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E-Pluribus | March 21, 2023
You can't handle *that* truth; another shot at defining 'woke'; and it was the best of protests, it was the worst of protests.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Andrey Mir: ‘Malinformation’ and the Wrong Truth
While not as popular as its siblings dis- and mis-, malinformation is beginning to make a name for itself. At Discourse Magazine, Andrey Mir explains what makes this particular label especially pernicious.
The term “malinformation” emerged just in the past year or so. The word was created by combining two language patterns: 1) mis- and dis- information, and 2) malware— “malicious software.” It seems the theory of combating disinformation became so nuanced and all-permeating that it required to include information that is real, not fake, but is used to “inflict harm on a person, organization or country.” Or, as another definition goes, “malinformation is classified as both intentional and harmful to others”—while being truthful.
Describing true information as “malicious” already falls into a gray area of regulating public speech. This assumes that the public is gullible and susceptible to harm from words, which necessitates authoritative oversight and filtering of intentionally harmful facts. But the email quoted by Taibbi goes even further. It does not include intent or harm in the definition of malinformation at all. Rather, “malicious” is truthful information that is simply undesired and “misleading” from the point of view of those who lead the public somewhere. In other words, malinformation is the wrong truth.
[ . . . ]
The relationship here between the speech regulators and citizens is somewhat similar to that between adult and child. The younger and more vulnerable children are, the more likely adults will hide from them the truth that is harmful and “misleading” at a younger age. However, in political doctrines based on a “big state,” this “adults-children” power dynamic is modified. It’s not that children are dependent and incapable and therefore some truth needs to be hidden from them; it’s that some truth needs to be hidden to keep them dependent and reliant on wise guidance. “Misleading” has become a buzzword among the discursive elites in their pursuit of protecting democracy from unsanctioned speech, though the idea rather serves to protect institutional monopoly over information.
Read it all here.
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Ross Douthat: What It Means to Be Woke
It’s difficult to find a writer these days who has not taken a stab at defining “woke,” and in his latest for the New York Times, Ross Douthat files his entry by writing as though he himself is woke. Last week, Freddie deBoer wrote that being woke isn’t so much “something you do, it’s something you are,” and Douthat seems to arrive at a similar conclusion.
What is America all about, at its best? Equality and liberty. What is the left all about, at its best? Transforming those ideals into lived realities.
But this project keeps running into limits, disappointments and defeats. Everywhere you look, terrible disparities persist. And that persistence should force us to look deeper, beyond attempts to win legal rights or redistribute wealth, to the cultural and psychological structures that perpetuate oppression before law and policy begin to play a part. This is what the terminology of the academy has long been trying to describe — the way that generations of racist, homophobic, sexist, and heteronormative power have inscribed themselves, not just on our laws but our very psyches.
And once you see these forces in operation, you can’t unsee them — you are, well, “awake” — and you can’t accept any analysis that doesn’t acknowledge how they permeate our lives.
This means rejecting, first, any argument about group differences that emphasizes any force besides racism or sexism or other systems of oppression. (Indeed, the very measurement of difference — through standardized testing, say — is itself inevitably shaped by these oppressive forces.) Even differences that seem most obviously biological, like the differences between male and female athletes or the bodies that people find sexually attractive, should be presumed to be primarily culturally inscribed — because how can we know what’s really biological until we’ve finished liberating people from the crushing constraints of gender stereotypes?
It also means rejecting or modifying the rules of liberal proceduralism, because under conditions of deep oppression those supposed liberties are inherently oppressive themselves. You can’t have an effective principle of nondiscrimination unless you first discriminate in favor of the oppressed. You can’t have real freedom of speech unless you first silence some oppressors.
Read the whole article.
Carl R. Trueman: A Tale of Two Student Protests
Stanford Law School is running out of feet in which to shoot itself as last week’s incident involving visiting judge Kyle Duncan demonstrated. At First Things, Carl Trueman contrasts Duncan’s experience with a much more pleasant one of his own at another college (which Trueman chooses to not name in his article) where he was treated civilly and even graciously by those who hold different views.
[F]ederal judge Kyle Duncan… was visiting [Stanford Law School last week] to give a lecture sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society. But his talk was disrupted by students who heckled him for his rulings on LGBT issues. Not only was Duncan subject to the now-traditional vile personal abuse from the pampered students who inhabit the lecture rooms of the nation’s most elite institutions, he was also treated to a lecture by the dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion (who else?) on what an evil person he is. While Stanford’s president has since apologized, it remains to be seen if the apology for allowing behavior inconsistent with the school’s policies will lead to the obvious consequence: the firing of the DEI dean for her own bizarre rant. If a senior administrator who so clearly undermines school policy is allowed to continue in office, the apology is meaningless.
[ . . . ]
[P]rotests do not always need to be obnoxious, like the one at Stanford. Some weeks ago I was myself subject to a protest while speaking at another college. The protesters, upset at my views on LGBT and Pride issues, organized opposition to my presence. But this group was different from the Stanford mob. My protesters attended my lecture, listened politely and even laughed at my jokes, asked some good questions, and then at the end left the lecture theater to hold a gathering elsewhere on campus. At no point did I feel disrespected as a human being. Far from it. I actually appreciated the protesters turning up in person to hear what I had to say. And I further appreciated being asked good questions that pressed me to sharpen my thinking on a couple of points.
The difference between my protesters and those berating Judge Duncan is this: Mine had not lost sight of the fact that they and I both share a common humanity. Nor had they lost sight of the purpose of public discourse: to persuade opponents to change their views for the better, not to terrify them into silence.
Read it all.
Here are a few excerpts from a long Tim Urban thread on “social authoritarianism.” Click through for the whole thing.
Via Katie Herzog, Wellesley College students tie themselves in knots in the transgender debate:
And finally, whatever you think of Hungary’s Viktor Orban, I hope we can all agree this merits immediate cancellation: