Education

Get On the Bus or Get Under It: Shouting Down Free Speech at Rutgers

The quiet suburb of New Brunswick, New Jersey, felt more like East Berlin, or Belfast, when I visited on the evening of October 2nd. The student center of Rutgers University had been transformed into a loose approximation of Checkpoint Charlie. After passing through the obligatory picket line (“Are you one of the speakers?” a student protester asked me suspiciously), visitors were screened by a gauntlet of police officers and security guards, who inspected our bags for weapons before allowing us into the building’s auditorium.

Poster for Spiked’s ‘Unsafe Space’ Tour, which arrived at Rutgers in October

The occasion for this atmosphere of impending confrontation was a panel discussion – “Identity Politics: The New Racialism on Campus?” – sponsored by the left-libertarian British political website Spiked. As part of its “Unsafe Spaces” American tour, Spiked has convened a series of panels at American colleges this fall to discuss questions of identity politics, free speech, and viewpoint diversity on campus.

If panels of writers and tweedy intellectuals don’t strike terror into your heart, then you aren’t an administrator at American University, the Washington, D.C. college scheduled to host the first event a week earlier. It disinvited Spiked at the last minute after a campus women’s group claimed (with apparent seriousness) that the event on feminism and Title IX constituted hate speech and would incur “violence and trauma” on listeners. Evidently Rutgers has more spine.

As we waited in the auditorium for the speakers to arrive through a separate door, I looked around and saw that easily half the audience were protesters, identifiable by their t-shirts. Most were affiliated with Black Lives Matter or Rutgers One, a campus leftwing coalition, and they chattered excitedly as they hyped themselves up for the spectacle to come. Of course, the event was public: the whole point, after all, was to stir debate. But it soon became clear that the protesters had no intention of listening to, or participating in, a debate. They were there to shut it down.

Moderator Tom Slater introduced the panelists, who each delivered short opening statements. Kmele Foster, host of the libertarian podcast “The Fifth Column,” opened the evening with a pitch for the importance of dialogue and the need to resist political “balkanization.” In pre-emptive reference to the protesters, he added, “I suspect we agree far more than we disagree,” and explained that he sought the same things they did – especially racial justice and an end to mass incarceration and police brutality – but that his own research led him to believe that many progressive claims on these subjects were inaccurate.

Second to speak was Bryan Stascavage, who first achieved notoriety when his 2015 Wesleyan Argus op-ed gently criticizing the tactics of Black Lives Matter resulted in the de-funding of the paper by the Wesleyan student union. Stascavage emphasized the importance of free speech in academia. “If Osama bin Laden himself taught a class I would be the first to sign up,” he announced. Arguing that the recent preoccupation with hate speech is misguided, he asked the audience to raise their hand if they had ever heard hate speech, in person or online. Almost everyone raised their hand. “How many of you were persuaded by it?” he asked. No hands were raised. (“Charlottesville,” someone muttered.)

Third was Pakistani-American feminist and religious skeptic Sarah Haider, the co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America, a support group for former Muslims who face violence or ostracism for their decision to leave the faith. She discussed how her criticisms of Islamism on human rights grounds led her to be labeled a “hatemonger” by the very feminists and progressives she thought were natural allies. (The event’s stringent security was partly for Haider’s benefit; although she didn’t mention it, her apostasy has earned her death threats.) She argued for a more sophisticated and mature discourse around sensitive topics: “Let’s do what we can to awaken a sense of political courage.”

Last was Columbia historian Mark Lilla, whose recent book The Once and Future Liberal expands on his contentious 2016 New York Times op-ed calling for an end to “identity liberalism.” Lilla drew a distinction between himself and the other panelists. “I’m not so interested in free speech,” he said. “I’m interested in winning.” In his view as a self-described liberal, the Left’s obsessive focus on identity politics has been a political disaster. The Left is losing, he said, and will continue to lose until it changes its tactics. He rattled off some dismal numbers (Republicans control both houses of Congress, the White House, 34 governorships, 32 state legislatures, and in 26 states control both the state legislatures and governorships; Democrats control six) and argued that a universalist, non-identitarian progressive liberalism could do far more to protect minority rights if it actually won elections and held power.

That each of the panelists was so measured and penetrating made what followed all the more embarrassing. The first disruption set the template. A student stood up, interrupting a man who had raised his hand to ask the panel a question, and announced, “Before we get to that we’re gonna stop this little rhetoric here.” He then berated the panelists with a rambling indictment of structural oppression until the moderator finally cut him off.

As if some signal had been given, the protesters, who had remained mostly quiet during the panelists’ opening statements, began working overtime to hijack the evening. For the course of the 90-minute panel, they repeatedly interrupted the panelists (and other audience members) to deliver vociferous, open-ended monologues that went on for minutes; they drowned out the panel by chanting “Black lives matter” (a slogan completely unrelated to anything the panelists had just said); and they started screaming whenever someone said something with which they disagreed. Usually they kept screaming till they ran out of breath or coherence.

The panelists responded with grace and generosity. They not only tolerated the disruptors’ obnoxious behavior, but gave the protesters numerous opportunities to speak. In fact, the panelists repeatedly made it clear that they agreed with many of the protestors’ concerns. But that was beside the point. Most of the protestors clearly had no idea who the panelists were (they kept mispronouncing their names) or what the event was about; their rage was rooted in a vague sense that the panel’s very existence was an injustice and they therefore had a mandate to shut it down and prevent its contagion from spreading.

Many of the disruptions took the form of impromptu, condescending lectures on intersectionality, a once obscure academic theory that has over time become the driving doctrine of identity politics for a significant part of the progressive and radical Left. Simply stated, intersectionality refers to the idea that people exist at the intersection of multiple identities, and some of those identities have suffered greater disadvantage than others. So, for example, a white woman is oppressed by virtue of being a woman; but a white gay woman is doubly oppressed, and a black or Latina lesbian is more oppressed than either. Intricate instructional diagrams (such as the “matrix of oppression” table and the illustration below) exist to guide initiates.

Many conscientious people will find it difficult to argue with intersectionality’s premise. Some of us do have it easier or harder than others, and those who have been graced with great fortune by an accident of birth are sometimes astonishingly lacking in self-awareness. But intersectional activists push the logic to its perverse extreme. They insist that some identity groups’ “lived experience” grants them unquestionable and unchallengeable authority, both moral and political. Members of other, historically ‘privileged’ groups (men, whites, heterosexuals) have little right to an opinion at all. If their interests come into conflict, the latter are morally obliged to yield to (certain, recognized) minorities.

The intersectional worldview is obviously incompatible with the basic tenets of life in a liberal democracy. That doesn’t bother intersectional activists, however, because they believe liberalism itself to be an elaborate sham that uses the illusory equality of procedural democracy – free and fair elections, courts, the rule of law, the Bill of Rights – to paper over vast social injustices. In the eyes of the intersectional Left, the very idea of universal rights is fatally flawed – or “problematic,” to use a frequent, lazy phrase – because those rights can benefit the wrong people, such as white supremacists (in the case of free speech), or campus rapists (in the case of due process and the rights of the accused).

There is a creepy authoritarian bent to all of this. For someone really steeped in the intersectional worldview, almost any tactic or behavior can be justified if it serves the purpose of fighting “oppression,” the definition of which is elastic and gets a little more capacious every day. Because many intersectional activists believe that exposing people to harmful ideas can cause them emotional trauma, they view speech as a form of literal violence. For that reason, it is justifiable to shut down opposing voices before they even speak, a tactic called “no-platforming.”

Were it not for the heavy presence of police and security guards, it is entirely possible that the protesters at Rutgers would have stormed the stage and physically prevented the panelists from speaking, as recently occurred at William & Mary. There, the protesters, who proudly livestreamed their actions on Facebook, swarmed the stage during a scheduled talk by the director of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, surrounding her and chanting the unfortunate slogans “liberalism is white supremacy” and “the revolution will not uphold the constitution” until she left.

Since that wasn’t an option, the Rutgers protesters settled for a shouting campaign with the dual goals of rattling the panelists and, more importantly, keeping the rest of us from hearing what they had to say. Tellingly, it was usually when a speaker was in the middle of making a compelling – and potentially damning – point that the protesters suddenly became most determined to drown him or her out.

The worst of the audience’s animosity was directed at Kmele Foster, who is black. “How can you deracialize yourself?” one student demanded, before referencing the dismal racial disparities of the New Jersey penal system. Foster noted that even if every black and brown person were to be released from every prison in America, the country would still be the fifth or sixth most incarcerated in the world. “It seems odd to me for one to invest themselves in a concept” – race – “that they agree has been contrived and invented,” he reflected at one point. He went on:

I suspect that most of the people here would not be particularly excited if [white nationalist] Richard Spencer was to walk into the room. And you might not really want him to come here and talk because were he to talk about race he would talk about the fact that it is a source of pride, that he believes it is a source of power, that he thinks his race is beautiful. The fact that one can make those claims about whiteness and one can immediately recognize just how retrograde and backwards it is to talk about race in that way, and that one can make the same claims about some other race and not recognize how retrograde those ideas are – what’s retrograde is not the embrace of whiteness, it is the embrace of race.

The protesters were particularly antagonized by Foster’s contention that police violence against African-Americans has been statistically exaggerated. When he started explaining the methodological research behind his claim, the audience exploded. “Facts?! Facts?! Don’t tell me about facts!” one person screamed. Foster tried to finish as five or six people shouted at him. “Do facts matter?” Foster asked, and repeated it several times in mounting frustration. “Do facts matter? Do facts—”

The resounding, devastating answer was no, facts do not matter. One of the things that struck me over and over was the protesters’ complete intolerance of complexity. Despite intersectionality’s roots in academic theory, the politics of the intersectional Left are deeply anti-intellectual. It’s not just that many intersectional activists seem to have no capacity for nuance; they fear and hate it, because they hate anything with the potential to complicate their narrative. Things are right or wrong; you’re with us or against us. Human beings, rather than complex agents with independent motivations and intellects, are nothing more than the sum total of their identities. Get on the bus or get under it.

As I listened to a middle-aged white woman (a faculty member) berate the panelists about structural oppression, and then a young male student, in a badly-conceived attempt to regain argument footing, launch into a disjointed rant about capitalism, I thought of the famous observation attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr: “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.”

I’m not the first to notice that intersectionality has less in common with an academic school or political movement than a religion. It is a fundamentalist religion, with no tolerance for ambiguity and, like any newly founded religion, it is insecure. People who disagree are blasphemers; people who change their minds are heretics; and the true believer cannot ever rest knowing that out there – somewhere, anywhere – are people who think differently. They must be converted, or destroyed. And, like a religion, intersectionality has its rituals and catechisms. As linguist John McWhorter put it in an incisive essay for The Daily Beast:

The call for people to soberly ‘acknowledge’ their White Privilege as a self-standing, totemic act is based on the same justification as acknowledging one’s fundamental sinfulness is as a Christian. One is born marked by original sin; to be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege.

Not by coincidence did a postwar generation of ex-communists, searching for a way to describe their catastrophic disillusionment, call communism “the God that failed.” For many Left activists, intersectionality functions like the Marxist dialectic did for earlier radicals: not only as political prescription but as all-encompassing, all-explaining theory. Like Marxism in its more vulgar forms, intersectionality is highly deterministic, with no allowance for individual human agency; and, like Marxism, intersectionality takes a rather cynical view of society, which it believes is simply a giant web of power relations.

Instead of class consciousness, intersectionality takes racial and sexual/gender identity as its chief conceptual categories. (Social class is technically one of intersectionality’s areas of concern but in six years around college campuses I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard an intersectional leftist raise that rather uncomfortable topic. To do so would require acknowledging the single, unspoken privilege that most campus activists have in common.) Instead of economic inequality, intersectionality’s great, amorphous foe is “structural oppression”; instead of class struggle, intersectionality is concerned with battling “power differentials.”

Like most theories that claim to explain everything, intersectionality quickly turns out to explain almost nothing. The presumption that a person’s politics and worldview are determined by their race or gender or sexuality is both insulting and easily shown to be untrue, which is why leftist activists tend to react with confusion or hostility when they meet a black libertarian or a gay conservative or anyone who doesn’t think of their racial or sexual affiliations as the defining aspect of their humanity. During a section devoted to questions from the floor, a man who introduced himself as Jason offered this:

Looking at the world and all social phenomena strictly through a racial prism engenders, I think, a certain kind of myopia. I’m a Puerto Rican guy from the Bronx raised in a single-parent household. But what does that mean? Should I think a certain way because of that? I don’t. You know, people like ‘diversity’ – as a thing we all speak of, as a value. How many people care about idea diversity? How many protesters here have read Thomas Sowell or John McWhorter or Jason Riley – and read them openly, to receive? It’s just something I wonder about. Why would you want to build an ideological prison around yourself? I’ve heard people say they can’t disconnect from identity. I fear they wouldn’t have it any other way.

For perhaps the only time during the course of the evening, the room momentarily fell silent.

Intersectionality is a strange kind of essentialism that professes to hate essentialism. It assumes people are determined by inherited characteristics, which is exactly what racists also think. In an unsettling essay for Jacobin analyzing the similarities between leftist identity politics and the rhetoric of the far-Right, Shuja Haider notes that American white nationalists carefully study and mimic the vocabulary and tactics of the “social justice” Left. And by positing “white supremacy” as the original sin and the source of all problems in the world, intersectionality also props up the same narrative of white domination held by actual white supremacists. As Thomas Chatterton Williams put it in a recent New York Times piece: for white progressives,

…whiteness and wrongness have become interchangeable – the high ground is now accessible only by way of ‘allyship,’ which is to say silence and total repentance. The upside to this new white burden, of course, is that whichever way they may choose, those deemed white remain this nation’s primary actors.

If every messy and intractable problem in society can be blamed on abstract, single-causal phenomena – “white supremacy,” “structural oppression,” “patriarchal heterosexism” – there is no motivation to master the technical complexity of public policy, or build electorally viable political platforms, or to entertain alternative theories of – and potential solutions to – inequality. Still less to engage with those who disagree. Why bother, when the problem is simply that people need to change? “One can invent a narrative that makes the people who disagree with you the most despicable human beings on earth,” Foster said at one point. “That doesn’t make that narrative true.”

In their attitudes toward their opponents, intersectional activists frequently sound suspiciously similar to the kind of “dehumanizing” and “invalidating” rhetoric they roundly condemn in other contexts. Of course, those who bear the brunt of intersectional rage are rarely white nationalists or anti-feminists or theocrats; they’re more likely to be people such as the “untenured, gay, mixed-race” female Reed professor who, in a recent Washington Post op-ed, wrote of her shame in not having the courage to stand up to bullying student protesters.

The whole teetering husk of what we used to call democratic civil society is built on the crucial premise that one can coexist with others with whom one disagrees, even people whose views one finds repugnant. But the protesters at Rutgers, like those at William & Mary and Reed and campuses across the country, made it clear that they can’t. They view free speech, and rights in general, as a one-way street. They are entitled to voice their opinions at any and every moment, but people who hold what they’ve decided are the wrong views are entitled to no opinion at all. Ever.

A number of people on the Left no longer seem to understand that rights like free speech are universal, and reciprocal, for a reason. Rights exist for them, too, and the day may come when they’re the ones with their backs against a wall. But by then the liberal principles they hold in such contempt may no longer exist to protect them. Theirs is a reckless revolutionary logic of ends justifying means. It’s a posture that is not only morally troubling, but also, as Mark Lilla pointed out, pathetically inadequate to the task of achieving power and governing in one of the world’s largest, messiest, and most diverse republics. After yet another audience disruption he gave the evening’s most acid rejoinder. “I’m old enough to remember the politics of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and I can tell you how this movie ends. It ends with you accomplishing nothing.”

Actually, the intersectional Left will leave at least one enduring legacy: a generation of university-educated people – “progressive” yet deeply illiberal – whose attitudes toward free expression range from indifference to skepticism to hostility. In a particularly bizarre twist of history, students today regard free speech – once one of the defining causes of the American Left – as a “rightwing” doctrine, and therefore suspect. A woman in my college year explained it to me with chilling clarity: sometimes ensuring “truly fair speech” in “the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’” requires the “temporary dissuasion of opposing rhetoric.” She is now a lawyer.

Filed under: Education

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J. Oliver Conroy is a writer and journalist based in New York. See more of his work at joliverconroy.net.

50 Comments

  1. LFP2015 says

    My god, it’s worse than I thought. I’ve been a hardcore liberal for decades but now even I am questioning my choices and affiliations. Is it any wonder that most white men like myself (ie, the majority of the electorate) don’t vote Democratic any more? These privileged brats really need to read Lilla’s book.

    • This is the other side of the identity politics coin – when opinions are conflated with identity, finding members sharing that identity objectionable means you are likely to disavow their ideas, even if they are good ones.

      It’s the same phenomenon as the left’s objection to free speech; the right are advocating it and we don’t like the right, so we must oppose it without considering the idea itself.

    • Rick from Portsmouth says

      What I’ve never understood is their inability to think beyond today.

      Conservatives own most of the country’s 300 million weapons.

      If you tell conservatives long enough that speech equal violence…and you threaten to destroy the country, at some point they are going to take you at your word, and put those 300 million weapons to use and in so doing, wiping out those they come to believe are destroying the nation.

      And because conservatives also make up most of the armed and police forces, “progressives” can’t win that civil war.

      They should really give it some thought before the turn this cold war hot.

      The road they’re paving leads to their annihilation.

      • Rick from Portsmouth says

        tldr; do you really want to convince the owners of 300 million weapons that your words are violence and you intend to destroy the nation?

  2. Kevin Jones says

    Its Funny how liberal intellectuals are now waking up to the beast they created.

    • Gary Goodman says

      Today’s liberal intellectuals who created intersectionality, ARE NOT “waking up”. They embrace this movement. They are leading it.

      The ones who are waking up are moderate liberals and leftists who have been focused on the repression of Labor (including basic safety and health concerns), income inequality (which many pragmatic conservatives have decided is unworkable in its current form and degree, not to mention socially unfair and unstable).

      Yes, removing outright repression on the backs of certain minority groups, not many people would argue that targeted repression is good.

      However, equating speech with violence, and calling other non violent acts equivalent of violence, that is beyond reason.

      The last I saw from Benjamin Boyce discussions on YT was a speech by a trans person trying to expand the definition of hate crime to include accidental violence which only inadvertently affected a black female, and lastly imploring other students to stop bringing BAKED GOODS shaped like GENITALIA to school, because that was hurtful and violent to transsexual people.

      It’s the equivalent in terms of ridiculous hyperbole of someone on the right calling to abolish money because it’s of Satan, or calling to exterminate “all liberals” or all of a racial minority. There’s always “more right wing” than any given position.

      And Julius Evola believed that Nazi Germany was too lightweight.

  3. Daniel Burston says

    Bravo, J. Oliver! You really captured the essence of the intersectionalist dogma, and the kind of left-wing authoritarianism that menaces our campuses and poisons young people’s minds. And yes, in terms of electoral politics, it is a complete dead end – a gift, in fact, to the militant right, who will organize and take advantage of the division, fragmentation and paralysis it engenders to stay in power, come what may.

  4. I was at the event. This article is, I think, not completely wrong, but presents an unfairly imbalanced and simplistic picture of the event at Rutgers. (About half the article is an essay on issues such as intersectionality and I make no comment about that here; my only focus is on the Spiked Unsafe Space event).

    I am not some sort of leftist apologist. I have been featured in Quillette several times now, on the very unpc topics of the accuracy of stereotypes, the ballpark accuracy of Damore’s Google Memo, and, most recently, Quillette declared one of my blogs “best of the web.” I have a book that just came out exposing a broad array of leftist biases in the social sciences.

    I was also the Rutgers point-of-contact that helped Spiked set the event up at Rutgers.

    But this article paints a very different version of the event that I witnessed.

    I do confirm the reality of most of the specific quotes presented. However, there was considerably more backnforth than the article communicates. Protestors almost got out of hand, and maybe 1-2x they did try to hold the floor too long with monologues&diatribes. But they did sit down. And then other people spoke and asked questions. A lot of people. And then the panelists got to respond to the full set of points and questions, including but not restricted to those of the protestors.

    Yes, the protestors did sometimes shout and interrupt when a panelist spoke. Maybe they did cross the line, but, after doing so briefly, they then *crossed back* (i.e., sat down and let others speak).

    Protest is a form of free speech, and I see nothing inherently objectionable about it unless it functions to shut down others’ speech. And the protestors at this event did not shut down anyone else’s right to speech.

    In fact, in addition to the silly, sophomoric comments accurately presented in the article, such as “I don’t need no facts” (oh wait, he probably was actually a college student, maybe even a sophomore, so perhaps we can be a little forgiving?) I thought the protestors made some killer points that at least warranted discussion and that this article does not acknowledge. First, they pointed out that Foster’s argument that police racism probably does not explain much misses a far bigger problem, which is simply the huge number of black men in prisons. Racism or not, this is a gigantic social problem. Foster did indeed reply to this with essentially a non-identity based libertarian notion: end imprisonment for victimless crimes (drug use, prostitution, etc.) and you would empty large portions of the prison population, and, of course, that would at least partially help with the problem of so many imprisoned blacks. This was a very interesting discussion, and even if its worth was lost on the protestors, it may not have been lost on many of the others in the audience. This was a good *discussion* to which the protestors constructively contributed, whether they intended to or not.

    Second, Foster presented an example of a guy who worked for 10 years to overturn some unfair police practices as part of his urging the protestors to engage in more constructive efforts. However, one of the “shouted out” responses was something like this: “That it took ten years to overturn those practices shows how much of an utter failure the current system is.” I don’t know if I agree with that, but it was a pretty trenchant point, perhaps worth actually discussing.

    I found the event fascinating, because there really was a TON of backnforth. It was not a discussion, in that I had no sense that the protestors had any interest in actually engaging with the arguments or analysis of the panelists; they were there to make their points, the end. Nonetheless, the panelists DID try to engage with the protestors, so, despite the protestors’ demeanor, there was backnforth.

    I was mostly sad for the protestors, because I thought they made some great points, but, as this article correctly conveys, they did it in such an angry and petulant manner that, with respect to persuading anyone there, they probably mostly failed. I suspect few people would sift through that sort of angry style to pick out the gems of wisdom and truth that were actually part of their arguments. But that does not mean those gems were not there.

    However, my main point is simply that, though there were protestors, and they did interrupt and sometimes go too far, they most certainly did not shut down the event or prevent others from talking. I would have liked more actual engagement on their side, and I disagree with their tactics, but I respect their decision to protest they way they did. Free speech includes their right to protest. And they did so, without shutting anyone else down.

    Lee Jussim

    • Jim Mason says

      Would they have done so without the authorities there?

      The event would have been cancelled, as many others have been. Because they were unable to achieve their goals this time does not mean that was not their goal.

      This “middle ground” denial of the reality of the behavior of these “protesters” is precisely what has led to them being so empowered to bully, silence, and be violent in the first place.

    • “…end imprisonment for victimless crimes (drug use, prostitution, etc.) and you would empty large portions of the prison population”

      Not true. Only 16% of those incarcerated had a drug charge as the most serious offense, and that does not account for those that plea-bargained down. (Source: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/30/15591700/mass-incarceration-john-pfaff-locked-in)

      In the abstract, moronic “allies” embrace the idea that there are too many black men in prison, but in the specific, the whole charade falls apart. Example: if you yourself are violently (actually violently) assaulted or robbed, and the assailant is black and male, would you voluntarily drop all charges so as to not to contribute to the “over-representation of incarcerated black bodies”? No? Okay, then kindly shut up.

      • ga gamba says

        “Only 16% of those incarcerated had a drug charge as the most serious offense”

        Scrutinise it further. Minor possession, especially a first offence not inside a protected zone such as a school area, rarely gets jail or prison. The consequence is a fine, community sentence, or an administrative procedure such as a counseling programme. The great majority of those imprisoned for drugs offences are there for production, trafficking and dealing; some are habitual reoffenders, which raises the question of how many chances does one need; and others have violated their parole, which raises the question about how strongly does one value his freedom.

        Personally I would decriminalise drugs, yet I doubt society is ready to accept legal heroin and PCP. Further, decrimalised cannabis will be restricted to adults, and you can be assured those under 18 will want it too. Demand will still exist, the lure of easy money will tempt, thus offenders will still be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned.

        The reason why so many erroneously believe the jails and prisons are chock full of simple offenders is due to a carefully crafted narrative fabricated by activists and happily disseminated by their co-conspirators in the media. An article will begin with a touching anecdote about some poor fella who was jailed for simple possession – it happens occasionally. This establishes in the reader’s mind the idea of a petty offence. Thereafter the narrative mentions ‘drugs offences’, which are any and all drugs convictions, but does not break down this into the nitty gritty. I think most of us would agree possession of a half ounce of cannabis is very different from possession of 200 pounds, and selling drugs to children is different from selling to adults. This framing of a narrative and omission of pertinent details is deceptive reporting intended to hoodwink people.

        • Carl Grover says

          Heresy, Ga Gamba. Ha ha!! I think Dr. Jussim meant, in my take, solely that it’s interesting to consider, not that he found it worthwhile. In general, we are in agreement thought.

    • A Pox on Both Their Houses! says

      You think this is a “trenchant” criticism? “That it took ten years to overturn those practices shows how much of an utter failure the current system is.” Only in the topsy-turvy mentality of Marxist-inspired Leftists does the Top become the Bottom, the Left become the Right, and a long-fought-for Success become an “utter failure.” of one of the most open systems in the World. You suffer from some of the same inability to conceptualize complexity as the protestors.

      • Epson says

        I watched the video of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ijFQFiCgoE
        It seemed pretty clear that the “protestors” shouted down Kmele Foster at around the 33 minute mark.

        Why would anyone purchase a ticket and go along to an event to see people like Kmele Foster, Mark Lilla and Sarah Haider, and then be happy with that time being hijacked by undergrads who think that “facts don’t matter”? And who use chants as a form of disagreement?

        Personally, I would ask for my money back.

    • ga gamba says

      The debate allowed for Q&A, which is the time for the attendees to participate and raise their objections. Seems to me that you have been ‘nornalised’ into believing that frequent disruptions are acceptable because they didn’t consume the event. Yet, because of these outbursts something of value was lost. Rationalise it as you like, but you are the problem because you see this as acceptable.

      You write: “Free speech includes their right to protest. And they did so, without shutting anyone else down.”

      The place for rancorous protest is outside. Those who attend inside have the reasonable obligation to behave themselves as civilised people. Outbursts and protests do shut down the conversation, albeit not permanently. It disrupts the exchange, causes speakers and listeners to lose focus, and sidetracks the event. Further, these antics add to the cost of hosting the event and divert resources away from other more essential tasks, such as policing the campus and aiding those in genuine need.

      You need to rethink things and sort yourself out. Good luck.

      • Carl Grover says

        Great points here too. Perhaps, we are all a bit too accustomed to this, where edging closer to civility is so welcomed, because civility surrounding dissenting views has grown so feverishly. “Stocholm Syndrome Invades Centrist Thinkers”.

      • simpleliving says

        ga gamba… I agree. I attend and expect a civil discussion. Protest outside.

    • Good to have another viewpoint of the event. Too bad some of the people responding to your comment really didn’t read or comprehend what you had to say. Cheers!

    • Lucas Whitaker says

      “When he started explaining the methodological research behind his claim, the audience exploded. “Facts?! Facts?! Don’t tell me about facts!” one person screamed. Foster tried to finish as five or six people shouted at him. “Do facts matter?” Foster asked, and repeated it several times in mounting frustration. “Do facts matter? Do facts—”

      Not once in this article was the phrase “I don’t need no facts” written.

    • john gilmore says

      Most of what you’re saying isn’t actually a response to the piece that was written, but rather bemoaning that he didn’t write something different.

      If you thought great points were made, you could actually re-state them rather than refer to vague formations like, “the huge number of black men in prisons”. That isn’t even an argument, its just a suggestion that you think this topic would have been more interesting than what was actually said.

      I think people are free to decide for themselves how much respect the student’s behavior deserved. Video of the event is available here

      https://www.facebook.com/LearnLiberty/videos/1711440975554587

    • Carl Grover says

      Dr. Jussim, thanks for the clarity. It sounds mostly positive. However, it would be helpful if they were there to discuss ideas, rather than dictate. The protestors you mention remind me of when of some videos of Friedman’s lectures, where the likes of Moore and Sanders are there with what seems to be a very precise agenda, not to discuss, but to dictate (or trip-up). Glad you wrote this. The OP left me with a much more dismal view. Much appreciated.

    • This is the article’s author. I don’t usually comment on my own pieces after they’re published but I wanted to make a few clarifications, especially because I think that Lee Jussim’s comment was thoughtful and detailed and deserves a response.

      Jussim is correct when he says that although there were several disruptions of the event it proceeded anyway. In that sense, the protesters did not prevent (or succeed at preventing) the event from occurring. After several heated disruptions during the earlier part of the panel — and after the moderator, panelists, and other audience members made it clear they were not going to allow the event to be derailed — the protesters mostly respected the event format. One could even make the argument that the protesters’ behavior was mild by the standards of other recent campus protests. But I think it is crucial to recognize that the disruptions only subsided BECAUSE of the moderator’s refusal to cede the floor to the protesters and grant them license to run the meeting, which is what they wanted. In a different scenario, and one without the conspicuous presence of police and security guards, things might have played out differently. Anyone who would like to do so can view the YouTube footage of the event and come to their own conclusions. (Because the cameras and microphones are pointed at the panelists, you can’t always see or hear the audience clearly.)

      It is also true, as Jussim notes, that there was “back-and-forth” between the panelists and protesters and some of the protesters made valid points worthy of debate. What I question is the necessity of the protesters’ methods, especially considering that the event had multiple periods for the audience to ask questions. The panelists and moderator were not shrinking violets; they were ready for tough questions and I suspect they would have been disappointed with anything less. I often got the impression that the protesters were not protesting the event actually taking place so much as the event in their minds that they wanted to protest.

      I noticed that some of the commenters here have argued that the protesters were themselves expressing freedom of speech. That could easily be the subject of a lengthy essay in itself, but my own view is that the “heckler’s veto” is not a form of free speech. You have the right to protest outside, and you have the right to attend a public event and use the question period to confront the speakers’ views. But you don’t have the right to disrupt or shout down the speakers or dictate the agenda.

      A lot of the reaction this article has received has focused on the actions of the protesters; in writing it I was more interested in using the Rutgers event as a launching point for an intellectual investigation of intersectional ideology and its dangers and shortcomings. As always I was careful to be as factually accurate as possible. But the piece was never intended as an exhaustively detailed, all-comprehensive account of what transpired at Rutgers. What I wanted to do was probe the connections between campus activists’ tactics and rhetoric and intersectional ideology, as well as make an argument about the ways that identity politics fails to express moral and political complexity and the uniqueness and agency of individual human beings.

      I invite disagreement. I may expand and revise this piece in the future, in which case I’ll take the opportunity to address these criticisms. But I stand by it.

      JOC

  5. Joey Gaines says

    This is one of the best articles I have read all year. A thorough diagnosis of the problems with this Ideology.

  6. The faculty and deans who tolerate this are not doing their job, to say the least. Shame.

  7. Austalgia says

    Ultra interesting piece and crystallises /underlines a number of issues and principles I consider to be self evident. Thanks for that.

  8. WILLIAM ROPER: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

    SIR THOMAS MORE: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

    A Man For All Seasons (1966)

    As you say, Mr Conroy, respect for the bill of rights and the rule of law is fundamental to preserving a civil society. The law recognizes that people have a right to free speech, and the bill of rights acts to deny even the government the power to take that away. If not even the government can take away that right, how much less the mob?

    That said, I grow increasingly intolerant of the spoiled, small minded, bigots that make up these rallies. As you observe, they’re generally upper middle class who’ve never had to work a day in their lives, and whose experience of black people is limited to those who move in the same circles they do. They certainly wouldn’t associate with working class Blacks, Whites, or Hispanics. Those who they claim to defend are people they don’t even know. No Black, Hispanic, or for that matter White, working man wants to be kept as a purse puppy by a leftist college student.

  9. Steven says

    Very well written piece on the many problems of the intersectionality movement. Every time I read and hear about such protests I think about one of my best friends. A person I wish every ‘new liberal’ and intersectionalists should have an opportunity to sit down and talk to. Let me tell you about my friend.

    When I first met him I was in my early twenties. He was in his mid seventies. More than half a century separated us. He was blind to one eye but loved his guns and had participated in two wars. I was a pacifist who had never even been in a fight. He was a die-hard conservatist. I was a spiring liberal (or even socialist). We had absolutely nothing in common, but for some unknown reason crossed paths and ended up having a conversation over a beer one night. And from that day we were inseparable.

    Since we could never agree on even the simplest issue, our conversations nearly always ended with him wishing he had his guns nearby so he could shoot me (tongue in cheek, I hope), and me saying he could never hit someone as good at running zig-zag as me. We often yelled at each other, perhaps as often as we laughed together. But in spite of the heated arguments and somethimes pretty harsh words, we always agreed to meet again. The beer was always good and I sincerely enjoyed his company and partucular taste of music. And so a year passed.

    One night he told me, looking me straight in the eyes, that he thought I was the most arrogant and ignorant [insert word of choice] he had ever met. He then went on to say something that I still to this day will never forget. He said, ‘Don’t change’. After all, he said, it was who I was. Never change just beacuse someone tells you to. Be yourself.

    Eventually I moved and we lost contact. I have not seen him since and probably never will either.

    But I miss him. And I have changed. But not because I wanted to, but because I met him. And for the better, I believe.

    It saddens me thinking of any intersectionalist or new liberal of today meeting him, because they would probably shout him out and treat him as an enemy. They would never sit down and have a beer with him. They would never get that opportunity to challenge their world view.

    Instead intersectionality grows and prospers in the narrow fenced off minds of people who seek gratification from others just like them. Stay inside the fence and be a friend, or stand outside and be the enemy.

    Such is the anti-social and anti-intellectual world of the new liberals.

  10. Max Rittmeister says

    It’s a cult. Not just a religion, a sinister cult.

  11. Liberal identity politics merges tribe with belief system – that REAL women and blacks are liberals. This results in social pressure to conform to the ideology beyond political power. If you get labeled an apostate, you also lose the official identity, like calling conservative blacks race traitors and conservative women aren’t really women so you can sexually mock them the way liberals say conservatives do. By merging political ideology with demographics, you get powerful reinforcement of the belief system because friends don’t want to have to disassociate from the infidel.

  12. ga gamba says

    “I’m a Puerto Rican guy from the Bronx raised in a single-parent household.”

    I hope readers think about this statement. To establish his bona fides Jason felt compelled to use the identity-politics preface. Has this been so normalised that it’s given automatically? (And why didn’t Jason mention what pronouns he prefers? Very naughty, Jason.) I see a different type of preface given by whites who seem required to acknowledge their privileges first. This is straight out of the Cultural Revolution’s self-criticism. Then Jason provided his opinion about the diversity of ideas. Because he’s on an elevated tier of the progressive stack, protestors couldn’t dispense out of hand the messenger; they fell into confusion. I suspect the white protestors were especially befuddled; perhaps they’ve been commanded to listen meekly when a POC speaks.

    “The worst of the audience’s animosity was directed at Kmele Foster, who is black.”

    Mr Foster provided facts about criminality. These are the same facts available to anyone of any sex, race, ethnicity, region, and parental upbringing. Yet, it isn’t the facts that matter to some of the attendees (those who were protesting), it’s who’s the messenger. Again, since the protestors can’t dispense of the messenger because he’s on an elevated tier of the progressive stack, they then attack the facts. Not the accuracy of the facts, but the concept of facts in and of themselves. Facts are oppression. How is anything to be accomplished when facts no longer matter?

    This is the lunacy of identity politics.

    “The protesters were particularly antagonized by Foster’s contention that police violence against African-Americans has been statistically exaggerated.”

    Mr Foster isn’t the only one who’s made this contention. Professor Roland Fryer of Harvard studied police shootings and use of force, An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force, https://scholar.harvard.edu/fryer/publications/empirical-analysis-racial-differences-police-use-force. For officer-involved shootings he found “no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.” I’ll leave it to you to check his race, if that sort of thing is important to you. You never now, this study could be a trick by whitey.

    • Carl Grover says

      Can’t wait to peruse this study. Thanks for the chuckles, too.

  13. lee foster says

    The word beautiful occurs one time in the Rutgers article: in a hypothetical speech attributed—disparagingly—to white nationalist Richard Spencer. I felt the lack. And I feel the disparagement. A panelist shouted, again and again, “Do facts matter?” And the crowd’s answer was “No!” I want to ask—less loudly, because I have no microphone: Does beauty matter? Does the ability to respond to beauty matter? To respond with your whole being, not only the part legitimated as “factual”—to live with it, maybe to die for it?

    Sometimes when spending the day in the Colorado foothills, when night was falling, I understood the Lakota saying (so I had heard) that they emerged from the Black Hills. I knew they’d migrated from the Great Lakes region 300 years earlier. It didn’t matter. I knew I had come out of the mountains. There was more truth in that—and it was a truth of myself I had to fight for—than there was in the fact that my ancestors came from Europe. But because I am reporting my own experience, rather than confirming my abject invalidation relative to a narrative not my own, I will perhaps be found even more intolerable to the postmodern protesters than to the science-oriented “fact-based” community.

    The sides now arrayed against each other have this in common: both invalidate personal narrative and personal response. Both refuse the primal source material: one’s own life, the only source material anyone has ever had.

    • Patrick Smith says

      “Sometimes when spending the day in the Colorado foothills, when night was falling, I understood the Lakota saying (so I had heard) that they emerged from the Black Hills. I knew they’d migrated from the Great Lakes region 300 years earlier. It didn’t matter. I knew I had come out of the mountains. There was more truth in that—and it was a truth of myself I had to fight for—than there was in the fact that my ancestors came from Europe.”

      I am finding this difficult to parse. By “truth”, do you really mean something like poetry, or fun? How can you claim that the mountain notion contains more truth than the facts do when — I assume — you yourself do not actually believe it and reject it by the normal procedure for identifying untruths?

      If someone told me they were considering dying for the way mountains made them feel pretty, I would strongly urge them to reconsider. Obviously, people’s feelings matter and appreciation of beauty is part of what makes life worth living, but that does not mean we need to include mentions of beauty in the context of a conversation that largely centers on things like public policy, movement tactics, etc.

      Then again, maybe I’m missing your point.

      • lee foster says

        Hi Patrick. Thanks for responding to me.

        I can put this another way. I was trying to say as simply as possible, first, that perception and conation are inextricable; the perceptual and motor parts of mental function operate only as a single whole. For example, the eye cannot see without a complex feedback loop involving the muscles shaping the lens and moving the eyeball. A baby cannot learn the concept of objects in space without the practice of hand-eye coordination. This conative engagement is inherent in all “fact” and “truth” throughout life, at higher levels of complexity and abstraction and in more frontal regions of the brain.

        One application of this could be integration of emotional and analytical capacities. “Poetry”? A handy legitimator, also a word of containment. “Fun”? This implies a self-involvement I didn’t mean. On the contrary: I was also trying to say that personal presence is the essential nature of all communication. My sense is that science is, among its other functions, the latest form of an ancient attempt to disempower this presence. And that it’s just beginning to be supplanted by another form of the same attempt. These forms are, of course, anathema to each other. Thus the current struggle in academia.

        I expected the contempt of those unwilling to be distanced from the metanarrative of science. I was also imagining some antifa or Social Justice Warrior, some member of what I consider a cult, angrily accusing me of “cultural appropriation” and other crimes. I was attempting to set myself up at the intersection of two targets so as to illustrate the way these alienations are single.

        Sorry I’m not easier to understand.

        l

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  15. Carl Sageman says

    Thank you. You described intersectionalism and identity politics beautifully… racism and sexism.

    I also appreciate the comments from others almost as much as the original article.

    I personally don’t subscribe to intersectionalism at all. At one point, the article legitimised intersectionalism. I don’t legitimise any racism or sexism.

    Lee Foster also criticised science and fact based people because they differentiate personal experience from being conflated to all of society. For example, my father was abusive. Ergo, all fathers are abusive. If clarifying that a personal experience doesn’t extrapolate to all of society, count me guilty as charged. If the criticism was of people who select their facts or assume that trends are absolute, I would support that.

  16. nancyw says

    thank you this interesting piece. although, it pains me to see these liberals compared to Marxists in anyway. It is not an accident that there is so little focus on class supremacy among these liberals. As with every elite group throughout all of history, these relatively powerful folks “will cede nothing without a demand”. They are just clever enough to figure out an mechanism/ideology that guarantees their power, including getting tenure. It would be interesting to know how many protests there are campuses when a corporate talking head comes to convince them to buy things they can’t afford or a some tech company who treats their workers like disposable parts. this is all infuriating to me not because of their methods but because of their tired old propaganda of the powerful dressed up as radical.

  17. Kind of agreed with your article, as one hears horror stories about identity politics. Then I watched the video. You completely twisted the events to suit your narrative. I just wanted to point out that I have no external reason to disagree with you, but believe you are dishonest. The disruption was minimal, relevant and understandable. It was confined to very small periods of the discussion, and was often well argued. Shame on you for this pathetic smear job.

  18. C Jones says

    To me the spread of the internet and social media are responsible for most of this mess. Certainly it’s acceleration.
    The dreamers who created social media thought it would bring out the best bits of humanity.
    Of course it wasn’t going to.
    It brought out the worst.
    And now real life is starting to mimic social media.

    It ain’t pretty…

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  20. Stephen J. says

    “A woman in my college year explained it to me with chilling clarity: sometimes ensuring ‘truly fair speech’ in ‘the so-called “marketplace of ideas”‘ requires the ‘temporary dissuasion of opposing rhetoric.'”

    This remark illuminates one of the utterly fundamental points of difference between the philosophies here clashing, which I think is worth calling attention to: one absolutely critical dogma of intersectional progressivism is that it does not believe in the “marketplace of ideas”. More specifically, it does not believe, as the Greek philosophers and the Scholastics did, that in an unfettered comparison of arguments the more truthful will ultimately, inevitably win out; rather, they believe, like Aristotle and other devotees of rhetoric, that the argument most likely to succeed is not the most truthful but the loudest shouted, or the most often repeated, or the most flattering to its hearers’ biases. This makes it morally licit not only to use all of these tactics yourself that you can, but to have opposing rhetoric shut down as well when you can, because it is far more important that the right viewpoint win than that the conflict be “fair” (since it can’t be fair anyways).

    This to me has always been one of the critical divisions: either you trust your fellow humans to see Truth more often than not, or you don’t. This is also one of the reasons I have never quite been able to commit to the “alt-right” as a movement either, as in practice they tend to adopt the same position (most people are idiots who can’t be trusted to know good ideas from bad). Granted, rather than reach the left’s conclusion of “and therefore we have to ensure the State makes all the decisions”, they tend to conclude “and therefore we have to ensure the State shuts out or kicks out anybody who’ll be more cost than benefit,” which in itself is not unreasonable but is almost always followed up with, “But since that’s very hard to fairly and accurately predetermine, we’ll be lazy and use race and cultural origin as proxies for that assessment.”

  21. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Dogma takes many flavors but is made from the same basic ingredients. Faith plus passion equals recipe for belief in all manner of loopy piffle. Sarah Haider needed a tad more attention in the article. You want to learn about heresy, blasphemy and apostasy, she can school us all. Her trinity of sins is liberating for many who harbour doubt in the faith they were raised in. How to free yourself via thought! Bertrand Russell, Betty Friedan and Carl Sagan would have embraced her as a fellow freethinker and humanist.

  22. Raymond says

    Sound like the protesters were availing themselves of their free speech rights. It’s difficult to see the problem. I’ll take a guess at it though. Perhaps the problem is that free speech is not an open marketplace of ideas where the best idea wins. The panelists’ voices were being drowned out by those with voices louder than their own. So the overall messages received were only those of the protesters. The messages’ of the panelists were put on the defensive, having to react constantly to the more powerful voices of the protesters. The panelists’ messages became distorted and even destroyed by the protesters’ free speech. Another way to say this is that by virtue of their loudness and obnoxiousness (not by their merit) the protesters’ voices were privileged. Put that way I can see why you find their free speech problematic.

  23. Thomas N says

    Does anyone else think that more mainstream leftists are secretly delighted with the lunacy that campus leftists are getting behind? Why? – because it makes many of the bad ideas they hold sacred come off as the height of rational thought in comparison. I don’t know how many times I’ve encountered libertarians and conservatives yearn for the good old days when their adversaries actually wanted a discussion and then went onto say something like – “well, I’ll admit that higher taxes on the wealthy/a higher minimum wage etc is up for discussion – let’s have a discussion on that and not this intersectionalist baloney!”

  24. While I am certainly sympathetic to the thoughts I am reading here, the tone of this essay is almost as disturbing as the disruptive speech of the intersectionality students that the essay attempts to describe. The language that Conroy uses and the structuring of his arguments fit, to my mind, the tone of modern academia — which is precisely what we are seeing reflected in the tone of the students.

    Conroy seems almost to assume that there is an either-or debate going on here. His approach is admonitory, and carelessly judgmental. I don’t have a problem with either judgment or admonition when I get some honest indicators that the writer knows that is what he is doing, and knows that such language has its limits. I don’t get that feeling here. In fact, I am most concerned that, in what really is a personal, not scholarly essay, I get no sense that the author is aware of the degree to which his own emotions are on display here.

    There’s an irony to this essay, and it’s rather damning when the essayist cannot clue us in that he is aware of that. Today’s academic writers seem to have so narrowed their range of influences in essay writing that controlling and judiciously modifying their writing tone seems a bit beyond their rather unfortunately narrowed choice of writing styles. In fact, I suppose it might be a mistake to refer to style here in the plural.

    Most notably missing is any attempt at empathy, to try to understand what the students are feeling and why. Why have they taken this approach? I’m afraid that the answer may be that this is how they learned to think, speak, and act from the faculty themselves.

    I’ve come across a lot of faculty at today’s universities who don’t read outside their discipline, who are ruthlessly monotonic in their beliefs and passions, who dismiss civility as an act of giving way, who are terribly certain they are right, who are chary of self-critique, and almost seem to think that such self-reflection is a sign of weakness.

    Aren’t these the very things that Conroy sees as failings in the students? It’s not that the faculty are to blame for the acts of the students, but it still remains a reasonable question — in teaching students the importance of self-expression, how much attention was given to the responsibility that self-expression inevitably entails?

    This is not the fault of any one professor, any one philosophy, any misreading of a model, as seems clearly to have been the case with the current usages of intersectionality or identity politics in general. (I’ve read the original essays — they don’t quite imply the usages we see here; in fact, they are well-reasoned and judicious in their conclusions — and Crenshaw, their author, is today, as far as I can see, still very reasonably pragmatic about the use of the term).

    It is the larger academic culture, I think, that has let itself become too fragmented, that even in the social sciences and humanities has become dismissive of humanistic scholarship, that has let itself throw away the past a little too indiscriminately.

    But this sort of thing, intersectionality as a mode of bumper sticker thinking, has happened before, as the gentleman citing the sixties and seventies explained. It will, however, not result in some sort of nil or empty progress. Experience is still experience. But the progress to be gained is less than, perhaps, it should be, and more painful, no doubt, than it need be.

    • I was gonna comment along the exact same lines, Mark David Dietz. I’m sympathetic, however the author falls into the exact same behaviors he’s critiquing. And it’s not just him. It seems to be the way we’re learning to communicate in academia. He makes no reference to source material, and no indication that he’s read Crenshaw, much like the protestors. That would be a compelling critique- juxtaposing the behaviors he essentially mocks these students for exhibiting with the actual points Crenshaw makes in her essays. Also, there’s a conflation of liberalism (ideals aligned with the Democratic Party) and leftism, which, to my understanding, is dissatisfied with the democratic state in and of itself and wishes to abolish its institutions and processes.

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