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Friday
Nov202015

My remote post-it notes for my HLS African-American teachers

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Reader Comments (36)

NiV makes an excellent point. I think that every time a white slaver's name is defaced, a black slaver's name should be defaced.

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

You would deface Mohammad's name? Courageous!

Anyway, that wasn't quite my point. I'm not saying the defacement was justified by the earlier act (it's not), but that we ought to apply the rules on speech equally, irrespective of a person's colour or category. If defacement as a political act is OK, then it's OK. If it's not OK, then it's not. But when you start saying defacement of the other "side's" respected symbols is OK but defacement of your own is not, and you're using force to back that up, that's no longer political protest but repression.

It's the same as the Mohammad cartoons thing. Mohammad himself was perfectly OK with defacing and insulting the symbols of other religions, but found it intolerable that any of them should deface or insult the symbols of his own. Religious tolerance has to go both ways.

I've found the recent spasm of progressive intolerance in American universities rather worrying. America used to be justly famous for the value it put on free speech, but finally seems to have caught the intolerance bug. And what starts off in the universities often spreads to the rest of society.

I've no reason to suppose the faculty staff affected support any of this nonsense, so I'm mildly sympathetic that they got targeted because of it. (Although easily-removed black tape on a picture seems a pretty mild offense compared to many of the things going on in the world today. Wouldn't people normally shrug that sort of thing off?) But it's obviously a political protest making reference to tactics used in the earlier rally, not an example of race hate.

There are actual slavers living in the world today, followers of an ideology founded by a slaver (and worse), and the symbols of their ideology can be seen in America. But it's a lot easier and safer to attack a slave-owner (who so far as I can tell was otherwise pretty progressive for the times) who died more than 230 years ago than the far more risky business of doing something about the ones that exist right now. I'm not impressed.

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

==> "Anyway, that wasn't quite my point. I'm not saying the defacement was justified by the earlier act (it's not), but that we ought to apply the rules on speech equally, irrespective of a person's colour or category. "

My point was w/r/t how you were calculating equality.

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"My point was w/r/t how you were calculating equality."

With somewhat less specificity than you assumed, then. :-)

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I don't know what you mean by that.

My point is that I find it rather ridiculous to "equate' what you posted with what Dan's post referenced. I realize that you think differently, but iMO, it isn't "equal" to put up a piece of black tape to protest an institutional association with the legacy of a slaver (who, on the basis of race, held in bondage people of the same race as current day students), and to put a piece of black tape over the portraits of black faculty.

And no, it has nothing to do with the, IMO, the extremely imprecise parallels that you draw (accompanied by more lectures of libertarian viewpoints that I've read hundreds of times).

==> "But it's obviously a political protest making reference to tactics used in the earlier rally, not an example of race hate."

It's always interesting to find out what you consider to be "obvious."

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"My point is that I find it rather ridiculous to "equate' what you posted with what Dan's post referenced."

Of course. People's opinions differ. Many people back in the 1700s would have thought it "rather ridiculous" to oppose slavery. Or to consider the races or sexes equal. Or many other things we take for granted today. I'm pretty sure that the people 200 years down the line will think the same of many of *our* attitudes and customs.

There's a sort of cultural parochialism common in humanity in which people honestly believe that their own culture constitutes the only possible right/moral/acceptable/sensible way to live. As such, it's perfectly reasonable for them to impose those views on the primitives and degenerates who think otherwise. We've seen it time after time, throughout history. It's human nature. It's exactly this natural human tendency that led to the evils of slavery and cultural imperialism in the first place.

The past is just another culture. And like the Europeans who first explored Africa, we look at it and feel disgust that it doesn't measure up to our standards. But the world is more complex than that. Like us, they have their good bits and their bad bits. It's not unacceptable to honour people of other cultures for the good they did, even while we know that they did other things as part of their different culture that we in ours would consider bad.

The problem, I think, is that Royall's legacy as a slave-owner has triggered your cultural defences as the only relevant fact. Whereas it's the modern-day conflict of cultures and freedoms that has triggered mine.

As far as I'm concerned, I think slavery was and is bad, but Royall is 230 years dead and I don't care about him now. There's nothing we can do about the past, except learn the lessons and try not to go down that path again. What I see and care about is one group being so convinced that theirs is the only moral truth and so obsessed by imposing it on the world that they're starting to use the very tactics of the people they condemn. They're developing the same moral certitude, the same unshakeable belief that they're in the right, that any other way of thinking is "ridiculous", and that any measures are justified to bring it about. The danger is right now, not 230 years ago!

"I realize that you think differently, but iMO, it isn't "equal" to put up a piece of black tape to protest an institutional association with the legacy of a slaver (who, on the basis of race, held in bondage people of the same race as current day students), and to put a piece of black tape over the portraits of black faculty."

You're taking the symbolism of the protest too literally. The argument isn't really about whether the institution should associate itself with the man whose bequest made it possible, and who was a slave owner and the son of a slave trader. It's about whether the progressive culture of obsessive racial sensitivity, speech codes, trigger warnings, microaggressions, censorship, and political correctness gets to take over the university, dictate policy, impose discipline on offenders against it and generally seize power and control over the lives of everyone there - faculty and students alike. It's about the introduction of a regime in which condemning the people who offend against their culture becomes compulsory, and offering any criticism of anybody of one of the protected classes is forbidden, triggering witchhunts and persecution.

The point is that putting a simple piece of black tape up on some photos - something that does nobody any harm, unless you believe in the popular misconceptions about voodoo... - has caused an explosion of outrage that has reached the news on the other side of the Atlantic, with the actual police now hunting the perpetrators for "hate crimes". That's what the protest is about. That's they'll cheerfully excuse one culture that recently shot hundreds of innocent civilians in Paris, while treating any smidgeon of disrespect by (presumably) white students for a black teacher as utterly inexcusable, inviting international attention and condemnation. Dan didn't put any messages of support up on his blog for the people in Paris, you'll note. Nor the Yazidi people in Syria. Nor the Chibok girls in Nigeria. And nobody thinks he has to.

What they're protesting with the black tape is not the black faculty themselves, but the cultural reaction to their protest. What they're protesting about is the violently intolerant ultra-conformist culture that I - and I realise that you think differently - consider to be very much on a par with the evils of slavery.

History repeats itself endlessly. We've seen this sort of thing many times before.

"It's always interesting to find out what you consider to be "obvious.""

Life is continually a learning experience, I hope.

November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "...you consider to be very much on a par with the evils of slavery."

Perhaps you should consider what would lead you to be so absurdly wrong about that. Of course putting black tape over the potraits of black faculty is not remotely on par with holding people in bondage. What an absurd comparison!

There's no way we can engage in fruitful dialgue if you can't get past the grossly inaccurate conceptualization if the opinions of the person you're echamgeing views with.

November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "History repeats itself endlessly. We've seen this sort of thing many times before."

One of the things that has been repeated throughout history is that when people are bound and determined to calculate false equalities, the have no problem in being creative enough to do so.

November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Of course putting black tape over the potraits of black faculty is not remotely on par with holding people in bondage. What an absurd comparison!"

Indeed. Nor was it a comparison I ever made.

"There's no way we can engage in fruitful dialgue if you can't get past the grossly inaccurate conceptualization if the opinions of the person you're echamgeing views with."

Quite.

November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Ok. My bad.

==> "What they're protesting about is the violently intolerant ultra-conformist culture that I - and I realise that you think differently - consider to be very much on a par with the evils of slavery.

Still an absurd comparison, IMO. Really? This "ultra-confomist culture," as seen in the "violently intolerant" actions such as putting up a piece of black tape and noting the institutionally supported legacy of a slaver, is very much on par with the evils of slavery?"

Hopefully I still misunderstand...otherwise NiV, this is another example of where you go so far over the top with your drama queening that simply isn't worth engaging further.

November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Anyway, that wasn't quite my point. I'm not saying the defacement was justified by the earlier act (it's not), but that we ought to apply the rules on speech equally, irrespective of a person's colour or category. If defacement as a political act is OK, then it's OK. If it's not OK, then it's not. But when you start saying defacement of the other "side's" respected symbols is OK but defacement of your own is not, and you're using force to back that up, that's no longer political protest but repression."

The medium is not the message, NiV. Defacement is the medium, not the message.

I note that you use English English spellings and not American English spellings, so I presume you may not be as familiar with race dynamics in the United States. I ask you to consider what purposes might be served, what messages delivered, when people protest the honor bestowed by the university's symbology upon the memory of someone who profited from slavery. Then compare that to what purposes might be served and messages intended when an anonymous person identifies all the black faculty as black, without identifying any of the other faculty by race, not even having the moral courage to explain themselves.

The rules about the right of free speech, applied equally, do allow one but not the other.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"This "ultra-confomist culture," as seen in the "violently intolerant" actions such as putting up a piece of black tape and noting the institutionally supported legacy of a slaver"

I direct your attention to the bit where I said: "You're taking the symbolism of the protest too literally. The argument isn't really about whether the institution should associate itself with the man whose bequest made it possible, and who was a slave owner and the son of a slave trader."

So no.

The current protest is perceived by the other (non-progressive) side as part of a wider dispute, involving multiple issues of basic liberties and rights. The intolerance for any form of political incorrectness or thoughtcrime, of which the founders crest protest is just one example, is now demanding (and in many institutions, getting) official sanction from the authorities. For example, the feminist position on 'rape culture' has led to male students facing disciplinary hearings and expulsion on no more than an accusation - evidence not required. (The Harvard faculty themselves complained about it here.) Complaints of unintentionally, and in many cases implausibly racist language (such as one academic being heard saying "turned to the dark side") leads to teachers and students being disciplined. There's all the nonsense about 'trigger warnings' and 'safe spaces' and 'microaggressions', that can get people into further trouble. Numerous academics have been fired, or forced to resign over often perfectly innocent comments. White males who complain are invited to 'check their privilege' while members of the protected 'minority' classes get privileged access to student places, jobs, facilities, etc. We're told that only white people are able to be racist, that black (verbal) attacks on whites are OK because they are 'punching up', and that positive discrimination isn't racism. Students of one university are proposing that other students who substitute the non-racist alternative phrase 'All lives matter' for the popular slogan 'Black lives matter' should be formally disciplined, and potentially expelled. This is just one more shot fired in that war.

The techniques being used by the progressive campaigners are essentially identical to those used in the Cultural Revolution and similar authoritarian spasms. Writing people out of history when they fall out of political favour is an absolute classic - that was Winston Smith's full-time job in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four!

The particular *form* the black tape protest took was obviously modeled on a particular example from the earlier 'anti-racism' protests, but the selected *target* only makes sense in the context of a protest against this wider campaign. The point, as I noted earlier, is that using the exact same method of protest against one target elicits approval, while using it against a different target results in the police being called to hunt the perpetrators down, based purely on the colour of the target's skin. That's racism, pure and simple.

And highlighting that point, I'm sure, was the purpose of the protest.

---

"I note that you use English English spellings and not American English spellings, so I presume you may not be as familiar with race dynamics in the United States."

Yes, I'm English. But I'm also pretty familiar with race dynamics in the United States - only I'm familiar with positions on both sides of the dispute. I suspect you're looking at this solely from an authoritarian/progressive point of view - I'm looking at it from the libertarian viewpoint.

"I ask you to consider what purposes might be served, what messages delivered, when people protest the honor bestowed by the university's symbology upon the memory of someone who profited from slavery."

Good question! I addressed this above with my example of the 'prophet' Mohammad. Here's a guy who personally profited vastly from slavery - whose religion formed the foundation of the entire slave trade! And yet if you deface his name, or the symbols by which people honour him and his religion, you'll get labeled as a racist!

And this is because he and many of his followers are not white, and therefore cannot be racist or evil. it's just cultural insensitivity on our part to say so.

You can't have it both ways. Either you have to protest Islam and all its symbols, or you have got no rational justification for protesting about Royall Jr. What message do you think that inconsistency on this point delivers?

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

The notion that society-wide institutionalization of bondage, rape, enslavement, treating people as sub-human, codifying their sub-human quality within an official, elaborated set of laws, on the basis of their skin color, for hundreds of years, is "on a par" with the recent pattern of protests as exemplified by the black tape over a slave-trader's name to protest the institutional association with that person and his status as a slave-trader, is, sorry to say, absurd.

There's nothing left for us to discuss - no matter how much you rehash the "rape culture" debate or tired debates about Islam/Muslims - if you're going to insist that they are on par. What gets left behind is what is potentially an interesting discussion: to what extent I might agree (or disagree)) as to whether those protests might have in the end, a detrimental net effect on society as a whole, on the proliferation of free speech, etc. In other words, a discussion about the extent to which the current back and forth is..."part of a wider dispute, involving multiple issues of basic liberties and rights."

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

What that comes down to is that you disagree, so there's no point in discussing it. OK.

I didn't really think there was - I expanded because you seemed to be confused as to what I meant, and what the protest was about. Well, that's what the protesters on the other side of the debate think it's about. Obviously, being on the other side to them, I wouldn't expect you to agree with them, the best I might hope for is that you understand them, and that there are people with a different point of view on matters.

"What gets left behind is what is potentially an interesting discussion: to what extent I might agree (or disagree)) as to whether those protests might have in the end, a detrimental net effect on society as a whole, on the proliferation of free speech, etc."

OK. I'm happy to discuss that if you like... :-)

November 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

The particular *form* the black tape protest took was obviously modeled on a particular example from the earlier 'anti-racism' protests, but the selected *target* only makes sense in the context of a protest against this wider campaign. The point, as I noted earlier, is that using the exact same method of protest (emphasis mine) against one target elicits approval, while using it against a different target results in the police being called to hunt the perpetrators down, based purely on the colour of the target's skin. That's racism, pure and simple.

I note that you are still confusing the medium with the message. But that's a separate point that I have already addressed.

Actually, with having written that quoted paragraph, I think you just gave me my argument to substantiate that you do not in fact know how poor race dynamics in the United States can be, even in 2015. There is in fact another way in which the selected targets for the counteraction make sense. It could also have been done to single the black faculty out as targets and to mark them out for violence. This was my point in asking you to consider the possible aims of that speech. You failed to identify the foremost concern that prompted the hate crime investigation, so it's no wonder that you think it unjust.

Just this year, we had an incident where someone drove in from out of town and shot up a historic black church, citing racist motivations. This could easily be repeated. Given that the person(s) who taped the black faculty portraits made no further declaration of intent, it is the police's duty to investigate the action as a possible solicitation to hate crime. In terms of free speech, the relevant legal rule is Brandenburg v. Ohio: speech that incites imminent and likely lawless action is not protected under the First Amendment.

So it really makes all the difference in present context that the first action was not anonymous, with declared goals, while the counter-action was anonymous and has ambiguous goals. The same rule is in fact being equally applied.

To take your Mohammed example, drawing a mustache and "L.H.O.O.Q." on a picture of the purported Prophet doesn't advocate lawless action against Muslims. It's protected. If today were September 12, 2001, my position would be different.

Here's a guy who personally profited vastly from slavery - whose religion formed the foundation of the entire slave trade! And yet if you deface his name, or the symbols by which people honour him and his religion, you'll get labeled as a racist!

NiV, I'm confused now. If you really think that denoucing Islam makes society label you racist, then I just don't live in the same society as you. I've never actually heard that accusation in America, though I have heard worse of England in this particular respect. "Racist" seems really off base. "Racist" for whom? Americans? Christian Americans? against whom? Persians? Arabs? Pakistanis? Indonesians?

Here in southeast Michigan, for instance, if someone wants to be racist against Arabs, they just say straight up that they hate Arabs, Muslim or not. There are enough Arabs here that it actually means something.

You can't have it both ways. Either you have to protest Islam and all its symbols, or you have got no rational justification for protesting about Royall Jr. What message do you think that inconsistency on this point delivers?

I'm not trying to have anything both ways. You're confusing protecting the speech with speaking it. Choosing what speech to speak is a matter of strategy. Choosing what speech to protect is a matter of legal principle.

In terms of strategy, the protest was targeted against the university's symbology, and there would have been no reason for those protestors to protest against Islam, because Islam doesn't appear there.

In terms of principle, we do in fact protect both the speech and protest against university symbology and religious symbology equally. We protect the speech against the university for its historical association glorifying someone who profited from slavery, just as we protected the forum in which a bunch of Christians decided to put the Qu'ran on kangaroo trial, invited a Muslim scholar to defend Islam, and burned the book after he lost the religious disputation. There is no inconsistency in these positions. Both of those situations pass Brandenburg vs. Ohio. The taping of black faculty portraits does not.

November 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

NiV -

I was originally confused as to what you were describing as being on par with slavery. I'm not confused about the basic arguments you're describing, but I am confused as to why you repeatedly "explain" those arguments to me, as I have seen them many times and don't find them in the slightest convincing. Repeating them doesn't make them more convincing. It seems to me that it's more a matter of you building an excuse to jump on a favored hobby horse, or that you you are mistakenly under the impression that the reason I don't agree is because I don't understand the arguments or don't know about them. Consider, in case you haven't, that either I'm dumb (in which case re-explaining is a waste of time), or I just think that the arguments you keep repeated are overly dramatized slippery slope fantasizing that revolves around cynical exploitation of important issues such as free speech in order to advance an ideological agenda (and that your "explanations" are amusingly mistaken in their condescension, and miss the point).

I think of it as being similar to the cynical exploitation of concerns about safety and security as seen with the Ebola "crises" and Syrian refugee fear-mongering that I see from what is largely the same ideological cohort.

==> "OK. I'm happy to discuss that if you like...

Well, actually, we've already talked about it before (part of the reason why I was confused as to why you wanted to, again, describe arguments that I already explained my perspective on). But maybe you forgot. So here's the Cliff's Notes. IMO, there are certainly recent examples of political reactions from minority students or other students that I consider to be, in the main, over the top. But I consider that to be an inevitable noise compared to the signal of the more general trend: Consider the signal of tens of millions of American blacks who now have the freedom to criticize white people, to own land, to have a paying job, to live where they want, to go for a walk in the woods, or the hundreds of millions of women who can own property or tell their husband that they don't want to have sex, the tends of millions of homosexuals who are now free to say that they love their partners.

Here's a related anecdote. For a couple of years I worked at a very liberal, liberal arts college that for the most part enrolls very privileged upper class, urban or suburban whites. But I worked specifically with an under-represented cohort of students; students from lower class or rural environments, and minority students - mostly from urban, poor communities. I was very direct in my approach to getting them to be metacognitive about developing the skill set they needed to maximize the potential of their educational opportunity - with all the students I was working with but with the black students in particular. They were attending a college where, if they did well, they'd practically be guaranteed a future of financial success. In that process, I would counsel black students on how to adopt a communicative style that would fit within the white, upper class context. I worked with them on how to adopt the syntactical and writing conventions that are considered "standard," and superior within that context. Essentially, I was telling them that they should, at least within a limited framework, "code-switch" and adopt a communicative style that conformed to the majority culture. That was tricky, because at some level it was very difficult to avoid an implied message that I was saying that the conventions of their cultural communicative style were "inferior." And indeed, while most of the students I was working with were quite appreciative of my directness (they were very unaccustomed to faculty being comfortable with dealing with them on those issues), and who had the developmental security to not see code-switching as an inherent threat to their own identity as African Americans, a very small # took offense and thought that there was a "racist" messaging in my advice. I was willing to take that risk, in weighing the potential costs and benefits of my approach, but I was always aware that some particularly reactive students could take strong offense, see a "micro-aggression" (or worse) in the work I was doing, and as such make life difficult for me by raising those concerns publicly or with the administration. In fact, that did happen with one student, but it turned into a good learning experience for both of us (I was able to learn better how to deliver my message in way that was less likely to offend).

Particularly given that anecdote, I'm not unmindful of the downsides of students overreacting to perceived "micro-aggressions." But I find the reactionary hand-wringing reaction from "conservative" about the end of free speech to be devoid of a sensible approach to looking at recent trends within the larger context - and to be, as I said, cynically exploitative of important issues.

November 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"There is in fact another way in which the selected targets for the counteraction make sense. It could also have been done to single the black faculty out as targets and to mark them out for violence."

On what basis? With what evidence?

If that was the intention, and it was a general rather than targeted address, it would be more effective to have made it more explicit. Why not write "Kill the black people" over the photos? Or use something more explicitly threatening such as a noose?

The black tape seems curiously ambiguous if used for this purpose, for no obvious reason.

Also, if that's you're intention, then why not move direct to violence? Why only "mark them out"? Who is the signal addressed to? How are they supposed to understand it? And if it's supposed to be some sort of hidden code, understood by the attackers but not by the general population, then why deliver it in such a public way? If you want to incite violence against others, then you would do so privately. For example, posting an unobtrusive message containing the phrase "student for life" associated with the target somewhere in public could be understood by members of the conspiracy as calling for their life to be targeted...

It seems to me an awfully convoluted and artificial theory compared to the alternative, and personally I'd regard it as paranoia. Opinions may differ, of course.

"This was my point in asking you to consider the possible aims of that speech. You failed to identify the foremost concern that prompted the hate crime investigation, so it's no wonder that you think it unjust."

I understood the thinking behind it. I had just dismissed it as implausible, and assumed others would see it the same way. My mistake.

"Given that the person(s) who taped the black faculty portraits made no further declaration of intent, ..."

or indeed, any statement of intent.

"In terms of free speech, the relevant legal rule is Brandenburg v. Ohio: speech that incites imminent and likely lawless action is not protected under the First Amendment."

I think this misunderstands the orginal intent of the exception. The idea behind 'incitement' is to be able to prosecute the person giving the orders as well as the person carrying them out. It's not intended to apply to any and all advocacy, where there's no confident expectation that the act incited will be done.

And it's definitely not intended to apply to any form of speech that somebody could interpret as possible incitement. If you've got independent evidence that black tape is recognised as some sort of code, and that the person using it understood it as such, then sure. But otherwise you've got no evidence that it's any such thing at all. As I pointed out, literally anything could be used as a code phrase.

"To take your Mohammed example, drawing a mustache and "L.H.O.O.Q." on a picture of the purported Prophet doesn't advocate lawless action against Muslims."

But if you made the moustache out of black tape...?

This seems inconsistent. Why would you interpret defacement as possible incitement in the example above, but assume it didn't mean that in this case?

Maybe the Harvard protesters were actually trying to do moustaches, and just put them on a bit skew..

"NiV, I'm confused now. If you really think that denoucing Islam makes society label you racist, then I just don't live in the same society as you."

Not this society, then?

I agree it doesn't make strict logical sense, but then beliefs are not required to. It's assumed to be racist because it's an 'associated characteristic', like somebody trying to get round the race laws by banning people with curly hair. Most Muslims are coloured, therefore being against Islam is being against coloured people, therefore it's racist. Plenty of people think like that. I understand the reasoning without agreeing with it.

" Choosing what speech to speak is a matter of strategy."

What strategy is served by ignoring the one and making a fuss about the other?

"In terms of strategy, the protest was targeted against the university's symbology, and there would have been no reason for those protestors to protest against Islam, because Islam doesn't appear there."

You're telling me the university has no Muslim students or faculty at all? That surprises me. In fact, if true, I'm a bit surprised nobody has protested about it.

---

"but I am confused as to why you repeatedly "explain" those arguments to me, as I have seen them many times and don't find them in the slightest convincing. Repeating them doesn't make them more convincing."

I keep on explaining them because you keep on asking, or making it clear by what you say that you didn't understand what I said.

I don't explain to persuade, but to achieve a mutual understanding. Even if you don't agree - and I know perfectly well already that you'll never be a fan of liberty as I understand it - it would still be helpful I think if we at least knew what each other's positions were and why we held them. Likewise, I appreciate it that you keep explaining your own views to me - even though you must already know from experience that I don't find them the least bit persuasive, and am never going to be convinced. Exposure to different points of view broadens the mind - at the very least, it forces us to develop better/clearer arguments and reasons to support our point of view. (I think JS Mill wrote about that in his essay on the reasons for liberty of thought and expression. Possibly you see that as the problem?)

"Consider the signal of tens of millions of American blacks who now have the freedom to criticize white people, to own land, to have a paying job, to live where they want, to go for a walk in the woods, or the hundreds of millions of women who can own property or tell their husband that they don't want to have sex, the tends of millions of homosexuals who are now free to say that they love their partners."

Yes. Good. I'm in favour of all that.

And all I want is that those rights be available to everyone, and that we don't swing back to the way it was before, just with a different set of persecuted targets. (i.e. white/straight/men instead of black/gay/women.) Is that so terrible?

"Here's a related anecdote."

It's a nice anecdote. I'm fully supportive of what you were doing, and want other teachers to continue to have the freedom to do the same, without living in fear of accidentally saying the wrong thing and things turning out worse for them than they did for you.

I'm happy for you that you was able to sort it out amicably with the student who complained. That's what I want for everyone. And that's why a lot of people are seriously concerned about things moving in a direction where it soon won't be. As I say, I don't expect you to agree with them - only to understand that that's what the protesters are concerned about. The ability to come to amicable solutions, as you did, is what they're aiming to preserve.

November 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "I keep on explaining them because you keep on asking, or making it clear by what you say that you didn't understand what I said.

I'll cop to that in the clear example of my misunderstanding we've established above - but not with the general pattern where you "explain" issues and arguments to me, clearly coming from a belief that I don't "understand" them.

Once again, there wasn't one tiny piece of your "explanation" of why people put tape over the black faculty, or what the implications of that were, or about "rape culture," or about Muslims, or about what is on part with slavery, that was anything new to me. You simply weren't "explaining" anything. And your perception of my lack of "understanding" derives not from what I do or don't understand, but from your inability to grasp that I do understand, but disagree with your absolutist views.

==> "I don't explain to persuade, but to achieve a mutual understanding.

Sorry, but I think that's bullshit.

An opinion I come to because you keep "explaining" arguments (often, those of "others") as if I haven't already heard them and/or understood them when in fact I have.


My opinion remains that your intent is to "persuade" at least to some extent. Of course, there's an element of trying to persuade in all of this. We don't do this without some measure of intent to persuade. It doesn't sit in some mutually exclusive state with trying to share perspective and/or to understand and explore different views. But when someone repeatedly "explains" things in such a condescending manner as you often due, then I think that the "persuade" portion become disproportionate - all that much more ironic because "explaining" in such a condescending fashion is very counterproductive towards the goal of persuasion. Of course, then it makes sense, also, to look deeper into what's really behind an attempt to "persuade," as often I think that what's really underneath that is an identity-protective instinct.

==> "Even if you don't agree - and I know perfectly well already that you'll never be a fan of liberty as I understand it"

Again, that's bullshit. I'm not a fan of how you define liberty in particular contexts. Our "understanding" of liberty is not different from one another. I don't "understand" liberty any less than you.

==> "it would still be helpful I think if we at least knew what each other's positions were and why we held them."

Of course. So then stop trying to explain arguments to me as if I don't understand them when I do. It's counterproductive towards that goal that you described.

==> "I appreciate it that you keep explaining your own views to me - even though you must already know from experience that I don't find them the least bit persuasive, and am never going to be convinced."

Perhaps that's a difference between us, then, as I actually think that reading my opinions has a strong potential to move you somewhat, if not alter your perspective entirely. But again, I'm not "explaining' my views to you - I'm telling you my views. And I'm certainly not "explaining' what other people's views are on why they do what they do. I didn't "explain" to you why the students put the piece of black tape over the slavers name, even though I disagree with you as to why they did it. That's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. I understand that our different perspectives on that issue isn't rooted in a different "understanding," of what happened, but instead in a difference of opinion about what happened.

The bottom line is that if you want to tell me your views, please do so. If I require some explanation of something to understand them, respect me enough to know that I'll ask for that explanation. I just don't find it persuasive <Strong>> or instructive for you to "explain" issues to me, or for you to start into an "explanation" of your opinion when I already understand your opinion but just disagree, and certainty for you to "explain" the opinions of people other than yourself to me.

November 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "That's what I want for everyone. And that's why a lot of people are seriously concerned about things moving in a direction where it soon won't be. As I say, I don't expect you to agree with them - only to understand that that's what the protesters are concerned about. The ability to come to amicable solutions, as you did, is what they're aiming to preserve.

More of the same.

I am also "seriously concerned" about things moving in a direction where they won't be. It's bizarre that you seem to think that's a distinction between us, or that I wouldn't "understand" that is a concern of yours or that of "a lot of people." You seem to be making that assumption because I disagree with you about what comprises moving in a direction where they won't be, in the short and long term, with an eye towards the noise in the context of the signal. I think it's bizarre that you keep repeating that error.

==> "As I say, I don't expect you to agree with them "

Again, more of the same. I do agree with them abut not wanting things to move in that direction, in balance, and with consideration of who is gaining and losing freedoms and to what degree, respectively.

Of course I agree with them. How strange that you think that I wouldn't.

==> " only to understand that that's what the protesters are concerned about. "

I think that is a simplistic explanation of what they're concerned about. I don't doubt at all that at some level they are concerned about a restriction of freedom and liberty. Of course. That's what the vast majority of people want, and it's only logical that they would do so.

But that doesn't prevent people from exploiting that goal to serve an ideological/political and identity-oriented agenda.

November 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

In case it wasn't obvious...

"That's what the vast majority of people want, and it's only logical that they would do so."<?i>

meaning more freedom and liberty (for themselves as well as for others).

November 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "Is that so terrible?"

And more of the same. It's a bizarre question.

November 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"And your perception of my lack of "understanding" derives not from what I do or don't understand, but from your inability to grasp that I do understand, but disagree with your absolutist views."

Then why do you keep ascribing views to me that I don't hold?

November 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV & @Josh--
could this topic *possibly* be as important as the friggin' impossibility of rules of evidence???

November 25, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

I wouldn't doubt that the "rules of evidence" questions are more important....but I'm afraid that most of that material is over my head.

November 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "Then why do you keep ascribing views to me that I don't hold?">i>

Which are the views that I keep ascribing to you that you don't hold? Do you mean the "absolutist" part?

November 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Josh--then you should take a look at today's NYT op-ed by Randall Kennedy

November 27, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

No problems with that editorial. I agree with pretty much everything, although I think that the end, perhaps what is meant as the summary of implications of everything that came prior, could use some fleshing out, IMO.

==> Some activists seem to have learned that invoking the rhetoric of trauma is an effective way of hooking into the consciences of solicitous authorities. Perhaps it is useful for purposes of eliciting certain short-term gains.

In the long run, though, reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization."

First, I think that while there is certainly truth to the potential that self-victimization can lead to reactions that are not proportional in scale to the weight of the offence their supposedly subjected to, those reactions are also a part of a continuum. At the other end, we have legitimate reactions to offensive acts by others. Necessarily, we must recognize the subjectivity in how people locate actions on that continuum, and we must be open to accepting the need to understand the influence of personal experience on perspective.

Secondly, I think that the disproporttionality of reaction happens on both sides of these issues, such as we might see with the hand-wringing/slippery slope arguments about loss of freedom in cultural context where there is a clear trajectory towards greater freedom. But more to the point, IMO, the arguments about self-harm caused by nurturing self-victimization is also overstated. Where is the actual evidence (and I mean established evidence of causality) of harm caused? We see it much asserted, but not actually established empirically. The closest I've seen is Haidt's stuff, which makes an argument indirectly by speaking of the benefits of a cognitive therapy approach to over-sensitivity (an analogy being that you help someone to overcome a phobia of flying by carefully constructed lower-dose exposure to build resistance). But there is a problem with that: it contrasts against a condition that doesn't actually exist. The alternative to micro-aggression resistance, in the real world, is not societal cognitive therapy, but the same old micro-aggressions without any reaction of resistance. Does that bring about a beneficial outcome?

From observing the climate wars and other political food fights, I am certainly aware of the tendency towards self-victimization. It's ubiquitous on both sides. But I don't think that the self-victimization is "caused" by the aggressive behavior (identity-aggression) on the part of those who feel victimized, and I doubt that their aggressiveness has some differential effect in enabling their self-victimization long term. It causality resides in the identity-defensive nature of how we all engage on politicized issues where we're identified. The notion that somehow the self-victimization of students protesting insensitivity is unique to them, and therefore some great threat to academia or society more generally is, I think, pretty amusing: not in the least because many (although not all) of those hand-wringing about the horrid outcomes of their self-victimization are right-wingers, libertarians, etc., who wrap themselves in a cloak of self-victimization on a habitual basis.

November 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV, I accept your many points about the general lack of evidence for hate crime in this situation. I think you're asking all the same questions I'm asking at this point; my point is simply that the police having to ask the same questions we're both asking is enough to warrant conducting an official investigation. That's why the police are [i]investigating[/i], not [i]charging[/i] anyone yet. More evidence is indeed needed.

[blockquote]If you want to incite violence against others, then you would do so privately.[/blockquote]

I wanted to separate this out for being a particularly incorrect understanding of terrorism, especially as it's been practiced against black people in American history. Publicly solicited and privately solicited violence have different functions, and you don't always want to just make violence happen. In the position of a terrorist, it can be more useful to create the impression that violence against a target set of people is not only a operational reality, but also a social norm. In that context, the more ambiguous a signal can be, yet remain effective, the better it is overall for creating fear in the targets and separating them from the rest of the crowd. Terrorists want to train their targets to jump with fear at ambiguous signals; when their targets do so, they lose support from the rest of society, who think them paranoid, making them easier targets in future.

In so saying, I mean to cast no fault upon your (and mine too, really) entirely rational response to perceived paranoia. I think everyone has this response. But I think it's worth being mindful that leading people to attribute paranoia to targets is a major mental avenue used by terrorist seeking to isolate their targets.

This is a good opportunity to bring this all back around and laud the student body's response. They didn't only take the tape down, or tell an authority figure to take the tape down. They also counteraffirmed that the university community values the targeted people by responding in the very same space that the anonymous vandals sought to occupy, with messages directly denying anyone who would claim that it's normal for black people to be targeted for being black. The student body response was right.

[blockquote][blockquote]To take your Mohammed example, drawing a mustache and "L.H.O.O.Q." on a picture of the purported Prophet doesn't advocate lawless action against Muslims.[/blockquote]

This seems inconsistent. Why would you interpret defacement as possible incitement in the [black tape] example above, but assume it didn't mean that in the [LHOOQ] case?[/blockquote]

The short answer is historical context. That's what I was trying to convey with my September 12, 2001 example. If someone posts a defacement of Mohammed [i]the day after 9/11[/i], when the nation is still in mourning shock, it's pretty clear they're trying to blame Islam for the attack and incite nationalist reprisals against Muslims, some of which will be lawless and within the nation itself. Imminent and likely lawless action. That expression is not protected, be it black tape or LHOOQ. It's not specific, but it doesn't matter - it doesn't need to be specific.

Fast-forward to today, after America has gotten itself bloodied in a Middle-East mess and seems to just want to disappear in an isolationist poof. Someone posts a defacement of Mohammed. In this case it might matter exactly how the defacement is carried out. LHOOQ is probably just a laugh. Black tape could have been chosen to allude to "sand n*****s" and would probably be worth a second look. I couldn't see that violence being imminent or likely without being connected to some other incident it was an escalation to. Probably protected - especially if it's funny to a judge - but in the wrong situation, not protected.

Racist violence against black people is well and alive in the United States. Now suppose that in repsonse to the protests against the HLS insignia, alongside the HLS faculty portraits, someone had posted a bunch of portraits of dead black leaders with black tape over their faces, without explanation. Not assassinated ones - just dead ones, like Du Bois. And nothing on the living faculty. Honestly, that would be very artistically unclear. I would be confused by its intent, and it would make me think hard. It falls far short of imminent and likely lawless. I think it would be protected.

But when you mark -living people- out with black tape, without explanation, in response to an anti-slavery protest? Lynching black people is pretty much the classic type of terrorism that Americans are familiar with and take for granted in our own history. That's also what I was trying to convey with the Charleston 2015 example. The vandal marked specific, living people out for their race. Imminent and likely lawless? Probably. I think that a police investigator would be a fool not to consider it a possible threat.

In all these cases I admit freely that I am applying my own sense of social context in coming to these conclusions. I still hope to have applied the rule consistently. I think that [i]Brandenburg v. Ohio[/i]'s "imminent and likely" language allows and demands that we use our subjective senses to address the standard. If as a [i]libertarian[/i] you think there's a way of evaluating 'imminent and likely" without reference to historical and social context, I am very interested to hear it. I could see [i]authoritarians[/i] arguing that it's possible, and that the government should monitor the population for the existence of "imminent and likely" offenders, then use that information to bring cases, or decline to pursue cases, against people for inciting likely offenders to action. That might be objective, but also obviously not libertarian. I'd be very interested to hear a libertarian proposal.

[blockquote][blockquote]"In terms of strategy, the protest was targeted against the university's symbology, and there would have been no reason for those protestors to protest against Islam, because Islam doesn't appear there."[/blockquote]You're telling me the university has no Muslim students or faculty at all? That surprises me. In fact, if true, I'm a bit surprised nobody has protested about it.[/blockquote]

No, I intended "there" to refer to the symbology of the university, not to the university community itself. I apologize for the confusion. Does my comment make more sense now?

Nowhere did I claim or imply the obvious non-fact that there might be no Muslims at Harvard. The strategy of the protestors targeting their speech hinges on that fact, really. Why risk antagonizing Harvard Muslims, Muslims who are probably just as anti-slavery as the protestors themselves are, given that they're modern people, when you just want to make a comment about the school symbology? If you think the protestors should have conformed to the notion of moral consistency that you seem to hold, and denounced all past slaveholders at the same time, well, let me put the question to you - exactly what do you think they should have done to express their denouncement of Islam, and why do you think it would have been better?

Should they have drawn a crescent moon on the Harvard Law School logo just to tape it over, since it wasn't there to begin with? I don't think so. Why let HLS duck the question by giving them the out of saying, "well, we can ignore them because it's clear they weren't being targeted in their speech, because look at this random bit of Islamophobia that crept in there." No. That's clearly -bad- strategy. Do their actions make more sense now?

November 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

I was strongly tempted not to reply - since Dan was obviously not keen on the conversation. But you ask some good questions, so once more unto the breach, my friend. :-)

But I'll stop after this, I promise.

"I accept your many points about the general lack of evidence for hate crime in this situation. [...] my point is simply that the police having to ask the same questions we're both asking is enough to warrant conducting an official investigation"

It's the juxtaposition of "lack of evidence" with "warrants an investigation" that I'm querying. But this is a question of values, and I have to accept that other people don't see that as an issue the same way I do.

"I wanted to separate this out for being a particularly incorrect understanding of terrorism, especially as it's been practiced against black people in American history."

I think you're actually agreeing with me here. Actual violence creates its own terror - you don't need ambiguous hints if you're actually planning to do it. The act itself is far more effective. You only make public threats as a substitute for violence - if you want to make people fear it without actually having to do it. But in that case, if you're so ambiguous that people aren't sure that was what you meant, you fail in your purpose.

If you're planning to do it, you conspire in private. If you're not planning to do it but want to create the fear that you will, you make your threats public and at least sufficiently unambiguous that your victims are not in any doubt what you really mean. You might leave in enough ambiguity to leave yourself a defence if you get caught, but if anyone really thought the mob were offering fire insurance when they came round to tell you about how combustible your shop looked, it probably wouldn't have worked. They'd have said "thank you" and gone to a cheaper insurer.

"Terrorists want to train their targets to jump with fear at ambiguous signals; when their targets do so, they lose support from the rest of society, who think them paranoid, making them easier targets in future."

Yes, I agree. That's exactly what "political correctness" is doing to people with 'unfashionable' opinions. The rules are sufficiently ambiguous that nobody is sure when they're breaking them, or how much trouble they're going to get into. That makes a lot of people more careful than they need to be.

However, it's not the ambiguous signals that create the terror, it's the acts. If nobody had been fired or disciplined for political incorrectness, the vagueness of the rules would not be a worry. If nobody had been killed by terrorists, vague threats would have no impact.

"If someone posts a defacement of Mohammed [i]the day after 9/11[/i], when the nation is still in mourning shock, it's pretty clear they're trying to blame Islam for the attack and incite nationalist reprisals against Muslims, some of which will be lawless and within the nation itself. Imminent and likely lawless action. That expression is not protected, be it black tape or LHOOQ."

So how about these guys, right after 9/11? You can tell from the cops standing around calmly in the background that their right to speech was being protected.
http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/muslimprotest.asp

"I couldn't see that violence being imminent or likely without being connected to some other incident it was an escalation to."

I think there was a guy who posted a you-tube video that got blamed for the Benghazi embassy thing. It seems that some people can.

But I think this is part of the issue. There's no objective standard being applied here. An ambiguous statement in one context and with one target you see as a threat, and an equally ambiguous statement in another context with another target and you "couldn't see that". On what objective basis? With what evidence? Nobody seems to know. It's down to how people react emotionally, based on their own values.

"Racist violence against black people is well and alive in the United States."

There is racist violence against all races in the United States, just as there are racists of all races. (To say otherwise would be racist.) We don't distinguish.

I'm not sure that "alive and well" describes it, though. There's a lot less of it today than at virtually any time in the past.

"Honestly, that would be very artistically unclear."

:-)
You are a master of wry understatement. In whose opinion?

"If as a libertarian you think there's a way of evaluating 'imminent and likely" without reference to historical and social context, I am very interested to hear it."

You switch the sides round. If you swap black for white and still see the same picture, there's probably something there. If you swap black for white and suddenly it looks different to you, because of - as you put it - the historical and social context, then it's probably unconscious racism on your part, brought about by implicit assumptions of the society you live in. That's precisely what I was doing with the Mohammad example.

"Why risk antagonizing Harvard Muslims, Muslims who are probably just as anti-slavery as the protestors themselves are, given that they're modern people, when you just want to make a comment about the school symbology?"

Because you're not making a protest about the school's symbology, you're making a protest about people today giving respect to a slave owner. If it had been the motto of the school debating society, or the name of the main lecture hall, or the name of a professorship, or bursary, the protest would have been the same. That it happened to be the school crest that held the objectionable material is an irrelevancy: the protest was at honour being given to somebody who profited from slavery.

"If you think the protesters should have conformed to the notion of moral consistency that you seem to hold, and denounced all past slaveholders at the same time, well, let me put the question to you - exactly what do you think they should have done to express their denouncement of Islam, and why do you think it would have been better?"

There are people being enslaved today. Not 230 years ago, right now, in a place less than a day's flight time from where they're sat. There are teenaged girls being stripped naked and sold as sex slaves in public markets to the highest bidder, with video of the spectacle being posted on the internet, and we know about it and are doing nothing.

They just held a protest over the lost rights of slaves who died 230 years ago. They can damn well hold a protest about people being enslaved right now, and ask that something should be done about it. You've got the opportunity to show that you're better than the people of the past who tolerated slavery among their neighbours for so long; you have none of their excuses. Holding a protest would be a pretty ineffectual gesture, but at least it would be something.

It's enough to make one suspect that these people do not oppose slavery per se, but only protest against it to the extent that they can benefit personally.

December 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:

I have no objection to this conversation. I'm sorry my promo for another post conveyed that impression.

Glad to see that this one furnished opportunity for people to have an important discussion

December 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Thanks Dan.

I think it's important too. But your blog is your property - I contribute here only at your sufferance, and I have no wish to cause you any trouble or upset. I was already feeling uncomfortable at diverting discussion down this overtly political line. I felt it was important to clarify what I meant, but I didn't mean it to go on for so long. Discussions between different worldviews are difficult at the best of times.

Thanks once again for your understanding.

December 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

It's the juxtaposition of "lack of evidence" with "warrants an investigation" that I'm querying. But this is a question of values, and I have to accept that other people don't see that as an issue the same way I do.

I see. For my part, I don't see it as a juxtaposition. Charging someone with a crime without evidence is obviously wrong, and one hopes for easy acquittal in such circumstances, but it's common and good for people to be investigated in connection with a crime for no other reason than because they have motive. Consider the 4th amendment standard for warrants to issue only upon probable cause. No evidence is necessary to start looking for evidence, i.e., conducting an investigation. Causal claims are inherently orthogonal to evidentiary ones. Does that help you see things the way I do?

You only make public threats as a substitute for violence - if you want to make people fear it without actually having to do it.

That's just not true! Actually, if you feel secure in your social position, you may make public threats to normalize and create anticipation of the violence, then do the violence. Take for example the actions of Governor George Wallace of Alabama during the 1960s desegregation movement. He proclaimed "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and then proceeded to follow up by ordering the violent suppression of nonviolent protestors.

I think you're just making things up to try to win this argument.

Yes, I agree. That's exactly what "political correctness" is doing to people with 'unfashionable' opinions. The rules are sufficiently ambiguous that nobody is sure when they're breaking them, or how much trouble they're going to get into. That makes a lot of people more careful than they need to be.

I believe that is how the "marketplace of truth" works. You may think me illiberal for believing that, and I suspect our most gracious and patient host might call me illiberal for believing that as well, though I would disagree. Society adopts the kind of progress that it is ready to accept by enforcing norms. The social and economic costs and benefits of such operation can and should be debated and measured, but unfortunately not by me. I haven't the background. I would hope that such analysis would show that a free society can compete.

http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/muslimprotest.asp

I find it strange that you should choose that link. The fact that the UK has different laws and standards than the US aside, the UK shadow home minister actually agrees with me: that speech was incitement, was not protected, and yet the administrative decision not to round them up was made to avoid harm to people, says that link. I suppose we agree in that it's not an ideal outcome. Administering laws is difficult.

There's no objective standard being applied here. An ambiguous statement in one context and with one target you see as a threat, and an equally ambiguous statement in another context with another target and you "couldn't see that". On what objective basis? With what evidence? Nobody seems to know. It's down to how people react emotionally, based on their own values.

I acknowledge your many valid points in this vein of argument. I already bit this bullet. My argument was that subjective judgment is called for in these situations, because it would be unacceptably authoritarian to pursue the measures necessary to obtain real evidence to further the more objective administration of the Brandenburg rule.

You switch the sides round. If you swap black for white and still see the same picture, there's probably something there. If you swap black for white and suddenly it looks different to you, because of - as you put it - the historical and social context, then it's probably unconscious racism on your part, brought about by implicit assumptions of the society you live in. That's precisely what I was doing with the Mohammad example.

Ah! Thank you for answering my challenge. To your answer, I must first object that your proposal doesn't actually ensure objectivity; it only ensures that the same subjective judgment is applied neutrally, or symmetrically, which is not at all the same thing as being objective. One can, for instance, be equally prejudiced in favor of would-be plaintiffs or in favor of would-be defendants, or on any number of irrelevant bases that a permutation test wouldn't detect.

Now, I certainly agree with you that if you permute and see the same picture, your case is stronger, the outcome being less sensitive to any particular prejudice you may have in that respect. But I disagree with the inverse, to which you seem to adhere, that if you permute and don't see the same thing, you have nothing. That latter deduction only holds if the populations being permuted were previously known to be indistinct.

Just as the possibility of hate crime had not occured to you because the possibility of violence seemed inherently unreasonable, the permutation test seemed inherently unreasonable to me because it makes no sense to me to treat black people in America and white people in America the same when assessing the imminence and likelihood of threats against them. They're different populations. Cultural factors aside, they choose homicide targets and are targeted for homicide at different rates. Add the cultural factors back in, and why should we treat them as if they were the same, even when we are in the position of administering the law?

I do not believe that equality under the law demands that we ignore our priors, although I'm sure that you can find a sitting Supreme Court Justice who disagrees with me (maybe even more than one). In some cases, discrimination can be so unjustifiable as to violate the law, to paraphrase Bolling v. Sharpe, but many cases of discrimination are better justified than that.

I can think of plenty of black people who've been lynched or who have been killed because they're black. I can't think of a single case of a white person being lynched in the States for being white who wasn't killed for being a white person that helped a black person. We have white people shooting up black churches, but not black people shooting up white churches. So I can't see any reason why I should treat white professors' portraits being defaced with white tape the same as black professors' portraits defaced with black tape. Doing so would be confusing the medium with the message and ignoring useful priors. I think it justified to treat them differently instead. We do and should distinguish.

That it happened to be the school crest that held the objectionable material is an irrelevancy: the protest was at honour being given to somebody who profited from slavery.

Yes, the protestors objected to Harvard honouring past slavery, and would probably have done so against any association of the school's with past slavery. We're certainly in agreement about that. I believe their ultimate goal is for the school to change the symbology. Do you disagree with that? If not, then in your view, why does that goal compel the protestors to address current slavery, which Harvard does not support?

I feel that given that the protest was targeted at Harvard, there's no reason to bring up current slavery, unless you think that Harvard is somehow supporting current slavery. Consider if Harvard was investing its endowment in companies that benefited from current slavery. (It may well be.) If so, then it would be appropriate to bring up current slavery in context of that connection, and argue for shareholder action or divestment.

Consider as well a protest targeted not at Harvard, but at the US Department of State, for using taxpayer money to cultivate smooth relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, important members of whose government personally fund ISIS. There it would also be appropriate to denounce current slavery, along with Islam, for that matter.

Yet you readily concede that "Holding a protest [at Harvard against the injustices of current slavery] would be a pretty ineffectual gesture, but at least it would be something. (emphasis mine)" This statement of yours, implying that the protestors' current efforts are worth nothing, makes me think that you believe that attention given to past slavery should have no moral weight as long as current slavery yet exists. If so, I disagree.

To me, arguing that "X is not a worthwhile moral issue as long as Y is a worthwhile moral issue" is equivalent to arguing that "X is not an issue", because if Y were eradicated, there would be nothing to justify the promotion of X to the moral forefront after Y was gone, even if X were "past Y". Moreover, if your answer is to claim that X would naturally take the moral forefront after Y was eradicated, then you acknowledge that it could be rational to work on X and Y concurrently. The only reason left to put no moral weight upon X as long as Y is present is if you think that it's impossible to work on the problems of X and Y at the same time, and that Y is more important than X. The former is an extraordinarily strong claim that requires similarly strong evidence, of which you have provided none in this case of past and current slavery. The latter is a value judgment that I won't contest, although one could argue the point.

December 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

Hmm. There's a lot here for me to disagree with, but I get the feeling that pointing it out is not going to get us anywhere. I think you're interpreting matters selectively - focusing on irrelevant specifics as a way of avoiding the point, rather than simply misunderstanding - and you're applying racist thinking when it suits you, while rejecting or dismissing it when it doesn't.

For example, consider:

"but it's common and good for people to be investigated in connection with a crime for no other reason than because they have motive"

" it makes no sense to me to treat black people in America and white people in America the same when assessing the imminence and likelihood of threats against them. They're different populations. Cultural factors aside, they choose homicide targets and are targeted for homicide at different rates."

So isn't this a strong argument for racial profiling, and investigating people for crimes for no other reason than because they happen to be black? Tut-tut!

No. We make no distinctions based on skin colour. We do not group sets of people together for common treatment based on them having a common skin colour. We don't suspect one person of a crime simply because they have the same skin colour (or sex, religion, taste in music, etc.) as a lot of other people who are known to be criminals. The same logic applies to suspected victims.

The proportion of violence suffered by blacks that is caused by white racists is tiny. Most black people are threatened, injured or killed by other black people because they're badly educated, hence poor, and hence live in poor and violent districts, which leads many to join gangs for self-protection, which gets them involved in distributing drugs and fighting turf wars between the gangs. It's nothing at all to do with skin colour; it's to do with the culture of poverty. So it would make much more sense to suspect someone of being a victim of homicide threats because they're poor than because they're black. And of course, that's not a characteristic likely to apply to the faculty of a prosperous university.

That somebody can ignore the major sources of threat to protest about a minor one, is in much the same vein as ignoring the major examples of support for slavery today to protest about a minor one. It's clear enough: the protest wasn't about slavery, and the fuss over the black tape wasn't about fear for the faculty's safety. Both are about establishing the protestors as the presumed victims in any dispute and the sole arbiters of allowed opinion. They're attempting to seize power.

And I think that's about enough said on that subject.

December 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

" ...but I get the feeling that pointing it out is not going to get us anywhere. I think you're interpreting matters selectively - focusing on irrelevant specifics as a way of avoiding the point, rather than simply misunderstanding..."

Interesting!

December 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

You are correct; I have offered strong argument for racial profiling in investigation. I have long been in favor of the policy, as unpopular as that is. It has always seemed logical to me, just as it is logical to investigate the spouse when a married person is killed. What I am against is the unjustifiable extension of racial profiling to generally stigmatize and harass a population, which is contrary to what I view as the legitimate purposes of investigation. In particular, when authorities use racial profiling as a reason to harass and stigmatize a population even when no crimes have been committed, they have clearly exceeded their authority. As I understand it, such is the situation in many parts of the United States.

The proportion of violence suffered by blacks that is caused by white racists is tiny. Most black people are threatened, injured or killed by other black people because they're badly educated, hence poor, and hence live in poor and violent districts, which leads many to join gangs for self-protection, which gets them involved in distributing drugs and fighting turf wars between the gangs. It's nothing at all to do with skin colour; it's to do with the culture of poverty. So it would make much more sense to suspect someone of being a victim of homicide threats because they're poor than because they're black. And of course, that's not a characteristic likely to apply to the faculty of a prosperous university.

Well, right. One of the most common justifications for doing violence to black people is that they're being "uppity". 'Harvard professor' is basically the type for that - an ambitious, successful, prestigious role model, a perfect target for racist terrorists. I agree with you in finding it unlikely that they'd suffer violence from poor people.

December 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

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