I’m jealous. I write over 200 blog entries trashing everything from Black Lives Matter to trans-activism to indigenous land claims to Israeli Apartheid to … And what do I get? Nothin’! Frances Widdowson, a tenured professor at Mount Royal University (MRU), defends the use/mention distinction vis a vis the n-word, and what does she get? A petition approaching six thousand signatures demanding her dismissal. This is precisely the kind of infamy I covet. She gets it. I don’t. It’s not fair!

Without the use/mention distinction moral and political discourse would be impossible. The social justice warrior wants to rail against the use of the n-word. Fair enough. But how did any of us learn what the n-word refers to without having been taught what it refers to? And how could we have been taught it refers to the word “nigger” without the teacher mentioning the word “nigger”? So one can’t mention the n-word without having mentioned – or without relying on someone else having mentioned – the word “nigger”. So to have mentioned the word “the n-word” just is to have mentioned the word “nigger”.

The six thousand people who’ve signed this petition are too stupid to pee. Now if only they were students and faculty at the University of Lethbridge (U of L) rather than at MRU, I could earn my fifteen minutes of infamy by mispronouncing the name of a certain country in Africa. “It’s pronounced with a soft g rather than a hard one? Well how was I to know that?”

Okay, that was unfair. The petition was not about Frances defending the use/mention distinction. It was her opining that a) the residential school program was not an attempt at genocide, and b) the program gave indigenous children an opportunity for an education they otherwise wouldn’t have had. 

But hang on. The residential school program was at worst an attempt at cultural genocide. But the phrase ‘cultural genocide’ uses ‘genocide’ as a mere metaphor, whereas “the residential school program was an attempt at genocide” does not use the word ‘genocide’ metaphorically. So Frances was right, was she not?

And by ‘education’, I take it Frances meant the ability to read and write. Would they have acquired that ability had they been left in their communities? Hard to say, but I think it’s not unreasonable to suppose they would not. Whether acquiring that ability was or was not a good thing, or even if it was a good thing, whether it was worth the price these communities paid for it, is a completely separate question, the answer to which is neither included nor embedded in Frances’ claim. So right again!

And so, yet again, the six thousand people who read (or more likely heard) Frances’ remarks as racist are too stupid to pee. Now if only they were students and faculty at the U of L rather than at MRU, I could earn my fifteen minutes of infamy by repeating these two claims. Except, try as I might, I wouldn’t earn fifteen seconds of infamy by doing so, because the five hundred indigenous students at the U of L are not too stupid to pee. They know perfectly well that if their grandparents were victims of genocide they wouldn’t be here whinging about it. And if their grandparents hadn’t been given an opportunity to learn to read and write, neither in all likelihood would they, and if they hadn’t had that opportunity there wouldn’t be five hundred indigenous students at the U of L.

Well, maybe MRU has lower admission standards than the U of L.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

6 replies

  1. My friend France W is under siege from a collective existential hysteria. ‘Genocide’ becomes rather like Harry Potter’s horrible aunt, who becomes so hyper inflated with ideological rage, she floats away.. Discourse is reduced to shouted accusation of perceived heresy, demands for exemplary punishment & a desperate need for iconoclaztic ‘cleansing’.

    There is nothing normal about any of this & at some point this is going to end in the death of dissidents at the hands of enraged mobs, much as what happened to the wretched pagan academic, Hypatia of Alexandria in 415, at the hands of a gang of Cbristians, or 1100 years later in universities in Europe during the Reformation.

    Like tbe Medieval Church before it, the modern Humanist Ascendancy is facing a profound crisis of authority & legitimacy…..& is behaving as you would expect of what has become a dogma encrusted neo clerical orthodoxy defending its writ.

    I do not think she is safe.


    • I don’t know about Australia, but universities in Canada have protocols for dismissal, and a petition signed by God Himself is not among them. She could just ignore them, but actually Frances is having some fun with her detractors, though predictably enough they’re too thick to get the jokes. In short, I wouldn’t worry about her. If anything she should worry about me and my jealousy.


  2. The thing that I am most worried about is that I am not thought of as being charming!


    • I don’t know why Frances is so disappointed. Didn’t I make clear that I thought she was CHARMINGLY charmless? Would she have rather been judged charmlessly charming? It’s all in the placement of the modifiers. I stand by my assessment, and I insist she thank me publicly for the compliment! Anything less would be charmlessly churlish.


  3. Because Prof. Widdowson has commented here, I wanted to wait until the two books of hers I had purchased had arrived. Which they have. Well done, Prof. Widdowson.

    On genocide, Raphael Lemkin has the last word because he, literally single-handedly in the early post-War years, strove to see the UN Convention on Genocide — his idea — adopted by the General Assembly and ratified by the governments of the member states. His goal was to put leaders of national governments on notice *for the future* that they could not shield themselves from foreign prosecution by invoking the immunity of Westphalian sovereignty, as Germany was able to do until it invaded Poland. (The Nuremberg Tribunals were silent about Hitler’s actions against people inside Germany’s borders.)

    Lemkin argued specifically that, like all good law, it would be unjust to go back into history to criminalize conduct retrospectively, even just as a pretext to extract apologies or reparations for past misdeeds. Indeed, the United States ratified the Convention only after he persuaded their government that actions taken in “winning” the West could never be construed as genocide under it. The Soviet Union was similarly nervous about Stalin’s then-recent atrocities. And while the suffering of the Armenians at the hands of Turkey had inspired Lemkin to first think about what he came to call genocide while a law student in pre-War Berlin, he saw no value in arguments going on to this day about whether or not it was “really” genocide. That would be for the International Court to determine about future cases, as occurred with Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. (Now I suppose if someone pleads guilty to an on-going genocide, as the Prime Minister did so glibly and almost cheerfully on our behalf after the M & M report, he could be arrested (by whom?) and taken to The Hague to face justice.)

    The UN Convention makes no mention of cultural genocide. Lemkin believed there was such a thing, though, and drafts of his Convention included definitions of conduct to be prohibited. Governments, wisely, were uncomfortable with the breadth of the concept and so what they ratified as being willing to hold themselves to contains no prohibition of suppressing a troublesome culture by means falling short of mass murder or maltreatment intended to winnow their numbers. So “cultural genocide “ is merely a metaphor, a figure of speech no more to be taken literally than, “The moon was a ghostly galleon, toss’d upon cloudy seas.” (Noyes). (Cultural genocide does turn up, undefined, in UNDRIP, the less said about which the better. Shout-out to Andrew Roman for his perceptive analysis.)

    As Prof. Widdowson argues so persuasively, the supplanting of a culture that can’t be productive and sustainable in the modern economy with one that can, cannot be genocide.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: