All posts filed under: Free Speech

Discovering the Link Between Gender Identity and Peer Contagion

The following is excerpted, with permission, from Abigail Shrier’s newly published book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery Publishing (June 30, 2020) 276 pages. In 2016, Lisa Littman, ob-gyn turned public health researcher, and mother of two, was scrolling through social media when she noticed a statistical peculiarity: Several adolescents, most of them girls, from her small town in Rhode Island had come out as transgender—all from within the same friend group. “With the first two announcements, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s great,’” Dr. Littman said, a light New Jersey accent tweaking her vowels. Then came announcements three, four, five, and six. Dr. Littman knew almost nothing about gender dysphoria—her research interests had been confined to reproductive health: abortion stigma and contraception. But she knew enough to recognize that the numbers were much higher than prevalence data would have predicted. “I studied epidemiology… and when you see numbers that greatly exceed your expectations, it’s worth it to look at what might be causing it. Maybe it’s a difference of how you’re counting. It could …

Free Speech is a Value, not a Right

Free speech is a value, not a right. Understanding this distinction sheds light on the various debates in the culture war—who social media platforms should ban, the role of the First Amendment, and cancel culture. It’s true that companies like Twitter and Facebook have the moral right to allow whoever they like on their platforms. In that sense, customers do not have some immutable right to say whatever they please, but instead must conform to the companies’ rules or risk banishment. The same holds for a suburban dinner party—the host owns the house and so determines the rules of engagement for guests. In general, it is the owner of the property who decides what is and is not acceptable speech there. Even the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution does not really grant its citizens a right to free speech. The Amendment is more about constraining government encroachment rather than allowing Americans to speak their mind in all places and at all times. “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or …

The New York Times and the Importance of Conclusion Neutrality

Earlier this month, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a controversial New York Times op-ed arguing that President Trump should send the US military to quell riots in cities across the country. The article produced a staff mutiny within the Times and a predictable and philosophically banal debate outside it. On one hand, there was a defense of a free press—in the pages of the Times itself, Bret Stephens wrote “it is not the duty of the paper to make people feel safe”—and on the other, a call for the Times not to provide platforms for “dangerous” ideas. This episode is representative of a longstanding debate over where the line around permissible opinion should be drawn by the media. When David Remnick disinvited Stephen K. Bannon from the New Yorker Festival, we witnessed the same argument between those who emphasize the hypothetical dangers of some speech, and those who believe open intellectual inquiry is the best means of ultimately overcoming “bad” ideas. Invariably missing from these debates is a thoughtful interrogation of the principle …

Barney Rosset and the Unending Struggle to Read Freely

It is by now a familiar truism that the Internet—and social media, in particular—has awarded the intolerant, the narrow-minded, and the censorious unprecedented power. To this challenge from below, publishers have, by and large, responded with dismaying timidity. Large multinational publishing firms have hastily withdrawn controversial titles and it has become distressingly common to read apologies issued to those vilifying their authors from the blogosphere, along with undertakings to “listen” and “do better” in the future. With these regrettable circumstances in mind, it is worth recalling the life, career, and example of renegade American publisher Barney Rosset. During the 1950s and 1960s, Rosset turned a tiny publishing company named Grove Press into one of America’s most provocative and effective instruments of free expression. He published some of the most controversial books of the 20th century and he never apologized for anything. In 1968, his offices were firebombed by anti-Castro Cuban reserve officers in the American Air Force because he had published excerpts from Che Guevara’s diaries in Grove’s magazine, the Evergreen Review. The same year, …

A Librarian’s Timeless Mission: Supporting Social Justice Through Freedom of Speech 

What follows is an adapted transcript of Vickery Bowles’ speech at the Empire Club in Toronto on March 9, 2020. Ms. Bowles is City Librarian at Toronto Public Library. I recently came across an annual report published by the Toronto Public Library (TPL) entitled “Reading in Toronto, 1942”. In that document, written in the midst of a war being fought to protect our democratic freedoms, then chief librarian of the TPL, Charles R. Sanderson, shared his view with members of the Toronto Library Board on the essential and enduring role of public libraries in supporting a democratic society. He wrote: “In our annual report of a year ago, we presented a statement of our faith in the public library as the pivot of democracy. That faith remains, and it can be restated by saying that if a community is permitted to think—and democracy rests its case on this—it must have books, and books mean libraries, and libraries, for most of us, mean public libraries. We still believe with full sincerity that…making it possible for [citizens] …

I’ve Been Fired. If You Value Academic Freedom, That Should Worry You

Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity. ~Chinua Achebe Until a week ago, I was a tenure-track assistant professor at a small college. Then I was fired. And although I am but one professor at one small college in one small town, I want to persuade you that, if you care about free speech and free inquiry in academia, you should be alarmed by my termination. My troubles began in October 2019 when I was invited to address an evolutionary group at the University of Alabama. I had decided that I would discuss human population variation, the hypothesis that human biological differences are at least partially produced by different environments selecting for different physical and psychological traits in their populations over time. I planned to defend this view as most consistent with a Darwinian understanding of the world. My first day in Tuscaloosa was uneventful. On the second day, I visited a class and had an enjoyable discussion with students about various topics, including human evolution and social …

Peter Singer and the Narrowing of Discourse

You might expect a row between a moral philosopher and a casino company to involve the former lecturing the latter on the ethics of profiting from gambling. But it is Peter Singer, sometimes called “the world’s most influential living philosopher,” who finds himself rebuked by SkyCity, New Zealand’s biggest promoter of poker machines. Singer had been booked to speak at a SkyCity venue as part of a ThinkInc tour to raise money for his charity The Life You Can Save, which seeks to reduce global poverty. But then an article appeared on New Zealand webzine Newshub reminding readers of Singer’s longstanding views on infanticide. “New Zealand’s disabled community is outraged a controversial Australian philosopher who justifies infanticide is being allowed to speak here,” Newshub reported. “Peter Singer, who’s been described as the most dangerous man in the world, has argued it’s ethical to give parents the option to euthanise babies with disabilities.” The report went on to compare Singer to ethnonationalists. This “wouldn’t be the first time a controversial speaker had been barred,” the site …

The Misguided Moral Panic About Racism in British Universities

According to one of the most extensive surveys ever conducted by the European Union, the U.K. is one of the least racist societies in the world, and what racism that remains is diminishing.1 These trends have been helped by the U.K.’s university system, which has educated millions of people across the globe and long been at the forefront of progressive social change and the promotion of equality of opportunity in Britain. However, in October 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a series of reports that purported to show that racism is widespread in Britain’s higher education sector, to an extent that is “seriously damaging to individuals and our society.” The reports argued that the problem was so large it could only be properly addressed by new laws and regulations. The reports triggered a moral panic, both among those who’d compiled them and among the sector’s leaders. Rebecca Hilsenrath, the Chief Executive of the EHRC, argued that universities were “not only out of touch with the extent that [racism] is occurring on their …

Behind the Great Firewall

There is a thriving community of Westerners in China making and posting videos on YouTube about their lives and experiences there. That may sound odd since YouTube, along with literally hundreds of the world’s other most popular websites, is banned in China. Anyone in the country wanting to connect to YouTube (and/or Facebook, Instagram, Google, Wikipedia, etc.) needs to purchase a Virtual Private Network (VPN); software for a phone or computer to disguise its IP address and which enables the user to circumvent the infamous Great Firewall of China. The legality of VPNs in China is another question altogether: selling a VPN is illegal, owning one is iffy, and using a VPN is ubiquitous–but also draws suspicion. Exact numbers are hard to come by but estimates suggest that more than 30 percent of internet users in China have a VPN installed on at least one of their devices. Like so many things in China, legality is often a question of circumstance and usually not even the most important question. YouTubers in China run the gamut …

Demoted and Placed on Probation

It all started in June 2018, when Quillette published my article, “Why Women Don’t Code,” and things picked up steam when Jordan Peterson shared a link to the article on his Twitter account. A burst of outrage and press coverage followed which I discussed in a follow-up piece. The original article was one of the ten most read pieces published by Quillette in 2018, and continues to generate interest. A recent YouTube video about it has been viewed over 120,000 times, as of this writing: In his tweet promoting my article, Peterson took issue with one of my claims. I had written that I thought I could survive at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering where I work. Peterson disagreed: Make no mistake about it: the Damore incident has already established a precedent. Watch what you say. Or else. https://t.co/3Zzg1g2y9C — Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) June 19, 2018 As it turns out, Peterson was right. My position is not tenured and when my current three-year appointment came up for review …