Free Speech, Top Stories

Theorising Out Loud

Of late, the Left has again become rather taken with the notion that marginalised groups suffer under unfettered speech. Ergo, it is argued, “Social Justice Warriors are the true defenders of free speech,” because selective censorship helps to compensate for power differentials and open public discourse to a diverse range of voices. Those concerned about the stifling of free expression are chastised for their ignorance of this insight into the workings of discourse. But this theory isn’t especially new, and it has a beleaguered history of which its proponents seem to be unaware.

Recent progressive suspicion toward free speech has relied for much of its authority upon the writings of feminist philosopher Catharine Mackinnon, who waged a war on pornography during the 1980s along with Andrea Dworkin. Together, Mackinnon and Dworkin wrote and advocated for local Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinances, which redefined pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights, in part because they alleged that pornography raises rates of sexual violence. Mackinnon also argued that pornography more broadly reinforces societal misogyny thereby suppressing women’s public participation, including their speech. Therefore, censorship was required to protect free speech, and a theoretically-informed state was required to intervene and correct for this social power imbalance. Which only leaves the question of who gets to select the authentic representatives of the marginalised and decide what must be censored in their interests?

Unfortunately for Dworkin and MacKinnon, there is no evidence to support their claims about pornography’s effects on women’s participation in public life. Data on pornography use (which we only have in spite of Mackinnon’s best efforts) show that women who consume it at similar rates to men are more likely to search for violent content. Since women also enjoy rougher content, it doesn’t obviously seem to represent and reinforce their subordination. Anti-porn feminists might chalk this up to internalised misogyny, but research on this is new and inconclusive.

It ought to be obvious that erotica is as complex and varied as human sexuality itself, and that no uniform “women’s” position on the topic exists for any philosopher or activist group to enforce on their behalf. Furthermore, in the same decades that internet porn has saturated the pubescent male experience, incidents of sexual violence towards American women fell steeply by 60 percent according to the Bureau of Justice. Since anti-pornography feminists were so wrong about pornography’s effects on rates of sexual violence, their claims of it’s wider social consequences against women should also be treated with skepticism. Lurid claims about pornography’s oppressive nature were derived not from data but from Dworkin and Mackinnon’s ideologically-informed assumptions and interpretations.

Lacking any proof that women feel (or, indeed, are) suppressed by pornography, Mackinnon’s justification for censorship simply fell apart. So why are Mackinnon and her ilk taken seriously when they claim to speak on behalf of all women? And why should we take other activists seriously when they make similar claims today?

Feminist standpoint theory sheds some light on what speaking for women really entails. Sandra Harding outlined this theory in her 1986 feminist critique of science, in which she argued that gender bias affects scientific inquiry. Men can understand their own privileged male perspective, she claimed, while women can understand both their oppressed perspective and the privileged perspective, which they absorb in a male-dominated milieu. And, as a result, women are less biased than men. Thus, “feminism and the women’s movement provide the theory and motivation for inquiry and political struggle that can transform this perspective of women into a ‘standpoint'” from which superior scientific work could be performed.1

However, Harding then went on to argue that “feminist critiques of social and natural science, whether expressed by women or by men, are grounded in the universal features of women’s experience as understood from the perspective of feminism.” [bold emphasis mine]2 Therefore, “feminist empiricism argues that women (or feminists, whether men or womenas a group are more likely to produce unbiased and objective results than are men (or non-feminists) as a group.” [bold emphasis mine]3

So, a man can understand and articulate women’s standpoint and speak for women if he is a feminist—and a woman cannot if she is non-feminist. For all we hear about lived experience, it appears that female experience—at least according to Harding—is not lived, but taught. It does not emerge from women as a group, but is created by feminists and imparted to them.

Theoretically, this standpoint is authentically derived from the “universal features of women’s experience” with which radical feminists begin. However, these features themselves are prefigured by a particular political tradition, as the concept of a universal female experience presumes that all women share a condition of oppression and exclusion from power. Having created “women’s experience” with their own political values baked in, feminists naturally extrapolate them out again. The legitimacy supposedly gained by speaking to power from the margins is both dubious and self-serving, since this marginalisation (and the epistemic and moral authority it allegedly bestows) is self-created.

The radical Left invents the “standpoints” it then claims to have discovered, investing them with its own concepts of power, oppression, and liberation. Only speech which opposes the power structure they have identified as the enemy can be authentic because that is the purpose of this concept; by definition, “women” are those excluded from and opposed to power. So, non-feminist women lack the woman’s standpoint because the feminists who created it did not consider them part of the “perspective of women” to begin with. Mackinnon’s challenge to free speech was simply a contrivance useful to the purposes of her crusade against pornography. Because she wanted pornography banned, she insisted without any evidence that all women were oppressed by its effects.

Speech codes serve their creators’ politics—’twas ever thus. On the radical Left, political factions insist that their contestable claims are indistinguishable from the urgent needs and interests of whole social groups. Anything contrary to their claims becomes suppression of these social groups which must therefore be censored.

*     *     *

How have such dubious claims come to shape the limits of debate? Quite simply, their proponents do their utmost to silence those who might challenge them. Consider the campus de-platforming of feminists like Germaine Greer: the transgender are marginalised and the cisgender are powerful, therefore Greer’s opposition to the trans movement must be suppressed to enable trans people to speak freely. When Greer abandoned an appearance at the University of Cardiff after the usual outcry, writers such as Paris Lees waved away concerns about Greer’s “freeze peach,” and asserted that the suffering of the marginalised was the only pertinent issue.

The ongoing spat between “gender critical” feminists and trans activists is illuminating because it is precisely the theory that is at issue. The former dispute that trans women are a uniquely oppressed group of women deserving of deference from women who have cis (non-trans) privilege, and claim they are merely men bothering women as usual. They deny antipathy toward transgender people, instead rejecting the extremes of trans theory which obliterate the female body as a concept. What happens if the free speech side of a free speech fracas does not want not to use their speech to suppress that of the marginalised, and disputes this very framing of the issue?

Any such questioning of a presupposed victim group is itself considered suppression of the victim group, and summarily de-platformed. This obviously circular argument—that one cannot question theory of the marginalised group without suppressing speech from the marginalised group—justifies the censorship of honest critics, who are silenced before they can even challenge the assumptions on which their censorship is based. Destruction of reputation and de-platforming is frequently used to this effect.

Naturally, the opprobrium attached to being an oppressor of marginalised groups, or the mere threat of being so labelled, is often enough to stifle criticism. Where this does not suffice, mere theory can be used to muddy definitions so as to tarnish reputations. For example, even though the language Greer uses to speak about transgender people is often needlessly cruel, she has repeatedly emphasised that she has no desire to harm or interfere with transgender people. However, the “trans community,” as conceived by activists, includes both trans people and the tenets of gender theory. Any antagonism—from the murder of trans people to polite disagreement with those tenets—is simply classed as transphobic oppression, different only in degree. The absurdity of all this should be obvious—Helen Lewis has observed that the men who rape and kill transgender women are likely not over-familiar with the works of Germaine Greer. Nevertheless, activists insist on categorising Greer and others’ views alongside murderous violence, and university feminist societies claim trans-critical views “endanger trans women” to further justify de-platforming.

These theorists’ take on free-speech is thus a self-contained circle of self-justifying premises and boiler-plate rhetoric, foisted onto the public sphere through the organs of media, academe, and activism wherever the Left dominates. Far from standing against power, it depends upon it. The notion that group power imbalances must be accounted for with censorship if speech is to be truly free (including censorship of those critical of this idea) is a demand that all the radical Left’s substantive claims about social groups and their interests be agreed to before public discourse even begins. The theorists are as blind to their biases and presuppositions as any they accuse—they just disguise their own as objective social analysis which is then placed above discussion. The radical Left will not countenance discussion without first insisting on their proposed group interests as self-evident.

The task before liberals is to make them do so. Because when these claims are interrogated like any other, they are quickly found to be groundless. The feminists who denounced and tried to censor pornography failed to meet their own criteria of the margins speaking to power. They were comfortably ensconced within academia and worked in tandem with the political clout of the religious Right—far from speaking from the female margins to male power, they were nearer the centres of established power than the pornographers they attacked.

The communities that leftists claim to protect are plainly dubious. The “trans community” as conceived by the radical Left is packed with assumptions that have no obvious connection to the interests of transgender people. Indeed, denials of binary gender and biological sex differences appear to contradict the whole enterprise of changing physically from one gender to the other, and insistence on affirmation of gender self-identification in toddlers undermines support for the cautious medical treatment of young trans adults. Such notions, presented as the stakes upon which transgender well-being rest, are actually the underpinnings of radical gender theory. Gender theory created this “trans community” to advance itself, rather than the other way around. The claim that speech from the marginalised will follow the silencing of the oppressor and produce a net gain in speech overall, fails. Greer has been persona non grata on most campuses for some time now, yet the “trans community” has made no great contribution to campus discussion—and won’t, because it only exists in theory.

*     *     *

I hope to avoid familiar stereotypes of postmodernist, leftist academia. Feminist scholarship generally has rejected the universal “women’s experience.” Further, postmodernist philosophers’ politics were more complicated than often thought, and their insights into language and power were more nuanced than is often appreciated. However, many on the radical Left who are taken with their ideas have failed to apply postmodernism’s scepticism to their own newly acquired political certainties. Instead, they clumsily use theories of power and language in the service of their own unexamined agenda. Activists, second-rate academics, and left-leaning journalists distinguished more by their peculiar political tradition than any characteristic like sex or race, presume to censor on behalf of victim groups.

It is a common human failing to presume that one’s own perspective is wholly correct, and that those who disagree are either ignorant or malevolent. However, granting the victim perspective indisputable moral authority whilst placing oneself within it justifies (indeed mandates) this tendency without restraint. The results are almost comic. Left-wing men can berate women into silence, whilst sincerely imagining themselves to be champions of women’s speech. And academics can confidently announce that the millions of women who differ from them are in the grip of false consciousness, blind to their true perspective. They openly affirm their desire to silence their opponents, even questioning legal protections on speech. This does not a remedy for polarisation make.

Worryingly, this approach to speech seems to be spreading beyond the radical Left. A defender of Greer in the Spectator decries the silencing of “women” by trans activists. That most opponents of “gender critical” feminists have been young (born) women would appear to complicate this. They would have more success arguing that a particular group with contestable but legitimate views on the transgender matter are being silenced by a poorly-conceived theory of the activist clique, than in pitting social groups against each other. But even right-leaning publications seem to write about free speech in terms of competing groups.

Activists are naive to think that they can impartially censor oppressive speech to correct for historical oppression. Their conception of oppression is warped by the biases of their particular political tradition, and they inevitably end up simply censoring people they simply dislike, most often those less powerful than themselves. It is better (or, more accurately, less worse) to let individuals speak as freely as possible, and not get boxed into groups controlled by the purportedly enlightened few. Of course, the perspectives and pre-existing narratives we adopt can still control us, even when we speak freely. But it’s a form of control many steps removed from, and far preferable to, giving a direct veto to mediocre academics, activists, and left-leaning journalists.

If those who value free speech hope to convince the public of its enduring value, they would do well to more directly confront the poorly conceived theory behind progressive critiques, and the cynical abuse of public goodwill toward the vulnerable in society.


The author has a BA in History from the University of York. You can follow her on Twitter at @lottashelton. Charlotte Shelton is a pseudonym.


1 Harding, Sandra G. The Science Question in Feminism. Ithaca: Cornell U, 1986. Print. pg 26
2 Harding, Sandra G. The Science Question in Feminism. Ithaca: Cornell U, 1986. Print. pg 26
3 Harding, Sandra G. The Science Question in Feminism. Ithaca: Cornell U, 1986. Print. pg 25


  1. Evander says

    Side point but still: pornography isn’t an innocent social practice.

    Pornography drives human trafficking. My wife’s closest girlfriend works for a Western legal aid organisation that fights exploitation globally. She’s based in Mumbai, and the biggest problem is live-streamed child sexual abuse for a Western clientele.

    What happens when you combine human neuro-chemistry with an addictive stimulant like pornography? Ever-increasingly more deviant forms of it. Less orderly societies have trouble enforcing human rights, so there’s your market solution for advanced unscratched Western lust.

    Anecdotally, I recall hearing a few years ago about the increasing number of teenage girls in my city presenting at clinics for anal health issues. Culprit: pornography.

    Free speech should be vigorously defended. Pornography shouldn’t: it’s anti-humanity.

    • Alistair says

      Well, that rather obviously conflates two separate issues, doesn’t it?

      The problem there in Mumbai isn’t pornography, but child abuse. Full stop.

      If it was a bunch of 25 year olds live-streaming (and making a stack more money than they would in a textile mill), would it still be a problem?

      • Πέτρος says

        There is a cogent truth that isn’t fully or clearly expressed in this piece. Let me see whether I can encapsulate it. I think it’s worth noting:

        If you can de-platform someone, stop his/her speech, YOU are “the powerful”, not the speaker.

        It’s a litmus test. An individual or group can’t overpower someone’s attempt to express himself and then claim to be justified because they are somehow powerless or oppressed. It’s a contradiction.

        And if a firebrand stops someone else’s speech and tries to style himself part of the victimized, there is, as W.C. Fields put it, “an Ethiopian in the fuel supply.”

        • Emmanuel says

          @ Πέτρος, excellent point : many people seem to forget that concepts of “vulnerability” or “powerlessness” can easily be instrumentalized by interest groups trying to justify themselves or justifying their actions.

    • This is a strawman argument. Literally no one is saying child pornography is acceptable. If you want to argue against pornography, do so with facts and data. Pornography does not equal child pornography (which is abhorrent obviously), and your assertion that “every increasingly more deviant forms” of pornography must follow is just that, an assertion.

    • @Evander
      That’s child pornography and it’s already illegal.
      Scientific evidence indicates that much of folk superstitions surrounding adult pornography lack empirical basis:
      The claims made against pornography are the same arguments that were put forth against videogames, and before those comic books and horror movies and different genres of music (rap, rock, metal).
      From a personal pov: I remember calls to ban a particular movies and video games for being too violent, after more than 10 years I have yet to turn into a serial killer and/or a zombie.

      • Mime Riot says

        @Anon: “I remember calls to ban a particular movies and video games for being too violent, after more than 10 years I have yet to turn into a serial killer and/or a zombie.”

        Ah ha! But that’s just what a serial killer and/or zombie would say, wouldn’t he?

      • Charlie says

        Those who served in combat rarely watched violent war films. As one special forces vet who had had killed several Germans with his bare hands said ” I spent the rest of my life trying to forget what I did in the war.” If one wants to live a life where violence occurs, join the special forces.

        When it comes to pornography there is a French saying ” When one is thirsty, what is the point of looking at glass of beer if one cannot drink it? ” Buddhist consider it is important to live in reality. What is happening is that many westerners live in a fantasy world and cannot cope with reality. If on has a sex life what is the point of pornography and if one doesn’t what is the point also?

        Over the last 200 years, the increase in wealth has produced a large effete impractical arts educated middle class who can find employment in the government sector. To justify their existence they have to create an injustice. Those who had worked in tough and dangerous jobs just wanted a better quality of life.

        Historically, only a few very wealthy women did not work. Women worked according to their strength- milking cows and taking milk to market, planting, weeding, reaping, as a shepherdess, processing woo, weaving, baking, brewing, laundry l and when industrialisation, occurred in coal mines, cotton and wool mills. Historically most humans have worked over the age of five. The complaints of modern western women are laughable compared to those who undertook ten hours a day farm, mine or mill work.

        The reality is that most of the activists are middle class left wing arts graduates employed by the public sector who are irrelevant to civilisation; they neither produce the great artists, writers, scientists, farmers, craftsmen, labourers, explorers, innovators, engineers , etc, etc. The numbers who have graduated with arts degrees post 1945 in the Western World is in the millions but combined they do not have the greatness of the masters who created the Renaissance and such writers as Shakespeare.

        There is nothing stopping someone becoming another Shakespeare or Michelangelo apart from talent.

        The Left has only existed since the late 19th century and has not produced anything to match the pyramids, Greece, Renaissance, Roman engineering, Indian or Chinese civilisations or much western civilisation. Most left wing writing is tedious apart from G B Shaw.

    • Ghatanathoah says


      You’re dead wrong. Pornography isn’t just harmless, it’s helpful. Countries that legalize pornography show a marked decrease in sexual violence. Sexual violence has also decreased as technologies like the internet spread pornography.

      “Human trafficking” is an overblown moral panic. Obviously even one person being trafficked is one too many, but the idea that it’s some kind of giant epidemic is ridiculous (also the majority of trafficking that does go on is labor trafficking, not sex trafficking). Law enforcement agencies cook the books to make it look more common than it is to justify expanding their power.

      In particular, they classify teenage runaways who engage in prostitution to survive as “victims of human trafficking,” even though they are engaging in prostitution of their own volition. This reclassification is responsible for the allegedly large amount of trafficking. Obviously it’s horrible that teens run away and think prostitution is their only choice, but that is a different problem than their being abducted and “trafficked,” conflating these problems makes it harder to solve them.

      There is no evidence pornography is addictive, or that increased consumption of it makes people want to consume child pornography. Even if people seek out weirder forms of pornography as they get used to the vanilla stuff, their’s a big difference between weird porn (i.e. BDSM, enemas, etc.) and porn that victimizes children in its production.

      According to your last paragraph, pornography also increases how often young people try anal sex. This is a good thing, since it greatly reduces the odds of an unplanned pregnancy! I dont see how decreasing the amount of unwed teenage mothers is anti-human.

      • Joe Dewar says

        You are the most naive person I have ever encountered. Your life in your parent’s basement has not equipped you to comment on this issue. Keep well bro, get out more.

      • Evander says

        Ugh, my response was cut by moderation. Does this happen due to length, irrelevancy, the posting of URLS or other criteria?

        Let me try again.


        I’ve got a problem with all pornography. So, yes.

        Child abuse can involve the production of child pornography. I’m joining them because it’s linked with the broader phenomenon of pornography.


        It’s not a strawman: I’m arguing that child pornography can be linked to pornography more broadly.

        “If you want to argue against pornography, do so with facts and data.”

        Thank you for the invitation. I am doing so now.

        “your assertion that “every increasingly more deviant forms” of pornography must follow is just that, an assertion.

        From a 2016 article in the journal Behavioral Sciences: “In talking to the subjects, researchers discovered that high exposure to pornography videos apparently resulted in lower responsivity and an increased need for more extreme, specialized or “kinky” material to become aroused.”


        “The claims made against pornography are the same arguments that were [made against videogames, etc.].”

        Fallacious damning of my position by associating with an argument I’m not making.


        “Countries that legalize pornography show a marked decrease in sexual violence. Sexual violence has also decreased as technologies like the internet spread pornography.”

        Causal link, please, or I’m calling post hoc ergo propter hoc.


        “Law enforcement agencies cook the books to make it look more common than it is to justify expanding their power.”

        Evidence, please.

        “There is no evidence pornography is addictive”

        From Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: “Pornography… hyperactivates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see. Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too do our senses hunger to be stimulated.”

        From the abstract of a 2015 article in Behavioral Sciences: “The review leads to the conclusion that Internet pornography addiction fits into the addiction framework and shares similar basic mechanisms with substance addiction.”

        For fear of my comment not getting through I’ll leave it to that. But I’ve got empirical findings to support the following contentions: pornography linked to negative sexual attitudes, sexual dysfunction, sexual aggression and callousness.

        • Evander says

          On the link between pornography and sexual trafficking:

          According to the International Labour Organisation (2016), 4.8 million people are sexually trafficked, 1 million of whom are children.

          Paedophiles, or otherwise normal people who have acquired a taste for more extreme pornographic content – see Doidge on acquiring sexual tastes through, even unwanted tastes, through pornographic consumption (pp. 102 – 110) – have created a market for live-streamed child sexual abuse. Yes, it’s illegal, immoral and not the kind of pornography you support. But it’s linked to the broader phenomenon of pornography.

          And it’s not just a problem for Asia and the Pacific. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sex trafficking occurs where ‘a commercial sex is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.’ This definition, as Fight The New Drug points out, brought unexpected attention to exploitation in the USA. Whenever there is coercion, there is human trafficking. For more detail see: On trafficking in the USA:

  2. E. Olson says

    This interesting piece brings to mind the question of whether there has ever been any “theory” coming out of the grievance studies fields that can withstand scrutiny and empirical investigation. The whole premise of the fields is to study the “oppressed” as victims of “unfair” policies and practices of the higher status classes of the social hierarchy without ever questioning or considering how the “oppressor’s” higher status was achieved. These fields always promote the fundamentally ridicules idea that higher status is always illegitimate rather than based on better genes, better decision making, harder effort, or superior results, and any research or speech that suggests that hierarchy status is actually based on merit and productivity must be shut down to protect the right of victims to speak the gibberish that has put them on the bottom. The social justice movement is only possible because of the economic and political freedoms bestowed on citizenry by the higher status members of enlightened Western cultures, yet the increasing vehemence and violence of social justice warriors comes from the realization that such freedoms also increasingly reveal the meritocratic legitimacy of the largely unchanged hierarchy rankings. In other words, talent valued by society still rises and/or stays at the top, which is very upsetting to those not possessing valued talents.

    • Emmanuel says

      Grievance studies papers read like caricatural medieval theology (I am not talking about Thomas of Aquinas, rather about the dudes discussing wether angels were male or female, which by the way would nowadays be seen as oppressive ) in the sense that those people do not care at all about the facts behind the ideas they support and the concepts they use. Academic discourses thus become a dimension of its own, entirely cut from the reality everybody, including those activists when they are not writing, lives in, which is quite problematic because some people aren’t aware of it and take that nonsense seriously.

    • Richard says

      In a world where men can become better women (and vice versa) who are espoused to be more noble, virtuous, good and worthy – a society is lost. The assault is on all truth, on science, on reason, on all of it. What is the goal of their Social Justice movements? This forced and/or surgically enhanced equality of outcome? I think as Yuri Bezmenov stated – us, the people standing in their way, will have to be sent off to the Gulags and punished for our dissenting views standing against theirs…

      • Reality Checker says

        The true question nobody seems to be asking is how poorly adjusted micro-minorities, with excess time and money to engage in “experimental thought,” ever wound up getting so much power and traction in mainstream society. Their “grievances” are demonstrably silly, their “group” status in doubt, their numbers microscopically small and their “victimhood” self-created; so why is corporate America running scared of such nonsense? Don’t we have more important, real-world problems to occupy our brains, like paying the rent?

        I’ve lived near 60 years on this earth, in a cosmopolitan suburb, and I’ve never even MET a “trans” person! Media types are running around clutching their pearls about the cosseting of unicorns when the genuine article is a rare event indeed. Most of the current craze over “gender” is copycat youth in search of a transgressive “identity” that makes them “cool” and pushes their parents’ buttons at the same time–it’s been ever thus.

        As for those so afflicted, just wear androgynous clothing, do your job and you’ll probably be accepted happily. But the attention-getter stripe can’t force the rest of us to constantly salute your freak flag. And no one wants to see a dude in Victoria’s Secret. Really.

        • Innominata says


          “As for those so afflicted, just wear androgynous clothing, do your job and you’ll probably be accepted happily…”

          The same question has occurred to me a few times. I have known lesbian friends who dressed in an androgynous sort of way and seemed to prefer it, causing no one to raise an eyebrow.

          Moreover, if I moved to a society where I was told, “In order to fit in and not get beat up, you will need to wear a dress of some sort and change your name to Michaela,” my sense is that I’d be fine with that. People dress in uncomfortable and unintuitive ways to fit in all the time. I doubt Wall Street bankers wear stiff three-piece suits because they love the feel, wearing them on the weekends and crawling into bed in them. It’s an uncomfortable convention to fit in and send the signal they desire.

          Why do trans people need the community to pretend like seeing a man’s body decked out in drag doesn’t cause confusion and at times consternation? My non-outraged and most even handed answer is this:

          My study suggests it’s part of a difficult psychological condition. Like anorexia, trans people have great trouble with self-perception. The community’s validation of their unstable self-viewpoint feels supportive. They are struggling to sort out the painful reality of a female-wired brain in a male body (or opposite), and dressing like a woman and having everyone call them by a woman’s name feels like it helps.

          And that’s why trans folks–even though a tiny fraction of the population–are the cause célèbre right now for the radical Left. They are perfectly representative of the entire movement.

          The radical Left generally seems to believe that society can be “fixed” by casting off old, unfair, and needlessly limiting views about human nature and inborn restrictions, allowing everyone to self-define as they like. The radical Left’s path to a better, more just society is to engineer it from the ground up with all the oppressive structure thrown out and almost limitless freedom. In the abstract, not a bad idea.

          However, the radical Left can’t engineer a “create your own story” society without destroying the old social structures, structures they feel are arbitrary, harmful, unjust, and limiting.

          So they attack structure across the board: attacks on the usefulness of IQ as a ranking of human potential and academic ability; attacks on any hierarchy of cultures or religions sorted by their suitability to life in the modern world; attacks on the traditional family model and gender roles; attacks sometimes on the notion of a single dominant culture or any organized religion whatsoever; attacks on inherent dispositions/traits of men and women, taken as statistical groups; attacks on economic systems that allow unequal outcomes; and attacks on the free speech of anyone who tries to defend any of these conservative social structures by arguing they are evolved, sensible, scientifically supported, or ought to be preserved for community survival.

          While the radical Left’s motives seem laudable in the abstract, their methods in practice can be terroristic and destabilizing. Many of their goals turn out to be unsupported by the facts as we understand them today and conflict with human nature as we know it.

          While retiring certain conservative structures (slavery, hereditary nobility, barring any woman from working outside the home) worked out well in many ways, going directly from zero to utopia causes many wise people understandable trepidation. Conservatism has a great deal of wisdom to it.

          People without any structure usually fair poorly. A human forced to completely self-define usually winds up lost and miserable. Such people sink into ridiculous, self-created solipsistic fantasy lives. Human beings evolved to meld to their community and their place in it, not to create themselves from scratch with no assistance or cultural model. That certain people–LGBT folks, the disabled and mentally ill, the extremely intelligent, the very artistic, and some others–must do more work to find or create their place in the world doesn’t mean it’s desirable or healthy for the norm.

          Moreover, abolishing certain social structures can result in catastrophe, as the communists found out. Throw out capitalism and its problems without a viable alternative, and people starve. Tell men and women they can be anything they want to be in any way they want to be if they choose, and they seem to stop marrying and forming families, as they wander through infinite gender choices, career choices, new-age religions, and attempt to “find themselves.” Tell a kid with the IQ to be an electrician that he can be a brain surgeon if he feels like the profession’s status suits his inner self better, and you wind up with a frustrated, lifelong college student and no electricians.

          I blame modern technology and entertainment for some of this. The West has gained tremendous technological freedom and creative flexibility very fast, and we now imagine that the old constraints on human nature and the need for societal structure to direct us no longer apply to our sophisticated, virtual-world building selves. We seem to have conflated our ability to experience and control a wide variety of virtual worlds with the ability to fundamentally alter and control our core selves … in my view, a confusion that may cost us dearly. Just because we can pretend to be someone else online or in a video game doesn’t mean our real selves or societies are nearly so pliable.

          • Peter from Oz says

            One of the problems that many people on the more extreme left is a poor sense of logic. This is most often exhibited in the inability to appreciate that praise of one thing is not necessarily damnation of another thing and vice versa. Another variant is the zero sum fallacy whereby one man increasing his wealth means that another man somewhere is suffering detriment.

          • Reality Checker says

            Excellently written analysis, and thank you for taking the time! I think you nail it in your last paragraph, about “virtual world-building selves.” Unfortunately, most of the builders of virtual worlds have no ties to the NATURAL world whatsoever; they’ve never experienced farming, raised an animal from birth to death, sprouted a seed, dealt with the impersonal wrath of uncontrollable weather, and furthermore because of broken or never-formed families they have only the most tenuous connections even to each other. Most enjoy defaming oil companies, chemical firms, GMO’s, etc. without ever stopping to wonder how their WiFi magically appears or their safe, wholesome food arrives shrink-wrapped and bar-coded at the grocer’s. Without ever having done anything REAL, their arrogance is infinite. They THINK they “know,” but they DON’T know. Hence their surprise when sex actually results in conception; it surprises them because they don’t think in terms of natural law. The world is just their amusement park, and they gripe when it isn’t perfect in their desired image.

          • E. Olson says

            Innominata, very thoughtful and interesting comment – thanks.

    • Alistair says

      E. Olsen,

      Grievance studies are nearly all empirically false. But come, neither of us believe it was ever an exercise in discovering truth, do we?

      It was a bad faith attempt at securing power and prestige from the beginning. “Poisoning the well” to prevent criticism is entirely consistent with such malefic motivations.

      • Emmanuel says

        @ Alistair, the problem is not that nearly all grievance studies are empirically false, but rather than those people do not care at all about it and that the messed-up intellectual institutions of modern western societies allow them to propagate their ideas while facing very little opposition.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @E. Olson

      Yeah, but maybe it’s all a game within a game. It is manifest that Victim culture only perpetuates Victimhood because it perpetuates the idea that ‘it isn’t your fault’ which of course implies that there’s nothing you can do about your failures (because they aren’t really your failures, they are your Oppression). But what if the SJW professionals know this? What if, whereas they claim to be warring on behalf of the Victims, are in fact perpetuating Victimhood because that’s how they make their living? No Victims, no need for Victimologists. If it ain’t broke there’s no need to fix it, no? But the brokener it gets the more lawyers and bureaucrats and activists and academics will be hired to fix it, no? Here in Canada the situation with the Indians gets worse every year and I suspect that’s quite deliberate.

      • E. Olson says

        Ray – I’m certain that there are many SJWs who know it is all a sham, but one that keeps them employed and gives them a certain status and power they would otherwise not have. These are the racial shakedown artists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, many of the “diversity and inclusion” staff in university administration and corporate HR, and a number of “academics” in grievance studies fields. In fact, the development of grievance studies departments at universities was based on trying to find an expedient way to increase the diversity of the faculty, when activists were criticized the faculties of the 1960s and 70s for being too white, male, and heterosexual. Unfortunately the faculty search committees of the time were never able to find enough women, blacks/Hispanics, or homosexuals in the PhD pipelines from legitimate fields to meet their “inclusion” goals, which meant getting creative and founding new fields with “softer” requirements that could attract the desired diverse demographics – a problem that continues today. Yet the sadder truth is the large portion (majority?) of SJWs who actually believe their own BS, and those are the ones you need to worry about knocking you over the head with a bike lock, or burning down your business, or trying to get your fired.

  3. Andrew Leonard says

    Any such questioning of a presupposed victim group is itself considered suppression of the victim group, and summarily de-platformed.

    So academics in the social sciences can get away with redefining criticism as evidence in support of their theories – which amounts to intellectual corruption – because they get paid anyway. Why are no accountability mechanisms in place? Is the general public so mindlessly committed to education that the pressure for accountability is lacking?

    In the physical sciences, the physical world itself provides the mechanism of accountability.

    Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
    – Francis Bacon

    In the social sciences, an equivalent mechanism is not provided to us. Therefore we are obliged to create and maintain our own accountability mechanisms. This responsibility has never become an element of Western culture, and as a result the social sciences are not independent from the politics being studied.

  4. “Which only leaves the question of who gets to select the authentic representatives of the marginalised and decide what must be censored in their interests?”

    Does a question mark belong here? I vote no.

    • Harland says

      If anyone ever wonders why Andrea Dworkin hated men and hated society, one only need look at that picture. That’s how she went through life. No wonder she turned out like she did.

    • Cassandra says

      I think,you mean vile. As for cow,,I suppose that is an insult.
      Oh dear.

      • Evander says

        @benben @Harland

        Shouldn’t our aim be to push the standard of discourse up? Your comments are dragging it down.

  5. Andrew Leonard says

    Does anyone else regard de-platforming a bit too micro-aggressive?

    • benben says

      Please dont use progressive verbiage like ‘micro-aggressive’ to highlight hypocrisy. It legitimizes these absurd musing and encourages anthropomorphic sadism.

  6. R Henry says

    “feminism and the women’s movement provide the theory and motivation for inquiry and political struggle…”

    And there we have it: “Feminism”….”theory”…..”political”

    These are the three words which perfectly describe the movement today. Notice the complete lack of focus reality, fairness, freedom, and equality. What was once an effort to get equal pay for equal work, has become a theoretical enterprise seeking political power.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Yes, those who don’t want power, and there are a lot of us, comprise a group which doesn’t want power.

        • Evander says

          “I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government… The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” C. S. Lewis

  7. Farris says

    Before feminist became concerned with pornography, Larry Flint was a hero of the Left and seen as a defender of free speech. Pornography makes an easy target as it appeals to prurient interests.
    So how did the Left the former defender of free speech, become the antagonists of free speech? The answer is the Left became ensconced in power. Leftist nostrums dominate academia, corporate board rooms, NGOs, government agencies and so on. Once any group acquires the levers of power, it immediately seeks to deplatform competing views. The Left views its opposition as bourgeois, and uses terms like “deplorable” to describe these out groups. The Left does not see itself as restricting freedom of speech but rather restricting those unfit to speak. Most amusing is how the Left clothes itself as revolutionary while maintaining power. Witness the fiasco of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. This extreme reaction is derived from the Left detecting a threat to one of its levers of power.

    • Good points all. It is always important to understand that the left’s appreciation for principles, traditions and institutions like free speech, the rule of law and democracy only applies as long as it is sympatico with their acquisition and maintenence of power. Who said that democracy is like a trolly they you ride until you reach your destination? Same with free speech on campus. It was great back in the 50s and 60s – it so much today. And we saw what the rule of law meant to them in the Kavanaugh hearings.

      • dellingdog says

        The same applies to the right. Witness the hypocritical embrace of Donald Trump by much of the Christian right. Almost overnight, they abandoned their principled stance that leaders need to be moral exemplars. The right also restricts free speech in spaces where it has the power to do so — hypocrisy and abuse of power are not confined to the left.

    • Not true. Flint was never a hero any more than the Neo-Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie. That the “left” fought for their rights to their speech had nothing to with them being considered heroic.

      • Farris says

        Incorrect. Flint was a hero to the Left for lampooning Jerry Falwell.

  8. If anything bad happens to a person, and that person happens to be a “minority” or “under-privileged” (whatever that means), then it’s due to some oppressive -ism. When good things happen, they are simply ignored.

  9. Reality Checker says

    Explain to me why the 99.96% of us can’t continue to pee and shower in peace in sex-segregated facilities, just because .04% want to force their way in? I really don’t want to share a locker room with an anatomical male suffering delusions. Why must we pretend the contrary? And what are the odds, most places, where even one of these is even likely to show up?

    In schools the bathrooms etc. should be male and female, as per one’s biological sex, full stop. NO ONE should be drugging or amputating ANYONE under the age of 21. After 21, if someone feels they want to “transition,” that’s on them. But no one should be forced to associate with this phenomenon, and certainly not while naked or in some other vulnerable position.

    The idea that #metoo and this idea can exist concurrently just makes me smack my head.

  10. Philoctetes says

    Poorly conceived (intend the pun if you like) and poorly written. Lots of important sounding words and cliches – smoke, no fire. Would benefit from a clearer definition of the Left, instead of reliance on the vague sneering taken from the red tops, all things Rupert Murdoch & Fox News, the Koch Brothers, etc. Great potential for a serious exploration of porn, politics, gender, culture, power and propaganda wasted. If Quilette wants to be taken seriously, some higher editorial standards are required. Otherwise it’s not even grafitti, which has its own great tradition, but mindless tagging – again intend the pun if you like.

    • V 2.0 says

      The Left: A spectrum (from Obama supporters to fringe-y anarcho-somethings) of well meaning people who want to make the world a better place but usually end up making it worse because they lack common sense and have no clue how societies and economies actually work.

      • Peter from Oz says

        V 2.0

        That’s a great description of the left. There may be some who are just out for power, but I think that most of them are not consciously seeking to dominate others for the sake of it.
        Cock up and not conspiracy is the truth of it.

      • TarsTarkas says

        They want to make the world a better place for THEM. For you (=the oppressor) not so much.

  11. Benjamin Perez says

    Michel Foucault & Judith Butler planted seeds that, after decades of steady gender & queer studies’ watering, have become trees; those trees have branches, branches to now hang the normies from.

  12. X. Citoyen says

    Self-styled moderates have made criticism of the theoretical roots of feminism off limits, allowing only minor criticisms of its conclusions and policies. Neocons seem to have gone along with this shrinking of the Overton window, restricting their criticisms to conclusions like the wage gap. The patriarchy and the rest of the theoretical apparatus underlying feminism went unquestioned. As a result, women’s studies was institutionalized and the poison spread with the authority of the academy. And nowadays most people take it for granted that the patriarchy exists or existed and that women have been subjugated for 10,000 years.

    We can see why the strategy was total failure. The details about the wage gap and so on hardly matter once you get people to adopt the foundational assumptions. Once they’ve internalized the thinking about how the world works, the exact number of the wage gap is just details.

    So pieces like this are heartening to read. If more people directed their attention toward the theoretical forest instead of the empirical trees we might bring back some sanity.

  13. Michael says

    Lots of errors of reason in this article. The (now largely deceased) feminist argument against pornography, and the current restrictions on free speech in a handful of the 5300 American colleges and universities (which, I believe, will also soon be buried, thanks to resistance from more sober heads on the left) shouldn’t be allowed to mask the obvious: over time, conservatives fret against open discussion of new ideas (hence the word “conservative”), while liberals are nearly always the ones on the vanguard of groundbreaking work in arts, humanities, politics, etc.

    • dellingdog says

      I think that both the left (progressivism) and the right (conservatism) are necessary for a political system to flourish. Unfortunately, identitarian extremists on both ends of the ideological spectrum are hijacking the debate. I hope you’re correct that “sober heads on the left” will rein in the excesses of divisive and illiberal identity politics, and that principled conservatives will stop the right’s slide toward white nationalism. I’m not optimistic, however. I fear that political polarization is going to get worse before it improves.

    • Peter from Oz says


      The old fallacies die hard, dont they? Innovation is not a good thing unless it provides good results. Liberals want change for change sake, Tories want change that provides lasting benefits.
      Now our liberal friends are actually the reactionaries. We on the right have moved on to innovate in social areas by refusing to be part of a tribe decide by the befuddled loonies in the left. Millions of conservative indivuals are innovating in small ways across the globe everday, in the vanguard of individual and familial advancement.

  14. Philoctetes says

    Well, that was an interesting experiment: The inability to define the Left beyond the way Fox News and various other Murdoch outlets might describe it amply demonstrated. It’s not unlike the Orwell essay on fascism, in which the term was so loosely used that it became meaningless. The Left of Orwell’s day was easy to define; communists and Fabian socialists. Today it means anyone who does not embrace the failing free market myth. In other words demonizing people as “other” as a way to disguise right wing propaganda. Oh well, when Western economies collapses into a heap of steaming rubble – the only possible outcome of the attempt to implement Friedmanite free market theory – the right wingers will suddenly forget their propaganda. They will face a stark choice: Democratic socialism or an economic dictatorial regime sponsored by a Chinese government that looks an awful lot like fascism. At that point all the arguments over gender and free speech will seem trivial. At that point the “Daddy” Xi Xingping will be the new Donald Trump. Good luck with that.

    • Harland says

      What a meaningless word salad.

      The Western Right’s outgroup is people who aren’t Westerners. BUT the Western Left’s outgroup is the Right. This is the best explanation I’ve ever heard at this link. A bit long but worth reading every word because it answers SO many questions.

      • The “Western Right” has no coherent meaning other than Westerners who are opposed to the Left. It is impossible to characterize an “outgroup” for a grouping that has no unity of world-view other than opposition to another ideology.

        For some of us who are part of the Western Right, our only outgroup is people who think the state should expand and minutely manage every aspect of life, whether the plea for doing so is on behalf of “workers”, on behalf of any or all the favored groups in intesectionality theory, on behalf of “Aryans”, because all aspects of life should be governed by the divinely revealed sharia (or any analogue from any other religious tradition), or because technocrats educated at (pick the relevant top three universities for the region in question) just know better how we should all live than we ourselves do, and there is no virtue in letting people make their own mistakes when we know better.

        Those of us in that portion of the Western Right, rather resent being grouped together with people whose outgroup is non-Westerners, simply because both we and they oppose the current iteration of the Left, albeit for different reasons.

        • Harland says

          Whaa? There’s a lot more to the Right than kneejerk opposition of anything the Left does. Gimme a break.

          • No, there’s a lot more to each movement called “Right” than knee-jerk reaction to the Left.

            Anarcho-capitalists, classical liberals (cf. the name of the primary center-right party in Australia) — the part of the right I pointed to in saying “some of us on the right” , Tories (in the older sense of the word), ethnic-nationalists of various sorts (militating on behalf of ethnicities not favored by the left), monarchists longing for the restoration of one or another dynasty, ultramontanists who fancy the Pope of Rome should have power over secular affairs, are each part of a movement with more to it than knee-jerk opposition to anything the Left does.

            Lumped together into “the Right”, that’s exactly the unity that is forced onto these disparate movements by political nomenclature derived from the seating arrangement in the French National Assembly back in the day, and used as a propaganda tool by the Left ever since to, for instance, apply a broad brush and portray anti-communist classical liberals (cf. Ronald Reagan) as “Nazis” or “fascists”.

  15. Reality Checker says

    If you look back through the march of history, societys’ mores evolved in response to changing pressures, 98% of which were economic. The transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturists, from agrarian to industrial, from industrial to service-and-information based and beyond. The game changer for women was the decoupling of sexual activity and pregnancy due to the advent of easily obtained birth control ca. 1960 forward. Suddenly women had the option of NOT being “just a housewife” or remaining a single, celibate outlier. Remarkable progress has been made in leveling the economic playing field between the sexes since, though the nuclear family has been gutted in the same time frame and for the same reasons. If it was still necessary, economically speaking, it would still be the norm. But when Big Government stepped in as economic provider in lieu of Daddy, Daddy was reduced to sperm donor and a certain stripe of female decided it was no longer necessary to even try to get along with and understand men. Which is where feminism has wrecked on the rocks today.

    The odd thing about the present moment’s obsession with “gender” labels is that, for the first time in history, sex is no barrier to career and life choices. One can be anything from a stay-at-home married Mom to an astronaut, Marine or brain surgeon of pansexual attractive tendencies without anyone batting an eye. So why the need for elaborate lables, except to obtain attention (and political power?) I’ll call you anything you like, but that doesn’t make you Napoleon or a pit bull.

    • Evander says

      “If you look back through the march of history, societys’ mores evolved in response to changing pressures, 98% of which were economic.”

      Do religion, biology, human nature, intellectualism, etc. make up the other 2% as drive-factors of change?

      History doesn’t march anywhere because, contra Hegel and Marx, it has no telos. (Putting aside my belief in Christ’s return, which can’t be demonstrated.) Time passes, and social practices move closer and further away from what individuals or groups deem to be ideal.

      Come on, Reality Checker, the class analysis is antique and discredited.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Reality Checker

      I agree with Evander that economic changes are only some of the factors that have led to changing mores. But I also agree that the advent of hormonal contraception (which was incidentally developed by men) was the an important factor in the ”liberation” of women.
      But this was not just because it made family planning easier. More importantly, the Pill regularised women’s menstrual cycle and helped to reduce cramping as well as hysteria. Thus more women were able to take up paid work.

  16. Philoctetes says

    “Outgroup.” What an unusual and unique word. Guess I haven’t been keeping up on my Newspeak vocabulary. I think, translated into English, it means the opposite of whoever is the most popular in populist politics. And who has introduced, defined, promoted and controlled the populism and identity politics of Trump, Orban, Erdogan, etc. which right wing parties around the globe now seek to emulate? The same very well funded special interest groups who tell us that the Left is an evil power – George Soros standing in for Emmanuel Goldstein – and must be opposed at every turn, that’s who. And who do they say is the Left? Whoever is not the Right and whoever the Right says it is.
    The strange progress of the Right, from 19th century laissez faire Whigs, to 20th century free market Tories and now to this bizarre contradiction of a movement that is subverting democracy and rejecting rule of law in the name of free speech and Friedmanite economics, is reaching its apogee. Trump will not be re-elected, the Democrats will gain all three levels of power, Brexit will see Labour elected in Britain, and the Bannon populism will blow into the wind like the intellectual chaff it is.
    If the Right wants to define the Left, then call it what it is – democratic socialism. But to do so is to present a viable alternative. Even more dangerous is the risk that it can also be defined, thus revealing what it truly wants – power and wealth for elites based on an erosion of democracy and constitutional rights.
    So they can only continue on with the Fox News cliches, Newspeak and mindless populism. And the violence and intimidation.
    When an ideology is as barren as this present right wing populism – as it was with the Communists and Nazis – that’s the only alternative. To quote Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

  17. Justin Notley says

    Re: the opening photo. Why are so many SJWs so fat? It suggests an imbalanced person, which, of course, they usually are.

    • Evander says

      Why are so many posters here making gronk comments like “Dworkin is a fat cow. No self control. All SJWs are retarded.”?

      Do you need me to post a link to Breitbart?

  18. Philoctetes says

    Breitbart? Is that gaseous, fart-laden outfit still sending out its odiferous spew? Gotta wonder about the average weight of Breitbart readers, and Trump supporters too. Nearing 20 stone or more I’d bet. And it’s Americans who began to panic after it emerged that as U.S. citizens increase significantly in girth they may not be able to squeeze into narrower airplane loos. Talk about imbalanced persons. Look around.

  19. Pando says

    Thanks Charlotte,
    Kindness and an ability to listen seem lost; Everybody’s out thumping someone on the head with an expectation of change.

  20. “Data on pornography use” – and we get a cite for a survey conducted by Pornhub, about porn use, because, you know, they have a completely neutral, unbiased perspective, and they can confirm, categorically, that every user registered as female is 100% female… Meh.

  21. Spencer says

    “For all we hear about lived experience, it appears that female experience—at least according to Harding—is not lived, but taught.”

    It’s remarkable that C.S. Lewis essentially prophesied about this happening in his book The Abolition of Man. Lewis introduces a group of people referred to as the Conditioners whose goal is to condition society to accept their subjective morality: “‘Good’ and ‘bad’, applied to [the Conditioners], are words without content; for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived” (pg. 63). This group possesses the power to sway society into accepting the set of values that they decide shall be the standard. The post-modern mindset of a subjective morality is not carried to its logical conclusion, as with this philosophy each should be allowed to believe as they wish; however, the new morality is imposed on others who do not share their subjective morals. “The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reason, produce in the Human race” (pg. 62). Society is at the mercy of the Conditioners.

    Interestingly, as Lewis points out, the Conditioners are not in the majority, but are rather the minority: “But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still” (pg. 58). The minority guides the majority in matters of morality.

    Media, news, and educational systems are all conditioning society to embrace whatever their view of the right is. This new morality is produced by re-educating society: “Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgments of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education” (pg. 61). In other words, education no longer seeks to discover morality, but rather define morality. This can not be accomplished without uprooting what Lewis refers to as the Tao, or instinctive morality. As an overarching morality is uprooted, an artificial one takes its place, yet its source is the desires of the Conditioners: “All motives that claim any validity other than that of their felt emotional weight at a given moment have failed them…. The conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure” (pg. 65). Elsewhere Lewis states, “Let them simply say, This is what we happen to like, and go on to condition men in the way most likely to produce it” (pg. 63). The new Tao, therefore, rises no higher than the perception of the Conditioners, and its so-called objective values actually have subjective roots.

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