And who is the enemy? The enemy is the self-appointed, unaccountable cultural commissar who enforces ersatz patriotism through arbitrary terminations of the easiest people to fire, as in this case at Babson College (ht: Robert Platt).
A Babson College adjunct professor was fired after making a joke on his Facebook account about Iran bombing American cultural sites.
“In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomeini should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb,” wrote Asheen Phansey, the Massachusetts college’s director of sustainability.
“Mall of America?… Kardashian residence?” he suggested. …
Babson released a statement announcing Phansey’s termination.
“Babson College conducted a prompt and thorough investigation related to a post shared on a staff member’s personal Facebook page that does not represent the values and culture of the college,” the school said, according to CBS Boston.
“Based on the results of the investigation, the staff member is no longer a Babson College employee,” it said. “As we have previously stated, Babson College condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”
“Babson College condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.” Could we get any stupider? Phansey made a joke. A joke is not a threat, and doesn’t condone violence. There’s nothing hateful about this one, either. I actually find it kind of amusing. My first reaction to the story: too bad he didn’t include Babson’s administrative offices in the bargain. (For the humor-impaired: that, too, is a joke.)
Taking the College’s statement literally, Babson College’s policies seem to prohibit any conversation in which anyone condones the defensive use of violence in a just cause. So presumably, when professors at this moronic school discuss the right to self-defense or the Second Amendment, they can’t “condone the violence” implicit in either thing. People defending their rights are really scary! Nor can one condone victims resisting–much less shooting–those who would rape them: too violent! (No Women’s Self-Defense classes at Babson, I suppose.) World War II was pretty violent–but we couldn’t possibly condone a violent response to the Axis, could we? Better to adopt a posture of quietist neutrality about fascist totalitarianism. Slave revolts? Best not to condone stuff as violent as that. And I hesitate even to mention anti-imperialist guerilla movements. Not sure that anyone in Babson’s administration would know what I was talking about.
Here’s an an item from the College’s Course Catalog:
HUM4600 – SEMINAR IN HUMAN RIGHTS (LIT)
SEMINAR IN HUMAN RIGHTS (LIT)
HUM4600 Seminar in Human Rights 2 credit advanced liberal arts This seminar will explore the concept of human rights from its origins to the present, paying particular attention to the international human rights apparatus that emerged in the wake of WWII.
How are human rights, when violently attacked, defended without violence? And why is it necessary, in a conversation about defending them by violence, not to condone their defense-by-violence? Do we just pretend that rights never are violently attacked, and that violence is never needed to defend them? If Phansey had returned to campus with a gun, intent on staging a shooting, would Babson’s administration not condone the violence of the police officers whom they’d call to take him out? What would they do, instead? Condemn the violence of the police and hope to have them fired for saving peoples’ lives?
Just another illustration of a fact that should be obvious by now: speech regulations of this variety, when taken at face value, destroy the possibility of rational discourse. But they do the same when not taken at face value, because in that case, they produce a widespread chilling effect: since no one knows what they’re saying, no one knows what speech will run afoul of the regulation; out of an abundance of caution, one keeps one’s counsel to the detriment of discourse as such. You’d think that college administrators could figure this out, but too many of them either can’t or don’t care.
I’m pretty sure I once made a joke like Phansey’s in class, saying something to the effect that I wished terrorists could be rehabilitated to do good for humanity, choosing more worthwhile targets for their attacks, like the American Dream Mall–a notorious state-subsidized boondoggle in New Jersey. The difference, I guess, is that when I made the joke, the mall wasn’t yet built, and I was making fun of the mall rather than “America.” But only a complete idiot–or a completely dishonest listener–would interpret either joke, mine or Phansey’s, as an actual, credible threat of violence. There seem to be a lot of such liars and idiots in this country, and an abundance of them in positions of power in education. If only there were some way to make them answer for their transgressions, or some way to hold them accountable. But there isn’t. So we’re left with the age-old maxim: know the enemy, and act accordingly.
So when John McCain sang “Bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann,” which was BOTH a joke and a credible threat, does that mean he’d have been barred from campus? Or is it only the terrifying adjuncts that are a threat, not the powerless Senators?
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If consistency is at issue, McCain would have to be barred from campus, but when is consistency ever an issue for the sorts of administrators who make decisions like this?
In a few weeks, my university is giving its annual MLK prize to Jeh Johnson, the Director of Homeland Security under Obama. Johnson recently defended the Suleimani killing.
None of that is considered controversial (an MLK prize is about the definition of consensus-level non-controversiality). But my defense of non-violent Palestinian resistance to the Israeli military occupation got me called into the VPAA’s office on the grounds that some faculty or staff found it objectionable.
Starting a war is uncontroversial, but resisting a military occupation without violence is objectionable. At a minimum, I think we can say that background beliefs are doing a lot of work here.
50s-style standard, age-old patriotic censorship with a borrowed lefty cancel-culture (inaccurate/vague but adequately woke-sounding) justification. Or maybe just vaguely “right” culture warriors hitting back at the left with the silly, vague cancel-culture weapons at hand? Either way, ugh. We are all going to end up censoring our political adversaries whenever we can get away with it.
Whenever anyone dumps on cancel culture, I’m going to start playing the Greg Johnson card:
My objection to the Babson College thing is an objection to its stupidity, not to cancellation as such. Some things deserve to be canceled, like Greg Johnson and his white nationalist friends. I’m happy to hear that they’re being de-platformed across the Web (and being ostracized on ground) and are being driven to such desperate expedients as using the Iran War as an opportunity to generate anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing.
They’re not interested in averting war. They’re interested in using the war against Jews so as to generate animosity for them, and to ease the way to a white nationalist ethno-state.
In the comments (yes, I read the comments), Greg says:
He seems more obviously to be salivating over the prospect than engaged in informed prognostication. There’s no reason why we should allow such a movement to advance without challenge. That means confronting the people who constitute it, and canceling them (respecting their rights, but still canceling them).
I’m all in favor of forging an alliance with Antifa to keep them shrinking and keep them beleaguered. The problem is not cancel culture per se, but unprincipled opportunism.