E-Pluribus | January 26, 2024
DEI and the rise of the Mediocracy; not your (founding) fathers' First Amendment; and going Godwin on Substack.
A round-up of the latest and best musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Claudine Gay and the mafia of mediocrity
While proponents of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) say they are all about giving everyone equal opportunities, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, writing for UnHerd, says the effect is to give unqualified individuals opportunities they have not earned. Ali says Degradation, Erasure and Indoctrination are a better fit for the acronym.
In early December, Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard was called to testify in Congress and asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews on campus violated Harvard university’s code of conduct. Gay delivered prepared remarks, priding herself and her institution on protecting free expression and, after a pitiful exercise in evasion, settling on the answer that calling for the genocide of Jews on campus depended on the context.
[. . .]
After Gay’s shambolic performance in Congress, similar questions were asked and answered by the public. The most obvious being: how did someone with a wafer-thin scholarly record of only 11 journal publications over a period of 26 years get to become the president of Harvard? Allegations and proof of nearly 50 instances of plagiarism followed. How on earth was this overlooked? Where were the gatekeepers?
The Harvard Corporation. . . persuaded Gay to step down. Nevertheless, she continues to stay employed by Harvard as a tenured professor, retaining an annual salary of around $900,000. As for the university itself, the result is at least a billion dollars in withdrawn commitments from various donors, more congressional probing, a slump in applications from prospective students, and the trashing of its reputation.
[. . .]
DEI is the programmatic implementation of an intolerant progressive agenda that views the existing structures of government, education, media, and industry as deeply unjust. It presents these institutions in the light of a hierarchical “intersectional” model of the oppressors and the oppressed. The ultimate oppressor is white, male, and straight. Blacks, women, gays and others are defined as their victims. To redress these past wrongs, DEI is supposed to design new structures of “positive” discrimination, or “affirmative action”.
This is how individuals such as Claudine Gay secured promotion to the commanding heights not just of the Ivy League, but of many other august institutions. Merit, qualifications, the ability to lead — all these criteria were cast aside as expressions of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy”.
The blame for this, of course, cannot be solely pinned on the individuals who have since benefited from DEI. As Gay ascended the ladder of academic preferment, her ambition was central but hardly sufficient. Rather, she did so with the complicity of a network of gatekeepers: the admissions offices of Princeton and Stanford; the peer reviewers who overlooked her plagiarism; the Harvard committees that promoted her through the various ranks of the professorship; and, finally, the members of the Harvard Corporation who deemed her the most suitable candidate for the position of president.
Thanks to their collaboration, and the fall-out following their exposure, the truth about DEI has been thrust into the mainstream. As an acronym, it still holds, but not in the way they intend. In reality, the D stands for the degradation of the standards once upheld at institutions such as Harvard; the E stands for their erasure; and the I stands not only for the indoctrination that follows, but also intimidation.
Read it all.
Anwesh Satpathy: India’s Illiberal First Amendment
While there are certainly debates about its meaning and application, it is rare in the United States that the term “First Amendment” is referenced with a negative connotation. The same cannot be said in India. While India is indeed the largest (most populated) democracy, Anwesh Satpathy at Quillette says that the way free speech works in India suffers from a First Amendment with too much fine print, fine print politicians are all too willing to exploit.
The Indian government recently decided to press charges against the writer Arundhati Roy for comments she made on the situation in Kashmir a decade ago. In a 2010 speech, Roy claimed that the state of Kashmir, which has been the subject of a longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan, has never been an integral part of India.
There has been understandable shock in the international media at the vagueness of the laws under which she has been charged and the blatant disregard for free speech they permit. But in fact, speech-related laws and court judgements in India have always been ambiguous and contradictory.
The Indian government’s tendency to crack down on speech of which it disapproves dates from the founding of the republic. Unlike the American First Amendment, which guaranteed freedom of expression, the Indian First Amendment increased the number of restrictions on speech that already existed in the nation’s constitution.
[. . .]
Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution states that “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.”
These laws were upheld by the Indian judiciary on multiple occasions. On 10 May 1951, however, the Nehru government added the following amendment, to the effect that “nothing” in article 19(1)(a) “shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right [to freedom of speech] in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. [Changes to the original constitutional text are shown in bold.]
The vagueness of these caveats has allowed the state to curtail the freedom of the press and to suppress criticism of state policy on multiple occasions. For example, in 2014, the Congress Party government banned the airing of Callum Macrae’s acclaimed documentary, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, which charts human rights abuses during the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war, on the pretext that the film would result in “straining friendly relations” between the two countries. In 2017, the Central Board of Film Certification denied certification to Venkatesh Kumar’s movie Neelam, also set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, under the same pretext.
[. . .]
The First Amendment set the precedent that the state could interfere in every aspect of public life and dictate the limits of popular speech. In the years that followed, Nehru’s daughter, India’s third prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was to exploit this precedent to create a national security state.
[. . .]
In practice, all political parties have since used these laws to imprison opposition leaders, critics, and protestors. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, for example, more than half of those arrested under the National Security Act in 2020 were accused of the crime of “cow slaughter.” The NSA makes no explicit mention of this “crime,” but the wide power that law grants allows the police to carry out arrests on arbitrary grounds like these.
[. . .]
The US First Amendment famously secures the free speech rights of American citizens. Sadly, India’s First Amendment has done the opposite. The censorship we are now subjected to was enabled by the actions of our own founding fathers.
Read the whole thing.
Robert Tracinski: In Search of the “Reasonable Man”
Is it possible to go too far to defend free expression for “all”? At his Substack Symposium, Robert Tracinski examines the ongoing controversy on Symposium’s (and Pluribus’s) host website Substack over (literal) Nazis.
[T]here was a “collective letter” demanding the company [Substack] explain why it isn’t filtering out Nazis. Then there was an open letter by Substackers on the other side, arguing that “Substack Shouldn’t Decide What We Read.” Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie declared that Substack would not block Nazis because the company is “committed to upholding and protecting freedom of expression” as opposed to “censorship.” Substack subsequently shut down a few Nazi sites, but on the grounds that they violated existing rules against things like inciting violence, but this was too late and too tentative for some Substack writers.
First, let’s be clear that “censorship” and “free speech” are not the issues here. People continue to get this issue wrong in the way they consistently get it wrong—even, if I might grumble for a bit, after we keep pointing out how they’re getting it wrong. “Censorship” is what happens when the government bans the expression of ideas. Freedom of speech does not require that any person or business actively support the expression of specific ideas by hosting them on its forum, or in Substack’s case, by helping someone make money from a newsletter.
This is an important point to remember. Describing Substack as a “platform” is a deceptively passive way of putting it. Substack is actually an integrated bundle of services offered to its writers, including web hosting, mailing list management, mass e-mail sending, cybersecurity and spam filtering, and marketing. There is no principle—legal or otherwise—that requires them to offer these services to everyone.
Of course, we also talk about “freedom of expression” in a non-legal, non-political sense. We talk about a “culture of free speech” that deliberately entertains a wide range of ideas. The better name for this might be “tolerance,” and I like that term because nobody would describe themselves as “tolerating” something they like. It only applies to the forbearance you extend to ideas and actions you don’t agree with.
Why would we tolerate wrong ideas? Because we regard it as valuable to have a vibrant and wide-ranging debate and specifically to hear trenchant criticisms of widely accepted notions. We regard this as valuable because the criticisms might actually be true or contain some element of truth, and because the right ideas can only prove themselves by being open to criticism and counter-argument. We also regard it as valuable in the hope that people with wrong ideas are more likely to be convinced of their errors through discussion and debate than through mere hectoring.
[. . .]
Why can’t we acknowledge that it’s good to tolerate and even to support a wide range of intellectual debate on a wide range of issues—but not the Nazis, because to hell with those guys? It’s important to have an “open mind,” but not so wide open that you can’t make firm judgements in the obvious cases. The Nazis are an obvious case of a false and irredeemably evil ideology, and what is more, they are universally recognized as an obvious case. This should be a no-brainer.
When it comes to the interpretation of the law, there is a well-established standard of the “reasonable man.” You cannot be held liable for negligence, for example, if you acted as a “reasonable person”—it has been updated to gender-neutral terminology—would have done. This standard has sometime been criticized for not laying down specific, hard-and-fast rules, but this reflects the fact that every case is specific, and the jury has to make a judgment call about what a “reasonable man” would have done in those exact circumstances. In effect, it calls upon the defense to invoke rational arguments to explain the logic behind their client’s decisions—or to reveal the absence of such forethought.
[. . .]
The whole reason we’re concerned about deplatforming and about cancel culture is because it does have an impact. The internet is a big place, and people can find all sorts of independent options. Substack could not “decide what we read” if it tried. But leaving the big, established platforms usually comes at a cost in time, effort, and higher fees—and the loss of digital networks, as the canceled are shunted into their own bubbles where they are readily accessible by a smaller group of readers. We should deplatform the Nazis because deplatforming works—and protect just about everybody else, also because deplatforming works.
Read it all here.
Around Twitter (X)
Princeton is apparently allowing “no-contact” orders (similar to restraining orders) to be used by students against innocent student journalists. The Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression and the Anti-Defamation League call foul:
And finally, Megan McArdle has some euphemism advice for conservatives in the immigration debate: