Definitive of the Millian liberalism to which most of us purport to subscribe is the view that a) all is permitted save what is prohibited, and that b) a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition of some behavior being justifiably prohibited is that it be demonstrably harmful to others.

Not unlike any one of the Ten Commandments, the devil is in the details, and details are what the Decalogue assiduously avoids.

“Thou shalt not kill!”

Anything? Ever?

“Well no. Obviously there has to be exceptions.”

Which are …?

“Well, that’s something you’re going to have to work out amongst yourselves.”

So we shouldn’t kill who and when we’ve decided amongst ourselves that we shouldn’t kill. Is that the divine advice for which Moses spent forty days and forty nights without the conform of his tent?!

God has said some pretty vacuous things, and so, apparently, has Mill. According to the Harm Principle, what counts as harm? Typically but not necessarily tissue damage, But what about symbolic harms, like the subordination of women through their representation in pornography? What about offense, like the words nigger and kike?

And what counts as demonstrability? Is it sufficient, as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Butler, that notwithstanding the absence of a preponderance of evidence, the state need only have a reasonable apprehension of harm? And is an apprehension reasonable just in case it’s not unreasonable? If so, what is there that couldn’t be judged not unreasonable? Given that the words nigger and kike are known to be highly provocative, surely it’s not unreasonable to likewise worry that a human sneeze might be misunderstood as the ultimate insult when interpreted by the highly sensitive auditory apparatus of our brothers and sisters on Mars.

All right, let’s take a look at a more real world case in point. Let it be supposed, however fatuous or spurious the arguments for this may be, that

1) using a sleeping infant as a visual masturbatory aid is some kind of harm to that infant.

And let us further suppose, however unsupported this might be by any data, that

2) exposure to child pornography increases the likelihood that one will engage in that purportedly harmful behavior.

And, just to be jurisprudentially rigorous, let us also suppose that

3) the criminalization of such exposure is likely to reduce the incidence of such exposure, and that

4) any right one might have to such exposure is outweighed by the harm cited in (1) above.


It follows from (1) through (4) that the criminalization of exposure to child pornography satisfies Mill’s Harm Principle.

But now consider this. As is well known, there are fetishes, some of which we share, some we don’t share but understand, and some we couldn’t share because we don’t even understand them. As it happens I’m not a pedophile, but I understand it. I’m also not into ladies’ shoes and, to be honest, I don’t understand those who are. As it happens I’m an out-of-the-closet vanilla heterosexual. But I don’t condemn people who are sexually aroused by young children or ladies’ shoes, any more than I condemn people who are aroused by adults of the same sex or, like myself, adults of the opposite sex.

Not being a sexologist I neither know nor care whether our sexual orientation is something we’re born with or is socially constructed. For that matter – and again I have to be honest – of all the things I care least about, your sexual orientation, whatever it may be, is pretty much right at the top of the list. Unlike some people, I just don’t find sexual orientation all that interesting.

But what I do find interesting, and what I do care about, is jurisprudential reasoning, and more particularly what jurisprudential reasoning might be involved in parsing the following case:

Suppose that in the same way that some people are into ladies’ shoes, I’m into infants’ clothing. Pictures of naked infants leave me absolutely cold. Pictures of their clothing, with or without them in it … well, there are just no words to describe my excitement! Am I a pedophile? Absolutely not. In fact I don’t even understand it.

Now suppose I’m arrested for exposing myself to child pornography. Notwithstanding I don’t understand pedophilia, I acknowledge that it’s not unreasonable for a judge or a member of a jury to suppose that my fetish for infant clothing is just a variation on what must be my pedophilia. My question is: ought that association be regarded as defeasible in a court of law? And if it is, on whom falls the burden of proof? That is, is it an element of the charge – if so the onus would fall on the Crown – that my viewing of the clothing is a surrogate for the viewing of the infant? Of is the court entitled to assume that inference, and it falls on me to show that in my case that inference is unwarranted?

Have empirical tests been devised to reliably determine what’s arousing me? Apparently there have. Apparently sexual arousal is detectable. So why might the courts be disinclined to allow the results of these tests being placed into evidence? If my response is to the clothing but not the infant, then the harm argument cited above, be it sound or not, doesn’t come into play.

My suspicion is that the Crown would not want to assume the burden of establishing the connection between the fetish and pedophilia, either as a rule of thumb or in my particular case. One reason for this is that the Crown might not want to incur the cost of these tests. And few defendants have the resources to pay for these tests themselves. But in any case I don’t think the court would be inclined to allow the accused to show the disconnect even if on his own dime. And I suspect the reason for this has nothing to do with pedophilia. I suspect it has everything to do with not wanting to allow the precedent of allowing an empirical challenge to inferences upon which many of our criminal offenses hang.

Such as? Well, for one, the inference from either a) anti-Zionism or b) 9/11 Trutherism, or c) Holocuast-denial to d) anti-Semitism, then from d) anti-Semitism to e) so-called hate speech, and then from e) so-called hate speech to f) incitement.

What’s especially telling about these inferences is that a) anti-Zionism and b) 9/11 Trutherism and f) incitement are reasonably well defined. And e) hate speech could be defined as what it would not be unreasonable to worry could lead to f) incitement. But notwithstanding I’m a Jew, I haven’t the faintest idea what would count as either c) Holocaust-denial or d) anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the inference from a) anti-Zionism or b) 9/11 Trutherism or c) Holocaust-denial to f) incitement is at least as incorrigible as the inference from my infant clothing fetish to my pedophilia.

Here’s a third example. As you’re reading this you’ve inferred that I think the incorrigibility of these inferences is unjust. But did I say anything of the sort? No I did not. And yet critique is almost invariably interpreted as opposition.

Well yes, I am arguing against that inference.

My own positive view, for what little it’s worth, is that these unsound incorrigible inferences are not intended to be subject to such analysis, any more than the concepts of race or God or any number of concepts are intended to be subject to analysis. They’re moves in what Wittgenstein called language games, which are in turn constituents of what he (didn’t but could have) called political discourses, which in turn are constituents of what he called our forms of life.

Some people think they can change a form of life not to their liking by ‘correcting’ some erstwhile incorrigible inference. As a prime example of this, think of the current challenge to the binary of male and female. I wish these social justice warriors God’s speed. But I think there’s a much more direct way by which to protect our right to our fetishes, the practice of historical revision, or whatever.

Instead of challenging one of these inferences, just don’t give it uptake.

Since you really don’t understand the inference you don’t have to pretend you don’t. You need only pretend you don’t understand that others understand it. If this be doubted, think of how this works when you’re on vacation abroad,. You’ve rented a car, you’ve inadvertently cut someone off in traffic, and he’s berating you as he pulls up beside you at the next red light. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand Italian!” Watch his high dudgeon deflate like a spent erection.

Try it. It works every time. Nothing debilitates like the look of incomprehension.

But that’s not the only payoff. If I don’t understand your reasoning, it’s going to occur to you to wonder why. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually it’s going to dawn on you that maybe, just maybe, it’s because your reasoning is incomprehensible. So you’ll give it a check, only to discover that it really doesn’t make any sense. At which point you have only two options. Either you drop the inference and behave accordingly, or you deny that your judgments need to make sense, at least in the domain in question. Individuals can do that. Courts of law can’t. Or if they do, they cease to be what they were and become something else.

Courts of law deserve our respect. The something else deserves a bullet.




Why is it that some truths have to be learned over and over and over again? I suppose it’s because they’re just too hard to believe. I learned about fifteen years ago that many of the people I work with don’t share what I thought were the values we all share, because, well, surely we must! It turns out not that they don’t share my values. It’s that I don’t share theirs.

The difference between these seemingly equivalent propositions is who’s the odd man out. Turns out I am. So the question is not why they don’t share my values. It’s why I don’t share theirs. And the answer is I was just wrong about the values of the institution I was joining.

So about fifteen years ago – borrowing from Pierre Elliott Trudeau – I took what I call my “walk in the snow”. Like Trudeau, I could have resigned and found something else to do with the rest of my life. But why? Why not just do the job I thought I’d signed up for, and instead of trying to browbeat others into joining me, just leave them to their own devices? Which, to be fair, they’ve by and large left me to mine. It’s a resolution that’s not always easy to stick to. My own idiosyncratic values keep getting in the way. But it’s like any other resolution. Falling short is no excuse to stop trying.

Still, these occasional lapses are God-given opportunities, if only I’d take them, to rethink who needs to do the rethinking. I thought my colleagues didn’t understand there are solutions to collective action problems. As it turns out I didn’t understand that they don’t think these are actions that need to be taken in the first place.

Examples are legion, but the most recent has been the attack on academic freedom exemplified by the Tony Hall case. Tony is – I guess I should now say was – a colleague down the hall and around two corners. Tony’s an affable enough fellow, but not, perhaps, the sharpest pencil in the box. Tony is convinced 9/11 was an Israeli false flag operation.

Well, say I, that would be grounds to believe we Jews really are the most clever people on the planet. As if the official story wasn’t caper enough!

But apparently I’m the odd man out here. Most people, including Tony, view this charge as a criticism of the State of Israel. And apparently any criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism, and so, by associative implicature, 9/11 Trutherism is Holocaust-denial.

Once again, odd man out. I just don’t get these connections.

In any event, the Zionist lobby seized upon this ‘indiscretion’ – and who could blame them? – to make Tony the standard bearer for everything up with which no publicly funded university should put, and demanded his immediate dismissal. The Administration – acting, as I say, on values I alone don’t share – acceded to this demand. The invertebrate faculty association came to Tony’s token defense, a war of attrition dragged on for almost two years, and finally, having taken its intended toll, Tony retired.

And all this time, like a fool, I was trying to come to Tony’s defense. Why? Because I thought at least he shared with me the value of academic freedom. Turns out that wasn’t it at all. Turns out for him it was his crusade against the neocons he’s convinced are ruling the world, not his right to crusade against them.

So now I just feel foolish. I understand that people get tired, especially people Tony’s and my age. That’s one of the reasons I’d long since resolved never to enter a fight I don’t have the stamina to win. And I’ve never wavered from that resolution. But the lesson I keep having to learn, over and over and over again, is never enter a fight for or along side an ally who hasn’t adopted a similar resolution.

Don Quixote never did figure out he was tilting at windmills. I suppose that was his blessing.


Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued, quite convincingly, that a university can dedicate itself to the search for truth, or to the promotion of social justice, but not both.

Truth and justice are seldom about the same thing. But when they are, what’s true may not be just, and what’s just may not be true. Suppose it was true that the rest of us would be much better off if we could just rid ourselves of those damn _____, you fill in the blank. But I take it we’re all of a mind that genocide is just not on.

It’s also widely believed, at least in Turkey, that there’s no injustice in criminalizing the historicizing of the Armenian genocide, notwithstanding most Turks know full well what happened. Jesus taught that ‘the truth will set you free.” But often enough it’ll just bury you!

But there’s a more straightforward philosophical argument that can be appended to Haidt’s case, and it’s this:

There’s a fact-of-the-matter as to whether nineteen (mostly) Saudi young men did or did not hijack and pilot those planes on September 11, 2001. And that fact is, in theory at least, empirically discoverable. But there’s no such fact-of-the-matter as to whether a woman does or does not have the right to control her own reproductivity. That’s a political decision.

So it’s not that a truth-seeking university couldn’t or shouldn’t host a lively debate between 9/11 Truthers and the official story about what happened that morning. That’s what historians do. Nor is it that a justice-seeking university couldn’t or shouldn’t host a lively debate about whether the Start-by-Believing and #MeToo campaigns will or will not accrue to the empowerment of women. That’s what seekers after justice try to work out. But the two debates involve very different kinds of questions.

The historian – the good ones at least – will be looking at the evidence for and against some historical hypothesis, and let the chips fall where they may. The social justice seeker will be looking at the impact of some policy or program on those on whose behalf she’s looking. In short, he has his work, she hers. God is in His heaven, and all’s well with the world. Except that …

Except that the social justice seeker will also be looking at the impact on her political agenda of the historian’s or scientist’s pronouncements on these facts-of-the-matter. And therein lies the problem. At a social justice university, a pronouncement that undermines some political agenda will be rightly disallowed. For that matter, even a question the asking of which undermines that political agenda will be rightly disallowed. Thus, for example, at a social justice university questioning the Holocaust is Holocaust-denial, Holocaust-denial is anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism is grounds for immediate dismissal.

Here’s a less dramatic case in point. Shortly after it opened, the Women’s Centre at my university launched an awareness campaign about violence against women, in the service of which it distributed a poster pointing out that 60% of the victims of domestic violence are women and children. But hang on. Doesn’t that mean that fully 40% of the victims of domestic violence are adult men? And since more than 20% of victims of this violence must surely be the children in the home, that means that the targets of domestic violence are more apt to be men than women. So whoever thought these posters would raise awareness of violence against women was either too stupid to draw this simple inference, or else she hoped others would be too stupid to draw it.

But now suppose that this stupidity had been brought to her attention. Would she have gone ahead with the posters and let the chips fall where they may? Certainly not. She would have suppressed the information, and been damn quick about it! That’s just the nature of advocacy. It’s not about what’s true. It’s about what works. And that’s just as it should be.

What she could have done, I suppose, is point out that because of the physical and political asymmetry between men and women, the subordinating effect of a man beating a women is orders of magnitude greater than that of a woman slapping a man. But though obviously true, and even more obviously relevant, that would be far too subtle for an eye-catching poster. So even though her point is a sound one, she either has to make it stupidly or not make it at all.

Haidt doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with a university dedicating itself to social justice, just as long as it’s upfront about it. He just thinks that if it is upfront, it won’t have very many takers. This is because employers aren’t usually looking for people who know what’s politically correct. They’re looking for people who have a better than random chance of knowing what’s true.

People trained at social justice universities like Yale get jobs at other social justice universities. People trained at the truth-seeking universities like the University of Chicago get jobs at other truth-seeking universities. Neither MSNBC nor Fox News recruits out of the University of Chicago. MSNBC recruits out of Yale, and it shows. Fox News recruits out of Ronald Reagan Elementary, and it shows.

The social network is currently engaged in what appears to be a winner-take-all culture war. It’s over bathrooms and pronouns, immigration and health care, gun control and abortion counseling … On the one side are the Alt-Right, who are, for now at least, united behind their new Fuhrer. On the other are the LGBTQQIP2SAAISA+, who are currently fighting amongst themselves about the politically correct ordering of these letters. Taking cover – because what else can they do? – are the Jonathan Haidts and Steven Pinkers, who can only wish a pox on both their houses.

Left and right, liberal and conservative, and cross-overs that boggle the mind of any non-aligned observer … Has it always been thus? I’m not old enough to say with any confidence. But I do remember the Sixties. We liberals won that one. That was two-steps-forward. So even if the Alt-Right takes us back a step, we’re still one ahead. So yes, God is in His heaven, and all’s well with the world. Except that …

Except that the university at which I work is currently poised between Haidt’s two models. Since it’s relatively small, its students predominantly rural, and not yet very racially diverse, the pressure for political correctness is much weaker than it is in larger universities in more cosmopolitan centers. But the fields surrounding it don’t entirely set it apart from the world beyond those fields. So a decision has to be made. And it has to be made clear.

But because, like at most universities, our Administration is made up of ex-academics turned bean-counters, and because members of faculty who should know better don’t, what we’re getting, and what our students are getting, is a hodgepodge of mixed signals. It would appear – and who can blame them? – that all the stakeholders want to have it both ways, notwithstanding Haidt’s admonition that they can’t. Neither mandate is being well served. As a result it’s just not a very good university.

I’m in the twilight of my career, and I’m not a believer in leaving a legacy. Que sera sera. But the future is ours to see.



Three score and eight years ago I landed on this planet, but I think it might have been from another one. I say this because I understand so little of why humans think as they do, and they seem to understand even less of why I think as I do. So that my cognitive apparatus wasn’t naturally selected for for living on this planet seems a not unreasonable hypothesis.

Where I think the stork was meant to drop me was a place as “red in tooth and claw” as this one, both between and within species, but where people with common cause knew it and acted accordingly. Here people seem to know when they have common cause, but they seem incapable of joint action even when such action is risk-free and guaranteed to win them the day.

It could be that what they’re afraid of is not failure but success. We don’t need to storm the Bastille and behead the tyrant. A critical mass of us could bring down a malfeasant government, be it of a nation or a village or a university, by simply withdrawing uptake to its authority. But if we do we’re worried that others might deploy the same surefire tactic against us. And so there’s an unwritten understanding that we won’t do this to each other.

If this is right, and I suspect it is, it’s a fascinating – I won’t say departure, so I’ll just say – twist in the logic of social evolution. It places stability ahead of virtually every other value, including prosperity, justice, even survival. Think of the hundreds of thousands who, even when the war was clearly lost, walked upright into volley after volley of Soviet artillery because the Fuhrer told them to. Think of our own policemen who, knowing full well that the law was unconscionable, nevertheless felt it their duty to arrest some acne-ed kid for enjoying a spliff in the park.

“Ours is not to reason why …” And yet I would have thought it is.

On the planet where I think I come from, we don’t march on the capitol or city hall or the Dean’s office demanding that he step down. We just all act as if he has. What can he do? Yes, he can appeal to due process. But to suppose due process is going to shield him from our indifference presupposes we’re not indifferent to what process is due. But we are, at least when it cease to do what it’s there for. It’s almost as if Germany had won the war

Another thing I don’t understand is why people think every question is a rhetorical one. I made the mistake of wondering aloud how 9/11 could’ve been an inside job with nary a one of the hundreds who’d have had to have been involved spilling the beans, and for my troubles I was dubbed a paid defender of the official story. Mind you, the same 9/11-Truther who’d reasoned this way about me got his own comeuppance recently when he asked a question about the Shoah and found himself written up in the newspapers as a Holocaust denier. So I suppose what goes around comes around.

On the planet where I think I come from, if the sentence is an interrogative we’re not asserting anything, we’re asking a question. By contrast, when we want to assert something we make it a declarative. I figured out fairly early on in my sojourn here how rhetorical questions function in human speech. But what I can’t figure out is how humans go about asking a question to which they don’t pretend to already have the answer. Is it possible that so many questions remain unanswered on this planet because no way has been found to ask them?

If this is right – and I think it might be – then this would explain why people can’t seem to get their shit together about global warming, or vaccination safety, or any of a hundred other challenges to the survival of the species. Solutions require answers to questions. But if no question can be asked without coming across as already having the answer, then no new answers can be forthcoming. Wouldn’t it be a cosmic embarrassment if the human race rendered itself extinct because of a grammatical trope? Grist indeed for Douglas Adams, though sadly he’s no longer with us.

I could go on, so I will.

There’s a South Park episode in which there’s a plane crash, and the deceased are being processed through the Pearly Gates. One of them asks which religion got it right. The presiding official checks his clipboard and, looking very surprised himself, announces, “The Mormons. Now who would have guessed that?!”

Well, as a matter of fact the Mormons did get it right. But after visiting the New World, Jesus went on to the one I now remember I do come from. He came, we chatted, and, not unlike what He did when He was here, on His way out to His next appointment He graced us with the set of rules it was His Father’s wish that we henceforth live by.

It’s not that we didn’t read them. In fact we agreed with the ones that were analytic. For example, “Thou shalt not kill,” He told us.

Ever? we asked.

“Well no, not when you should.”

And when is that?

“Well, that’s something you’re going to have to work out among yourselves.”

So you’re telling us we shouldn’t kill when we think we shouldn’t kill. Is that it? Yeah, I guess we could manage that.

But some of the more substantive ones we thought were patently ridiculous. I shouldn’t lie with a man as with a women? But what if I want to?

“No, that’s gross.”

Have you looked at some of the women some of us sleep with?

So to make a long story short, we asked Jesus to thank his Dad for His kind counsel, and carried on as we had before.

But when I got here, people seemed to think that this kind counsel was somehow incumbent upon us, as if someone Who’d never shared an incarnate life with other incarnate creatures knew something we didn’t know, notwithstanding we’ve had thousands of years of experience to inform our judgments.

I just don’t get it. I’m not sure that even God gets it. I think why any of us would think we need to comport ourselves to His druthers is as much a mystery to Him as it was to my people back where I now remember I came from. But people here, thinking the answer is too self-evident to articulate, have forgotten what it is.

This happens a lot among the Earthlings. It’s like having the name of that actor on the tip of your tongue, but …

That you can google. But I’ve tried googling why I should want God to make me an instrument of His will, and all I get is a do-you-mean “Make me an instrument of Thy will,” followed by millions of sites offering to pray with me, and millions more offering to pray for me. I especially appreciate the latter. It is a much-needed service. Many of us are too busy to pray for ourselves. But for all that, not one of these sites seems to understand my question, let alone tries to answer it.

So there you have it. Just three of what are hundreds of disconnects between me and those of you who’ve been kind enough to host me lo these last three score years and eight.

I knew you’d ask, and so yes, I have called home, and I’ve been assured I will be picked up in the fullness of time. In the fullness of time, they said. In the fullness of time. What the hell does in the fullness of time mean?!


Monika Schaefer, a Jasper, Alberta woman, and daughter of post-war German immigrants, is currently in a German prison awaiting trial for Holocaust denial, a criminal offense in that and several other European countries, though not in Canada. The charge was triggered by a seven-minute video entitled “Sorry Mom, I was wrong about the Holocaust.” (I recommend you google it.)

In it Ms. Schaefer recounts that for years she excoriated her mother, and her mother’s entire generation of Germans. “You must have known. Why,” she asked, “didn’t you do something to stop these terrible things from happening?”

Her mother didn’t deny these things happened, but, she insisted, “We didn’t know. We just didn’t know.”

“Well,” says Monika, “now we know why she didn’t know. It’s because these things did not happen.”

I‘m not interested, at least not here, in the historicity of the Holocaust, nor in the dubious advisability of laws against historical revisionism. Here I’m only interested in the mother’s defense, and so the appropriateness of the daughter’s apology.

I’m prepared to concede that the average German citizen was not privy to the drafting of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, but only if Monika will concede that a goodly number of German citizens were delighted with their passage. I’ll concede that delight in the misfortunes of others is not a crime, but only if she’ll concede that authorship of those misfortunes might be. And if she’ll concede that complicity in a crime, if it is a crime, can itself be a crime.

In the absence of these concessions we’re not in a position to talk further. So assuming we can talk, let’s.

Note that I’m not asking her to concede that the Holocaust was not a Zionist myth. That’s not what this is about. I’m only asking her to concede that if the Steven Spielberg version of the events of 1939 to 1945 is more or less accurate, those events would have been a crime. And that if those events were a crime, then complicity with them would have been, perhaps a lesser crime, but a crime nonetheless.

Nor am I asking her to concede that if the Holocaust was a crime, it was the kind of crime to which anything that could count as the rule of law could respond. That is, I’m prepared to concede, if she likes, that the Eichmann trial was a violation of natural justice on every count one could imagine, including 1) the retroactivity of the offense for which Eichmann was tried, 2) the jurisdictional incompetence of the Israeli court that presumed to try him, and 3) the manner in which he was removed from Argentina and brought to Israel to stand trial in the first place. None of this is what this is about. I’m only asking Monika to concede that if it was the kind of crime to which something that could count as the rule of law could respond, then complicity with that crime could itself be a crime, even if only a lesser one.

Can we continue to talk?

On the assumption that we can, I’ll concede that the average German citizen did not know that those erstwhile neighbors – those who disappeared from their homes during the night, never to be heard from again – had been shipped in cattle cars to extermination camps and gassed. That would have been a remarkable thing not to have come up at the breakfast table. In exchange I trust that she’ll concede that this never-being-heard-from-again would have been remarkable. So the average German citizen can claim she didn’t know about the exterminations, but she can’t claim she didn’t know about the internment camps. She knew about the internment camps because if she thought her erstwhile neighbors were not in internment camps, then at least a few of them would have made their way back to the neighborhood. Or they would have written. But none did.

Now then, I’ll concede that it would not be remarkable if the next door neighbor were to disappear in the middle of the night and never be heard from again, if he were to disappear for some explicable reason. But only if she’ll concede that it would be remarkable if his wife and children were to disappear along with him. So the average German citizen must have thought these women and children were being consigned to internment camps for no reason other than their race. In fact the race-only justification for that internment should have been clear from the Nuremberg Laws, which, by all accounts, were painstakingly promulgated.

So the only concession I need now is that the internment of women and children for no reason other than their race would have been regarded by the average German citizen in 1939 as a crime, as much as the average German citizen today would regard the internment of women and children for no reason other than their race a crime. To suppose they would not – to allow they’d have considered these internments perfectly reasonable – is to think what those who liberated the camps did think, namely that those who authored or sanctioned these internments could only have been moral monsters!

To repeat: it wasn’t the gas chambers, because maybe there weren’t any. It wasn’t the emaciated condition of the survivors. That could have been photo-shopped. It was the very being of these people in those camps in the first place. That couldn’t be a Zionist invention, because given that they were no longer next door, where else could they have been? So the average German citizen, including Ms. Schaefer’s mother, knew about it, and she knew it was a crime

What remains to be determined is whether that knowledge, and the silence that accompanied it, does or does not constitute the lesser crime of complicity.

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of complicity ever since I spent my sabbatical in 2006 at the Gregorian Institute in Rome studying the proceedings of the Cause for Beatification of Pius XII. (The Cause failed, by the way.) I will not report on any of my conclusions here, except to make the following two concessions:

First, it’s widely accepted – and I accept it too – that if the alternative to complicity is serious self-endangerment, then it’s not complicity. So the question becomes, at what point, and with respect to what, did the average German citizen fear for her own safety?

Were she a Catholic, the time to speak out would have been prior to the signing of the Concordat of 1933, but only if she could have reasonably anticipated that its terms would have prevented her speaking out against the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. (The Concordat was, in essence, a rendering unto Caesar.) But with respect to non-Catholics, we’re left with a purely empirical question. Between their ascension to power in 1933 (or perhaps even earlier) and the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, had the National Socialists already instilled sufficient fear to exculpate silence? I’m in no position to answer that question, but presumably some historian is.

The second concession is that any speaking out that one can reasonably anticipate will be to no avail cannot be morally mandatory. In fact in some cases it’s morally counter-indicated. So we face not an empirical question but a counterfactual one. Had she spoken out, and had a critical mass of others done likewise, would that have put the brakes on the Nazi program? I’m in no position to try to answer that question either, but maybe some braver soul will.

So though we can’t conclude that the average German citizen was complicit in the minimum crime for which the German state is culpable, namely the internment of people for no reason other than their race, we can conclude that Monika’s mother can’t say she didn’t know. Thus at the very least she’s guilty of perjury. A lesser crime perhaps. but a crime nonetheless.

The case of Pius is very different. From what I read, it was hard for the Examiners to deny Pius knew what was happening. In fact the Devil’s Advocate went so far as to suggest he might have been secretly pleased by it. But, it was argued, he can be exculpated for his silence on either or both of the grounds cited above. Put aside that he would have violated the Concordat which, as the then-Secretary of State for the Holy See he had himself negotiated with the German state in 1933. Had he spoken out he would have imperiled the Church over which he had the cura, and he would have done so to no avail.

Once again we have an empirical question followed by a counterfactual one. But in this case, and on both questions, I am prepared to pronounce. As to the first, the Church is not its buildings, nor its clergy, nor even its community of believers. It’s what those believers believe. And if anything has imperiled those beliefs it was the Church’s silence.

And as to the second, had Pius threatened to excommunicate any and all persons giving succor of any sort to what was going on, the Reich would have been torn internally asunder. The German people, and their collaborators in those territories under occupation, would have had to make a choice between their Fuhrer and their God. If Pius believed, whether rightly or wrongly, they would have chosen the former over the latter, then I’m at a loss as to over what he thought he still had the cura.

Some analysts argue that if Pius is ever canonized it will put Christian-Jewish relations back centuries. But if I were a Catholic, that would be the least of my worries. The Concordat that then-Cardinal Pacelli signed in 1933 was signed by a man. But according to Catholic doctrine, his elevation to pope in 1939 was the work of the Holy Spirit. Since God could hardly have overlooked Pacelli’s signing of the Concordat, his elevation amounted to God ratifying the Concordat. But if God thought it appropriate to render unto Hitler then, what must He think of liberation theology today?

Actions have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are theological. Theology has consequences. Try denying that to women seeking reproductive autonomy in this–is-a-Christian-country-dammit! America.

By contrast, I’m not sure what harm’s being done by Monika’s unwarranted apology to her mother. My advice has always been, if someone’s offended, apologize even if you’re not in the wrong, because an apology costs you nothing. But apparently that’s not always the case. Monika’s apology has cost her considerably.


Once you believe, as most of us do, that 9/11 was the work of nineteen perhaps guileless young men, sent on that mission by a few older and wiser men, you need to have a hold on their motivation, either from their own lips, or if not then from what you know about what would motivate people to do this kind of thing. And no, that they’re just crazy, or they hate freedom, or any of that nonsense, won’t do. What would do is that they wanted to raise the cost of(what they perceived to be the West’s insufferable military and economic imperialism in the Middle East, in order ultimately to free their people from that imperialism.

Likewise, then, in order to believe, as most Truthers do, that 9/11 was not the work of these nineteen young men but rather an Israeli false flag operation, we need to know what the real perpetrators hoped to achieve by it. The standard answer is that they hoped to provoke the Americans into going to war against Islam, which would save the Israelis some of the expense of continuing to fight that war on their own. This makes some sense, I suppose, but it does seem to fall slightly to the side of overkill. Surely something less destructive to an ally, and less vulnerable to being found out, would have achieved the same end, which, come to think of it, it had been doing ever since 1948 without the need to dissimulate. So sorry, guys, I just ain’t buyin’ it.

But there’s a certain Alfred Schaefer who’s taken the motivation problem several rungs up the credibility ladder. According to Schaefer, not only did we Jews false flag 9/11, we also faked the entire historicity of the Holocaust. But we didn’t do it just to secure the State of Israel. Rather it’s all part of our master plan to take over the world.

Now not surprisingly I have a number of problems with this plan, not the least of which being that I was never let in on it. And I resent that. In the wake of what was to me a revelation, I’ve made some inquiries, and it turns out I wasn’t told because the Elders – as in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – needed a few Jews, like Noam Chomsky and me, to be openly and genuinely anti-Zionist to render the real truth implausible to the always suspicious Gentile mind. But now I feel used. Now I feel like Judas must have felt when he found out his role had been scripted from the beginning of time, rather than an expression of his own authentic self.

But my personal high dudgeon aside, I can’t for the life of me figure out what we Jews would do with the world once we have it. God knows we don’t want to wipe everyone else out. We’re entrepreneurs and professionals and intellectuals and artists and comedians. The last thing we want is to have to work the land and man the assembly lines ourselves. Are we going to reintroduce slavery? What, and have to work up a sweat brandishing whips under the noonday sun? As Marx himself observed, wage slaves are far more productive. But hang on. That’s who we have working for us now.

It’s true that our own womenfolk leave something to be desired. But we’ve never had a problem attracting gentile chicks. Hell, I’ve had four wives, every one of them a shiksa. And look at what Woody Allen manages to get. So, in short, what exactly would we do with the world that we’re not doing with it now?

I feel like I’m in a Little Theatre play and the director won’t tell me my motivation. But if I’m going to have to come up with my own motivation, it may not dovetail with those of the other actors. And then I worry that the plot won’t make any sense to the audience.

So please, Alfred, I understand why my rabbi won’t tell me. But could you? What’s my motivation? I need to know my motivation!

Okay, confession time. This blog entry isn’t about 9/11-Truthers or Holocaust denial or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It’s all been just a setup. What it’s really about is David Koch, and a colleague of mine who thinks that David Koch knows that AGW is true, but he’s promoting its denial so he can delay any action on it as long as possible. Why? So he can have a few more years to pad his already multi-billion bank account with a few more billions.

Since my colleague knows so much about David Koch, he must know he has three young children. But apparently my colleague thinks this particular father doesn’t care whether his own children have a future.

And my problem with this? Just that I don’t find this motivational matrix credible. But more to the point, I think there’s something deeply wrong with someone who does.


There are a few things that I get that other people don’t. If this weren’t so I wouldn’t be of much use to them, now would I? So no, since it’s not hubris, no apology warranted, so none forthcoming.

And then there are a few things other people get but I don’t. For example, I don’t get homophobia. Never have. Many if not most non-homophobes are proud of their non-homophobia. I’m not. I’m a little embarrassed by it, because it’s not that the non-homophobe gets something the homophobe doesn’t. It’s that the non-homophobe doesn’t get something the homophobe does get

And then there are things I get that everyone else gets too, but some of them only pretend not to get. For example, racism. Look, it’s not rocket science. The people I’ve always hung out with look a certain way, and I’ve come to know what to expect from them. These people don’t look like them, so I don’t know what to expect from them. Simple rule of survival: if you don’t know what to expect from something, stay away from it.

So notwithstanding I totally get racism, the degree to which I’m not a racist is because I have hung out with people who don’t look like the people I’ve always hung out with. And what I’ve discovered is that the theme song from Cheers is right. “People are all the same.” But I only know this because I’ve had the opportunity to know it. People who haven’t are just going with what they know.

So what’s unseemly about racism is not the racism itself, but the gratuitous hostility that sometimes accompanies it. If we feel ourselves entitled to be hostile to Moslems or blacks or First Nations or whomever, by parity of reasoning we should recognize their entitlement to be hostile to us. But we don’t. We think their hostility is unwarranted. Why? Because we know what to expect from ourselves, so why don’t they?

Here’s another example of pretending not to understand what one understands perfectly well. Suppose I told you I’m into sex with ants. My guess is you’re going to think I’m joking, because you can’t imagine what sex with an ant would be. And if I told you I’m serious, you’d just be befuddled. But if you say you don’t understand how anyone could be into sex with young children, you’re lying, because you’re not the least befuddled. You might disapprove. But if so you’d be disapproving in precisely the way it would be odd for you to say you disapprove of someone having sex with ants. Disapproval in the ant case seems out of place. But it’s not out of place in the pedophilia case precisely because you do understand it. That understanding doesn’t make you a pedophile. But it does mean that if you enter a discussion about pedophilia, you know what you’re talking about, which you quite literally wouldn’t if you truly didn’t understand it.

Change of subject, but you’ll see in a minute that it’s not. I had a lover once who wanted me to hit her, and I don’t mean a playful slap. I’m not a prude. I’m of the view that when it comes to sex, it’s whatever pleases one’s lover. But I couldn’t go there, and so I didn’t. Why? Because I knew something about how things like this tend to escalate. And that’s not the direction in which I wanted my sexuality to develop. What this shows, I submit, is that we know ourselves well enough not to trust ourselves.

What’s this got to do with the subject at hand? Just this. I have a colleague who’s a 9/11-Truther, for which I mock him mercilessly. He’s used to this, so he doesn’t get angry. But he’s invited me on innumerable occasions to do a little research before I beak off about something about which I readily confess I know absolutely nothing. I invariably decline, and for any number of reasons, each perfectly defensible. I don’t have the time, and even if I did I don’t think the truth about 9/11 really matters, any more than the truth about the Exodus or the Alamo matters. But the one reason I don’t share with him – or anyone else for that matter – is that I know myself well enough not to go there. What I know about myself is that I’m hardwired to follow the evidence wherever it takes me. And what if it takes me to where there be dragons? Then I’d be as much as a nut case as he is. And I have better things to do with my life than spend it being another nut case.

My 9/11-Truther, in turn, has a friend who’s a Holocaust denier. When she went public with this she went from being a highly respected and valued member of her community to a social pariah. She’s done a helluva lot of research into the Holocaust. I’ve done absolutely none. If I did I have no idea what I’d find. No, that’s not true. I do know what I’d find. I’d find that one question would lead to another, and in no time at all I’d be instantly pulled down into the quicksand of trying to reconstruct what did happen and what didn’t. But the very act of even looking at the evidence would get me immediately disinvited to every dinner party in town.

So as long as, and only so long as, I don’t look, I’m safe. I’m safe socially, and I’m safe morally. I’m safe morally because I have the same perfectly defensible reasons not to question the Holocaust as I do not to question 9/11. I don’t have the time, and even if I did I don’t think the truth about the Holocaust matters, any more than does the truth about the Exodus or the Alamo. But what makes me just a tad uncomfortable with myself is that if I didn’t have these perfectly defensible reasons not to look, I still wouldn’t look because I couldn’t trust myself not to find what I wouldn’t want to find.

To 9/11 and the Holocaust, let me add yet a third example. I know dick all about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). I don’t think my True Believer colleagues do either, but that’s another story. Because I’m so kneejerkedly averse to reaching conclusions about anything too hastily, I worry that, not unlike Buridan’s Ass, I’d be frozen in perpetual agnosticism. But agnosticism about AGW, not unlike agnosticism about the Holocaust, is taken as AGW denial. And AGW denial would get me disinvited to the same dinner parties to which Holocaust denial would get me disinvited.

So when my colleagues rant about AGW – and God help me they do – to delude myself into thinking I’m maintaining my integrity, I nod knowingly but remain silent. And the silence, I tell myself, is not hypocrisy because I do not hold a contrary opinion about which I’m holding my tongue. Look, I tell myself, I don’t watch hockey. When my bar buddies are prattling on about who’s going to win the Stanley Cup this year, by not joining in I’m hardly being a hypocrite. Why then am I a hypocrite by not making a display of my ignorance and indifference to AGW?

And yet like a hypocrite is exactly how I feel. Why? I think it’s because I subconsciously suspect that agnosticism about the Holocaust or AGW is a substantive third position, a position which can be defended, and so should be advanced, just as asserting or denying the Holocaust, or asserting or denying AGW, are substantive positions that should be advanced and defended. I think I think I’m a hypocrite because I hold a substantive position on these issues that I’m declining to advance because I’m afraid of being disinvited to dinner parties if I do.

The fact that agnosticism is not denialism is irrelevant. Even my colleagues who are supposed to know the difference between “It’s not the case that S believes that p” and “S believes that not-p”, just lose the distinction when p is their Precious. So I can at least console myself in citing their stupidity as necessitating my hypocrisy. Barry Goldwater once remarked that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Well, neither is hypocrisy in the face of stupidity.

I wouldn’t be blogging about this if it weren’t a serious problem in my workplace. Less so for me. I’m tenured and near the end of my career. But I worry about our students. The abuse of academic authority is worse than that of the clergy diddling with our kids. Most of these kids, though not all, are not scarred for life. But our students are damaged for their entire careers. What they’re supposed to be learning is how to speak truth to power. Instead they’re learning how to be Uriah Heaps. When and only when they think it’s safe will they then strike a blow to recoup their dignity. But they’ll do so by striking out at their own students, perpetuating this pattern of abuse.

Here’s what I’d like to see. If a student – or anyone else for that matter – is yet to be convinced of your Precious, it’s not because she’s stupid. It’s because you’ve yet to make your case.

Except, of course, in the case at hand. It can’t be because I’ve yet to make my case, so it must be because my colleagues really are stupid.


In the same way that my first year students have a penchant for starting their papers with “For thousands of years philosophers have wondered …”, I like to start mine with “Of the things I care least about, in a dead heat are …” The problem is, that list keeps changing. It used to be the minutes of last night’s city council meeting and – just to piss one of my colleagues off – global warming. But now I want to expand my blast radius. I want to finish the sentence with “… Holocaust denial.”

Do I mean by this that I don’t care that some people deny the Holocaust, or do I mean by it that I don’t care whether the Holocaust happened or not? Both. “What hangs on it?”, I keep asking. And no one seems to understand the question, let alone have an answer to it.

I suppose that if, over a period of six year, six million people just up and disappeared – people for whom there were birth certificates, addresses, in some cases phone numbers, in almost every case people who knew them and saw them being taken from their homes, and if notwithstanding a first-rate telegraph and postal service not a single message arrived to say, “Having a great time. Wish you were here!” – we might be a tad curious about what happened to them. Especially if they were friends or loved ones, or the relatives one never knew but heard tell of; heard tell that they were, at least at the time, from this village or that block, but they just mysteriously seemed to have vanished into thin air. In a war the size of WW II, a couple thousand MIAs wouldn’t be all that remarkable. So neither would a couple thousand missing persons be amiss. But six million?!

The average German on the Wannsee omnibus claims she didn’t know. I’m not buying it!

To some, gas chambers and alien abduction seem equally implausible. But what if, there being no third and better explanation, some of us decided to go with gas chambers and some of us with alien abduction. Either way I have far fewer relatives than most of my gentile friends. And surely if half of our race had been abducted – and probably eaten – by aliens, we’d be as entitled to the world’s sympathy as had they’d been instead gassed by Earthling aliens called Nazis. So the justification for the State of Israel – assuming it needs one – would be secure in either case. So when I consider the mountains upon mountains of evidence and counter-evidence that have been compiled to settle the gas chambers vs alien abduction issue, I can’t help wondering what all the fuss is about.

Yes I know. I’m probably a Philistine that somehow got mistaken for a Jew. If I were a real Jew I’d care deeply about setting the record straight. And about heartfelt one-liners like “Never again!” Or my personal favourite: “We need to understand the Holocaust so it can never happen again!”

But wait a minute. It has happened again. And again. And then again … Nor is it a great mystery why. Herds sometimes have to be culled. When you’re culling a herd you don’t go after the strongest. They’ll take too many of you down with them. Rather you go after the most vulnerable. First you disarm them, then isolate them, then vilify them, and only then do you exterminate them. Happened before, happened since, and will happen again. And again. And again …

Sometimes it’s race, sometimes it’s religion, sometimes it’s the language you speak, sometimes it’s the relative grandeur of the house you live in. What’s to be learned is not not to let it happen again. That’s no more in your power than the weather. What’s to be learned is not to let yourselves become that most vulnerable.

The Israelis have certainly learned that lesson. They’re dealing with the Palestinians in Gaza pretty much the way the Nazi dealt with the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they learned it from the Nazis. Disarm, isolate, vilify, kill. It’s a formula. It works. Live with it. Move on.

Okay, that was harsh. But sometimes people need to have their heads pulled out of their asses. The historicity of the Holocaust, not unlike the facticity of global warming, is a self-perpetuating industry, giving plenty of people something to do, and some of them – let’s face it – a few shekels for doing it. The Holocaust industry is particularly sexy precisely because it’s so taboo, taboo in much the way that the historicity of the Alamo is not. If this be doubted, ask yourself what would happen to the proliferation and sales of Alamo-Truther literature if it were a criminal offense to deny the Alamo.

Do you really want to shut those Holocaust-deniers up? Then stop prosecuting them. The operative logic here is simple. If you’d made it illegal to say p, then chances are there’s some truth to p. Otherwise you’d have just ignored it. That’s why film producers head straight to the bank when their film is banned somewhere. Holocaust denial, along with any other banned material, just gets sent over to the dark side of the Internet. It becomes one of our guilty pleasures, like reading Conservapedia or – dare I confess this? – watching Friday Night Fights.

Did the Holocaust happen? I dunno. I wasn’t there. Were you?

Certainly something happened. If not gas chambers then alien abduction. Same thing with our missing socks. Either the dryer ate them or they were tractor-beamed. Either way I’m now holding a pair that don’t match. I was a single father. What did I tell my kid when he was holding a pair that didn’t match? “Either wear them or put on a pair that do. But hurry up. The school bus is coming.”


If I asked your opinion of the various candidates in the upcoming municipal elections in Otterpiddle, Ontario, I’m guessing you’re going to say you don’t have one. In fact I’d be pretty gobsmacked if you did. But if I asked whether you thought the Holocaust did or didn’t happen, and you confessed you have no opinion on the matter, you’d have instantly made yourself a social pariah. It’s not just that you’re expected to have an opinion; it’s that you’re required to. And you’re required to have the right opinion, namely that it’s not a Zionist myth that six million European Jews were systematically murdered from 1939 to 1945.

But be honest. What more do you know about the Holocaust than you do about the candidates in the upcoming municipal elections in Otterpiddle? It’s true that you’ve been told more about the former than the latter. But by whom? Probably Mrs. Krabappel, your Grade Five history teacher, right? And how did she come by this information? Assuming she’s still alive and remembers, go ahead and ask her. And then ask the same question of her source, and so on. I’m guessing you won’t be able to trace the storytelling back to the original storyteller. But even if you did, how are you going to fact-check his report?

But, you say, surely you could research the matter on your own. By this I hope you don’t mean you can parrot what has itself been just parroted from still other parrotings, and so on. That’s what most of my colleagues mean by “I’ve done the research.” Rather I take it you mean doing actual first-order historical research. Well, as you say, you could do the research, if you had a couple of lifetimes to spare. But you don’t. And so you won’t. And yet, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever beyond this chain of say-so’s, you’ll remain absolutely convinced of the historicity of the Holocaust.

And you’ll do so against all comers. That is, if someone cites an alternative chain of say-so’s that she, given her epistemic situatedness, has as much grounds to trust as you have to trust yours, you’ll dismiss her out of hand as an obvious anti-Semite.

And so will I!

Why? Probably because as a Jew the Holocaust sits at the very core of my self-understanding. But you’re not a Jew. So why will you dismiss the Holocaust denier out of hand as an obvious anti-Semite? Because the Holocaust sits at the core of your self-understanding as well? I doubt it. I suspect you could get along just fine without believing in the Holocaust, were it not that the belief-community to which you belong has decided otherwise.

And why has your community decided as it has? Well, some revisionists chalk it up to an international Zionist conspiracy, a conspiracy intent on, and apparently quite successful at, cathecting your Christian guilt for something you didn’t do. To what purpose? To help establish and maintain the State of Israel. And the fact that you don’t believe them just confirms that they’re right, right?

But hold on. You do believe – do you not? – that the Kuwaiti government-in-exile made up the premie ward story to garner popular support in the U.S. for its invasion of Iraq in 1991, and that the Bush II administration cooked the intel on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction so it could finish the job in 2003. So why do you believe some conspiracy stories but not others?

Because, as on any battlefield, some propaganda campaigns win the day and others don’t. Which is not to deny that some have truth on their side and others don’t. It’s to say only that you’re in no position to know which is which because you don’t have a couple of lifetimes to spare. And because it just isn’t all that important to you. All that matters is that you have your albeit-highly-unqualified opinion, and that it’s the one that keeps you in good standing with your peeps.

There’s a growing consensus, amongst scholars who have spent their lives studying such things, that the Exodus never happened. That it’s a myth. But it’s been a myth worth living by, both for Jews and – judging by the lyrics to many of their spirituals and the heart-swelling rhetoric of Martin Luther King – American blacks alike. Not unlike the Cross and Resurrection for Christians and the Alamo for Americans, the Exodus is for us Jews our foundation myth. And the Holocaust is just a renewal of that myth. One which I happen to believe is true. But then I would, now wouldn’t I?

Impressions to the contrary notwithstanding, this is not a declaration of historical skepticism. I’m not saying that the past cannot be known. All I’m saying is that what we think we know – and by the ‘we’ here I’m referring to you and me – we only believe. And we believe what we believe about the things we’re required to have a belief about because we’re required to have a belief about them. And because we’re required to have this belief about them rather than that one.

And why do we do this? Because we have no other choice! We don’t have the resources to do anything more than parrot what we’re told by those who are holding us to account for our beliefs. Nor are they allowing us to suspend judgment. We are facing what Intro to Critical Thinking teachers call an ad baculum. “Believe what I say or face the consequences!”

But an ad baculum is not a fallacy. It would be a fallacy if the objective of belief-acquisition was truth. But not if its objective is what belief one is well-advised to adopt. In fact I can’t think of anything more instructive in the adoption of a belief than the consequences of doing so. So all of belief-acquisition is driven by an ad baculum. And that’s precisely as it should be.

But if this is right – and it is! – then it applies not just to beliefs about the past, but also to those about the present and the future. The tribe upon which I depend for my survival, delectation, and companionship, is demanding that I have an opinion about all kinds of things, not only about the past, like the Holocaust, but also about the present, like vaccination safety, and about the future, like anthropogenic climate change.

These are all things about which I know nothing. These are all things about which I will forever know nothing. But fortunately they’re all things about which I’m not being asked to actually do anything, other than believe what I’m being asked to believe about them. That is, I’m required to believe in global warming, but I’m not required to do anything more about it than my global warming advocate peeps require of themselves, which is, so far as I can tell, absolutely nothing. In other words, belief is cheap. In fact it costs me nothing. So I might just as well fill my pantry.

Okay, so that’s me. But what about the themselves-parrots who’d have me parrot them? Their pantries are full too. They’ve got their requisite beliefs about vaccinations, climate change, the stupidity of Donald Trump, the irredeemable evil of the Koch brothers … There’s not an issue in the news they don’t have their tribally sanctioned position on.

But they seem to want something more. They want respect. They demand it. They demand that I join them in their delusion that they’ve filled their pantry with honest epistemic toil. I try to give it to them. Honest I do. And more often than not I can pull it off. But every now and then I can’t do it. Every now and then I just can’t stop myself from blurting out, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

And then, sometime last fall, it hit me. Call them out on their nakedness, but do it in a blog. After all, no one’s going to read it. Right?


I made a stab at this in my blog in an earlier post entitled “Holocaust Denial and Anti-Semitism”. Since that post, an internal investigation of an internal complaint against Tony Hall has exonerated him, and the Administration’s complaint against him to the Alberta Human Rights Commission has been rejected, both pretty much on the same grounds I laid out in that post. But now I want to go a tad deeper into the issue. Not the issue of denying the Holocaust or of being an anti-Semite. On those scores I’ll stand by what I said in that earlier post. Rather what I want to know is this: Assuming I wanted to deny the Holocaust or reveal myself as an anti-Semite, how would I go about it?

Being that I’m Jewish it’s unlikely I’d want to – though there are Jews who would and have. Rather I’m asking because – see that earlier post – my colleague is being accused of both, and I want to know if there’s any way – any way at all – that accusation could stick.

To this end I want to grant to his accusers everything that can be granted, beginning with the concept of conversational implicature.

Suppose you ask whether I think it’s going to rain tomorrow and I answer, “Is the pope Catholic?” Have I asserted that it’s going to rain? Yes I have. That’s because “Is the pope Catholic?” is an expression we use to say yes to whatever question was just asked.

Suppose you ask whether so-and-so is attractive, and I answer that she has a wonderful personality. Have I changed the subject? No I have not. I’ve answered your question in the negative. To claim afterwards that I never said she was ugly would be disingenuous. I did say it, even though I didn’t ‘say’ it. One can say without ‘saying’. In fact one can say without ‘saying’ anything at all.

But to know that “Is the pope Catholic?” means yes to whatever question was just asked requires that one be party to that convention. By this I don’t mean one must think it’s a good convention. Some overly devout Catholic might think it’s disrespectful to the pope. All I mean is that one is aware that the convention is in place. So if I answer a question with “Is the pope Catholic?”, I know perfectly well that I’ve just answered in the affirmative to the question that was just asked.

But it’s not always easy – is it? – to know what conventions are in place, or at least what conventions are taken to be in place by one’s interlocutors. For example, a couple of U.S. elections back, I was surprised to learn that Democrats take “New York values”, when spoken by a Republican, to be code for Jewish values. And I suspect it came as a surprise to a lot of Republicans as well. And so the question naturally arises: Are we accountable for what was said, or for what was heard?

Certainly in the case of “Is the pope Catholic?” and “She has a wonderful personality!”, what was said and what was heard are one in the same. But what about “The Holocaust, like every event in history, should be open to new research, and our understanding of it open to revision.”? In the same way that Democrats take “New York values” to be code for Jewish values, some Jews – and apparently, with a little urging, some of their gentile supporters too – take that statement as code for “The Holocaust is a Zionist myth!” And one of the to-be-made-explicit premises underpinning Tony’s accusers’ argument is going to be that Tony knew this. Or if not, then – like the reasonable man on the Clapham omnibus – he should have known it, and therefore what he said – said without scare quotes – was that “The Holocaust is a Zionist myth!”

Let’s suppose, however implausibly, that they’re right. Not about Tony saying that the Holocaust is a Zionist myth, but that the convention is in place and that Tony should have known it. How, then, could Tony say that “The Holocaust, like every event in history, should be open to new research, and our understanding of it open to revision.” and mean that the Holocaust, like every event in history, should be open to new research, and our understanding of it open to revision!? If his accusers don’t want our understanding of the Holocaust to be open to revision, then they’ll decide that any way of saying it will be code for “The Holocaust is a Zionist myth!” And that’s precisely what they’ve decided. It’s a great trick, if anyone’s stupid enough to let them get away with it. And apparently some people are that stupid. Let’s just hope no judge is among them.

But now let’s suppose, albeit counterfactually, that Tony had said – and by said I mean said – that the Holocaust is a Zionist myth. How exactly does this count as hate speech? What would have to be shown – and this is an empirical matter – is not that Holocaust denial is associated with hatred towards Jews – that, I think, can be granted – but that it causes hatred towards Jews. And this would require an experiment involving some kind of control group. Take a non-biased sampling of a hundred people, disabuse half of them of the historicity of the Holocaust – including, if you like, that it was a Zionist invention to guilt the world into backing what would become the State of Israel – and see whether they, but not the control group, begin to exhibit signs of hating Jews. My guess is that most of the disabused group will be gobsmacked by the brilliance of the subterfuge, just as I would be if I were convinced that 9/11 was the work of Mossad.

In a world of realpolitik, the exposure of subterfuge has never of itself been grounds for hatred. At most it adds insult to what’s already regarded as an injury. So no, Holocaust denial may be a consequence of anti-Semitism, but it can’t be the cause of it. So even if Tony were denying the Holocaust – whatever that might mean – that would not constitute hate speech.

All right, so Tony’s off the hook vis a vis his alleged Holocaust denial. But what about dumping 9/11 – and the lion’s share of the little 9/11’s that followed in its wake – on Mossad?

As often as not Tony’s trutherisms are expressed as conjectures rather than assertions. But as we did earlier, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that conjecture can be taken as code for assertion. So by conversational implicature, Tony has accused agents of the State of Israel of murdering thousands upon thousands of noncombatants in the furtherance of the interests of that state.

But hang on a minute. I make the same assertion every day. Well, okay, maybe not every day. But certainly whenever the subject comes up. I’ve made the same assertion, mutatis mutandis – and I’m hardly alone in these accusations – about the United States, about England, about France, about El Salvador, about Myanmar, about Syria … In fact pretty much about every state in the world. So clearly there must be more to hate speech than the banal observation that rulers of countries sometimes feel a need to kill people, people both outside the country they rule and within it.

Some of these accusations will turn out to be false. But the spreading of false information, other than in the service of fraud, is for very good reason not an actionable offence, at least not in Canada. And even if it were, the onus would be on the state – or in Canada the Crown – to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mossad wasn’t involved in 9/11. And how could it do that? It couldn’t. Even if some Israeli agent was acquitted in a court of law, that would show not that he was innocent, but only that there was insufficient evidence to convict.

So if Tony is guilty of hate speech, the truth or falseness of his various trutherisms is irrelevant. What’s needed is the connection between claiming malfeasance on the part of the Israeli government and promoting hatred of Jews, in a way that claiming malfeasance on the part of, say, the American government, does not constitute the promotion of the hatred of Americans, the latter being, of course, ridiculous. That is, heaven forefend we should think that criticism of a government is criticism of its citizens. On the contrary, don’t we regularly criticize a government for beings at odds with the druthers of its citizens?

About a fifth of the Israeli citizenry are (mostly Moslem) Arabs. Of the four fifths remaining most are Jews. But about a third of these are staunchly opposed to Netanyahu’s ultra-Zionist policies. So even if we hold those who support Netanyahu responsible for those policies, that’s about the same percentage of the Israeli population as was the percentage of the American population that supported Obama. Did we hold the American people – Democrats and Republicans alike – responsible for the policies of the Obama administration? And even if we did, did we, as a consequence, hate all Americans?

So even supposing Tony were able to convince us of his trutherisms, how would this constitute hate speech against Jews? Against the Jewish perpetrators of these attacks, perhaps. But then surely, if your loved one was in one of those towers that morning, or in that nightclub in Paris that evening, that hatred would be warranted. But against Jews-qua-Jews? And if Jews-qua-Jews, then surely the official 9/11 story likewise promotes hatred of Arabs-qua-Arabs, or perhaps even Moslems-qua-Moslems. And yet that’s precisely what defenders of the official story take pains to deny that their story should promote.

So having given them everything they could ask for, what’s left to Tony’s accusers? Well, apparently, Tony’s conjectured – remember: that’s code for he’s accused – B’nai Brith of having false-flagged that virulently anti-Semitic attachment to one of his Facebook posts, the attachment that Tony claims got this smear campaign against him off the ground. But once again, how does this accusation constitute hate speech? And that question stands as a rhetorical one whether B’nai Brith was involved or not.

That is, let’s suppose that I did it. After all, I’m Jewish, and many if not most Jews are staunch Zionists. So it’s perfectly plausible that I did it to smear that anti-Zionist bastard Tony Hall. Now that I’ve confessed I should hardly be surprised that Tony now hates me. But why would Tony hate my brother, who happens to be a staunch anti-Zionist Jew?

All right, now let’s suppose I didn’t do it. It was done by some pimply-faced never-out-of-his-parent’s-basement adolescent shit-disturber for the sole satisfaction of disturbing shit. Probably the same pimply-faced never-out-of-his-parent’s-basement adolescent shit-disturber who’s photo-shopped Pope Francis giving head to Bashir al Assad. So Tony’s mistaken about me. Does his falsely accusing a Jew of malfeasance promote hatred of Jews?

Well, it would, I suppose, if Tony were saying – or for that matter even just saying – that wherever there’s malfeasance, chances are there’s a Jew behind it. And to be fair to his accusers, Tony does sometimes come across as thinking this. But according to his narrative it’s not Jews – or least not Jews-qua-Jews – who are trying to take over the world. It’s the point-zero-zero-one-percent. These neocons and Zionists just happen to have found common cause, at least for now.

But this idea that there’s a worldwide conspiracy of point-zero-zero-one-percenters – see my entry on the subject – is by no means unique to Tony. Most of my colleagues in the Philosophy department – being almost as idiotic as Tony – share this idiotic view. So if Tony’s going down, oh please please please, take my colleagues with him!

Your Honour, I move to dismiss. It’s not that my client is innocence of the charges against him. It’s that those charges – I think the legal term is – fail to disclose an offense.