Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

“Dude, holy shit! Those guys are gay! They’re holding hands…they’re actually gay!”
–Me to my cousin Waseem, on our first visit to Greenwich Village, summer 1981

“Dude, was Hendrix gay? How is that even possible? What if a lot of people are gay?”
–My cousin Waseem to me, on mishearing “Purple Haze” later that summer

I’m going to assume from the outset that homosexuality is morally on par with heterosexuality. If so, gay relationships and families are morally on par with straight ones, and those who denigrate either are guilty of a bigotry of sexual orientation. Bigotries of sexual orientation, like those of race or gender, are an injustice whose advocates and supporters deserve, among other things, cancellation.

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Prolegomenon to Any Future Cancellation that Claims the Mantle of Social Justice

As someone who lacks permanent housing, I spend a lot of time in public places. One of them is the public library, which I regard as a second home. So I’m sensitive to how the public library is run. The library I happen to frequent, the Princeton Public Library, is one of the nicest in the state, in one of the most affluent communities in New Jersey. Naturally, it’s heavily patrolled by private security guards. I have no objection to the use of private security guards, or even to the idea of their heavily patrolling the library. What I object to are double standards when it comes to what they do.  Continue reading

Novak Djokovic: Cancelled

I’ve defended both the idea of cancellation in the abstract, as well as specific cancellations, done in specific ways, on this blog. My critics have done an end-run around what I’ve actually said about cancellation, as well as the examples I’ve adduced, focusing on the unintended consequences of cancellation that lead, or supposedly lead, to “lynch mobs,” the “thought police,” and the like.*

I still have a great deal more to say about cancellation as both a philosophical and a historical matter, but in honor of one of the greatest cancelers in American history, Martin Luther King Jr (whose birthday is celebrated tomorrow), I’ve decided to descend to casuistry and inaugurate Cancel Week: a week of posts devoted to nothing but cancellations and anti-cancellations. (Sotto voce confession: I have a lot more than seven examples at my disposal, so this “week” may last awhile. But if revolutionism entails revisionism, revisionism about the meaning of “week” is to be expected.)

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Anti-Fascist Questions for Anti-Woke Warriors

For the past several years, “cancel culture” has been held out, mostly on the political Right, as a terrible thing that must be stopped. Personally, I regard “cancel culture” as an instance of what Ayn Rand called an “anti-concept,”

an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. 

The legitimate concept is a principled commitment to non-legalized moral accountability, which “cancel culture” equates, tendentiously, with mob rule and mass hysteria. For those wedded to the term, a principled commitment to moral accountability, outside of legalized officialdom, just is mob rule and mass hysteria. What else could moral accountability be?
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Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Avatar of Liberalism and Academic Freedom

The new proposed University of Austin is being founded to promote liberalism and academic freedom:

There is a gaping chasm between the promise and the reality of higher education. Yale’s motto is Lux et Veritas, light and truth. Harvard proclaims: Veritas. Young men and women of Stanford are told Die Luft der Freiheit weht: The wind of freedom blows.

These are soaring words. But in these top schools, and in so many others, can we actually claim that the pursuit of truth—once the central purpose of a university—remains the highest virtue? Do we honestly believe that the crucial means to that end—freedom of inquiry and civil discourse—prevail when illiberalism has become a pervasive feature of campus life?

The numbers tell the story as well as any anecdote you’ve read in the headlines or heard within your own circles. Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

They’ve decided to hire Ayaan Hirsi Ali to teach there. Here is Hirsi Ali’s view of academic freedom, as captured in a famous 2007 interview with Reason magazine. I encourage you to read the whole thing. But this bit strikes me as particularly relevant. Continue reading

You Tell Me It’s the Institution

Well, here come the latest saviors of higher education, ready to save it from itself:

A group of scholars and activists are planning to establish a new university dedicated to free speech, alarmed, they said, “by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities.”

The university, to be known as the University of Austin, or UATX for short, will have a soft start next summer with “Forbidden Courses,” a noncredit program that its founders say will offer a “spirited discussion about the most provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship in many universities.”

I have a single one-eyed question for these people: Will they allow BDS to operate freely on campus, or will they restrict it from doing so by taking a public stand against it, or defaming it as anti-Semitic? (See this and this as well.)  

That’s my litmus test; I have no other. So which will it be, Freethinkers?

Desert and Merit (2)

An unplanned installment in my series on “desert and merit,” care of Labcorp Drug Development. I applied to the job mentioned below three months ago, after spending eight months cleaning hospital operating rooms. I leave it to the reader to decide what conclusion to reach about my just deserts, based on my merits (or not) as a cleaner.

Dear Irfan,

Thank you for applying to Labcorp Drug Development as a Cleaner.

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Cancel Culture and the Arc of the Moral Universe

I’ve heard so many whining, incoherent complaints about the evils of “cancel culture” over the past few years, usually from the same old suspects saying the same damn thing over and over. I wouldn’t offer a blanket endorsement of every cancellation or every cancellation-oriented group or movement. But I’m curious (once again) to hear what anti-cancel-culture warriors have to say about Trafficking Hub’s campaign to cancel human trafficking in porn.

Either the pressure exerted on MasterCard (and other vendors) was an instance of “cancel culture,” or it wasn’t. If not, why not?

Suppose it was. Was there anything wrong with it? Were the aims unjust, or the means immoral?

If there’s nothing wrong with the Trafficking Hub campaign, what’s the rationale for the blanket attack on “cancel culture”? Why don’t cases like this prove that if we’re to use the phrase at all, “cancel culture” has both legitimate and illegitimate instances?

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