term solutions to protect ourselves, while also addressing bigger issues that increase equality and safety for all people rendering this short term acts of caution more irrelevant over time.

If there is a neighborhood where you have an increased chance of being mugged or harmed, all sorts of people will tell you to avoid walking through that neighborhood.  It is not meant to say that they condone violence or theft upon you or anybody else, it is simply meant as advice to keep you out of harms way.  We don’t get all bent out of shape by such advice, but the conversation goes south when women are blamed for their decisions in these types of incidents, or worse crimes like sexual violence.  And I think for good reason.  There have been some criticisms of social media for the fighting that erupted between two women who are likely on the same side of the fight against the patriarchy, but I’m actually not too upset about social media here, because maybe this is a conversation that needs to be had more often.

We have an older and wiser Goldberg, criticizing the wisdom of a younger Thorne.  Perhaps Goldberg feels like she was helping young girls everywhere be wary of putting compromising pictures of themselves in less than secure places based on what can happen to them.  Goldberg’s mistake however was that she also lacked some wisdom here.  As much as I’d like to live in a society where we could have honest conversations about what is a wise or unwise decision when crimes happen, when it comes to crimes against women there is just a long history of the “unwise” decision of a woman being used as an excuse for a man’s immorality and criminal behavior.  If a person is beaten and robbed in that unsafe neighborhood, the police will still arrest and charge the perpetrators, but too many men have gotten off Scot free because of what was deemed a woman’s unwise decision.  Furthermore the basis of what was considered unwise for a woman, does not apply to a man.  In fact very often their unwise decisions are used to further excuse them from wrongdoing.  A woman drinks too much at a party?  Well then of course she kind of Image result for victim blamingdeserves to be raped.  A guy drinks too much at a party? Well clearly he didn’t really mean to rape her, he just had too many beers and didn’t know what he was doing.  Let’s just sentence him to talk about the dangers of drinking.  It’s a huge problem and women have a right to absolutely tired of it.  Goldberg could have said what she said in a much better way that made it clear who the bad actor was in this situation.

Let me also add that the best people in our society are ones who could take advantage but don’t and instead help people be more safe.  Thorne was already punished and probably knows by now what she should have done and doesn’t need Goldberg’s advice after the fact.  So the timing of the comment is also unhelpful.  Like Fareed Zakaria’s advice to Sam Harris after another rant about Islam being the mother lode of bad ideas “Yeah, you’re right, but you’re not helping.”  Being right, and being helpful are often two different things.

Discussion: Privacy – Government vs. Social Media

I was listening to a podcast interview with Nick Bostrom who was talking about his paper The Vulnerable World Hypothesis which looks at how we might avoid certain existential risks that might collapse civilization as we discover new technologies.  It’s an interesting read, but not directly related to what I want to discuss in this post.  He talks about one of the solutions to dealing with such risks is increases surveillance of people.  I am sure that we are all uncomfortable with that, but I think he makes a pretty good argument about why it might be necessary given the possibility of inventing some technology that is easy to use by individuals and could easily lead to widespread destruction.

It was this uncomfortability that I was thinking about and I started to think about the reaction to the scandal that was exposed a number of years ago when it was found out that the NSA was collecting all this information on U.S. Citizens.  I personally didn’t get concerned myself.  I thought about the volume of data they are collecting and it seemed pretty clear to me that the man hours it would take to actually listen or read everyone’s private communications, while solving unemployment, would be an enormous task.  It seems people actually feared that an NSA agent might show up at the door and tell their wife that the husband was having an affair or something.  I don’t know.  We definitely don’t like the idea of the government having our private information, and maybe that’s for good reason.

But enter social media.  We have these platforms that we enter all sorts of personal information into.  We talk about what we like and don’t like.  We post pictures of where we are and where we’ve been.  These companies collect all this information.  We know that they have algorithms that influence what we read, who comes up on our feeds, and try to feed into our political views as opposed to presenting us with opposing arguments.  We know that these platforms have been used by hackers and others entities to directly manipulate people.  100s of millions of people all over the world hand over all this information willingly.

My question is, is our government anti-trust disproportional to our trust of corporations?  Is it even fair to compare the two, or is their an asymmetry here that I am missing?  I mean arguably NSA surveillance could be uncovering terrorist plots that prevent loss of lives, does social media have benefits that outweigh its costs?  Are we being hypocritical about the importance of privacy?  Is it a difference of consent of information vs. non-consent of information?  I mean I might argue that I am consenting by getting a Facebook account and posting things about myself, but they are certainly using my information in many ways I don’t expect or aren’t aware of.

Your thoughts?

Divided We Fall

Recently I had an experience on twitter where I saw somebody posting a link for an article that criticized presidential hopeful Kamala Harris and blamed Bernie Sanders for this criticism.  The thread was full of people with nothing but vitriol for Bernie Sanders going so far to call him both a racist and a misogynist.  My wife has noticed to that criticism of certain democratic candidates erupts into divisive attacks against Bernie Sanders supporters.  When I asked for evidence of any connection to Bernie Sanders and a critique of Kamala Harris I was given none.  This twitter account had 31K followers and had a lot of posts implying dark money and nefarious works of Bernie Sanders to attack the democratic establishment.  The account belongs to Tom Watson and his credentials seem reputable, but for one who claims to be a journalist, he seemed to present no evidence of many of his claims.

But perhaps people like these are a dime a dozen on the internet, but it does make me extremely worried about this future election.  What we need is at least some unity, preferably with people who voted for Trump, but if we can’t get that we have to at least be striving for some unity in the left.  Identity politics seems to be winning the day, and the left has been described some as divided into all sorts of small groups.  The tribalism that we characterize the right with in terms of racism and xenophobia seems to me just as rampant across many groups on the left.  It may not be some of the more obvious ones like skin color, religion, or nationalism, but it’s still there and what’s most worrying is that it seems to be based on very  minor differences in overall worldview.  It seems to me the more that liberals are at each others throats this just increases the odds that when it comes to general election time more people will stay home if their horse didn’t win the primary, or might actually go across the aisle because they are so bitter after all the in fighting.  There is no reason that Bernie Sanders fans should not support Kamala Harris at this point and vice-versa, but more importantly we have to get our heads on straight about why we are voting for a particular candidate.  This isn’t sports and who ever puts on the jersey we like we have to root for.  Government’s goal is to enact the best ideas about how to govern, and this should determine who we vote for.

After the last election I, and I know many of my friends did a lot of research and reflection of how we got to where we were.  As incredulous as Trump’s win was, to suggest that it is the fault of anybody who tried to run for the job who had generally good ideas and who represented more compassion and benevolence than Trump.  Nor should we be accusing each other because we supported who we thought was going to be the best liberally minded candidate.  As a Bernie supporter I was certainly disappointed, but it was clear to me that Hillary was better than Trump and I supported.  Bernie fans who voted for Trump, I think were misguided, but I don’t think this should start casting blame on inspirational politicians who challenge the establishment.  If your vote for a candidate is solely based on gender, or racial identity, or the party they belong to, you are just as guilty of the same behavior as somebody who didn’t vote for someone based on their gender or racial identity.  If you are liberal what you should be for is fighting for a future in which the content of the individual running for office is the reason to vote for them.  And while I think there is enormous value to new generations to grow up in a time with female president and/or ethnic minority president, there is also enormous value in having them grow up with leaders who intelligent and empathetic, and who have good ideas that are going to help people have better lives.

It’s also worth remembering that the Russian interference in the election is very real, and one of the ways it worked is by exploiting division.  I recently listened to this podcast interview on Sam Harris podcast with Renee DiRiesta who has done a lot of research into how Russians used social media to exploit divisions between people.  Not only getting more support for Trump, but trying hard to suppress democratic voters from going to the polls.  It did make a difference.  They are still doing it.  The same tactics have been used by terrorist organizations to recruit, and it can it it also being done within our country as well.  We must resist the temptation to be divided, and while I’m certainly not suggesting that we don’t take a stand on certain issues, if you are spending a lot of time arguing with people on social media you are simply wasting your time.  Twitter and Facebook can take all the steps reasonably allowed to try and prevent fake accounts, but people intent on manipulation on a mass scale through social media will find away around us and it is up to use to be aware and responsible users in the end.

The anti-establishment writing is on the wall, and it was for the last election, but the DNC refused to recognize it.  Trump was no anti-establishment answer but it what many people were looking for.  Likely that sentiment is going to be there again and it is going to be a source of contention on the left.  For those of you who followed Bernie his goal was never to actually win, but to shift the conversation.  To stay focused on issues and to address the anger that many Americans were feeling towards an economic elite that were bleeding the country dry.  Not all of his ideas were great, and whoever you end up supporting will probably not have all the best ideas either.   I suggest:

  • If you want to discuss politics, discuss the issues.  Avoid name calling and personal attacks.
  • Stay away from social media for your information and to keep your emotional health in check during this election season.  It’s a ridiculously long cycle in the U.S. and it’s easy to let your boredom lead you down the path of social media, but it is not your friend, and there are entities on there aiming to continue to divide people.  Don’t let it work.  Not only do you share many similar concerns with your fellow democrat, but probably also your fellow Republican.
  • Consider supporting a few newspapers monetarily.  These platform that are free and run on advertising are prone to attention getting not truth finding.  Good information and journalism costs money.  Do some research on what papers have good investigative research and get an on-line subscription
  • Promote empathy by sticking with politicians who demonstrate it, and also be giving it to your fellow human.

Peace out!

Message Received

I’d like to broach a subject,
About something we all do.
While we might be social creatures,
Some folks make us mad or blue.

So what are the things you do,
To avoid having a conversation?
Have you ducked into a restroom,
Feigning troubling constipation?

Have you ever silenced your phone,
Or just tossed it in your trunk?
Claimed a received message was errant?
Then said, “Boy technology is junk!”

Have you minimized a window,
Or changed the size of the page,
Just to not even see the name,
Of someone who causes you fits of rage?

Have you said you’re off to bed,
Even when you stay up late,
Just to binge on your favorite show,
Or get rid of that annoying date?

Have you just replied “LOL”
Just to get the parlay to end?
Or said, “Aw, I meant to reply,
But I forgot to hit ‘SEND’”?

Have you ever received an e-mail,
But just didn’t give a damn?
And replied in the second one,
That their first one went to spam.

Sometimes you’ve missed a message,
And don’t want anyone to know,
Thankfully software has no feelings,
Or carries grudges to let go.

I am not saying that it’s right,
To act with so little grace,
But in this communication age,
We all need a bit of space.

And truly, people can be annoying,
I’m no exception to the rule,
And we often escalate the drama,
As our response just adds more fuel.

Go too far and you may risk,
Being without and job and all alone,
We need goodwill and interaction,
No human is a stone.

But there is no shame in practicing,
Some insanity prevention,
By not sinking in a morass of time,
From some acquaintance’s dissension.

Find your peace and your balance,
With your tricks and your white lies,
You’re going to feel a little guilt,
But it also might be wise.

If I don’t have time to reply
To your comments about this verse,
I promise that the excuses I give,
Are all very well rehearsed.

Free Speech Crisis? Really???

Although I recently posted a blog about free speech a new line of thinking has crystallized my thoughts a little better on the subject.  There are numerous prominent intellectuals, like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt, who are expressing concerns about free speech.  This is a cause that many liberals are now concerned about.  To the point that they say it is fascism on the left chilling people’s free speech.  I am not fan of disinviting speakers who have views we disagree with, and I think it’s important to hear well researched and thought out points of view.  If we are unable to do that on a widespread basis, then I do agree we have a problem.  But are we are we really at that point and are we, at this current moment, experiencing a free speech crisis in countries like the U.S?  Is the PC crowd really destroying freedom of expression in our society?    Here is the view of one such person who disagreed with my assertion that I don’t think we have to worry about the first amendment being abolished.  Apparently I’ve missed the point:

perhaps through firings for ‘insensitivity’, public shaming based on accusations, grovelling apologies if offence is claimed, speakers being deplatformed and disinvited, ongoing vilification of those who break the ideological group taboo and dare to criticize a protected group, not being politically correct enough, daring to use facts and evidence contrary to an ideological assertion about victimhood and oppression, professional and personal sanctions for not being sensitive enough and so on, encountering a new ‘tree’ each and every time, so to speak, and not addressing the larger issue of the free speech principle. The sentiment raised by Swarn is wrong because this is in fact the rising danger… not because a totalitarian government is on the brink of being elected and canceling free speech by edict but because people by and large are self censoring now, not attending now, not supporting the right of those with whom we may disagree now, cancelling subscriptions now, showing up and disrupting events now, being dismissive free speech for those with whom we disagree now. It is already of such common practice that individuals are curtailing their right to free speech willingly and right now in response to the totalitarian ideology of those who champion social justice through GroupThink and PC, those who stand ready to vilify those blasphemers with the handy labels of bigotry, racism, sexism, ever-ready group smears to be liberally applied as alt Right, fake news, alternative facts, deplorables, and so on. We self censor because of this toxic atmosphere in which we live and the ubiquitous punishments implemented all around us when some people dare to defy it

Besides the fact that obviously any of the people who we are concerned about being “de-platformed” or abused on twitter, or have lost their job still have plenty of platforms to air their views, I’d like to approach the narrative from a different direction.  In a recent interview with Sam Harris, journalist Rebecca Traister addressed the following concern by Sam Harris of what he felt were innocuous comments by Matt Damon on Twitter about the #metoo movement.  She said that every day in this country people are fired from jobs with no explanation given.  It could be their race, their sexuality, their gender, it could be legitimate.  The point is, why do we only get concerned when powerful people seem to be unfairly treated given they really don’t lose much of their wealth or their status.  Matt Damon seems just fine despite getting yelled at on Twitter.  When she said this, it resonated with me because I had thought something very similar in regards to this response to my blog comment above with regards to all of us having to self-censor in this PC culture.  And I thought about  how often women have had to self-censor when they experience sexual harassment?  How often have black people had to self-censor when they experienced discrimination? For those who are the bottom end of societal hierarchies, life is a constant stream of self-censoring.

Now that social media has helped give many people a voice should we be surprised that many are using it say, “you know what, we just aren’t buying what you’re selling”?  Now it’s not to say that there aren’t overreactions, but I would argue that saying “being homosexual isn’t natural” is a far larger overreaction that persisted for quite some time in society.  In an episode of the Guilty Feminist host Deborah Frances-White said that whenever she hears that the #MeToo movement has gone too far she just thinks “yeah but the previous Women-Have-To-Put-Up-With-Any-Shit movement really had a good run.  That went long.  For millennia”.  She goes on to say, in regards to the #MeToo movement, maybe all this PC culture is doing is giving all of us an opportunity (or at least should be) to increase our public empathy.  We are at the very least thinking about the fact that what we do and say could be hurtful to other people, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

You may think that I am making a two wrongs make it right sort of argument, and I guess in a way I am, but let me clarify.  It’s interesting to me how when power structures are questioned the reaction is always far more knee-jerk.  And why does it largely seemed to be white males concerned about this? I mean has anybody who is worried about threats to free speech even presented data that this is an increasing problem, that there are more concerns today than ever before?  When you approach the narrative from the other side, at the lower end of the hierarchy, the fact that more secular people are free to express doubts about religion, more black people are allowed to express their equality to whites, more homosexuals are able to be openly gay, more women are allowed to be in jobs previously only held by men…I’d say that things are actually far more open.  Again is it possible that the pendulum might swing too far in the other direction at times? Sure. But to say that we are in some sort of free speech crisis, I think, is a ludicrous claim.  Even Jonathan Haidt who was the first to take note of this issue of de-platforming speakers on campus has done a lot of nice work in really trying to understand what’s going on here and by no means think that college students are more against free speech today than in the past.  In an article by Jeffrey Adam Sachs in the Washington Post, he argues:

“In fact, our speech is often much more restricted off campus than on. Consider the workplace, where most non-students spend the bulk of their time when not at home. Once you’re on the job, most First Amendment rights disappear. The things you say, the clothing you wear, even the bumper stickers on the car you parked in the company lot — all can be restricted by private-sector employers. Perhaps the reason campus free speech controversies can sound so strange is because few of us are aware of how much we are already shielded from hateful or offensive speech.”

Just because I don’t think we are in a free speech crisis doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with silencing people who have disagreeable views.  I think that we have to always be careful to think whether our actions will enhance or diminish the number of people who hold such views.  Not engaging with people we disagree with can run counter to our goals towards social justice.  That doesn’t mean we should be publicly debating a racist every week either.  Just like I don’t think I need to invite a ‘Flat Earther’ to my class to hash it out in a physics debate, I think a white supremacist is just as fundamentally wrong about the nature of humanity as a ‘Flat Earther’ is about the nature of the universe and I think it’s okay to be somewhat dismissive to such views.  But perhaps punching them isn’t exactly the most helpful thing to do either.   They are all still human, and just like the ‘Flat Earther’ somehow they’ve become misguided and it’s possible to both oppose their views with strength and recognize their humanity.  As writer and journalist Johann Hari said in an interview:

 “It is right to challenge racism, but it has to be challenged in an intelligent way that doesn’t produce more racism, and that’s a fine balance. And I understand why a lot of people say, why should I have to pussyfoot around this?”

And one of my favorite moments in listening to Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast was in interview with Fareed Zakaria, when Harris was going on about the dangers of Islamic ideology, Fareed coolly said, “Yeah, you’re right, but you’re not helping.”

And I think those few words are extremely important to remember.  We need to better at the helping part than being right.  I think it’s possible to do both, but it’s not always the easiest way.  This is a topic perhaps for another post, but let’s not send people into alarmist mindsets about crises of free speech, when so many other problems are still widespread and harmful in the western world.  Let’s try to understand what’s underlying people’s fears and worries and see what we can do to help.  Let’s try to keep some perspective here.  The privilege of the powerful is still far greater than those in the society who have no voice.