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 (4)

In a previous post, I criticized George Sher’s view that merit-based desert is based on (the recognition of) existing conventions of merit. In these cases, the existing rules are already fashioned to reward merit in a justified way, so that justice (in the sense of rewarding desert) consists simply in acknowledging that a given person satisfies the criteria of merit, and acknowledging that in accepting the convention, we accept the further implication that the person deserves what the rules say they deserve. Continue reading

Attention Must Be Paid: The Joys of Third-Party Voting

Conventional wisdom has it that voting is a waste of time, and third-party voting, even worse. Voting is a waste of time because a single vote can’t change the outcome of an election, and third-party voting is worse because third parties have no chance of winning elections in the US.

Well. From The New York Times, Wednesday, November 3rd around 8:40 pm.

results.2021

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A Vote for Curtis Sliwa

Here’s an article from The New York Times on the mixed bag that is Curtis Sliwa.

It’s hard for me to be impartial because we’re friends (distant friends, but still friends). I freely confess to being prone to dismissing his wrongdoing as venial shenanigans and dumb, regrettable shit of the kind everybody does. He just did a lot of it, over and over again, in the public eye. But hey. Nobody’s perfect. Continue reading

Desert and Merit (3)

The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgement of another.

–Hobbes, Leviathan, I.10.16

Sher’s account of desert and merit raises many questions, so let me double back to consider some of these, some addressed in his chapter, some not. I’d originally thought I’d leave the criticisms of Sher’s chapter at a single post, but it turns out that my criticisms have eaten up more space than I’ve thought they would. So this series on “Desert and Merit” is going to be longer than the promised or predicted two installments. Frankly, at this point, I couldn’t tell you how long it will be. As Michelangelo said (or is reported to me by Roderick Long to have said) about the Sistine Chapel, “It will be done when it is done.” I follow Michelangelo in such matters. Continue reading

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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Hart’s Concept of Law (2): Commands and Consent

In a previous post on H.L.A. Hart’s Concept of Law, I had taken issue with the idea, expressed by Hart, that the criminal code consists of “commands” or “imperatives.” I don’t think it does, and regard both Hart’s discussion and much discussion based on it, as fundamentally confused as a result. This was the topic of a Zoom conversation we had last Sunday, and then an email missive I sent out and promised to post. I was originally going to make it a comment on my last post, but it’s too long, so I’ve made it a post of its own. I’ve cleaned it up slightly, but not (I think) in ways that anticipate the criticisms that were made of it in the email discussion. Continue reading

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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