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Among the Educated Crazies

A mind, like a spine, is a terrible thing to waste

A reader sends this link to a blog entry by Mary Beard, the Cambridge don and liberal who ran afoul of the loony left. There’s a left-wing movement on British campus calling for “no platforming” — that is, refusing to give space for people with views of which the loony left disapproves space to speak on campus. It started when Beard, along with 130 others, signed a letter in the Guardiancriticizing the “no platforming” movement.

About a week ago, I was sent the text of a letter about the problem of “no platforming” in universities, specifically in relation to divergent, unpopular, and may well be wrong, feminist views, especially in relation to sex workers and the trans community. In fact I had one from the organiser of the letter, and another from an academic colleague.

I have a very clear, long held view on this (which may not of course be right): that ‘no platforming’ unpopular views is counter productive, discourages debate and the due dissection of error, and pushes views one would like to contest openly underground, where they may well flourish better than if exposed to the clear light of argument (which is one of the things that universities are for).

This is not a simple argument about free speech, which is much too fuzzy a concept to be much use honestly. No one really believes that we have a right to totally free speech, except some idiots on the web who use the phrase to justify anything from death threats down. And everyone reckons there are some difficult cases (and the subject of this letter may have been one of those). But what I would stand by, forever, would be the centrality of freedebate in universities and elsewhere. As one e-mailer put it, in reference to questions of Germaine Greer’s views on trans politics, “of course she can find another platform if she is disinvited from Cambridge, but we need her to DEBATE  here”. We should be in the business of subjecting all views, both those with which we agree and those with which we disagree, to public scrutiny. Free speech only means anything it is refers to views with which you disagree as well as agree — else it’s no more than a cabal.

Well, she stepped in it with that. More:

Anyway since the letter was posted on the Guardian website first thing on Saturday, for two days I have been bombard by tweets (and a few emails). Some tweeters have been very polite in their disagreement; for which, thank you. Others not quite so (i should be clear, though, there have been no threats of violence). I meanbombard. I got 60 tweets in the space of about an hour from one person alone.

The complaints fall into several clear categories. 1) I am an appalling transphobe and whorephobe.. else why would I have signed with all those others…er  Catherine Hall a whorephobe? 2) I am a bit passed it, a poor old lady who hasn’t quite got the issues straight, bless her 3) I  have been duped by the transphobes, because I am a nice person really. This goes along with some more idiosyncratic complaints, like about putting quotes round transphobe (scare quotes indicated we didn’t believe in the phenomenon, when it was actually a quote after “deemed”), or comparing my attitude to this to that on the Elgin marbles, or suggesting that I thought Oxbridge profs had a right to speak where others didn’t (er, precisely what I have spent my life resisting). One person said that they would be lighting their meeting tomorrow night with a burning of Beard and Tatchell’s books, and provided a pic of a previous burning of words. (Someone later piled in to say words to the effect of how paranoid we were to take it seriously.. that’s where Kafka comes to mind.)

Beard says she went to bed “wanting to weep” over the barrage of hatred focused on her. “You can see why a lot of women (and there is a gender issue here) might choose not to put their heads above the parapet, cant you,” she writes.

Well, I don’t know that it’s a “gender issue,” but I can certainly see why anyone would be unwilling to put their heads above the parapet on any issue that ticks off the radical left. Beard points out that most of the people who signed this letter are themselves on the cultural left. Peter Tatchell, for example, is a well-known gay rights campaigner. It doesn’t matter. It’s Thermidor.

So, “whorephobe”? Really? Really. From a Guardian column in 2010, by, well, a whore:

Whorephobia can be defined as the fear or the hate of sex workers. Sex workers like me would argue that it also embraces paternalistic attitudes that deem us a public nuisance, spreaders of disease, offenders against decency or unskilled victims who don’t know what is good for them and who need to be rescued.

In its most violent form, whorephobia kills.

Yes, so we must throw out all moral distinctions and judgment over sex and sexuality to prevent the possibility that someone somewhere might do something violent to people who sell their bodies for a living. But we must impose via the mob the most stringent and puritanical morality on those who disagree. Got it.

Beard thinks it’s a gender issue, and I agree … sort of. On his blog, David Thompson highlights a short film about Janice Fiamengo, a female professor in Canada who thinks campus feminism has gone berserk, and is systematically shaming and debilitating men. In the film, Fiamengo says:

I began to wonder what it must be like to be a young man at university, sitting through course after course after course, whether it was an English course, a history course, a philosophy course, or sociology, whatever, and just hearing about how the whole history of humanity had been a history of men oppressing women. And how, even now, supposedly, he should feel bad about his ‘privileges’.

Hearing over and over again about how they’re responsible for all the bad things in the world, that if there were fewer men or they were just less manly, somehow we wouldn’t have any more war and everyone would live abundant, peaceful lives, and if women were more collectivist oriented and egalitarian… All these things demonstrably not true if anyone has ever spent time in a women’s organisation or lived with a bunch of women.

Here’s the 34-minute film. It’s shocking to watch these campus left-wing militants shutting down free speech, and pathetic to watch these young men mewling ingratiatingly:

Bless the brave Janice Fiamengo. It’s going to take academics like her, with immense moral courage, to stand up to these Maolings (great coinage by David Thompson). Mary Beard, time to get in touch with your inner Janice Fiamengo, stiffen your spine and keep speaking out for free speech and for universities to act like universities.

Meanwhile, Loyola University-Chicago, a Jesuit college, is hosting a “Queer Prom,” and thus finds itself in an exquisite bind:

But even a gay prom in Chicago hosted by a Jesuit school can have exclusive policies, according to some transgender students.

The invitation notes that non-Loyola prom attendees would be required by Campus Safety to check in with photo IDs that matched their chosen name, even if they did not go by their legal names.

RSVPing through Facebook has caused some issues with transgender attendees whose ID cards don’t match their guest-list names, which include “vanity names, nick names, middle names instead of last names” and such, Michael Reppen, president of Advocate, told The College Fix in an email.

“Unfortunately, many members of the Trans community are now faced with the concern of having to disclose personal information that they may not wish to (and ideally shouldn’t have to),” Reppen said.

It costs just shy of $20,000 per year to study at Loyola-Chicago. Plus room and board. Just so you know.

I know this is Dreherbait-y, but seriously, what happens to campuses where “no platforming” and these kinds of pathologies run rampant? What can be said of the graduates of places like this? More on this tomorrow.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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