When you don’t want people to hear what they’d like to hear, you tell yourself not that they’d be hurt by hearing it – after all, that would be for them to decide! – but rather that there are people who’d be hurt by knowing that other people are hearing what these people don’t want these other people to hear. In the campaign against academic freedom this has come to be known as the Hurt Argument. That is, the harm accrues not to the listener of the speech being censored, but rather to the person knowing that the speech is being listened to.

To clarify, try it this way: It’s not that country ’n’ western hurts my ears. How could it, since I don’t listen to it? Nor do I worry that country ’n’ western will hurt the ears of those who do listen to it. It’s that it hurts my sensibilities knowing that people do listen it, whether it hurts their ears or not.

Now then, it may be argued – in fact it is argued – that country ’n’ western is harmless, whereas Residential School denial is anything but. By the way, by residential school denial here is not meant the denial that there were residential schools. Nor is it the denial that the damage done by those school outweighed any good they might have done. Rather it’s the denial that any good came out of them. So the argument is that citing any benefit, no matter how insignificant, that might have come out of those schools, is hurtful. And, as noted above, not to anyone privy to this denial, but as a consequence of their having been privy to it. That is, that having been privy to this denial, the person privy to this denial will visit some hurt, perhaps on residential school ‘survivors’, or if not them then on the descendants of those survivors.

By parity of reductio, then, the argument would have to be that country ’n’ western music incites in its listeners some behaviour hurtful to others, which is, I think we’d all agree, highly unlikely. So the argument has to be that there’s a much higher likelihood of hurt in the residential school denial case. And what grounds that claim? That residential school survivors, or their descendants, report they feel hurt by knowing there’s residential school denialism out there.

People do sometimes misreport their feelings, when it serves their interests to do so. But I don’t want to hang my case on this. Let it be granted that there are people who are deeply hurt by the mere suggestion that someone might have had one breakfast she’d otherwise have skipped had she not been in one of those schools that morning. But if we were to kowtow to that hurt, I’m wondering what’s left not to be kowtowed to. I can’t think of a single thing. 

So I think we have to put constraints on what will count as actionable hurt. What those constraints might be is above my pay grade. But surely it’s something we should talk about.

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

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6 replies

  1. There is an old legal principle that may be of some relevance. The usual Latin expression is “ius tertii”, which, roughly translated, means the rights of third parties. If you are injured in a car accident by a careless driver who was at fault, you can sue that driver. However I would have no right to sue that driver merely because I might be upset or offended by his carelessness.

    So to translate this into hurt, when the mob comes after someone because that person allegedly said something allegedly hurtful, it is often described as if hurtfulness is some kind of objective characteristic out there at large. The relevant response would be “Speak for yourself, not for others, as they can speak for themselves.” Thus, some sort of collective hurt is essentially an abstraction, albeit currently popular rhetoric.


    • I stand to be corrected, as always, but I’m not sure this is a case of ius tertii, because there need be no suggestion that there’s a SECOND party who’s been injured, as there would be in the case of the car accident. Rather in the case I’m considering it’s the ONLOOKER who’s claiming to be the injured party.


  2. FIRE has a report of the organized protest at Stanford Law School last week that shut down a speech by a U.S. federal judge invited to speak there by the local branch of the Federalist Society. (American media stories about Fed Soc often preface it with “far right” or “ultraconservative”, as if that was its name: “The Far-Right Federalist Society.”)

    Particularly weird is that the Dean for DEI took over the podium — what was she doing there in the first place? — and read 5-odd minutes of prepared remarks condemning the judge for all the hurt he was going to cause the students by speaking. At one point she refers to Stanford’s policy on free speech — which prohibits the disruptions of meetings such as had just been committed — but says “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze” and the university’s policy should be revisited. Video of her (pathetic) remarks in linked in the FIRE’s story at the phrase “taking over the podium” in the third paragraph of its story. A must-watch to see where what Paul worries about is going.

    You really do have to wonder what is going through the mind of a future lawyer who waves a sign in front of a sitting federal judge that says, “Judge Duncan can’t find the clit.”

    You have to read between the lines and around the edges a bit to realize this was really a trans-activist protest, similar to the so-far-also-unpunished one at McGill Law in January. The judge is no darling of the Left for many reasons but he is particularly reviled for his lack of sympathy to trans ideology, committing the unpardonable sin of “misgendering” a litigant in his court room. So Paul’s other post earlier today is germane, too.

    Also in California, the next day Antifa showed up at a demonstration at the State Capitol held to call attention to the plight of detransitioners and started beating up the participants. China and Tiktok are behind all this. It’s not just a mass-formation psychosis. You watch.


  3. This is an insightful piece, Paul. I have two comments.

    First, I think that “residential school denialism” is probably (the arguments are not very clear) denying that the residential schools were genocidal. This argument is the likely one because of the constant attempts to associate “residential school denialism” with “holocaust denial”. Also, you will often get remarks such as “How can you say anything good came from a genocide? It’s similar to referring to arguments that Auschwitz had a swimming pool” (ironically, the Kamloops Indian Residential School did have a swimming pool, and students were given swimming lessons in it).

    Second, there appears to be an underlying motivation that is not stated. This is the totalitarian impulse to prevent people with whom one disagrees from speaking. This argument about “harm” and “hurt” is used to disguise the totalitarian impulse. This is “woke-ism”‘s source of power – using the plight of those perceived to be oppressed to assert autocratic control over institutions. People who normally would not be open to restrictions on democracy will go along with them if they believe that this will bring about “social justice”.


    • I’m wondering, then, whether IRS denialism denies that there was genocide or that there was CULTURAL genocide. The former, it seems to me, would be a very hard case to make. The latter could probably be made but then the question would be about whether every cultural genocides is necessarily a bad thing. Would it really be so awful if we rid the world of Jewish or Scottish cooking?!


      • There is no such thing as cultural genocide. Raphael Lemkin attempted a definition of it in his draft convention that he put to the brand new peacetime United Nations but Stalin and other leaders of the Iron Fist persuasion were uncomfortable about the encouragement to self-determination this might give to troublesome ethnic minorities. (They might have had a point.). It was a non-starter and the convention that passed in 1948 makes no mention of it.

        To call something cultural genocide is just a punch-pulling way of saying genocide without murder, which is like saying murder where nobody died. If teaching English and arithmetic and manual skills is cultural genocide then the term really has no meaning at all. Which is why, of course, the charge got escalated to genocide at the first opportunity.

        That said, Scottish cooking should be extirpated on its own demerits. I think it pretty much has, with no one there knowing how to cook anymore. If it weren’t for curry shops they’d all starve.


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