Credit Where Credit Is Due

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I have been scathing about Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago. I vented my wrath about his “liberal” casuistry in “Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It” (2005) and “Liberal Claptrap” (2006). I must admit, however, that I like and agree with most of Stone’s recent essay, “Free Expression in Peril.”

Stone writes, for example, that “[w]e live today in an era of political correctness in which students themselves demand censorship, and colleges, afraid to offend those students, too often surrender academic freedom.” Stone then catalogs some of the many offenses against free speech that have been committed by students, often with the aid of administrators. Stone then asks

[h]ow did we get here? It was not long ago when college students were demanding the right to free speech. Now they demand the right to be free from speech that they find offensive or upsetting.

One often-expressed theory is that students of this generation, unlike their predecessors, are weak, fragile, and emotionally unstable. They’ve been raised, the argument goes, by parents who have protected, rewarded, and celebrated them in every way from the time they were infants. Therefore they’ve never learned to deal with challenge, defeat, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, insult, or fear. They are emotionally incapable of dealing with challenge.

But if that is so, then the proper role of a university is not to protect and pamper them but to prepare them for the difficulties of the real world. The goal should not be to shield them from discomfort, insult, and insecurity, but to enable them to be effective citizens. If their parents have, indeed, failed them, then their colleges and universities should save them from themselves.

There is, however, another possibility. It is that students, or at least some students, have always felt this way, but until now they were too intimidated, too shy, too deferential to speak up. If so, this generation of college students deserves credit, because instead of remaining silent and oppressed, they have the courage to demand respect, equality, and safety.

I think there is an element of truth in both of these perspectives, but I am inclined to think that the former explains more than the latter.

I agree with Stone. Today’s students seem to be spoiled brats, and their anti-free speech behavior is nothing better than a tantrum.

Stone, later in the essay, poses and answers some questions:

Should students and faculty be allowed to express whatever views they want, however offensive they might be to others?

Yes. Absolutely.

Should those who disagree and who are offended be allowed to condemn that speech and those speakers in the most vehement terms? Yes. Absolutely.

Should those who are offended and who disagree be allowed to demand that the university punish those who have offended them? Yes. Absolutely.

Should the university punish those whose speech annoys, offends, and insults others? Absolutely not.

That is the core meaning of academic freedom.

Though he does wimp out at that point:

Does that mean the university’s hands are tied? No.

A university should educate its students about the importance of civility and mutual respect. These values should be reinforced by education and example, not by censorship.

A university should encourage disagreement, argument, and debate. It should instill in its students and faculty members the importance of winning the day by facts, by ideas, and by persuasion, rather than by force, obstruction, or censorship. For a university to fulfill its most fundamental mission, it must be a safe space for even the most loathsome, odious, offensive, disloyal arguments. Students should be encouraged to be tough, fearless, rigorous, and effective advocates and critics.

At the same time, a university has to recognize that in our society, flawed as it is, the costs of free speech will fall most heavily on those who feel the most marginalized and unwelcome. All of us feel that way sometimes, but the individuals who bear the brunt of free speech — at least of certain types of free speech — often include racial minorities; religious minorities; women; gay people, lesbians, and transsexuals; and immigrants. Universities must be sensitive to that reality.

Although they should not attempt to “solve” this problem by censorship, universities should support students who feel vulnerable, marginalized, silenced, and demeaned. They should help them learn how to speak up, how to respond effectively, how to challenge those whose attitudes, whose words, and whose beliefs offend and appall them. The world is not a safe space, and we must enable our graduates to win the battles they’ll have to fight in years to come.

What about conservatives who believe in free speech, free markets, traditional morality, and the defense of America and the aforementioned principles that seem to be disappearing from the land? Speak up, Professor Stone, I can’t hear you.

Anyway, Stone continues [with my occasional comment in brackets]:

But hard cases remain. As simple as it may be to state a principle, it is always much more difficult to apply it to concrete situations. So let me leave you with a few cases to ponder.

A sociology professor gives a talk on campus condemning homosexuality as immoral and calling on “normal” students to steer clear of “fags, perverts, and sexual degenerates.” What, if anything, should the chair of the sociology department do? In my judgment, this is a classic case of academic freedom. The professor is well within his rights to offer such opinions, however offensive others might find them.

A student hangs a Confederate flag, a swastika, an image of an aborted fetus, or a “Vote for Trump” sign on the door of his dorm room. What, if anything, should administrators do? The university should not pick and choose which messages to permit and which to ban. That is classic censorship. But in the context of a residence hall, where students are a bit of a captive audience, the university can have a content-neutral rule that bans all signs on dorm-room doors. [This is fair enough, but wimpish.]

The dean of a university’s law school goes on Fox News and says “Abortion is murder. We should fire any female faculty member and expel any female student who has had an abortion.” The university president is then inundated with complaints from alumni saying, in effect, “I’ll never give another nickel to your damn school as long as she remains dean.” What should the president do? A dean or other administrator at a university has distinctive responsibilities. If she engages in behavior, including expression, that renders her effectively incapable of fulfilling her administrative responsibilities, then she can be removed from her position. [As a former executive, I concur.] This is necessary to the core functioning of the institution. At the same time, though, if the dean is also a faculty member, she cannot be disciplined as a faculty member for the exercise of academic freedom.

We needn’t rely solely on hypotheticals. There was the situation at DePaul University in which a student group invited a highly controversial speaker who maintains, among other things, that there is no wage gap for women, that as a gay man he can attest that one’s sexual orientation is purely a matter of choice, and that white men have fewer advantages than women and African-Americans. A group of student protesters disrupted the event by shouting, ultimately causing the talk to be canceled. They maintained that their shouting was merely the exercise of free speech.

What should the university do in such circumstances? Should it permit the protest? Arrest the protesters on the spot? Allow them to protest and then punish them after the fact?

Such a disruption is not in any way an exercise of free expression. Although students can protest the event in other ways, they cannot prevent either speakers or listeners from engaging in a dialogue they wish to engage in without obstruction. In such circumstances, the protesters should be removed and disciplined for their behavior. (DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, apologized to the speaker but also criticized “speakers of his ilk” for being “more entertainers and self-serving provocateurs than the public intellectuals they purport to be.” [Holtschneider is clearly a thoroughly indoctrinated leftist.])

Or consider the incident last year at the University of Oklahoma when a group of fraternity brothers, in a private setting, chanted a racist song. Someone who was present at the time filmed the event and circulated it online. Was the university’s president, David Boren, right to expel the students? In my judgment, no.

This statement occurs in the middle of Stone’s essay:

Faced with the continuing challenges to academic freedom at American universities, the University of Chicago’s president, Robert J. Zimmer, charged a faculty committee last year with the task of drafting a formal statement on freedom of expression. The goal of that committee, which I chaired, was to stake out Chicago’s position on these issues. That statement has since become a model for a number of other universities.

The work of Stone’s committee found its way into the candid and refreshing letter of acceptance from the University of Chicago’s Dean of Students to incoming freshmen; for example:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the University’s faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Two-point-nine cheers for Geoffrey Stone; three cheers for the University of Chicago.

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An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

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I published “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare” almost six years ago. I must say that it holds up well. In fact, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s fairly long, and I won’t try to summarize or excerpt it, except to repeat the opening sentence:

This post could be subtitled: “Or, why the left — Democrats and so-called liberals and progressives — enjoy a rhetorical advantage over libertarians and fiscal conservatives.”

In a few words: Leftists have the advantage of saying the kinds of things that people like to hear, especially when it comes to promising “free” stuff and visions of social perfection. There’s a lot more to it than that. Please read the whole thing.

What I didn’t say then, but will say now is that leftists have another advantage: they’re ruthless. Unlike true conservatives (not Trumpsters) and most libertarians, leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Why the difference between leftists and true conservatives? Leftists want to rearrange the world to fit their idea of perfection. They have it all figured out, and dissent from the master plan will not be tolerated. (This is very Hitleresque and Stalinesque.) Conservatives and libertarians want people to figure out for themselves how to arrange the world within the roomy confines of simple morality (don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.).

If Trump wins in November — a very big “if” — it should be an object lesson to true conservatives and libertarians. Take the gloves off and don brass knuckles. This isn’t a contest for hockey’s Lady Byng Trophy. To change the sports metaphor, we’re in the late rounds of a brutal fight, and well behind on points. It’s time to go for the knockout.

Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension

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Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), drawing on his experience as a psychiatrist who worked with prisoners, writes  about “The Gift of Language” in Not With a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics & Culture of Decline:

With a very limited vocabulary, it is impossible to make, or at least to express, important distinctions and to examine any question with conceptual care. My patients often had no words to describe what they were feeling, except in the crudest possible way, with expostulations, exclamations and physical displays of emotion.… Complex narrative and most abstractions were closed to them.

In their dealings with authority, they were at a huge disadvantage – a disaster, since so many of them depended upon various public bureaucracies for so many of their needs, from their housing and health care to their income and the education of their children.…

All this, it seems to me, directly contradicts our era’s ruling orthodoxy about language. According to that orthodoxy, every child, save the severely brain-damaged and those with very rare genetic defects, learns his or her native language with perfect facility, adequate to his needs. He does so because the faculty of language is part of human nature, inscribed in man’s physical being, as it were, and almost independent of environment.…

It follows that no language or dialect is superior to any other and that modes of verbal communication cannot be ranked according to complexity, expressiveness or any other virtue. Thus, attempts to foist alleged grammatical ‘correctness’ on native speakers of an ‘incorrect’ dialect are nothing but the unacknowledged and oppressive exercise of social control – the means by which the elites deprive whole social classes and peoples of self-esteem and keep them in permanent subordination.…

The locus classicus of this way of thinking, at least for laymen such as myself, is Steven Pinker’s book The Language Instinct.…

Pinker nails his colours to the mast at once. His book, he says, ‘will not chide you about proper usage’ because, after all, ‘[l] anguage is a complex, specialised skill which… is qualitatively the same in every individual… Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture,’ and men are as naturally equal in their ability to express themselves as in their ability to stand on two legs. ‘Once you begin to look at language… as a biological adaptation to communicate information,’ Pinker continues, ‘it is no longer as tempting to see language as an insidious shaper of thought.’ Every individual has an equal linguistic capacity to formulate the most complex and refined thoughts. We all have, so to speak, the same tools for thinking. ‘When it comes to linguistic form,’ Pinker says, quoting the anthropologist Edward Sapir, ‘Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.’ To put it another way, ‘linguistic genius is involved every time a child learns his or her mother tongue’.…

Children will learn their native language adequately whatever anyone does, and the attempt to teach them language is fraught with psychological perils. For example, to ‘correct’ the way a child speaks is potentially to give him what used to be called an inferiority complex. Moreover, when schools undertake such correction they risk dividing the child from his parents and social milieu, for he will speak in one way and live in another, creating hostility and possibly rejection all around him. But happily, since every child is a linguistic genius, there is no need to do any such thing. Every child will have the linguistic equipment he needs, merely by virtue of growing older.

I need hardly point out that Pinker doesn’t really believe anything of what he writes, at least if example is stronger evidence of belief than precept. Though artfully sown here and there with a demotic expression to prove that he is himself of the people, his own book is written, not surprisingly, in the kind of English that would please schoolmarms. I doubt very much whether it would have reached its 25th printing had he chosen to write it in the dialect of the slums of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for example, or of rural Louisiana. Even had he chosen to do so, he might have found the writing rather difficult. I should like to see him try to translate a sentence from his book that I have taken at random – ‘The point that the argument misses is that, although natural selection involves incremental steps that enhance functioning, the enhancements do not have to be an existing module’ – into the language of the back streets of Glasgow or Detroit.…

Over and over again, Pinker stresses that children do not learn language by imitation; rather, they learn it because they are biologically predestined to do so.…

It is utterly implausible to suggest that imitation of parents (or other social contacts) has nothing whatever to do with the acquisition of language. I hesitate to mention so obvious a consideration, but Chinese parents tend to have Chinese-speaking children, and Portuguese parents Portuguese-speaking ones. I find it difficult to believe that this is entirely a coincidence and that imitation has nothing to do with it. Moreover, it is a sociological truism that children tend to speak not merely the language but the dialect of their parents.…

The contrast between a felt and lived reality – in this case, Pinker’s need to speak and write standard English because of its superior ability to express complex ideas – and the denial of it, perhaps in order to assert something original and striking, is characteristic of an intellectual climate in which the destruction of moral and social distinctions is proof of the very best intentions.

Pinker’s grammatical latitudinarianism…has the practical effect of encouraging those born in the lower reaches of society to remain there, to enclose them in the mental world of their particular milieu. This is perfectly all right if you also believe that all stations in life are equally good and desirable and that there is nothing to be said for articulate reflection upon human existence. In other words, grammatical latitudinarianism is the natural ideological ally of moral and cultural relativism….

…Everyone, save the handicapped, learns to run without being taught; but no-one runs 100 metres in ten seconds, or even fifteen seconds, without training. It is fatuous to expect that the most complex of human faculties, language, requires no special training to develop it to its highest possible power.

Pinker, whose fatuousness extends to a risible belief that human nature is changing for the better, has contradicted his thesis in “Why Academics Stink at Writing–and How to Fix It,” which is available here in exchange for your name, your job title, the name of your organization, and your e-mail address. How can a person who claims that ‘linguistic genius is involved every time a child learns his or her mother tongue’ turn around and criticize his academic peers for their general lack of linguistic genius? Pinker the linguistic theorist is wrong; Pinker the critic of bloated, impenetrable prose is right,

As Dalrymple suggests, Pinker’s linguistic latitudinarianism gives aid and comfort to the moral and cultural relativists of the left. Almost nothing, it seems, is beneath a leftist’s condescension; if it’s inferior it’s praiseworthy.

This pattern fits my version of Arnold Klng’s three-axis model, in which I characterize the leftist (“progressive”) axis: privileged-underprivileged. As I say in “Another Look at Political Labels,”

Privilege, for Ps [“progressives”], implies that the possessors of certain positive attributes (high intelligence, good looks, high income, access to political power) have come by those things undeservedly, and even at the expense of those who lack them: the underprivileged. Ps believe implicitly in a state of nature wherein everyone would have equal endowments of intelligence, looks, etc., if only it weren’t for “bad luck.” Ps believe it necessary to use the power of government to alleviate (if not eliminate) unequal endowments and to elevate the “victims” of inequality.

The left’s mantra should be “If it’s bad it’s good.” When a leftist praises or defends something, it’s a good sign that it’s substandard in morality or quality.

The Opposition and Crime

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Heather Mac Donald reacts to

Obama’s extraordinary statement last week alleging systemic racism in American law enforcement. He was speaking in the aftermath of two highly publicized fatal police shootings. Viral video captured the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., as officers attempted to disarm him, and the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile during a car stop outside St. Paul, Minn.

Those shootings look horribly unjustified based on the videos alone; but information may emerge to explain the officers’ belief that the victims were reaching for a gun.

A few hours after…Obama made his remarks, the Dallas gunman assassinated five police officers, in a rampage that police officials later reported was driven by hatred of white officers and white people generally.

…Obama’s statement undoubtedly had no causal relationship to the Dallas slaughter. But it certainly added to the record of distortion and falsehood that has stoked widespread animus toward the police.

It bears repeating: Unjustified shootings by police officers are an aberration, not the norm, and there is no evidence that racism drives police actions.

Every year, officers confront tens of thousands of armed felons without using lethal force. According to the Washington Post, police officers fatally shot 987 people in the U.S. last year; the overwhelming majority were armed or threatening deadly force.

Blacks made up a lower percentage of those police-shooting victims—26%—than would be predicted by the higher black involvement in violent crime. Whites made up 50% of police shooting victims, but you would never know it from media coverage. Note also that police officers face an 18.5 times greater chance of being killed by a black male than an unarmed black male has of being killed by a police officer.

Indifferent to these facts, …Obama on Thursday, referring to the police killings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, said: “[T]hese are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.” He made another sweeping allegation of law-enforcement racism, saying that there “are problems across our criminal justice system, there are biases—some conscious and unconscious—that have to be rooted out.” And he claimed that higher rates of arrests and stops among blacks reflect police discrimination; naturally, Mr. Obama remained silent about blacks’ far higher rates of crime.

Such corrosive rhetoric about the nation’s police officers and criminal-justice system is unsettling coming from the president of the United States, but it reflects how thoroughly the misinformation propagated by Black Lives Matter and the media has taken hold. Last month Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting in a case about police searches, wrote that blacks are “routinely targeted” by law enforcement, adding that “Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

Hillary Clinton has also taken up this warped cause. On CNN Friday, she decried “systemic” and “implicit bias” in police departments. She also called on “white people” to better understand blacks “who fear every time their children go somewhere.”

Mrs. Clinton ought to take a look at Chicago. Through July 9, 2,090 people have been shot this year, including a 3-year-old boy shot on Father’s Day who will be paralyzed for life, an 11-year-old boy wounded on the Fourth of July, and a 4-year-old boy wounded last week. How many of the 2,090 victims in Chicago were shot by cops? Nine.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump emphasized “law and order” in a video released Friday, saying: “We must stand in solidarity with law enforcement, which we must remember is the force between civilization and total chaos.”

Given the nightmarish events of the past several days, Mr. Trump could do worse than making this presidential campaign one about that line between civilization and anarchy.

I am about to recant my opposition to Trump. Recent events remind me why the election of another Democrat to the presidency would be a deep disaster for the country. For one thing — but far from the only thing — Democrats have a penchant for seeing criminals and terrorists as victims, not as the enemies that they are.

As I wrote more than ten years ago, in the context of terrorism,

[w]e had better get used to that idea that war is the answer, and see to it that adequate force is used, sooner rather than later. Those who would use force against us will heed only force. Whether, in defeat, they will respect us or “merely” fear us is irrelevant. We are not engaged in a popularity contest, we are engaged in a clash of civilizations, which Norman Podhoretz rightly calls World War IV.

On our present political course, however, we will suffer grave losses before we get serious about winning that war. The Left (or the Opposition, as I now call it), seems insensitive to the danger that faces us.

And so it is with crime. The Opposition is just as feckless about law and order as it is about terrorism.

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Related posts:
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
“Conversing” about Race
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Evolution and Race
Presidential Treason
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
A Cop-Free World?
Amen to That

Residual Christianity Syndrome

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Theodore Dalrymple writes of an English judge who showed leniency toward a pair of brothers convicted of a drug crime, and reversed herself after they publicly mocked her leniency. (Justice isn’t blind in her court.)

The judge is well known for her leniency, which is more properly called soft-headedness. Dalrymple calls it residual Christianity syndrome:

She thought initially that it was her place to be mercifully forgiving of sins, provided they were humbly confessed before her, thereby also fulfilling the injunction (on behalf of society) to turn the other cheek.

Similarly disposed are leftist politicians — and leftists generally — who often excuse their penchant for dispensing other people’s money as a Christian act of charity or compassion. It’s nothing of the kind, of course, because it’s not their money.

With due apology to the founder of Christianity, I offer this slightly modified version of Matthew 19:24:

And once again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye, than for a man to enter the kingdom of heaven when he robs some to give to others in My name.