A young person, who’s been rejected all his life by the guys for not being guy enough, finally gets up the courage to present as a woman, only to be rejected by women for still being too guy. She’s walking past my classroom and hears my students debating whether trans women are women. That she’s offended I don’t give a shit. But that she’s hurt I do.

A young mother who knows she doesn’t know how to be a parent because neither did her parents, nor did theirs, is walking past my classroom and hears my students debating whether the Indian Residential School program was or was not a good thing. That she’s offended I don’t give a shit. But that she’s hurt I do.

So I understand why university administrators are under nigh-irresistible pressure to deplatform – at least in venues under their control – the adjudication of certain issues the adjudication of which is hurtful to some students. And yet I say they are duty-bound to resist that pressure. Why?

Is it because I’m worried about the slippery slope? That once we start lowering the ceiling on academic freedom there’s no floor? Yes, but that’s not it. It’s that history has clearly shown us that policy issues left to be decided by the uncritical mob lead to atrocities far worse than insensitivity to one’s gender identity or to her racial narrative. It’s lead to extermination camps for homosexuals and Jews. Can insensitivity lead to extermination camps? Yes, but I’ll take my chances.

But I know plenty of people who won’t. They’re genuinely worried that if we allow that trans women might not be women, or that some good might have come out of these Residential Schools, we’re on the slippery slope back to sexual binary-ism and Wounded Knee. So what’s at issue is not which of two principles trumps the other, freedom of expression or safety. What’s at issue is what possible outcomes we fear the most, multiplied by their relative probabilities. That is, we’re operating under (what decision theorists call) two-dimensional uncertainty. I’m calling it one way. The would-be censors are calling it another. But if I’d been writing this during the Weimar Republic I’d have gotten it wrong. So how confident can I be in my own judgment?

But what’s the alternative? Replace my own with theirs? At the end of the day, where judgments conflict all that remains is (what we used to call) appeal to Heaven. I’d prefer it didn’t come to that. Or if it does that I’m no longer around, be it to celebrate or to grieve. Why has my academic speciality been the Philosophy of War? Because I’ve seen war and I don’t like it.

Categories: 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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1 reply

  1. Paul you should yassify and listen to Red Scare podcast


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