The facts and the time-line are not at all as clear as they should be by now (a lot of this doesn’t make sense, but I will wait for a more detailed and rational account of the incident before delving into that aspect of the case), but, based on media accounts, the man who broke into the Pelosi estate and attacked Mr. Pelosi looks to be a paradigm instantiation of Eric Hoffer’s “true believer.” David DePape’s beliefs, however apparently fervently held in any give moment, swung widely from far-left to far-right. The woman with whom he had children essentially described a schizophrenic.
David DePape is accused of attacking Paul Pelosi with a hammer in the Pelosi estate
I have not pursued a deep dive into DePape’s social media output (it will be hard to do with platforms (including this one) censoring his postings. From a cursory glance, however, I can see that his mix of opinions are being woven by the media into an alleged comprehensive worldview not only designed to make DePape appear MAGA, and thus a continuation of January 6, but to tie criticisms of power and others things (such as vaccines) to fringe thought as part of a continuing campaign to paint any criticism of power and profit as paranoia. This is not to say DePape’s thoughts aren’t delusional. At the same time, severely impaired individuals are capable of holding perfectly reasonable views.
From the Los Angeles Times: “DePape followed a number of conservative creators online, including Tim Pool, Glenn Beck, DailyWire+ and the Epoch Times.” So? These outlets are neither far-right nor paranoid. “He also followed an account on YouTube called Black Pilled and reposted several of its videos on his blog.” The LA Times then goes on to twist the meaning of black pill ideology to align with right-of-center libertarian critique of the corporate state. It is not possible that reporters over at the LA Times do not understand such things.
The effort by the Democratic Party and the corporate news to characterize this as MAGA violence in the eleventh hour of a historic election reeks of desperation. Five years ago, a left-wing activist (a Bernie Sanders devotee) opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game, critically wounding Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. (Remember that? It may feel vague in your brain because it didn’t get a lot of coverage.) Are we going to blame the Scalise shooting on the over-the-top rhetoric progressives routinely spew regarding conservatives, you know, that they’re “fascists,” “racist,” and “white supremacists”?
People are responsible for theiractions. Those who criticize political figures and ideologies are not responsible for violence carried out by other people. This is a country of 330-plus million people. There are going to be mentally-disturbed individuals who do things like this. Fortunately, they are rare. And while progressives bite their nails over their revered leaders being threatened by marginal individuals, they ignore the reality of the murder and other forms of serious violence that occur daily in progressive big cities across the Northeast, violence that disproportionately takes the lives of the very subjects they claim to prioritize in their policies.
Phenomena surrounding the historic movement in European societies and societies of European origin over the last two hundred years from punishments bent on corrupting the body to correctional measures emphasizing the transformation of offenders into law-abiding citizens captured the imagination of philosophers, historians, and social scientists in the twentieth century. David Rothman’s The Discovery of the Asylum (Little, Brown, 1971) Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (Vintage, 1977), Michael Ignatieff’s A Just Measure of Pain (Pantheon, 1979), Robin Evan’s The Fabrication of Virtue (Cambridge, 1982), Stanley Cohen’s Visions of Social Control (Blackwell, 1985), and John Bender’s Imagining the Penitentiary (Chicago, 1987) are a few of the more notable works exploring the transformation of punishment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Employing a theoretical framework adapted from German sociologist Norbert Elias, John Pratt’s Punishment and Civilization represents a twenty-first century attempt to theorize the transformation of punishment in the English-speaking world (England, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and Canada).
In The Civilizing Process, published in 1939, Elias theorizes that the internalization of civilized sensibilities, what began as etiquette rules in courtier society, led to an enhanced sympathy for the suffering of others among elite and masses alike and the virtual disappearance of physical force in everyday interactions. A new “habitus” (a term used by Mauss, Bourdieu, and others for the collective psyche and behavioral responses of a people) emerged with capitalism—a rational and reflective mode of thinking and acting. Highlighting the rational sensibilities expressed in prison reports on policy and practices, Pratt argues that changes in penal thought and practices result from the “civilizing process” Elias identifies.
With this logic in mind, Pratt sets out to accomplish two major things in this book. First, he aims to document how elites established a paradigm of punishment during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that reflected qualities generally understood as civilized. To these ends, Punishment and Civilization represents a catalog of historic trends in the civilizing process manifest in the replacement of harsh physical punishments with rehabilitation and discipline regimes, as well as the shift from public to private punishment.
Elites are shown dissimulating the existence of a large-scale punishment system by removing prisoners and prisons from the public gaze, creating more humane prison conditions by improving food and hygiene, and sanitizing the language of punishment by shifting from a rhetoric imbued with moral passion to an impersonal, objective system of classification. In place of condemnatory proclamations now stood an official discourse and practice that emphasized scientific knowledge, bureaucratic authority, and public indifference.
In a fascinating account of the decline in the use of the death penalty, for example, Pratt shows how English retentionists, initially seen as the rational voices for their appeal to the deterrent effects of death in justifying the continuing advocacy of capital punishment, slowly came to be seen as excessively emotional and irrational in the face of evidence indicating a contrary effect. At the same time, the excessive sentimentality initially attributed to the abolitionists faded, as they took over the role of the rational voice in penal policy.
Second, and more critically, Pratt explores what happens when trend and conjuncture combine in such as way as to cause the civilizing tendency to become unstable. In this way, Pratt’s approach to the study of the civilized habitus is more critical than Elias’. Incorporating the radical edge one finds in the works of Zygmunt Bauman (Modernity and the Holocaust) and Nils Christie (Crime Control as Industry), wherein the idea that humane treatment of others naturally accompanies the rise of civilization is rejected, Pratt approaches the question of civilization and barbarism less certain that the former transcends, negates, or is even inconsistent with the latter. Both the Holocaust and the phenomenon of mass incarceration are seen from these standpoints not as exceptions to civilization but as outgrowths of it. With these lessons in mind, Pratt is thus skeptical that Elias’ invention of “decivilizing tendencies” effectively explains contradictions in the progress of civilization.
Pratt contends that, since 1970, the civilizing process, at least in the domain of punishment, has been undermined by a countermovement back towards retribution. A public that believes the state has failed to adequately protect them is a major impetus generating the shift towards law and order rhetoric and practice. The masses have come to believe (with the encouragement of political elites and conservative intellectuals) that the practice of the courts coddles criminals and that the rehabilitation regime as little more than a program for pampering inmates.
Pratt identifies several problems internal to the penal system that spurred public outcry. First, by civilizing the prisons, the state made prisoners more aware of their rights as citizens. At the same time, because of their position at the bottom of the prison hierarchy, prisoners had limited channels to legitimately pursue grievances. Disorder emerged in the prisons, dramatically symbolized by the Attica prison uprising of 1971.
Second, because of the public clamor in response to greater levels of societal disorder during the 1960s, as well as the shift in elite attitudes (especially in the United States) towards the crime control model, prison populations began to expand. The structure that had grown up under the reformist regime was ill equipped to handle the trend in mass incarceration.
Third, because of high profile failures and scandals, public sentiment turned against the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s. The legitimacy of the rehabilitation regime was cracking. The public grew increasingly intolerant of criminal offending. Whereas a sensibility had emerged previously that held society to be partly responsible for crime, the focus returned to the problem of individual criminality. The reintroduction of the death penalty in the United States is emblematic of the trend towards retributionist policy and practice.
The depth of public reaction has depended in part upon the collective position of the public with respect to the prison system. Pratt argues that the most civilized Western penal systems are in Northern European states (Scandinavia) and the most primitive in the southern United States (Georgia is representative).
In the Northern European countries, even though there is centralized bureaucracy (given the scope of the government apparatus), there is a greater level of participation of the public in the process of governance, which translates into a public perception of a measure of control over punishing. In those states lying towards the other end of the continuum, the bureaucracy is depicted as aloof from the public. Under these circumstances, the masses feel less in control over state functions. Here, the punishment systems tend to be harsher.
With the emergence of neo-liberalism in the 1970s, and especially after the 1980s, the punitive populism of the masses became more pronounced as the distance between the bureaucracy and the masses closed. Yet, Elites did not abandon the emphasis on rational organization and practice, hallmarks of civilization. Rather, the result was a retreat from due process and rehabilitation and a new emphasis on efficient law and order tactics.
Pratt forecasts two future possibilities. Either Western society will move towards the gulags described in Christie’s work, or its will conjure something worse (although it is not clear what this something worse might be). It depends, Pratt suggests, on whether the expansion of the prison system can absorb public hostility.
A lack of critical sociological depth in Punishment and Civilization constraints Pratt’s ability to follow up on this provocative question. Indeed, the major weakness of Punishment and Civilization is that the analysis remains too narrowly focused on internal changes in the penal system and fails to move beneath the surface level of societal change.
Inadequately explained is the shift to law and order rhetoric and practice that corresponds to large-scale transformations in the economics and demographics of the period. The question of what has unleashed the punitive public sensibilities remains vague. The United States, for instance, experienced as upheaval in the racial caste system in the 1960s with the overthrow of de jure apartheid, the exhaustion of the post WWII economic boom, and widespread popular revolt against the state’s imperial practices (for example, in Vietnam). Given the dramatic increase in the disproportionate numbers of blacks in US prisons and jails after 1970, one suspects that mass incarceration is, at least in part, another phase in the unfreedom of African Americans.
And what of the cycle between retribution and rehabilitation closely associated with the long swings of capitalist development identified in the work of such scholars as Christopher Adamson? Is the present historical phase a qualitative and secular movement towards efficient retribution or does it represent a temporary pendulum swing to harshness due to fall back the other way with the return of robust economic expansion and labor shortages.
Pratt touches on some of this by noting that the weakening of the state during the 1970s and the rise of neo-liberal hegemony unleashed populist sentiments among the masses and enabled them to make their collective voice heard on the matter of punishment. But the “get tough” approach—the reappearance of prisons, the deterioration of prison conditions, and a return to harsh law and order rhetoric—remains undertheorized at the deeper layers. By staying on the surface level, Punishment and Civilization remains too loyal to Elias’ framework, which, because of the problematic of civilization, limits its theoretical horizons.
Had Pratt infused his theory with the logic Foucault develops in Discipline and Punish, arguably the definitive twentieth century work in this area, greater depth could have been achieved. Foucault builds upon the critical political economy of Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer in Punishment and Social Structure (1939) by exploring the ideological and bureaucratic structures attendant to the bourgeois historical epoch. Developing a modified historical materialist framework, Foucault theorizes that the needs of French elites to reconfigure social control methods to align with the rise of liberal capitalism drove the shift from physical punishments to architectural and behavioral control over mind and sentiment. Punishment became discipline in the production of docile bodies—bodies suited for economic exploitation and political manipulation.
Thus, while the facts of modernity that Pratt and Foucault attempt to explain are substantively the same—restrained citizen involvement in punishment regimes, governmental monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, extensive deployment of scientific methods and classification systems, an architecture of control, bureaucratic organization, and emphasis on impersonal interpersonal relations—the end products of their respective efforts are quite different. Whereas Foucault’s analysis probes the surface forms of punishment to reveal the structural imperatives that lay beneath, Punishment and Civilization stays on its face, explaining not so much why punishment became civilized, but how elites civilized it.
This criticism should not however detract from the importance of the Pratt’s work. The story Pratt tells is worth telling, and he tells it in a cogent manner producing important insights along the way. The thinking employed in Punishment and Civilization is more critical than that of Elias, and this makes the book an important corrective to the positivistic conflict theoretical character of figurational sociology.
When Pratt emphasizes that civilized forms of punishment do not necessarily bring about civilized consequences, that moral indifference may result from the civilized norm of self-restraint, indeed, that the conditions of civilization do not preclude the exercise of violence, he takes the Eliasian approach into unexplored territory. For this reason, along with his careful analysis of historical documents detailing the reform of the criminal justice system, Punishment and Civilization is fine work and is sure to become the basis for many future sociological investigations of the transformation of punishment in the world bourgeois epoch.
This is a line from an attack ad on Facebook that appeared at the top of my newsfeed this morning: “Ron Johnson ignored warnings that he was a target of Putin’s disinformation and propaganda.” The truth is wildly different from The Party’s propaganda line and demonstrates how The Party has weaponized the administrative state apparatus against Republicans who have not sufficiently indicated their loyalty to the corporate state establishment.
The Party is not only aggressively pushing the Big Lie that Russia was behind the “stolen election” of 2016 (and not the fact that one of the most despicable persons in American political history was The Party’s candidate) but has expanded the Big Lie to claim that Russia was behind an attempt to steal the 2020 elections and to influence the 2022 elections by using Republican politicians and figures.
This is a classic McCarthyist tactic, perhaps especially ironic in Senator Johnson’s case given that Johnson represents the same state McCarthy himself served—and of from the same party. Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia continues to function as a Red Scare tactic. The Party uses the Russia to scare voters in 2022 much the same way it used COVID-19 to scare voters in 2020. You may have noticed that the Ukrainian flag emojis tend to adorn the same profiles that featured masked do-gooders and vaccinated virtue signaling during the pandemic. Of course, the administrative state has been using Russia to scare voters for years.
Johnson knew about the intelligence. He suspected that the FBI briefing was a ploy to undermine his political messaging and his investigatory work by aligning these with Russian propaganda and Russian goals. Just to make sure readers understand how this works: the tactic involved briefing Johnson on “Russia disinformation” and then leaking the briefing to the public in order to manufacture the perception that Johnson is unwitting tool of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. That Johnson could see this for what it was contradicts the portrayal of naïveté. The motive of making Republican messaging out to be Russian propaganda is on its face obvious—at least it should be to anyone who understands the political weaponization of the nation’s security services over the last several years.
Johnson told the media in confirming the briefing of August 2020, “I asked the briefers what specific evidence they had regarding this warning, and they could not provide me anything other than the generalized warning.” What were they not telling Johnson? Hunter Biden’s laptop was real and its contents were damning. The laptop exposed the reality that the son was the father’s bag man in a global-level corruption scheme. (See New York Post Drops a Bombshell on the Biden Campaign; The Conspiracy to Overthrow an American President.)
As the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Johnson spent much of 2019 and 2020 investigating Hunter Biden’s activities. Among other things, Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The FBI, and US intelligence agencies generally, sought to obscure the Biden family’s relationship with Ukraine—a relationship to which Trump had become wise (his attempt to get to the bottom of matters moving The Party to impeach him)—by claiming to have “determined” that Russia had intervened in the 2016 election and spent subsequent years trying to create the perception that the election interference came from Ukraine, not Russia.
There is a direct link between The Party and the FBI in the effort to discredit Johnson. As it turns out, the Johnson briefing came weeks after Democratic leaders in Congress told the FBI they feared Johnson’s investigation was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Johnson said in a 2021 statement, “Because there was no substance to the briefing, and because it followed the production and leaking of a false intelligence product by Democrat leaders, I suspected that the briefing was being given to be used at some future date for the purpose that it is now being used: to offer the biased media an opportunity to falsely accuse me of being a tool of Russia despite warnings.” Bingo.
During the 2020 campaign, the FBI planned to use the same tactic against Trump attorney’s Rudy Giuliani (this was reported by the Washington Post). Instead, investigators searched Giuliani’s home in April 2021 and seized computers and cell phones as part of their probe into his interactions with Ukraine (this was reported in the New York Times). Curiously, investigators left behind the Hunter Biden’s hard-drives in Giuliani’s possession. Presumably this was because the FBI was already in possession of copies and they knew destroying them when other copies existed would only make it easier to expose the agency’s tactics.
The attempt to undermine Johnson’s credibility reveals the machinations of the administrative state: the burying of Hunter Biden’s laptop was the work of the establishment to deny Trump a second term in office. And it worked. As polls have shown, enough voters have acknowledged that, had they known about the laptop, or that the laptop they had heard about was real, they would not have voted for Joe Biden, and the election—even if you believe the results of the election were legitimate—would have swung to Trump. In fact, nearly four of five Americans surveyed who followed the Hunter Biden story reported that truthful coverage of the election would have changed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Indeed, removing ideology from classrooms is vital for the liberty of both
I recently attended a dinner party. The attendees were devoted woke progressive types. As the evening grew long, the conversation moved to the subject of Florida and the restrictions the legislature and governor placed on the ability of teachers to touch upon sensitive subjects in their classrooms, such as gender and race. The confidence of the criticism expressed at the table indicated to me that ideology was preventing the party from recognizing that, if the ideas that were restricted were ideas with which they strongly disagreed, such as racist and sexist ideas, then they would have supported the legislation, but because the restrictions instead targeted ideas with which they agreed, the law in question was judged regressive, even reactionary.
I wanted to make this assumption explicit, so I argued that whether one agrees with critical race theory, gender theory, or queer theory, the question of whether these or curriculum based upon associated ideas should be “taught” in public schools (k-12) on principle is the relevant question to ask, not whether the theories are correct. The objection went up that these were not being taught in public schools so the controversy was manufactured. Of course, they are, I countered. I have been teaching critical theory in my sociology classes for more than a quarter century. I know what critical theory is, that it is being taught in public schools in one fashion or another, and then expressed the opinion that it is inappropriate on principle to teach it or anything based upon it in a public school classroom.
When asked my understanding of critical race theory (the tone suggesting that anybody who disagrees with the teaching of or from this standpoint doesn’t actually know what it is), I allowed myself to be (strategically) momentarily taken off message by explaining that, in direct opposition to the legal framework of the American system of law, as well as the ethical foundation of liberalism and the Enlightenment, CRT treats concrete individuals as if they are personifications of abstract racial categories worthy of being held responsible for the alleged actions of other persons dead or living. Blaming a white person for the actions of all white persons past and present is an irrational assignment of guilt contrary to Western jurisprudence and this is precisely what CRT advocates. Critical race theory, I furthered argued, operates on, if not explicitly religious sensibilities, then quasi-religious ones. The same is true for notions conveyed by gender and queer theory—notions such as “authentic selves.” Such notions are with the angels in heavens (or with the devils in hell). As such, these are not things to teach a seven year old, not only because they are abstract and ideological, but because they will confuse children, cause them anxiety, and take them away from the purpose of public education. This, I said, was the motivation behind the Florida law.
There was an attempt to drag the conversation further away from the question of public education’s purpose by seeking, couched in the progressive rhetoric of equity, the weeds of racial inequality. To get the discussion back on the matter of principle, I asked if I could give an example of a curriculum that I thought they would agree should not be taught in public school. I promised them it would be interesting as it was personal (and we know how progressives love “lived experience” stories). They allowed me to give my example and I expressed appreciation of their their charity (I am getting better at these discussions).
Here was my story: Several years ago, my second grader came home from school with a letter from his teacher informing his parents that his class would be participating in Junior Achievement, a program organized by the Chambers of Commerce to draw the attention of children to the righteousness of capitalism. Junior Achievement is pro-corporate propaganda, I explained to the party, in case it wasn’t obvious, the purpose of which is get children thinking in particular ways at a young age. Developmental psychology indicates that that seven years old is a good age to begin deep programming in corporate and other ideology (this is the age when children start doubting myth). Those who want to get our children find their way into their heads by infusing the curriculum with propaganda couched in an age-appropriate way.
I told them that I wrote a letter to the principal of the school explaining why I removed my child from class that day (a difficult decision), and why I did not believe Junior Achievement should be “taught” in school, at least not without equal time for a critique of the standpoint from which the “lesson” hailed: “Junior Achievement is dogma, not enlightenment. It takes capitalism and elevates it to a virtue and then systematically masks the history and reality of the system in order to brainwash children into accepting a system that exploits them. As such, it is out of place in a public educational setting and, really, not befitting a democratic society.” (This is from the actual letter, not verbatim what I summarized for them.)
However, I told the dinner party, Junior Achievement is really out of place in a public educational setting independent of whether capitalism is a righteous or exploitative system, since, as I noted in the first sentence: “Junior Achievement is dogma, not enlightenment.” The deconstruction of Junior Achievement is unnecessary in light of the principle that education is about enlightenment not indoctrination. It is just as unnecessary as having to explain the problems with gender theory and queer theory in an argument for removing these theories from the classroom. I stressed that the fact that we agreed that it is wrong to indoctrinate children with pro-capitalist propaganda should not depend on our opinion about capitalism, but instead on the purpose of public education. Education is not for the purpose of indoctrination whatever the dogma.
I had their attention, so I reinforced the point with another example. I asked those sitting at the table if it would be appropriate to teach children about Christianity? Not a lesson in which Christianity were noted as one of many religions in world history or similar content, I clarified. All that is fine, of course, because it educational. I mean the teaching of Christianity to affirm its message, to compel a captive audience of second graders to recite its scriptures and participate in its rituals. Would this be okay? My group agreed that this would be wrong. Of course. One person even noted the difference between taking a child to church over against enrolling the child in Sunday school. Excellent example, I said (thanks for making my point for me). The first instance is a cultural experience. In the latter, you’re giving up your child to indoctrination. And this is precisely what happens when you give up your child to public schools with curricula that includes affirming dogmas of various sorts. It’s like sending your kid to Vacation Bible School.
Here’s what we did not talk about. The reason that critical theory, accompanied by the language of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as rainbow and light blue, pink, and white flags, and all the rest of is, find their way into a second grade class room is the same reason Junior Achievement is there—a powerful lobby that knows this is the age where laying a foundation for this or that worldview enjoys a crucial development window, one that makes children resistant to receiving criticisms of lobby’s standpoint or reluctant to speak up about that standpoint, targeting the moment when they are close to, if they are not already, doubting the existence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, colonizes the curriculum and captures teachers, administers, and school boards members and directs them on a cushion of virtue to indoctrinate children in whatever the desired mythology is.
The lesson of this story is that it is important to be aware of the prejudices of an audience. For this reason, I did not interfere with the power of principle by explain that both Junior Achievement and CRT hail from the same standpoint: programming the corporate state seeks to install on the wetware of children in order to prepare them for incorporation in the bureaucratic and technocratic structure of late capitalism. These were progressives. That these are the ideas that are taught in corporate bureaucracies and in administrative training sessions do not impress the professional-managerial functionaries of the technocracy order. One has to know their loathings and appeal to those while avoiding their commitment to self-denial about the reality of corporate governance. This was the reason I used Christianity instead of Islam in my second example. There is a risk with progressives, having fully accepted the multicultural dogma, which holds that the other is exotic and the exotic is something to be fetishized and embraced, that they will likely find no problem with children chanting the Islamic slogans and rehearsing the rituals of this regressive ideology.
What is the Vice-President talking about? Equity is resource distribution based on race (and sex, somebody asked, but what does that mean anymore to a Democrat?). Under the Biden-Kamala scheme, white victims of the storm will receive less government support, whereas black victims of the storm will receive more. At least that’s what they say. And just saying it is bad enough.
Race-based distribution of resources is racism. Equality and equity understood in the way progressives define these terms are antithetical principles. I bet you’ve figured that out. Either everybody is treated equality or some group is shaken down on the premise that what they have is unearned, acquired at somebody else’s expense.
I find it fascinating how, in the 19th century, Democrats, the party of the slavocracy, used racism to extract wealth from the black population, then, after the Civil Rights Act, used racism to extract wealth from the white population. Racism isn’t a problem for this party; they only need to flip the racial hierarchy to keep the scheme going—the scheme to divide the working class by sowing racial resentment.
Had equality been important to Democrats, i.e., if the party were actually principled or represented working class interests, then 1964 would have meant that decisions would be henceforth made on a colorblind basis, since, as individuals, we’re all equal before the law and therefore no individual should be treated on the basis of his skin color—i.e., that, on the basis of race, he should receive more or less than any other person whatever his skin color is.
Democrats have been playing the race-based distribution of resources game since the inception of the party. When were we going to reject their racism and demand the country honor the American Creed of equality established by the republicans who founded this nation?
Pelosi is lying or repeating what she’s been told. There is no labor shortage. Real unemployment at the very least approaches eight percent of the work-force. It’s greater than that when considering the redundant population managed by the custodial state—not just the prison system, but the ghettos, too.
A smaller work force drives wages higher—and that’s why Democrats and the corporate elite seek open borders and desire to keep immigrant labor in the southern and western states. It’s also why they portray southern rural and urban working class families as “racist,” “reactionary,” and other nasty things. They delegitimize their concerns while conditioning the masses to lose empathy for them.
Corporations use open borders to draw super-exploitable labor to the United States in order to inflate the industrial reserve army of labor and push down wages for native workers. Half a trillion dollars is annually transferred from the US working class to the capitalist class via the super-exploitation of migrant labor—many more hundreds of billions from foreign labor super-exploited via offshoring. This is the transnational dynamic. This is why globalist push the denationalization agenda (see The Denationalization Project and the End of Capitalism; The Attack on Nationalism).
While we are shaking our heads at the image we see below, let’s also shake our heads clear of the fog of pathological political correctness and think about the safety of children—and ponder how this happened and where we’ll end up if we keep normalizing this behavior and presentation of self. (And if this dude is trying to make a point, I still worry about the kids. Let’s just hope it is effective.)
Oakville High School and Halton District School Board in Canada are using that nation’s human rights model (making a mockery of a system that necessary includes the protection of children) to defend an adult male performing kink in front of a captive audience of minors for personal sexual gratification. Yes, this teacher appears this way in front of minors in a public school classroom.
I study psychopathology. The Oakville High School teacher appears to be a textbook case of autogynephilia. To quote from the abstract of a medical science journal: “Autogynephilia is defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female. It is the paraphilia that is theorized to underlie transvestism and some forms of male-to-female (MtF) transsexualism. Autogynephilia encompasses sexual arousal with cross-dressing and cross-gender expression that does not involve women’s clothing per se.” The abstract continues: “Autogynephilia resembles a sexual orientation in that it involves elements of idealization and attachment as well as erotic desire.”
Perhaps we should feel sorry for this person. However, I think it’s fair to ask whether this public act of sexual fetishism around children is one step away from pedophilic acts with intent likely already present. That’s the criminologist in me talking. As a parent, I’m concerned, as well. Even if this individual is not a MAP, I’m still concerned.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for an adult male to strap on fake tits to cop wood. I’m no prude. As we used to say in the 1970s, “Different strokes for different folks.” (Remember, I’m a fan of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and took part in its rituals in the art district of Coconut Grove, South Florida—or have I not told you about this yet?) I’m saying that it’s wrong to do it in front of a captive audience of children and the school board’s defense of the man indicates the power of gender ideology in disorganizing the consciousness and conscience of otherwise intelligent people.
* * *
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Foucault’s Nietzschean analysis of power as substance woven into the very fabric of modernity results from an acutely felt need (having been socialized in something approximating a decent society) to escape the conscience pangs associated with child rape. Read: boy love in Tunisia. The more I read and see and learn, the more I’m convinced that Derrick Jensen is over the target in his carpet bombing of queer theory and its connection to pedophilia and gender ideology.
As it so often does, living history gives us an opportunity to make more connections. I am now speaking of the uprising in Iran against compulsory hijab wearing. Foucault’s despicable defense of the Iranian Revolution, a regime that, as noted in a recent blog on Freedom and Reason, force-transitions gay boys to hijab-wearing brides (and fates lesbians to find love in the secret community of women), only strengthens the connection. Patriarchal heteronormativity manifests in a myriad of (perverse) ways.
Know that Foucault would see the present-day revolt against the murderous hijab in Iran as an atavistic expression of oppressive modernism, getting the truth precisely backwards (as all neo-Hegelian reflex inevitably does). And so it is that a male wearing clownishly massive prosthetic tits in front of students in the high school shop class he teachers becomes a substitute for actual progress for women in the inverted totalitarianism of corporate state society.
In retrospect, we might have guessed this would be the next step in a culture where progressive feminist academics in the West were, in the wake of 9/11, taking their female students to mosques for hijab day to learn how to tie oppression around their heads. (I watched the cult snag not a few young women thanks to the inclusive desire of woke progressivism.)
Remember when Ward Churchill caught flak for suggesting the Islamic attack on the World Trade Center was justified in light of New York’s role in world imperialism? Ultimately, it led to his dismissal from the University of Colorado (albeit, technically for alleged academic misconduct). Unknown to most, at that same time, another French postmodernist, Jean Baudrillard, Janet Afary and Kevin B Anderson document in Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, wrote something similar, that the 9/11 attack “represents both the high point of the spectacle and the purest type of defiance,” which means, in Baudrillard’s view that “it could be forgiven.” Baudrillard was merely following in Foucault’s footsteps—as was Churchill.
* * *
CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour was scheduled to interview Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, in New York. The interview would have come just days after a 22-year-old Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, died in the custody of the Iranian Morality Police after being detained for allegedly wearing a hijab too loosely. As noted earlier, wearing the hijab is required of women in Iran. The control of women through compulsory dress codes is an expression of Islam’s deep-seated patriarchal heteronormativity. The Iran president sought to require the hijab of Amanpour (more on that in a moment.)
As noted, patriarchal heteronormativity in Islam also manifests as a homophobic impulse. I really want the reader to grasp this connection. The idea that a boy could be attracted to other boys or like the things that girls like horrifies not only the elites in Iran but the Iranian population at large. Besides being shunned, homosexuality is punishable with death in Iran.
So profound are Iran’s gender norms, in fact, that the regime has adopted the position that gay people are the opposite gender trapped in the wrong physical body (an error of ensoulment, I suppose). To remedy this problem, the regime compels the parents of gay boys into drastically altering their sons’ bodies to appear as a girls’ bodies. The regime even pays for the hormones and surgeries. The surgeries involve castrating the boy and reconstructing his penis and scrotum into a faux-vagina.
I reported this in Elite Hankerings for Obedience. It bears repeating here: many young Iranians and their parents opt for medical intervention not only to avoid being hanged from cranes in public or other serious punishments, but to meet the demands of social pressure—to find some semblance of normal life in Iranian society. To put this another way, Iran has a project to eliminate gay and lesbian people by making them appear as the other sex. It’s a medical alternative to “pray the gay away” (since prayer never works). It’s a radical form of conversion therapy.
The western media doesn’t seem to interested in the plight of gay boys in Iran (or gay boys in the West, for that matter). However, they appear to have become interested in the circumstances of Iranian women. Something new must be afoot, since this problem has been around since the 1970s only to be accompanied by crickets (with the exception of the Hitch, which I share below).
Back to Amanpour. The CNN journalist reported on Twitter that she was prepared to question Raisi about it. After all, the incident has triggered protests across Iran. But Raisi demanded Amanpour herself don a hijab, which, to her credit, she refused to do (as the interview was to occur outside of Iran, suggesting that she shamefully would have in Iran—and I have seen her in a hijab). So Raisi refused to participate in the interview.
Not only is the mainstream media covering the story. Antony Blinken of the State Department said on Thursday in response to Amini’s death that the United States has imposed sanctions on the Morality Police and on senior security officials the United States has accused of engaging in serious human rights abuses. Blinken condemned the country’s Law Enforcement Forces of arresting women for “wearing ‘inappropriate’ hijab” and enforcing “other restrictions on freedom of expression.” (The inappropriate hijab is akin to the way dispirited citizens haphazardly wore their cloth and surgical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. See the image of Busty Lemieux above.)
Again, there must be an ulterior motive in all of this attention, but we will take the attention where we can get it, I suppose. So, how about some attention for gay boys?
* * *
In 1978-79, as the Islamist protests against the Shah of Iran were reaching their peak, two French newspapers, Corriere della Sera and le Nouvel Observateur, tapped philosopher Michel Foucault as “special correspondent.” In this capacity, Foucault traveled to Iran and met with leaders of the revolution, including Ayatollah Khomeini, and wrote a series of articles on his experience with revolution, which he supported (for this, he was heavily criticized by Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson and the French intellectual community more broadly, which has not let the memory of this affair escape down the memory hole).
Foucault’s love affair with the brutal Islamist regime in Iran is significant because Foucault’s postmodernism, organized around his loathing of the Enlightenment and modernity, affected his political attitudes (spiritual politics, as he would have it) towards his homosexuality, which in turn influenced the construction of queer theory.
Outside of France, the political and cultural left of the greater West, including the United States, has long adored Foucault and postmodernism, which dovetails with the Marcuse-perversion of critical theory, and so we already have part of the story of how we got here. (For an analysis of the Islamic Revolution in Iran see my 2019 essay Who’s Responsible for Iran’s Theocratic State?)
I am going to lean heavily on Michael J. Thompson’s 2005 review of Janet Afary and Kevin B Anderson’s Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism for much of this section. The book is important, but Thompson’s review in particular recognizes the Foucauldian reaction to Marxism, which is useful to my own project of pushing back against the rightwing misrepresentation of the origin of the perversions they rightly decry—the misrepresentation that postmodern critical theory has its roots in the materialist conception of history. On the contrary, as I have documented on Freedom and Reason, the present expression of critical theory that plagues our culture and politics has its roots in Hegelian idealism and resurrects these in spite of Marx’s efforts to correct the dialectic. It is neo-Hegelian, not neo-Marxist.
As I incorporate into my thoughts the intervention of Derrick Jensen concerning the pedophilia of Foucault and the perversions of other progenitors of queer theory (Jensen names Gayle Ruben, Pat Califia, and Judith Butler), I want to take care to specify where these ideas intrude so as not to expose Thompson to the wrath of TRAs. Thompson does not address the problem of queer theory in his essay. Nonetheless, queer theory is an instantiation of the profoundly unscientific, indeed antiscientific stance of the postmodernists. If you have been following these matters, whether you are on the left or right, I hope some lights will turn on.
Thompsons notes in his essay “a growing number of contemporary critics” who have themselves noted “a kind of marriage between postmodernism and religious fundamentalism.” You will recognize this argument in my writings on Freedom and Reason going back several years now (see also John McWhorter)—but not back to 2005. My ignorance of some earlier critiques of postmodernism allowed me (and McWhorter) to independently arrive at similar conclusions.
I would have benefitted from being a bit hipper a bit earlier. At the same time, in my own defense, I have been a vocal critic of postmodernism since the mid-1990s when it became clear that these ideas represented not a legitimate challenge to scientific rationalism but rather carried the potential to confuse people about the character of science with claptrap about “other ways of knowing.” I can now see that it amounts to a new religion.
Thompson cites Meera Nanda’s 2003 Prophets Facing Backward who argues that the postmodernist critique of scientific rationality as a left-wing attack on social domination and power “goes hand in hand with right-wing political and cultural projects.” I understand the spirit of Nanda’s observations, but the comparison is unfair to right-wing political and cultural projects. (For a critique of these ideas from a right-wing perspective, I highly recommend Roger Scruton’s 2017 Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, a reworking of his 1985 Thinkers of the New Left.)
Thompson also cites Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s well-known destruction of “the nonsensical approach of postmodern thinkers to science and mathematics” in Fashionable Nonsense (1999), “revealing postmodern thought as lacking any understanding of science or scientific rationality and therefore possessing no real ability to make a substantive critique of it.” Sokal has also associated the postmodernists’ difficulty with the truth with the assertion among those who call themselves liberals that conservative have, among other things, wrongly questioned COVID-19 policies and the 2020 presidential election. (See Alan Sokal descries the place of postmodernism in the alt-Right’s denial of facts, but neglects the Left. Unfortunately, Coyne also dismisses the concerns of conservatives. To his credit, Coyne criticizes Sokal for only focusing on the alleged perversions of the right.)
“These writers,” Thompson writes, “share a common concern to defend reason and science from the dismissive approach of postmodern thought.” The strength of Thompson’s essay is that he grasps the relevance of the critique to reclaiming the left, casting the defense of rationality and science as “a means to revive a left political discourse that can reclaim the political project dedicated to political equality, human rights and social justice.” This is why I have maintained on Freedom and Reason that an authentic left politics is not found in woke progressive ideology—critical race theory, gender theory, queer theory, and all the other ideologies cynically cribbing the language of science to create a false air of legitimacy while attempting to discredit science to create space for technocratic rule. An authentic left politics can only be found in a rights-based politics of individualism focused on class struggle and economic justice.
I want to make sure the readers are following the line of argument here. History is relevant. Remember the Sokal Affair? This is what first got my attention on this matter. In 1996, Sokal submitted a hoax paper to Social Text, a journal of postmodern cultural studies: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal proposed that quantum gravity was a linguistic and social construction—and Social Text published it! It was Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s suggestion that, if the paper fit within the parameters of leftwing ideological thought, journals in the humanities were likely to publish it that inspired Sokal to give it a try. His stunt inspired James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose to organized a hoax publishing campaign they tagged the “The Grievance Studies affair,” manufacturing pretentious papers on cultural, fat, gender, queer, race, and sexuality studies. They demonstrated that Sokal’s intervention had not slowed down the postmodern perversion of the Western academy.
The “seductions of Islamism” is Afary’s and Anderson’s construction. “Their central argument is that Foucault’s theoretical views allowed him to embrace a politics—radical Islam as it manifested itself in the Iranian revolution of 1979—which was wholly against the goals and imperatives of the tradition of progressive politics,” writes Thompson.
[I apologize for what may feel like too many asides, but I’m really bugged by the reckless use of language here. By “progressive politics,” I believe the authors really, or should, at least, mean liberal politics. Progressive politics is not an adequate euphemism for what the contents of left liberal thinking since progressivism is the politics of the technocratic core of the corporate state. Moreover, the construction “racial Islam” misrepresents the spirit of Islam, which is as a form of extremism. There is nothing radical about extremist ideologies. If we are going to reclaim a viable politics for the left, we need clarify in our language.]
So what are the “seductions of Islamism”? They are the seductions of Foucault. Afary and Anderson explain that Foucault and the Islamists “were searching for a new form of political spirituality as a counter discourse to a thoroughly materialistic world; both clung to idealized notions of pre-modern social orders; both were disdainful of modern liberal judicial systems; and both admired individuals who risked death in attempts to reach a more authentic existence.” (Note the concepts here, for example, “authentic existence.” Sound familiar?)
Thompson writes that Afary and Anderson show that “Foucault’s oeuvre is marked by a discourse that is hostile to grand narratives, totality, and modernity as a whole.” As a consequence, Foucault embraces the “totalizing ideology that radical Islam was presenting to the world, one that still has consequences today both in Iran and in the West.”
Thompson tells us that Foucault and the Islamists “shared three core, overlapping ‘passions’: an opposition to imperialism and colonialism, a rejection of modernity, and ‘a fascination with the discourse of death as a path toward authenticity and salvation’.” Thompson continues: “These three points of commonality would shape Foucault’s interpretation of the Iranian revolution and lead him to interpret the anti-modernism of Khomeini and his coterie as a liberating political impulse against domination, power, and against the Enlightenment rationality and the institutions of modernity that had, in his view, plagued western consciousness, culture and political life.”
One may be excused for finding great irony in all of this. Those familiar with Foucault’s work were likely seduced by his intellectual project to abolish what he called the “fascism of the mind,” a project declared in his 1968 preface to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus in 1968. It is likely that many young people were seduced not by a comprehensive engagement with Foucault’s ideas but through the influence of a professor in a literature, philosophy, or sociology class. It is likely that I played a role in instilling in a young person’s mind the notion that Foucault was on an honorable mission by employing the principle of charity (a pedagogical tactic). They were not told of Foucault’s hostility towards Marxism, and had reinforced their already cultivated aversion to liberalism, as these “narratives of liberation and emancipation” had only, in Foucault’s eyes, “succeeded only in reproducing domination.”
Really, this should have been obvious in Foucault’s best known work, Discipline and Punish, work I use in my class because, while there is certainly something to it, I see clearly now that there’s even more to it—or something else, if that makes my point clearer. By flipping matters upside-down Foucault convinced himself that the negation of Enlightenment in Iran, in cancelling the western project of modernization there, was actually what it wasn’t: an emancipatory moment in the lives of the Iranian people—a moment that represented, to borrow Thompson’s words, “the opening up of a new path that could serve as a guide for merging the spiritual and the political.” And there we have it: the paradigm of woke progressivism—a new religion of extremist politics that sees authentic selves released by the bright knives of surgeons. Or shop teachers with massive fake mammalian protruberances.
What a cluster-fucking several decades postmodernist bollocks has wrought on humanity. Can we at once rise up and bury this shit forever and be sure to bullhorn to the world what a complete catastrophe it’s all been (and always will be)? Fuck critical theory since and including Marcuse. And fuck the post-1950s French intellectual. If it were just babble, whatever. Babies babble. But this is destructive.
And it’s pushed out by real power. Not fantastical power embedded in the warp and woof of modernity (what crap), but real power from above: corporate state power. Next-level crazy doesn’t dominate the academy by accident. And now they are gaslighting you. You’re supposed to see an adult male with giant fake tits and visible nipples standing in front of a classroom full of students as neither mad nor dangerous, but brave and beautiful, as a subject worthy of protection by the Canadian human rights model. And so pedophilia is normalized. And the impressionable want fake tits, too.
I close by returning to the video embedded in the tweet at the top of this page. What’s happening in Iran makes quite obvious the unique matter of women’s rights. Women are oppressed because of who they are and the fact that they are not men. The sexual dimorphism of the species is the basis of the patriarchy, the rights of women overthrown with the emergence of the sate and law.
The women’s right movement has made great progress in dismantling the patriarchy. However, just as the faux-left politics of intersectionality, informed by postmodernist critical theory, has undermined the class struggle, so it is undermining women’s rights. Sex, family, and class antagonisms are the most important factors in driving world history and determining the life chances of concrete individuals.
You might be wondering from where this idea comes that it doesn’t matter what you intend with your words only what the listener hears—you know, this authoritarian and illiberal notion that you have to shut up because somebody might be offended by what you say or write. Words become violence. Words erase identities. Etcetera.
There is a complicated history here, but here’s a piece of it that I bet most of you don’t know—and that some of you will criticize as a leap: the French intellectual Roland Barthes, who was a major voice at the beginning of postmodernist thought. In the late 1960s, Barthes published an essay titled “The Death of the Author,” wherein he argued that a given text has multiple meanings that elude the author. According to Barthes, you are not the source of the meaning in the ideas expressed in your writing or speech.
Indeed, since the author is (metaphorically) dead as the source of intended meaning of a text, we now have instead, according to Barthes, the “birth of the reader,” by which Barthes means that the source of meaning in the text is determined by the reader, and since there are many readers (or listeners), there are many readings, and all are equally valid. In fact, after injecting power and intersectionality into everything (thanks Foucault), some readings are more valid that others. If the author is white and male and heterosexual and other terrible things, then his intention isn’t really valid at all—as he is the super-oppressor. What do the oppressed hear?
With this idea, a core tenet in postmodernist thought (who cares whether he intended this), Barthes has stamped external interpretations of what you say with equal or superior validity such that a stupid person who cannot grasp the intended meaning of your words or the dishonest person who imposes upon your words his own agenda, if they lies at the intersection of oppressed identities, can twist your words to harm your reputation and make you fearful of speaking or writing—if you’re the wrong person or hold the wrong view, of course.
For example, you may have for some purpose used the word “nigger” in your writing (or in a joke you told or song you sang or poem you wrote), but if a person hears the word and is offended, then you are responsible not for your intended meaning (I was pushing the envelop at the Comedy Store) but for the listener’s imposed meaning (I have to go on The David Letterman Show and cop to something I didn’t do and tell the audience I will seek therapy because I don’t know why I say words like that). In this way, responsibility for utterances is turned on its head, with the utterer is punished for the listener’s intentions (supposing he has any).
This is why we find ourselves with a blanket ban on the word “nigger” (at least by those who are not black) rather than making any effort at all as to determine in what way and in what context the utterance was made (or walk away if we are too lazy to make the effort). And so we find woke progressives removing from the bookshelves of our nation’s public schools To Kill a Mocking Bird and Huckleberry Finn and a number of other books that contain the word “nigger.” And Dr. Seuss has to go, too, because he drew a Chinese man. And I have to watch Blazing Saddles on network television with a few minutes of dialogue festooned with beeping—a movie that was, at the time, an enlightened smackdown of bigotry. Never mind what Mel Brooks intended. The beeping is intolerable so I change channels.
Brilliant. Let art, language, and literature by some be suppressed by those who don’t get satire or who want to get even with the often imagined deeds of corpses or oppressors by suppressing the freedom of others.
You may be thinking, Andy, is this really that big of a deal? I don’t know, but it seems to me that one of the chief markers of nascent totalitarianism—maybe the chief marker—is conditioned fear to use certain words. When you know which words you can’t use, then you know which words will get you in trouble, and if words get you in trouble, then you have to learn to think differently. They called this “mind-control” when I was growing up. I still do.
In Nineteen Eight-Four, George Orwell called speaking and thinking in a disallowed way “thoughtcrime.” Orwell coined another term in Nineteen Eight-Four: “crimestop.” Crimestop is the mental discipline people develop in order to avoid the punishment meted out by the social controllers. Crimestop is the mark of an obedient person—the self-disciplined person, to put in virtuous terms. Obedient to whom? Disciplined for what ends? It doesn’t sound like freedom to me. So, yeah, it’s that big of a deal.
As for Barthes, is he alone responsible for word policing? No. There are many others. His arguments is an intellectual spin on robbing words of their intended meaning and that’s why I making this connection. I don’t want to diminish the significance of his work. His impact is felt across the Western world and many disciplines. He is taught in college classrooms everywhere. Perhaps he didn’t intend for his work to be taken this way. But if we hold him to his own theory, then he’s dead and readers can interpret his words any way they wish.
It harms a person to force him to say things he doesn’t believe or punish him for saying things others wish not to hear because those actions restrict his cognitive liberty. Cognitive liberty is a right to which all are entitled, even if formally unrecognized by the global community; the entitlement to mental self-determination is the principle underpinning the free speech ethic.
On the other hand, it does not hurt a person to hear something he doesn’t believe or that offends his sensibilities—even if it is meant to degrade him. If he think such utterances hurt him, that’s his problem. Indeed, it is to his benefit that he hear opinions and sentiments with which he disagrees or that make him feel uncomfortable; his personal growth and development depends on it. How are we to change minds if we cannot challenge beliefs and offend sensibilities? How do we build resiliency and tolerance? How cruel it is to leave person stuck in the mud of confusion, bitter and resentful over words.
The demand that any of us speak in a manner desired by others, either by formal social control (laws, policies) or informal social control (bullying, mobbing, shaming), either intends or functions to prevent the development of mutual knowledge through the exclusion of other ways of speaking and, therefore, of thinking. An ignorant man loses opportunities for enlightenment when the arguments with which he is unfamiliar are denied him through speech codes.
Consider the arrests of republicans in Great Britain who took the opportunity of the queen’s death to persuade their fellow citizens (subjects, actually) to abandon the monarchy for a more democratic and secular form of government. Consider that Pay-Pal has shut down the accounts of Toby Young, the founder of the Free Speech Union, a non-partisan, mass-membership public interest group in the United Kingdom that stands up for the speech rights of its members, as well as the founder of The Daily Sceptic, a blog Young set up during the COVID-19 pandemic to scrutinize Britain’s lockdown. This action hurts Young for the reasons I gave in the first paragraph.
Moreover, the acts of compelling and punishing speech forces those who would speak in a different way into bad faith; fearful of speaking in the objectionable manner, they lie, prevaricate, or fall silent (Can I Get an “Amen” to That? No, But Here’s Some Fairy Dust). Bad faith creates a deeply unjust situation in which those who disagree with the prevailing speech norms and the structures they mean to impose are enlisted in at least tacitly affirming the ideology that establishes those norms by denying or lying about beliefs that contradict the prevailing ideology.
One of the most serious abridgments of the freedom of speech is at once among the most subtle, and that’s this notion of “inclusion.” Inclusion, which in practice includes the idea of belonging, aims to ensure that every person feels safe to bring their unique selves to the endeavor at hand. Thus inclusion is in the service of establishing diversity in our institutions and organizations. It follows that speech that makes a person feel reluctant to express their unique self is exclusive. Exclusive speech must therefore be suppressed in achieving the goal of an inclusive space for diversity’s sake. The goal of inclusion may lead to bad faith, wherein a person is afraid to speak his mind for fear of sanction, which can include his own exclusion via marginalization, segregation, or termination. Is there a contradiction?
Yes, there is a contradiction. However, the contradiction is “resolved” via the deployment of a rhetoric that manufactures a theory of power that is alleged to justify suppressing the unique selves of some groups as necessary to allow members of other groups to express theirs. In other words, some speech (and therefore certain ideas and sentiments) are excluded so others may feel included.
Whose views are to be excluded and why? There’s a pattern in the West. If you are white, heterosexual, Christian, and especially male, your beliefs, opinions, and sentiments are justifiably suppressed for the sake of others. The justification comes from a supposed theory of power that imagines a world in which white, cis-gendered, heterosexual people, and some gays and lesbians, and some nonwhites—really any one who voices opinions that are contrary to the tenets of woke progressivism, are oppressors; these are opinions and sentiments that do not affirm the beliefs of those allegedly oppressed by them. Opinions and sentiments are thus assigned to the oppressor category and excluded on that basis.
For example, the desire expressed by a small minority (with a lot of allies) that people believe that males identifying as women are women seeks popular affirmation and is offered as necessary in advancing the cause of an inclusive workplace. One might think that it is fundamental to cognitive liberty for a person to reject the premise that a woman, i.e., an adult human female, a scientific designation, cannot by the other genotype, i.e., an adult human male. However, this view is portrayed as a bigoted one, one that makes individuals who wish others to participate in the illusion they wish to establish feel excluded.
Imagine being told to affirm that there is no God but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, is His messenger. Is this a violation of your religious liberty? Obviously. Will you be accused of being an “Islamophobe” if you refuse to chant the slogan. Maybe. But you will very likely be accused of being a “transphobe” if you refuse to repeat the slogans of gender ideology. The mark of a free society is the ability to question any ideology and refuse to affirm the slogans of any doctrine without consequence. You cannot force citizens to pledge allegiance to a flag in a free republic. Really, situations should not be contrived in which this end is likely to manifest.
Then there is this absurd problem of how others will use one’s arguments, a question Helen Lewis famously put to Jordan Peterson a few years ago in an interview on British GQ in 2018 (which you can view below), is an attempt to persuade and, if the law or other authority is involved, compel self-censorship. But the notion of holding a person accountable for something somebody else says, besides resting on a fallacious premise, is profoundly illiberal. Freedom demands that each person is responsible for his of her actions and not the actions of others. The attempt to stifle speech because some might use the ideas conveyed to rationalize their behavior should be seen for what it is: a naked attempt to prevent the transmission of arguments, opinions, and sentiments that those who would presume to know better wish others not know.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that won the 1960 Pulitzer prize, and that I put on the reading list a judge asked me to assign a racist white juvenile who came through her court, was ranked seventh on American Library Association’s list of the most banned books as recently as 2020. Why? Because it contains the word “nigger.” Public schools in Burbank, California, banned not only To Kill a Mockingbird, but the district also banned Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Theodore Taylor’s The Cay, and Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. All books that contain the word “nigger.”
When First Lady Melania Trump sent a collection of Dr. Seuss books to schools around the nation for “National Read a Book Day,” Liz Phipps Soeiro, a school librarian at Cambridgeport Elementary School in Massachusetts, sent them back, writing in The Horn Book blog that “Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.” I feel confident that Soeiro wasn’t alone among progressive librarians in interpreting Trump’s actions as a provocation. NBC News ran a story on my birthday in 2021 explaining “Why Dr. Seuss got away with anti-Asian racism for so long”: the “reckoning has been delayed because of historically ingrained anti-Asian racism, experts say.” Experts say. Must be true then.
I recently wrote in Some Notes on Free Speech: “Did you know that censoring content for adults is not the same thing as censoring content for children? That’s because the body of science in child development finds that, because of variation in imagination, sense of self, and degree of maturity in the capacity for abstraction and reason, not everything from the adult world is age-appropriate and that the regulation of childhood experience is important for normal development of children into adulthood.” I wrote further in that blog, “In figuring out the world and their place in it, their role in the system of roles and statuses, children often pretend to be things they encounter in their environment. Children may obsess over certain thoughts. Children are easily influenced and manipulated.”
I did not have in mind To Kill a Mockingbird when I wrote those words. There is nothing in that book or in Huckleberry Finn that a child shouldn’t read or see. To be sure, “nigger” is widely regarded as an offensive word, but To Kill a Mockingbird, a powerful critique of racism in America’s past, affords adults an opportunity to teach children about the history of racial bigotry. Huckleberry Finn humanizes a black man when racism was a problem in America. And Dr. Seuss? There is nothing racist in And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. However, there are books aimed at children that do not intend to teach them about tolerance and equality or the joy of rhyming and cultivating a playful imagination, but rather to expose them to the adult world of sexuality. “As a general rule, no books should be censored,” I write in Some Notes on Free Speech. “However, in the case of children and material designed to sexualize them, censorship is appropriate.”
I clarify my words today to push back against the argument that the desire to censors books is mostly a right-wing desire—that whereas progressives want to band a book here and there for its racist imagery, rightly from their woke sensibilities (which are wrong from any rational standpoint), conservatives want to purge the library of materials that sexualize children or urge them to doubt their sexuality. An examination of many of the books to which parents are objecting will find explicit depictions of sex acts that are inappropriate for school age children. Where are such things in Dr. Seuss? Moreover, whereas the books progressive seek to ban are books written in opposition to a pernicious ideas, the materials over which conservatives are objection are written to promote an ideology. One would understand if progressives petitioned to have materials supplied by the neo-Nazi organization Storm Font excluded from public school libraries. But Harper Lee?