David Thompson


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October 23, 2007


Dutch Canuck

A perfect illustration of the "passive-aggressive pantomime" occurred when Nonie Darwish spoke at Wellesley last week about the treatment of women under Sharia law. Her presentation was continually, deliberately interrupted by the carefully coached mock outrage of the female members of the campus Muslim association:


This sort of behaviour is abetted by moderators who won't put a stop to the disruption, and by the real fear among other members of the audience of being singled out as the target of physical intimidation (if not during the presentation, then after).

I remember seeing a recent video of Christopher Hitchens; during a stop at a university on his U.S. book tour a 'truther' disrupted the Q&A by hogging a microphone. Hitchens responded aggressively and immediately at the attempt to hijack the evening and had him tossed out by security. Meanwhile, the folks in the front row could be heard, sotto voce, asking Hitchens, "Why don't we just hear what he has to say?" Hitch was having none of it, but who is as fearless as he in a public forum? How many students have the resources of a Hitchens to fight a 'hate speech' charge?

At least in the US such speech codes are usually restricted to college campuses. Here in Canada, we have our Human Rights Tribunals, which were initially set up to adjudicate cases of discrimination in employment and housing, but which are now pretty much full-time unaccountable Star Chambers devoted to the investigation of 'hate speech'. Comment threads on Blogs are a recent target of complaints. Most complaints are eventually dismissed, but the defendants must pay all their legal costs, while the plaintiff's costs are covered by the Tribunal.


Dutch Canuck,

Thanks for the link. The denial and unrealism outlined above is an eerie thing to behold, and quite pervasive. I wonder how far some will use this new leverage to inhibit the ‘natural selection’ of ideas, ostensibly in the name of ‘fairness’ and ‘sensitivity’. And I wonder how difficult it will be to recover the ground that is being lost.


For those readers who haven't seen these yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0DRlBa4KVI - Nonie Darwish
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WLoasfOLpQ - Wafa Sultan


I just feel all debate about everything is getting more and more infantilised. Discussing Islam is in a special category, because there is a gun on the table, so to speak. But the recent case of James Watson also really annoyed me. I just wanted someone to say, "James Watson, I challenge you to debate your ideas in public, because I feel confident I can logically destroy them". Instead the whole thing was dealt with through underhand censoriousness. I have no idea whether Watson has any evidence for his contention. I suspect that I.Q. involves a complex cocktail of genetics, diet, culture and the extent of childhood mental stimulation, which makes his view seem just too reductive to be true. But refusing to discuss his ideas, attempting to blank them out, may be counter-productive. It probably makes a lot of people suspect he's actually right.

I'm a regular visitor to the Guardian's "Comment Is Free". It feels as if, every day, some Islamist starts a post. But if you read the comments (anonymous, of course), the majority are often really angry and annoyed by Islam. I suspect a lot of this is resentment at being cowed.



It might have been interesting to see Watson defend his rather confused statement, if indeed he could. (Or perhaps the reporting of his statement was confused.) What fails to stand up to scrutiny can be as illuminating as what survives. Isn’t that a big part of how we learn? Censoring him in the name of indignation seems to achieve very little.

“I suspect a lot of this is resentment at being cowed.”

What galls, I think, is the double standard, and the implicit assumption that certain groups of people with absurd or obnoxious beliefs should be compensated for their shortcomings by sparing those beliefs any realistic criticism. Given the number of people who appear determined to inflict their absurd and obnoxious beliefs on others, or make them defer to those beliefs, this causes a bit of a problem.


I don't think there's much doubt about the Watson comment albeit the faux outrage derived from the wrong bit of what he said. It ought to be uncontroversial to say that certain groups have lower or higher average IQ. That result might be tested for signs of a biased test, but for now let's accept it and note that by the magic of the bell curve, many individuals belonging to the "lower" IQ group actually exceed the average IQ of the higher IQ group, and vice versa.

What is outrageous is to promote a politic in which we treat all members of one group differently to all members the other because the average IQ is different. We would not accept a law that, say, denied the right to be a elected representative for people with an IQ below 120, or denied the vote to those with an IQ below 90. In the same way we should not expect to have to formulate different aid policies for Africa than for Asia. (At least not on the grounds of IQ).

I have to declare an interest here. I worked in Africa for five years. From Livingstone to Geldof, the west has produced concerned liberals who have the key to solve the African problem, and it always demands western rescue. In comment that we treat Africans as backward and helpless, Watson is not outside this tradition.


Here is the text of Nonie Darwish's speech yesterday at U.C. Berkeley, with an introductory note on the reception it received: http://tinyurl.com/3yxfmx


In response to the questions of Dr. Watson's intentions raised by his original rhetoric, he has said the following:

"We do not yet adequately understand the way in which the different environments in the world have selected over time the genes which determine our capacity to do different things. The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity.

"It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science. To question this is not to give in to racism. This is not a discussion about superiority or inferiority, it is about seeking to understand differences, about why some of us are great musicians and others great engineers."

I think that is a valid position to hold at this point in the evolution of our knowledge of the way things really are. For individuals at a point in time, it is irrelevant: they should be judged solely on the merit of their efforts in context. For branches in the history of the migration of the species all over the planet, as statistical distributions rather than a single data point: that's a different thing.

Whether or not people can keep individual versus distribution differences straight is not related to whether or not they are true.



One of the effects of “hate speech” policies and censoriousness in general is to legitimise denial and flatten distinctions between fiction and reality. A person’s *feelings* about such-and-such, however misplaced or wrong-headed, are effectively granted parity with whatever the facts of the matter happen to be. This makes certain questions difficult to ask, as in Watson’s case, and makes certain debates difficult even to begin, as Nonie Darwish discovered. Rehearsed disruption and thuggish abuse are viewed, at least by those indulging in it, as an adequate response, and even a righteous one. That universities are now among the more censorious environments in which to test ideas is no great surprise, if somewhat depressing,

Today’s post may be of interest.




I just wanted to say excellent comment.



The bit you quoted I have no problem with.

I sought, in my comment, to separate the facts as known from the policy that might arise from those facts. I don't believe that facts can ever be racist. I fear that we are entering an era when people hesitate to proclaim certain facts because of the impact they might have on their life or career.


"Leftist Brown Shirts Shut Down Horowitz Speech at Emory"
by Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar
Friday, October 26, 2007



Thanks for that. It matches other reports I’ve seen.


Whatever you make of Horowitz or any particular speaker, the reactions and disruptions have been decidedly creepy. There’s something truly disturbing about the level of delusion required for students and protestors to behave in this way while chanting “This is what democracy looks like.” It’s the way this thuggish and mindless behaviour is actually imagined to be righteous - based on the mouthing of a worldview they won’t allow to be challenged and the forcible exclusion of contrary voices. How radical. How unprejudiced. How daring.

I’ve often found college lefties to be a tad fundamentalist, due to youthful strutting and the ideological echo chamber they inhabit. But one has to wonder how it is that so many campuses have come to be among the least likely places to hear an intelligent discussion in which assumptions get tested.

See comments over here:



Additional information on the Emory case, which
notes an extra-campus factor, is available here:

"Outside Group Stifles Horowitz Speech"
by Salvador Rizzo, the Emory Wheel


Please explain the sentence: He is really hogging the mic.

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