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E-Pluribus | September 9, 2021
Three degrees of cancel culture, a professor finally gives up on illiberal Portland State, and wokeness training at Google.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Nick Gillespie: Self-Cancellation, Deplatforming, and Censorship
Nick Gillespie’s deep dive into cancel culture is not always comfortable reading, but that seems appropriate given that his point is that the ideas that depend on free speech are often unpopular, uncomfortable, or even repugnant to some (or even many). Reason’s Gillespie explores the various forms cancel culture takes these days, from personal intimidation to corporate coercion to outright government censorship.
Cancel culture operates on at least three different levels: the personal, the corporate, and the political. Each is more troubling than the next, because each casts a broader net and eliminates more and more options. It's one thing for me to cancel my Twitter account after being attacked as morally obtuse, worse to be permanently kicked off the site because its moderators have decided I am beyond redemption, and more troubling still to have the government shut down Twitter because it allowed my awful speech.
It's tempting to single out that last level because the other two involve individuals or private entities who ultimately should be free to do whatever they want. Only the government can engage in true censorship, surely. But the three layers work synergistically to increase the cultural and political regulation of thought and expression. To build as free and open a society as possible, we need to challenge the precepts of cancel culture at all levels.
Complaining and working to change the system (voice) is also a powerful strategy, both in politics and in dealing with online platforms. We should loudly criticize platforms for kicking people off in arbitrary ways that diminish our ability to freely argue and disagree about politics and culture. We want more participation across the board, not less, even if we believe that businesses can rightly restrict expression however they see fit. We all need to make our presence known, both at platforms and in elections, as supporters of maximal free speech. That means we need to push the case for free expression not just when the government comes for our rights but when private companies delete content and individuals start flagellating themselves like devout Catholics in the Philippines on Good Friday.
Read it all.
Peter Boghossian: My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit.
In yesterday’s Around Twitter, I noted Peter Boghossian’s resignation from his position at Portland State University. Bari Weiss has Boghossian’s letter to the university explaining the reasoning behind his decision to end his decade-long fight against the institution’s increasingly illiberal ways.
I noticed signs of the illiberalism that has now fully swallowed the academy quite early during my time at Portland State. I witnessed students refusing to engage with different points of view. Questions from faculty at diversity trainings that challenged approved narratives were instantly dismissed. Those who asked for evidence to justify new institutional policies were accused of microaggressions. And professors were accused of bigotry for assigning canonical texts written by philosophers who happened to have been European and male.
At first, I didn’t realize how systemic this was and I believed I could question this new culture. So I began asking questions. What is the evidence that trigger warnings and safe spaces contribute to student learning? Why should racial consciousness be the lens through which we view our role as educators? How did we decide that “cultural appropriation” is immoral?
This isn’t about me. This is about the kind of institutions we want and the values we choose. Every idea that has advanced human freedom has always, and without fail, been initially condemned. As individuals, we often seem incapable of remembering this lesson, but that is exactly what our institutions are for: to remind us that the freedom to question is our fundamental right. Educational institutions should remind us that that right is also our duty.
Read the whole thing.
Christopher F. Rufo: Don’t Be Evil
Google is the latest corporation to come under the scrutiny of Christopher Rufo via internal leaks. The materials follow a similar pattern to inclusion, diversity and anti-racism at other large corporations, though a “White Supremacy Pyramid” topped by “genocide” and “mass murder” featuring photos of Ben Shapiro and Donald Trump makes its (apparent) first appearance in Google’s program.
The program presents a series of video conversations promoting the idea that the United States was founded on white supremacy. In one video, Google’s former global lead for diversity strategy, Kamau Bobb—who was later reassigned to a non-diversity-related role at the company after being exposed for writing that Jews have “an insatiable appetite for war and killing”—discussed America’s founding with 1619 Project editor Nikole Hannah-Jones. Jones claimed that “the first Africans being sold on the White Lion [slave ship in 1619] is more foundational to the American story” than “the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock.” She claimed that she led the New York Times’s 1619 Project—a revisionist historical account of the American founding—to verify her “lifelong theory” that everything in the modern-day United States can be traced back to slavery. “If you name anything in America, I can relate it back to slavery,” Jones said in the video. At the end of the conversation, Jones concluded that all white Americans benefit from the system of white supremacy. “If you’re white in this country, then you have to understand that whether you personally are racist or not, whether you personally engage in racist behavior or not, you are the beneficiary of a 350-year system of white supremacy and racial hierarchy,” she said.
Next, Sherice Torres, Google’s then-global inclusion director (now a vice president of marketing at Facebook Financial), hosted a video discussion with Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi about racism in American life. Kendi argues that all Americans, including children as young as three months old, are fundamentally racist. “To be raised in the United States, is to be raised to be racist, and to be raised to be racist is to be raised to almost be addicted to racist ideas,” he said. “The youngest of people are not colorblind—between three and six months, our toddlers are beginning to understand race and see race.” The solution, Kendi claimed, is for all Americans to admit their complicity in racism and “respond in the same way that they respond when they are diagnosed with a serious illness.” Denying one’s complicity in racism, Kendi argued, is only further proof of a person’s racism. “For me, the heartbeat of racism is denial and the sound of that denial is ‘I’m not racist,’” he says. Ultimately, Kendi argued that policymakers should deem any racial disparities the result of racist policies—and work to undo the deep-seated racism that permeates every institution in our society. “Certainly, it’s a critically important step for Americans to no longer be in denial about their own racism or the racism of this country,” he said.
Read it all here.
Apparently requests to interview former Portland State University professor Peter Boghossian have been decidedly one-sided:
The ACLU’s mask is slipping, via Glenn Greenwald:
Thomas Chatterton Williams responds to Noah Smith’s take on the need for Critical Race Theory or some alternative:
And finally, book burning by any other name…