Vile, Stupid, and Tenured

I rarely praise university administrators, but then, I rarely have the opportunity to do so. For once, an opportunity presents itself:

The provost did not mince her words about the opinions of a professor on her campus. His views were racist, sexist and homophobic, she wrote in a statement this week. They were “vile and stupid,” she said, and “more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.”

But the provost, Lauren Robel of Indiana University Bloomington, was equally clear on another point: The First Amendment prohibited the university from firing the professor, Eric Rasmusen, for expressing those views. “That is not a close call,” wrote Professor Robel, who also teaches at the law school.

The unusually candid statement quickly drew attention from students, academics and lawyers, many of whom praised the provost for publicly excoriating the professor’s opinions while respecting one of the nation’s basic freedoms.

For once, a provost who’s struck the right balance between bureaucratic amoralism and opportunistic, pseudo-moralistic pandering. She’s absolutely right: firing Rasmusen is not a close call; neither is condemning him. The only close call is whether he should have been hired in the first place, but that ship has sailed. Continue reading

A Moral Stop Sign for Andrew Pollack

There comes a point at which one has to draw a line, even with the victim of a tragic and heinous crime, and say (my words, not the judge’s):

Your daughter is dead. That’s horrible and unfair, but the time has come for you to stop trying to ruin other peoples’ lives over it. Leave them alone, and find a way to come to terms with your tragedy without harming innocent bystanders in the process. Tragedy and premature death didn’t begin with you, won’t end with you, and don’t justify your desire to wreak vengeance on people who don’t deserve it. At a certain point, even the most sympathetic victim starts to lose the world’s sympathy. You’re there.

Perhaps not a message calculated to win any popularity contests. But no less necessary for that.

Brown-Faced Man

As someone who unapologetically wears brownface every day, I find the hysterical front-page revelation of Justin Trudeau’s 2001 experiment with brownface pretty underwhelming. I also find the reaction to it on the part of various brown-faced Canadian politicians to be a transparent instance (so to speak) of grandstanding. If ever there was a case where policy ought to trump a supposed matter of character in politics, this is it–not so much because policy always trumps character in political matters, but because the supposed matter of character involved here is so morally inconsequential that just about anything trumps it. Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and the Ambiguities of “Policy” (Part 4 of 5)

Apologies for the delay in posting the fourth part of my five-part series on character-based voting. Here are parts one, two, and three, which are probably necessary as background to part four.  Earlier in the series, I make reference to what I call a “Murad-type meeting,” referring to Donald Trump’s behavior at a recent meeting with Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad.

The first part introduced the topic of character’s ambiguous relation to “policy.” The second part focuses on character’s instrumental relation to policy. The third part considers the possibility that expressions of character might be constitutive of “governance.” This part considers the possibility that expressions of character might have normative significance out of relation to policy or governance, at least on conventional construals of those terms. Continue reading

The Unwarranted Demonization of Scot Peterson (4)

Readers of Policy of Truth know that I’ve been doing a series of posts on what I call “The Unwarranted Demonization of Scot Peterson.” Scot Peterson was the School Resource Office, or armed law enforcement officer, assigned to guard Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, scene of what’s now known as the Parkland shooting of February 2018. Peterson is often described in press accounts as having “hid” or “done nothing” for the duration of the shooting, and has widely been ridiculed as a “coward” as a result. He was arrested in early June of this year, briefly held in jail, and charged with several counts of child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury. Here’s a link to the arrest warrant detailing the charges against him (41 page PDF). Continue reading

1 Rule for Life

They started down the shallow trench behind the crest of the hill and in the dark Andre smelt the foulness the defenders of the hill crest had made all through the bracken on that slope. He did not like these people who were like dangerous children; dirty, foul, undisciplined, kind, loving, silly and ignorant but always dangerous because they were armed. He, Andres, was without politics except that he was for the Republic. He had heard these people talk many times and he thought what they said was often beautiful and fine to hear but he did not like them. It is not liberty not to bury the mess one makes, he thought. No animal has more liberty than the cat; but it buries the mess it makes. The cat is the best anarchist. Until they learn from the cat I cannot respect them.

–Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, ch. 36 (decades before Jordan Peterson)

The Unwarranted Demonization of Scot Peterson (3): A Series

I’ve previously written two posts on the Scot Peterson case under the title of “The Premature Demonization of Scot Peterson.” Here’s the first post, and here’s the second. Here’s background on the criminal case.

Having revisited and followed the case for the last few weeks, and having had a couple of conversations both with Peterson and with one of his colleagues, I’ve decided to turn this into an ongoing series. But there’s no need at this point for the overly cautious title I initially used. The demonization of Scot Peterson isn’t just “premature”; it’s an act of collective irresponsibility verging on hysteria. I so far have not been convinced that Peterson deserves to be called either a “failure” or a “coward,” much less a criminal. It seems more apt to describe him as the unfortunate victim of a society addicted to loose talk and unrestrained vindictiveness. As I see it, even commentators properly skeptical of the criminal charges against Peterson have bought too easily into the claim that he “failed” to stop the shooter out of “cowardice” (and have irresponsibly repeated those claims). Continue reading

R. Kelly and Mob Justice

I was on spring break last week, so I made the mistake of sitting down and watching some TV for the first time since Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just my ineptitude with a remote, but aside from Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, the only topic that seemed up for discussion was R. Kelly and the charges made against him. (I also made the mistake of watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” quixotically expecting a Spike Lee movie to rise above the level of a comic book, but alas, wrong again. More on that fiasco some other time.)

Here’s an obvious point about guilt and innocence when it comes to criminal charges: if you’re going to try someone for a criminal allegation in the court of public opinion–a very big and very dubious if–you have to distinguish clearly between four mutually exclusive things:

  • the case against him,
  • the case in his defense,
  • the set of known facts that don’t easily fit either of the first two categories, and
  • the unknowns.

The least you can do is to try to do justice to the facts in all four categories, rather than fixating on, say, the case against him to the exclusion of everything else. There are complications here about how broadly or narrowly to understand each category, but even if we set those aside, there’s more than enough complexity here to keep a competent journalist busy for awhile. Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and Leadership Effects (1 of 3)

Here’s yet another post from my project on character-based voting (CBV). It’s the first of three posts on CBV and leadership effects, and one of many on CBV.

As I’ve said in previous posts, “character-based voting” is voting for or against a political candidate on the basis of what the voter takes to be his traits of character. That contrasts with “policy-based voting,” which is voting for a candidate based on the expected consequences of the policies the voter expects the candidate to pass.

Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and the Policy of Truth

For the past six months or so, I’ve been working on a project on what I call “character-based voting” (CBV), construed as voting for a political candidate based on her traits of character, as contrasted with “policy-based voting” (PBV) which is voting for a political candidate based on the expected consequences of the candidate’s expected policies.

It’s a rough and in some contexts problematic distinction, but clear enough to work with. There’s a clear enough distinction to be drawn between voting for a candidate because you regard her as more honest than her rival, and voting for a candidate because you expect her to enact policies X1…Xn, which have expected consequences C1…Cn, which you regard as net favorable, but which you don’t expect her rival to enact. My modest claim is that CBV can in principle be justified, and has its place. Continue reading