All posts filed under: Free Speech

The Prophet of Dystopia at Rest: Margaret Atwood in Cuba

Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. ~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale As a Cuba scholar, a student of literature and politics, and an enthusiastic reader of Margaret Atwood’s work, I have collected articles and media clips over the years related to the Grande Dame of CanLit’s many private and official visits to Cuba. Frankly, the file is thin. Generally, scholars engage with her important body of work (more than 60 books, fiction and non-fiction), without mentioning this topic. It is an interesting footnote, no more. Why interesting? Because it illustrates, in her case and as a pattern, how an inquiring mind sincerely committed to human rights and democratic values can turn off its critical antennae. Atwood allowed herself to become a compliant guest in a country that checks almost all the boxes of totalitarianism, minus extensive terror: a single-party state, no rule of law, arbitrary arrests (2,000 of them during the first eight months of last year), stultifying media (even Raúl Castro says so), and a regime of censorship …

Standing Up to the Gender Ideologues: a Quillette Editorial

On June 23rd, Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts put out a carefully worded five-paragraph media statement regarding German-born textile artist Jess de Wahls. “We have apologised to Jess de Wahls for the way we have treated her and do so again publicly now,” read the RA communiqué. “We had no right to judge her views … This betrayed our most important core value—the protection of free speech.” The controverted speech in question was contained in a 2019 blog post, in which de Wahls wrote that “a woman is an adult human female (not an identity or feeling),” and that trans women are “biological males [who] choose to live as a woman, or believe they actually are women.” These are statements that almost every person knows to be true, but which have become unfashionable to say out loud in highly progressive subcultures. And so, when a handful of people raised a fuss about de Wahls’ work being sold in the RA gift shop, Academy officials not only purged de Wahl from their inventory earlier this month, …

A Conversation with Daniel Elder, the Choral Music Composer Who Was Cancelled for Opposing Arson

On May 30th, 2020, amid an anti-police-brutality protest in Nashville, TN, several white protesters allegedly attempted to burn down the city’s Metro Courthouse. In response, choral music composer Daniel Elder, who lives nearby, wrote an Instagram post that read, “Enjoy burning it all down, you well-intentioned, blind people. I’m done.” As Robby Soave recently reported in Reason, this single post resulted in Elder being mobbed on social media, and effectively cancelled as a composer. In particular, his publisher, GIA Publications, publicly denounced Elder, and demanded that he communicate an apology (of GIA’s own composition) that read, in part: Over the weekend I made a post on my social media accounts that was insensitive and wrongly-worded. I deeply apologize for the anger, offense, and harm that this post caused. While this offense was not intended, it is what was created. For this I am truly sorry. There is no justification that I can offer for my post. So, rather than try to offer an excuse for what was done, I offer a promise for what I …

Why Is the Society for American Archaeology Promoting Indigenous Creationism?

In April, one of us—Elizabeth Weiss—gave a talk, titled Has Creationism Crept Back into Archaeology?, at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). The 87-year-old SAA identifies itself as “an international organization dedicated to research about the interpretation and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas.” The SAA board of directors includes professors, curators, and government archaeologists, all of whom presumably appreciate the importance of studying artifacts and human remains as a means to understanding the history of our species. The subject of the April 15th talk, co-authored with James W. Springer (who also co-authored this essay), was the threat of religious literalism being used as a means to insist on the repatriation of human remains (mainly skeletons) and artifacts to presumed descendent populations—i.e., present-day Indigenous communities whose members live near the location where such remains are discovered. However, our use of the term “repatriation” more broadly encompasses the new laws, ideological claims, and policies that serve to give Indigenous claimants control over remains and artifacts, as well as over …

Education and Masculinity—An Interview with Will Knowland

“What’s the one thing we’re not talking about but we really should be?” Triggernometry’s Francis Foster asked now-sacked Eton teacher Will Knowland. “I think the crisis of masculinity, especially in all boys’ schools, needs to be addressed urgently,” he replied. “These institutions, many of them are embarrassed to exist and they need to think hard about why that is.” Masculinity is at the heart of the dispute that led to the English teacher’s dismissal from Eton. When a female colleague complained about Knowland’s Patriarchy Paradox video, the school demanded he remove it from his personal YouTube channel. Knowland’s refusal to do so without being given a reason, eventually resulted in the father of five being removed from his post. Extensively covered by mainstream press, the dispute has brought to light the extent to which Eton has been invaded by ideology, and raised questions about masculinity’s place in society as a whole. In the following interview, Knowland reflects on education, free speech, male teachers, and the need for society and educators to accept that “stoicism, competitiveness, …

The Petulant Campaign Against Eric Kaufmann

Sir Roger Scruton—the prodigious conservative philosopher—once noted of his time at Birkbeck that it was “traditionally a left-wing place, haunted by the fear that somewhere, somehow, a conservative might have infiltrated the corridors.” Though he added that “the students were terrific because they were all grown up.” One suspects that if Scruton were still alive, he’d reconsider his opinion of the students. On May 19th, a Twitter account called “Birkbeck Students Anti-Racist Network” posted a long thread denouncing one of the academics at that institution, the political scientist Eric Kaufmann. In typical self-righteous fashion, the thread begins, “Kaufmann is a politics professor & former head of that department at Birkbeck … We want to publicly denounce him as a white supremacist and racist apologist.” (Accusing Kaufmann of being a “white supremacist” is particularly risible, given that the man is not only Jewish, but part Chinese and part Latino.) The first tweet includes an image where Kaufmann appears next to a dog, with a whistle in his mouth. Emanating outward are his supposed “white supremacist dog …

Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns—A Review

Review of Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left by Ben Burgis. Zero Books, 136 pages (May 2021). In 2013, British philosopher and cultural critic Mark Fisher found himself exhausted and losing interest in politics after spending too much time in the “miserable, dispiriting zone” of left-wing Twitter. Leftist politics, he wrote, had become a “vampires’ castle” the sinister denizens of which were driven not by thirst for the blood of the living but “a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd” [emphasis in the original]. The vampires are supported by the institutions of capital, which found them useful for disrupting working-class solidarity. In Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left, Ben Burgis—a democratic socialist, occasional Quillette contributor, and the author of Give Them an Argument—follows Fisher into (or out of) the vampires’ castle, and quotes his essay frequently. Over 136 pages, …

Book Burning at Midnight, May 10th, 1933

At the stroke of midnight on May 10th, 1933, the National Socialist German Students Union ignited a bonfire that—in the American imagination, at least—would never entirely flicker out. Illuminated by floodlights and flames, broadcast live on German radio, filmed by the newsreels, and rewound in archival documentaries ever after, the book burning by the Nazis, a festive confab held at 62 institutions of higher learning throughout Germany, was a picture-perfect metaphor for totalitarian thought control. The origin story for the grandest of the Nazi bonfires is instructive. Staged for the media with all the premeditation of a Nuremberg rally, it was held at the Opera Square in Berlin, between the Opera House and the University of Berlin, two sites formerly dedicated to art and education. In another sign of the times, the event was very much a student-sponsored extracurricular activity. After meeting with like-minded professors and coordinating with Nazi party officials, the students fanned out across Berlin ransacking libraries, book stores, and private collections. On the big night, a raucous procession of 5,000 torch-bearing undergraduates, …

The Journal of Controversial Ideas Is Here

The long-awaited first issue of Journal of Controversial Ideas (JCI), which allows academics of all disciplines to publish peer-reviewed research anonymously, has just been released. In an editorial leading the online issue, the co-editors, philosophers Peter Singer, Francesca Minerva, and Jeff McMahan, write: “By permitting publication under a pseudonym, we hope to enable authors to fulfil their duty to pursue the truth without putting their careers or physical or mental security at risk. Intellectual and moral progress should not require heroes or martyrs.” All three co-editors have courted controversy, especially Singer and Minerva. Singer has for decades been subject to denunciation for his views on abortion, animal rights, and disability. In 2012, Minerva was inundated with hate mail for an article she coauthored defending “post-birth abortion.” Both have received death threats. In Singer’s and Minerva’s cases, though, the heat came mainly from outraged non-academics. More recently, threats to free speech at universities have come from within. In their editorial, Singer, Minerva, and McMahan draw attention to: …a surge in open letters and petitions denouncing researchers …

Weaponizing Social Justice to Protect School Administrators and Discredit Whistle-blowers: A Canadian Case Study

On March 6th, I published a Quillette article describing how Robyn Bourgeois, the newly installed vice-provost for Indigenous engagement at Canada’s Brock University, had been seeking to mobilize her peers against the anonymous operator of an obscure (and by then, defunct) Twitter account called @BrockCivis. On her social-media channels and at the university’s “Two Row Council” (a body tasked with managing Brock’s efforts at “Indigenization, reconciliation, and decolonization”), Bourgeois accused the account of operating a racist and “criminal” program of “cyber harassment” that targeted her in particular, and Indigenous people more generally. No one at Brock would feel “safe,” she said, in a world where @BrockCivis is still “allowed to dehumanize the highest-ranking Indigenous person at Brock” (by which she meant herself). At a February 22nd Council meeting, a recording of which was subsequently made available to me, school officials brainstormed with Bourgeois about how they might investigate the nefarious account. The contents of @BrockCivis, one participant suggested, were a threat not just to Brock, but to Indigenous people all over Canada. Later in the …