I think if I were Jewish – which, come to think of it, I am – I’d be far more comforted being assured the Holocaust didn’t happen than being constantly reminded that it did. So I’m not sure how so many of my co-religionists get off claiming that Holocaust denial makes them feel uncomfortable. But hey, who am I to tell other people how to feel? 

Still, if making a listener uncomfortable were reason enough to hold one’s tongue, I’m not sure what would remain for a philosophy professor to teach. Plato’s Euthyphro has got to be upsetting to students who thought God was the ultimate authority on right and wrong. Hume’s skepticism about induction, once fully understood, has thrown some science students into a veritable existential crisis. And telling a First Nations student that slavery had been ubiquitous all across the Americas long before its ‘introduction’ in 1619, will no doubt take a good measure of high dudgeon out of her anti-settler rhetoric. So when a student complains about being made uncomfortable, I take that as confirmation that I’m doing my job. 

That she feels unsafe, by contrast – assuming she really does – is another matter. If someone shouted or wrote, “Kill all the Jews!”, I think I might feel a tad insecure. But not if he raised doubts about the historicity of the Holocaust. Do native Americans feel unsafe being told that they brought their black slaves with them on the Trail of Tears? And yet some of my co-religionists claim that any revision to the Spielberg remake of the Holocaust makes them feel unsafe. Worse yet, even more of them claim that any criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism. Likewise any expression of solidarity with the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

I call bullshit. Students and faculty have a right to be safe. They do not have a right to feel safe. If they did, then others would be under a correlative duty to pander to their psychoses. 

University administrators, keen to signal their wokeness to some of their stakeholders, have taken to doing an end-run around academic freedom by appealing to the right of faculty and students to feel comfortable and safe. This is a feint, and I suspect everyone knows it. If it’s been decided that academic freedom is no longer a desideratum worth protecting, let’s be upfront about it. Speaking with forked tongue was unseemly then and it’s unseemly now.


Categories: Editorials, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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3 replies

  1. One possible objection, Julie-Rae Goldstein, trans woman/activist responding to worries about biological males using the women’s bathroom, says “women have a right to BE safe but not to FEEL safe.” (See below the video of the debate between Julie Rae Goldstein and radical feminist Meghan Murphy, hosted by Rational Space, Mt Royal University, Calgary.)


    • Good point, so I think what I have to say about trans women in the women’s bathroom is that it’s not a matter of safety, real or felt, any more than men in the women’s bathroom is a matter of safety, real or felt. It’s a matter of gendered ablutionary privacy. This is a cultural and political decision we COULD reverse were we so inclined. And maybe someday we will. But not today.


  2. I’m going to watch the video when I have two hours, but is a trans woman really qualified to opine on the difference between a woman’s right to feel safe versus being safe? There is an asymmetry here that comes from putting the cart before the horse. “As a woman, I feel that, . . .” is valid only if we all accept that the speaker really is a woman, and not just a guy in a dress who wants admittance to women’s spaces. When we know the statement can be taken as self-advocacy for the speaker to be included as a woman, rather than as empathy for women uttered by someone whom all women will accept really is a woman, it loses force, as do all arguments that beg the question, such as “Believe the victim!” and “End American imperialism!” “You ought to do (or feel) X” is different from “We ought to do (or feel) X.” At least it is if not everyone agrees that We includes You.

    If a man says he is gay, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity as he gains nothing from dissembling and can still suffer discrimination or even violence in some quarters for coming out. During the Vietnam-era draft, it would confer exemption but the statement would be recorded and would follow you through life and cause untold problems. Today it has mostly trivial consequences, but today it doesn’t get you out of the Army, either. But with people who say they are a gender other than what seems obvious, society surely has the obligation to activate its threat detectors to protect the vulnerable. And I think the dangers are greater with XYs presenting as women because of the greater strength, susceptibility to visual erotic stimuli, and propensity to violence conferred by male puberty.

    The reductio ad absurdum was revealed, unwittingly I think, by a trans activist in the U.K. weighing in on the incarceration of trans convicts in women’s prisons, reported in The Economist. HM Prisons was hearing debate about how the rights of trans prisoners could be weighed against the need to protect the female inmates from dissembling predatory men. (There had been a celebrated case of a male convicted of sexual assault who “came out” as female after being incarcerated. He applied successfully to be transferred to a women’s prison where he committed another assault.). The activist attempted to shut down the debate with, “There is nothing to debate. These are all women.”

    So there you have it.
    Trans rights as typically argued are the fallacy of begging the question.
    “There is nothing to debate” is an ad baculum fallacy.
    That does it for me even if science says that gender dysphoria is a real thing (which it probably is) and that trans people are better adjusted in their transitioned gender (which they probably are.)


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