You mean professors aren’t kings?


What exactly does it mean to be “cancelled”? That seems to be an infinitely flexible word when used by its “victims”. Popehat straightforwardly recounts a recent event of some interest to me — students walked out on an academic lecture. Horrors!

Mr. Silvergate is a Harvard graduate and professor, crusading attorney and defender of rights, repeatedly published author of important books, founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education, and a sought-after gripping speaker. He has not been fired, expelled from any organization, depublished, or even (so far as I know) shunned on Martha’s Vineyard. Here’s what happened: he was invited to speak to private high-school students on the subject of free expression, he used the racial epithet commonly known as the n-word in the course of accurately quoting the title of Prof. Kennedy’s book, he did so several times, some of the students walked out, he continued to speak with the rest of the students, later the school sent its community an apology for the epithet being used in the classroom and said it was inappropriate, and the school wouldn’t print Mr. Silvergate’s response. In other words, some people (rightly or wrongly, rationally or irrationally) didn’t like some of his free expression and responded with their own free expression. If there have been other consequences, he hasn’t mentioned them.

That was it. Students left in disgust, and the school apologize to the students and refused to engage the speakers again. This was being “cancelled”. Now you might say “Popehat is a lawyer!” and that therefore he cannot be trusted, so I stooped to looking at the source, an essay on…ugh…Quillette. It turns out Popehat was right on. The cancelee speaks:

The lessons taught by this sad tale are sobering. One is that it is apparently acceptable for students to signal their disagreement with a speaker by walking out of an assembly [Yes, it is. Students are not a captive audience] rather than subjecting his or her ideas to the testing that vigorous dialogue allows [Dialogue is not a test. It is especially not a test when one side is a seasoned professor or lawyer and the other is a high school student. You do not have a right to beat up kids.]. We know that practices from higher education have permeated the K-12 world, and that today a third of college students believe that it is sometimes or always acceptable to shout down speakers [Irrelevant. He wasn’t shut down.], or to try to prevent them from speaking on campus[Irrelevant. He was allowed to speak; they just decided they would rather not bring him back.]. Another 13 percent believe that is it sometimes or always acceptable to block other students from attending a campus speech [Irrelevant. This did not happen here.].

Another lesson is that the educational authorities at a storied academic institution are so afraid of offending the sensibilities of censors that they would rather discourteously [Discourteous? Here’s what the school said to students: “As members of the Milton community, we know not to use the ‘n-word’ due to its repugnant history and connotation. Thus, it was shocking and uncomfortable to hear the word voiced multiple times by Mr. Silverglate.” Rather mild.] ignore a guest speaker’s request to respond to a mistaken charge than permit the airing of a full debate [“DEBATE ME BRO!” No institution has an obligation to give you a platform.]. What happened at Milton is hardly an attractive display of diversity, inclusion, or equity. [I think respecting the student perspective is a fine example of DEI.]

This is juicy stuff for the yahoos at Quillette. A few people point out that he wasn’t “cancelled”, but a majority seemed to welcome the opportunity to rant about the “n-word”, and for some reason, go on and on about “trannies”. It’s always about hating someone.

Comments

  1. says

    My progressive friends and I, after extensive observations of “conservative” behavior on Nextdoor, have come up with a couple of very basic principles that right-wingers seem to follow without fail:

    1: We can’t tell them what to do.
    2: They get to tell us what to do.

    Once you understand the fundamental integrity and truthiness of these two basic highly ethically ethical principles, all else becomes clear.

  2. Susan Montgomery says

    Food for thought:

    “It is no use answering that it is childish for an Indian or an African to feel insulted when he is called a “native.” We all have these feelings in one form or another. If a Chinese wants to be called a Chinese and not a Chinaman, if a Scotsman objects to being called a Scotchman, or if a Negro demands his capital N, it is only the most ordinary politeness to do what is asked of one.”

    George Orwell

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    …founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education…

    RED FLAG! Anyone talking about “Individual Rights” is always going to be a fascist or defend fascists ability to spread fascism*.

    *Looking at YOU, ACLU!

  4. raven says

    The lessons taught by this sad tale are sobering. One is that it is apparently acceptable for students to signal their disagreement with a speaker by walking out of an assembly [Yes, it is. Students are not a captive audience] …

    QFT.
    I did that once in high school.

    The school brought in a far right wingnut speaker who proceeded to tell us that the communists were coming for our freedoms. At the time, the Russian Soviet commies were locked in a vicious conflict with the Chinese Red commies and the Vietnam war was going on.

    It was all objectively wrong and the school had no business whatsoever bringing in a highly political speaker like that for a mandatory assembly.

    …rather than subjecting his or her ideas to the testing that vigorous dialogue allows.

    This is nonsense.
    Babbling on to a captive audience of high schoolers is not vigorous dialogue.
    It is attempted indoctrination at best and at the least, propaganda.

  5. raven says

    AFAICT, the issue here is that the school should bring in speakers who have something interesting and valuable to tell to the students.
    Mr. Silvergate isn’t one of those speakers.

    Obviously, it worked like it could be expected.
    He wasted a lot of people’s time.

  6. raven says

    What exactly does it mean to be “cancelled”?

    Here is one recent example.

    In rare move, school librarian fights back in court against conservative activists

    Louisiana middle school librarian Amanda Jones said she’s “had enough” of extreme rhetoric deployed against educators over LGBTQ materials.

    Go after school libraries and school librarians because you don’t like the books they have in their collection.
    This is happening in a lot of places.

    A Texas mom’s campaign to ban books divided her town https://www.texastribune.org › 2022/08/11 › texas-libra…

    4 days ago — Monica Brown’s campaign to rid schools of books that she considers obscene began late last year with a trip to the Granbury Middle School ..

    The fundie xians occasionally have public book burnings.

    A pastor in Tennessee held a book burning event at which churchgoers were encouraged to throw copies of “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” into a bonfire in the church parking lot. Other “demonic” items, including ouija boards, crystals and tarot cards were also burned at the event.Feb 7, 2022

    Tennessee pastor burns ‘witchcraft’ ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Twilight’ books

    I don’t care for Harry Potter books either, mostly because of the author, but not enough to burn them. And, as has been pointed out before, people who burn books are also the type capable of burning people to death.

    So, these are all examples of cancel culture which is almost always a right wingnut activity.
    .1. Attacking libraries and librarians.
    .2. Burning books.

  7. doctorworm says

    I note with some bemusement that he expects his audience to engage in “vigorous debate” without “shout[ing] him down”. Wonder if he could explain that one.

  8. bcw bcw says

    People go on and on about what a terrible loss of free expression it is to be forbidden to use the N-word, but then again, I just did use the N-word, didn’t I? I just didn’t use it in the form that is intended to be insulting and degrading.

  9. drsteve says

    Ironic, since my (non-lawyer) understanding of international law is that Popehat’s namesake does, in fact, signify the sovereign power of an absolute monarch. . .

  10. Callinectes says

    @ 2 Woozle

    There’s a quote by a blog commenter called Frank Wilhoit that’s been going around for the last four years that makes the very same point: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

    He goes on to argue that conservatism has driven every other political philosophy out of circulation, and that the only valid opposition that can exist is anti-conservatism: the direct contradiction of the single tenet of conservatism. “The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.”

  11. KG says

    In an interesting parallel, the comedian Jerry Sadowitz, who was booked for two appearances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but had the second cancelled by the organisers after numerous complaints (that his show is sexist, racist, homophobic and misogynistic – it also involved him exposing his penis) and a number of the audience walking out, is now whinging not just about being cancelled (in this case, literally!), but about audience members walking out:

    I am offended by those who, having never seen me before, HEAR words being shouted in the first five minutes before storming out without LISTENING to the material which I am stupid enough to believe is funny, sometimes important and worth saying.

    Well, maybe you’re right in that belief, Jerry, or maybe you’re wrong, but in any case, your audience are not obliged to carry on listening to you if they don’t want to.

  12. dstatton says

    I cannot bring myself to say the n-word in front of my black friends, regardless of context. I cannot say it in front of my white friends, either. I wonder if he were being deliberately provocative to get “cancelled”, like Ann Coulter and Milo what’s his name.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    BTW
    A lot depends on cultural context.
    The older “negro” and the old Swedish “neger” were value-neutral, unlike the American “n*gger”
    (although, as languages evolve over time I see no problem with Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn using the n-word in an ancient novel).
    .
    In a local newspaper in Sweden in the 1950s , they mentioned a ship that had recently arrived at the port, and wrote if people wanted to see a (word for Black person) one of the crew belonged to this category. This was not malign, it was just a small town with low exposure to the exotic.
    .
    (Sweden also had a substantial number of bona fide nazis – at least until 1945- but the racism was mainly targeted at socially vulnerable groups, like the Rom and -believe it or not- Italians. In the early 1900s many low-paid Italians had arrived in Sweden för reasons beyond my understanding. Sweden ca. 1900 was not fun).

  14. Jim Balter says

    “How dare you try to silence my bullhorn!”

    The complainants invariably have outsized access to communication channels.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    Jim @ 20
    Reminds me of the guy in PZ s neighborhood that played Christian music really loudly.
    “Help, help, I’m being opressed!”

  16. Jim Balter says

    The older “negro” [was] value-neutral

    Alternatively, a non-pejorative term didn’t exist, so people used the least pejorative term available. Had “negro” truly been neutral, there would have been no reason to replace it.

    https://www.etymonline.com/word/negro

    “because of its perceived association with white-imposed attitudes and roles the word was ousted late 1960s ”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro

    “However, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the word Negro began to be criticized as having been imposed by white people, and having connotations of racial subservience and Uncle Tomism.”

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Wikipedia:

    The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), formerly known as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education… renamed in June 2022 … was co-founded by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate in 1999, who were FIRE’s co-directors until 2004.

    See also SourceWatch.

  18. Jim Balter says

    @17

    I wonder if he were being deliberately provocative to get “cancelled”

    Probably … from that SourceWatch page:

    “FIRE has a database documenting attempts to disinvite speakers from college campuses. The database describes which issues caused each disinvitation attempt, whether the attempt succeeded, and whether the attempt came from the political left or right of the speaker.”

  19. Walter Solomon says

    No surprise Bill Maher weighed in on this on his show without giving the full context. I’m not sure why HBO continues to employ him.

  20. nomdeplume says

    This whole “cancelled” propaganda reflects a determination to not only let the Right spout any kind of racist, misogynist, homophobic, religious, violent rubbish they like while not 0nly permitting no one to call them on it, but demanding that other people be forced to publish them and listen to them.

  21. silvrhalide says

    So… basically tone policing. The refuge of trolls and those on the losing side of the argument.
    People have always used walking out of a venue as a form of disagreement or protest. It happens at speeches, theater performances, dining/drinking venues, political rallies. What color is the sky in this guy’s world? Now I’m curious.

    “One is that it is apparently acceptable for students to signal their disagreement with a speaker by walking out of an assembly rather than subjecting his or her ideas to the testing that vigorous dialogue allows”
    Or, maybe they just didn’t want to listen to a troll.
    “Debating” a troll/the alt-right/nazis/incels/etc is a lot like teaching a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
    Actual debate happens when there is both listening and respect on both sides. Doesn’t seem like that was happening.
    What exactly was Silvergate expecting? A variation on Plato’s “Dialog with Socrates”? (Responses to Socrates are fawning and flattering. “Hagiography with Socrates” might have been a more accurate title.)

    “Mr. Silvergate is a Harvard graduate and professor, crusading attorney and defender of rights, repeatedly published author of important books, founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education, and a sought-after gripping speaker. ”
    And yet, it would appear that he’s never encountered a thesaurus. Which would have been helpful in finding a more acceptable word for an ugly racial slur if he actually wanted to have an actual debate.

    Would you give a lecture to women about misogyny and use the word “c***” repeatedly? I can’t imagine that a whole lot of women would stick around after the first 5 minutes.
    Was Mr. Silvergate lecturing to a group of lily-white students or were there POC in the audience?

    @19, 22 The term “Negro” was considered a scientific word, at a time that eugenics were in vogue and the term was used to describe any African person and explain why they were both ugly and inferior and why it was okay to look down on them and treat them with contempt. While I agree that perhaps banning the word altogether would mean that you could never read Huckleberry Finn (or a number of other books) I’d also like to point out that there are plenty of editions of historical books and/or plays that have the original text on one page and the modern equivalent with explanations on the opposite page.

    For that matter, a number of civil rights groups, such as the NAACP had or have the word “Negro” in the names for their organizations because it was the polite term at the time those groups were founded. It should also be noted that “Negro” has largely been replaced by “African American” which itself has been largely but not completely replaced by “person(s) of color” or POC. Because language changes and words change as society changes. I can’t imagine using the word “Negro” in conversation or print. But if anyone used the word “Moor” or “Moorish”, which essentially means the same thing, people might not be offended but would likely have no idea of what the word meant.
    I’d also like to point out that there was a time when “black” was considered more insulting than “Negro” but that isn’t the case anymore.

  22. Jim Balter says

    And yet, it would appear that he’s never encountered a thesaurus. Which would have been helpful in finding a more acceptable word for an ugly racial slur if he actually wanted to have an actual debate.

    It helps when responding to pay attention to the facts:

    “he used the racial epithet commonly known as the n-word in the course of accurately quoting the title of Prof. Kennedy’s book, he did so several times”

    A thesaurus is of no help here. What would have helped would be the empathy or just good sense to make the common substitution “N-word” when referring to literal uses of the word … unless he was being intentionally provocative, which is likely the case. His position seems to be that the students should have been his captives as he used a word that he knew damn well they would find offensive.

    @19, 22 The term “Negro” was considered …

    You don’t need to explain any of this to me … obviously, since I just cited the Wikipedia entry–which you ought to read, as it mentions “African American” and the transformation of the connotation of “black”/”Black”, among other things.

  23. beholder says

    Students are not a captive audience

    Would you mind going back in time 29 years and explaining that to my public school? I mean, sure, I could have left anytime I wanted, but I would have been punished for it.

    Students are so obviously a captive audience. That’s the only reason preachers want to proselytize in the classroom.

  24. says

    Should I be flattered to be on the modern conservative “most hated” list? I dunno….it’s nice to be hated by all the right people because it means I’m tweaking all the right noses, but mostly I’d prefer to just be left alone.

  25. Owlmirror says

    @silvrhalide:

    For that matter, a number of civil rights groups, such as the NAACP had or have the word “Negro” in the names for their organizations because it was the polite term at the time those groups were founded.

    Nit: the NAACP does not. The “N” stands for “National”. The “CP” stands for “Colored People”, which was the next step down on the euphemism treadmill; currently, “Colored” is a deprecated term as well.

    You might have been thinking of the UNCF — United Negro College Fund.

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