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October 2007

Soft Student Brains (3)

Via the comments to this, The Thin Man directs readers’ attention to an extraordinary story regarding the University of Delaware and its efforts to correct improper thought:

Students living in the university’s eight housing complexes are required to attend training sessions, floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings with their Resident Assistants (RAs). The RAs who facilitate these meetings have received their own intensive training from the university, including a “diversity facilitation training” session at which RAs were taught, among other things, that “[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”

The University’s “Life Diversity Facilitation Training” document also includes the following definitions:

REVERSE RACISM: A term created and used by white people to deny their white privilege. Those in denial use the term reverse racism to refer to hostile behaviour by people of colour toward whites, and to affirmative action policies, which allegedly give “preferential treatment” to people of colour over whites. In the U.S., there is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ [Page 3]


A NON-RACIST: A non-term. The term was created by whites to deny responsibility for systemic racism, to maintain an aura of innocence in the face of racial oppression, and to shift responsibility for that oppression from whites to people of colour (called “blaming the victim”). Responsibility for perpetuating and legitimizing a racist system rests both on those who actively maintain it, and on those who refuse to challenge it. Silence is consent. [Page 3]

The training document is “presented” by Dr Shakti Butler, who is described here as “a creative and visionary bridge builder” and an “inspirational facilitator”, whose “consulting, writing, and lecturing style supports her use of mind, body, and Spirit or Consciousness as an approach to challenge deeply embedded beliefs and generate new questions.” Presumably, Professor Stanley Fish has no objection to “bridges” being built in this way, or to the term ‘racist’ being applied to “all white people... living in the United States.” And presumably he still believes that students “don’t have to worry” about the spread of campus speech codes and other neurotic sensitivities. Again, I beg to differ. One of the surest ways to erode a person’s probity is to make them repeat in public, among their peers, things they know to be untrue. The more ridiculous the lies, and the greater the mismatch with reality, the greater the effect. That is what is happening here.

Update, via the comments:

Like many other “activists”, Butler obviously isn’t opposed to racism per se. She isn’t arguing for a reciprocal moral principle – i.e. that people shouldn’t be prejudged on the basis of their skin colour or country of origin. She’s simply encouraging paranoia, victimhood and disaffection among students, while apparently indulging her own bizarre racial revenge fantasies. Fantasies which others may begin to share after prolonged and coercive exposure to this lurid nonsense. Having redefined racism as “prejudice + power”, is Dr Butler concerned by her own abuse of influence, or the power wielded by academic institutions like Delaware, or Duke, or by other likeminded educators, administrators and activists? Is she troubled by her own unsupported, overtly racist, efforts to indoctrinate? It seems not. Perpetuating this anxious, non-reciprocal outlook may be politically useful to some leftist ideologues and opportunist pressure groups, or those with serious mental health problems; but it isn’t clear how believing “all white people” are racist helps anyone see further than the colour of a person’s skin. 

Update 2:

Delaware’s Vice President for Student Life, Michael Gilbert, responds to FIRE’s criticisms - evasively and inaccurately. In turn, FIRE responds to Gilbert, rather well, I think. Significantly, Gilbert makes no mention whatsoever of Dr Shakti Butler’s overtly racist and paranoid training document, despite its key role in Delaware’s “diversity facilitation.”

Update 3:

One down in Delaware.

Update 4:

On emasculated liars

Feel free to make a donation. I’m going to need trained lions.

Old Fantasies Revisited

Gail Herriot unearths John Ellis’ observations on Tacitus, Terry Eagleton and the political correctness of ancient Rome.

A sophisticated man of letters, disillusioned and even embittered by the flaws, inconsistencies, and retrogressions of a great civilization, deludes himself that a world of primitive innocence and natural goodness exists in peoples who are untouched by the advances of that civilization. So intense are his hostile feelings toward his own society that he is unable to see the one he compares it to with any degree of realism: whatever its actual qualities, it is endowed with all of the human values that he misses in his own. Consequently, he sees his own culture not as an improvement on brutish natural human behaviour but as a departure from a state of natural goodness… Tacitus wanted to see in the Germans the answer to everything that bothered him about his own society, just as the campus radicals of our own time are tempted to see in the contemporary Third World an absence of rank consciousness and hierarchy, of capitalism and greed, of the strong coercing the weak, and of men lording it over women and treating them as playthings.

The whole thing. Related. And. Also. Plus

Herring Not So Red

While we’re on the subject of campus censorship, this may be of interest. In a review of Evan Coyne Maloney’s film Indoctrinate U, Professor Stanley Fish argues that criticism of “speech codes” is misplaced:

Then there’s the matter of speech codes. This is a fake issue. Every speech code that has been tested in the courts has been struck down, often on the very grounds — you can’t criminalize offensiveness — invoked by Maloney. Even though there are such codes on the books of some universities, enforcing them will never hold up. Students don’t have to worry about speech codes.

Setting aside for a moment the loaded and often ludicrous nature of campus speech codes and their potential for malicious exploitation - and setting aside the enormous waste of time, effort and money that attempts to enforce them entail - Fish’s claim is still glib and disingenuous. Perhaps Professor Fish imagines that every student unfortunate enough to be charged with a speech code violation – say, for causing “embarrassment” while on college property - has the perseverance and wherewithal to challenge those codes and fight their enforcement in court - a process that may take months, even years, and no small amount of money.

Given the loaded nature of many speech codes - and given the leanings of those most keen to implement them and most keen to file complaints – unilateral license can be given to the feelings and beliefs of certain “protected” groups. It would be naïve to assume that some members of those groups - and of some groups in particular – won’t exploit that advantage for purposes of their own. If designated victim groups discover that they receive compensation for injured feelings, or some other leverage, then those groups have an incentive to be “offended” all the more - and all the more emphatically. Thus a climate is created, and possibly a feedback loop. Professor Fish may assume that the pretentious, neurotically ‘sensitive’ atmosphere in which such codes exist – despite their alleged ineffectiveness – is a trivial, costless matter and something to be dismissed out of hand. But students on the receiving end may disagree. 

Related, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. And.

Friday Ephemera

Protecting your livestock from atomic attack. With good planning and lots of hay. (1965) // Online B-movies. Attack of the Monsters!, The Atomic Brain! A festival of trash. // Shrooms. Unwary mushroom enthusiasts learn stern moral lesson. (h/t, Fungus the Boogyman.) // Attempts to draw time not entirely successful. (h/t, Infosthetics.) // Behold the mechano-titans! Very big digging machines. More. And. // The Earth is hollow. I did not know that. // The clouds of Jupiter. // High-resolution images of Mars. Taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. // Via Coudal, the blog of unnecessary quotation marks. // “In a mediocracy, real cultural progress is impossible because it requires conditions that are incompatible with a commitment to egalitarianism.” // Christopher Hitchens on the term ‘Islamofascism’. // The Conservative Muslim Forum affirms right to disassemble democracy: “If a political party wishes to campaign for the abolition of democracy in the UK and its replacement with a totalitarian system, why should it not be free to do so?” // F-14 low flyby and sonic boom. (mpg) // David Mach’s coat hanger gorilla. // Brooklyn woman finds 7-foot python in toilet. (h/t, Ace.) // The 31 wheel roller suit. (h/t, The Thin Man.) // South Park: Imaginationland. Part 2. // Classic London Cafés. From the golden age of Formica. // Via Coudal, how to make vodka pills. // Baby mouse wine. // And, via Metrolander, Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine?

Soft Student Brains (2)

Further to this, this and this, here’s Walter Williams on speech codes, ‘sensitivity’ and shoehorning claptrap into soft student brains

When college admissions officials make their recruitment visits, they don’t tell parents that their children will learn “whiteness is a form of racial oppression”, or that they sponsor racially segregated orientations, dorms and graduation ceremonies.

Related: Evan Coyne Maloney’s Indoctrinate U. (h/t, Stephen Hicks.)

Fear and Hate

In a post on Tufts University’s Islamic Awareness Week and the censorship surrounding it, I wrote: 

So, a panel of faculty and students will not permit “attitudes or opinions” that are deemed, tendentiously, to constitute “harassment” and to create a “hostile environment.” Even when that “harassment” takes the form of factual statements which those complaining have yet to refute. One therefore has to wonder what kind of “awareness” Islamic Awareness Week was intended to cultivate. Evidently, a free and frank discussion wasn’t - and isn’t - a welcome outcome. And one has to wonder exactly when students became so delicate and so allergic to dissent, even to matters of historical fact.

It should, I think, be unnecessary to point out that claims of being offended don’t, in themselves, entitle one to anything in particular, and certainly not rights of unilateral censorship. But we live in strange times and some repetition may be in order. As I wrote back in May 2005:

In this fashionable rush to condemn those who cause offence, we are in danger of overlooking something important. All grievances are not of equal merit. Nor are they deserving of equal sensitivity or accommodation. Whether or not a person is offended may not depend on what is actually said or written, which may be perfectly coherent, measured in tone and serious in intent. The perceived offence may depend on the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the supposedly aggrieved party... Very civil and inarguable comments can, for instance, cause “offence” to someone who is determined to be offended for political gain and determined to exploit the pretence of being hurt. Indeed, the pantomime of being conspicuously aggrieved can be a form of passive-aggressivism - a way to express hostility or dominance while hiding being the role of victim. This tactic is widely employed by the morally incontinent and by bullies of all kinds.

In light of those comments, the following may be of interest. Mike Adams has developed a similar line of thinking and arrived at an interesting, and quite helpful, definition of “hate speech”: 

Hate speech is verbal communication that induces anger due to the listener’s inability to offer an intelligent response. Because this inability to offer an intelligent response is due to one of two reasons, there are really two different types of hate speech: (1) Speech that is too dumb to merit an intelligent response, and (2) Speech for which the listener is too dumb to offer an intelligent response.

Instances of the former are numerous in the society-at-large. For example, when a member of the KKK says “I may not be much, but at least I’m not a nigger” there is really no way to respond intelligently. Nor is there much hope that any response will be understood and appreciated by someone ignorant enough to make such a remark. So the speech can be properly characterized as hate speech.

Instances of the latter are numerous in academia. For example, three years ago this week, I wrote a piece explaining how speech codes produce a form of reverse Darwinism. I argued that only those who are emotionally unfit are likely to become uncomfortable simply by hearing a contrary point of view. I argued further that they are indeed quite emotionally unfit if they actually remain upset long enough to file a complaint aimed at enforcing a speech code…

The similarity between the two principal forms of hate speech is obvious: They both induce anger in the listener, regardless of whether the speaker expressed his view with any feeling of hatred or animosity. And this leads to an understanding of the apparent hypocrisy of gays and feminists who (a) cry “hate speech” against conservatives who do not wish to kill gays and feminists, and (b) tolerate “hate speech” by Islamic fascists who really do wish to kill gays and feminists. Islamic advocacy of violence is not classified as “hate speech” because it induces fear, not anger. This, of course, explains the failure of speech codes. Since the enforcement of the codes relies largely on the emotional reaction of the listener rather than the content of the speech.

Adams’ Darwinian reference is not an entirely unserious one. Progress depends on the vigorous testing of ideas and this process can involve unflattering collisions and breakage. Poor arguments and unsupportable beliefs are often damaged in free debate, sometimes beyond repair, and disrepute and embarrassment may prove difficult to avoid. That’s the nature of progress. Moves to spare the feelings and prejudices of designated victim groups inhibit that testing process and give undue immunity to those with the poorer argument, or no argument at all. If, as Adams suggests, “hate speech” is defined by the listener’s inability to tolerate dissent or formulate an intelligent response, then advantage is given to those who least deserve it. Those who resort to threats and howls of impropriety gain leverage over people who are prepared to listen and rebut with argument and evidence. Thus, moral incontinence, idiocy and bullying prevail. 

Related, on unrealistic dialogue. And. Also. Plus.

Use the button. Give pleasure to a stranger. 

Friday Ephemera

The Future is Now. (1955) “What do you wear to answer the phone?” // Leather masks. For balls, banquets or fighting crime. // Cautious Twins. (1959) And a town teeming with predators. // Zounds! Youth rock ministry. “The rocking power of awesome music. Totally radical salvation for today’s totally radical kids!” // Adam Gault’s Lantern Fishes. // RISE CD player. // Bang & Olufsen BeoLab-3 speakers. // The museum of retro technology. Monowheels, gyrocars and speaking tubes. // What to do if ET phones back. // Single atom data storage? (h/t, The Thin Man.) // Mandelbot. Self-assembly paper robot. Fold and glue for quality time. // Hod Lipson on self-aware robots. // Perry de Havilland on self-ownership and the state. // Carolyn Porco on Saturn and its moons. // Mel Blanc on David Letterman. (1981) // The Wii light sabre. // In case you missed it, bizarro Star Wars. // Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. A sentimental journey with strange intonation. // 5000 years of religion in 90 seconds. (h/t, BoingBoing.) // Uniqlock. Slightly baffling global timepiece. // Via Coudal, the world directory of pasta shapes. // Something pointless and hugely irritating. // Berkeley’s “anti-war” crowd postures outside marine recruitment centre. Captain Richard Lund replies. // And finally, hepcats, it’s Dizzy.

And So Forth

Further to recent rumblings on tenured radicals, KC Johnson has some thoughts on the latest adventures of Duke University’s infamous humanities faculty and their classroom activism. Or, as their programme puts it, “alternative political imaginaries” and – grotesquely, given recent events - “speaking truth to power”:

How many Duke parents, alumni, or trustees are aware that the University’s humanities openly state that their goal is not instructing students in the traditional disciplines of the liberal arts, but instead engaging in political activism based on a “critique of commodity culture, representational practices, colonial thought, patriarchal structures, tyrannical regimes, racial hierarchies, sexual normativities, and so forth”?

The whole thing. Related. And