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.



It had to happen. It was just a matter of time. In fact it’s been happening incrementally, probably since before we came down from the trees. When there was nothing around we just shut our eyes and masturbated to what we imagined. For some it was adults, for others children, and for still others sometimes adults and sometimes children. In what proportions we don’t know because there was no Kinsey Report back then, no Masters and Johnson with clipboards at the mouth of our caves. And we still don’t know, because lusting after children has become something of a thought-crime of late, if not legally then certainly socially.

When there was something around – something we might associate with a token of the type for whom we lusted – we used it as a masturbatory aid. The smell of a piece of clothing, a lock of hair, a shoe, a handbag … Association has no limits.

Fast forward to modern times. You can’t tell me no man ever masturbated gazing into the sultry eyes of his daughter’s Barbie doll, or that no one ever bought a bigger baby doll rather than a smaller one so he could improvise a hole between its legs and line it with something soft and warm. So let’s not get too excited. Child sex dolls, commercially produced, distributed and consumed, have been with us for centuries.

Zealous defenders of the common good have burned books ever since there have been books to burn. But people tell each other stories, those stories are written in our minds, and as soon as the Torquemadas aren’t looking, they’re committed once again to paper. Zealous crusaders for the penitent silence God demands of us have smashed cd’s ever since there’s been cd’s to smash. But people hum and tap their fingers anyhow. And soon enough they find other media by which to invite others with them into perdition. So I’m not terribly concerned that people who want these dolls may have to improvise a little, or spend a little more for the contraband dropped just offshore to be retrieved in the dead of night by brave men in fisherman’s knits and blackened faces.

Eventually all this enforcement will just seem either couterproductive  or silly, as it did with Prohibition, prohibitive taxes on cigarettes, hardcore porn, and yes, someday soon – or so I predict – child porn. The civil liberties issue is there, of course. And I don’t mean to minimize it. But at the end of the day the customer is always right. And apparently there are more customers in the queue for sex dolls, both adult and child, than for the new Tesla.

But that doesn’t settle the issue. Which issue? The issue of whether our disapproval of these dolls, adult or child, is justified.

Look, there are all kinds of malfeasance the criminalization of which will never do away with completely. Think of murder, think of theft, think of tax evasion. But that hardly means we shouldn’t criminalize these things, provided criminalization reduces the frequency of this malfeasance. Even supposing, however implausibly, that consumption of alcohol and abortion were both wrong, their criminalization failed to reduce their frequencies. Hence their decriminalization. But one could hope that criminalization of child sex dolls will, if not reduce their frequency, then at least retard the increase in their frequency.

So as I say, the debate need not focus, at least not up front, on enforceability. If there’s no justification for interfering with their production, distribution and consumption, then the enforceability issue doesn’t arise. If and when it does arise we can then talk about the balance between the need for criminalization and the invasiveness of enforcing it. In short, then, we need to know what if anything is wrong with the production, distribution and consumption of child sex dolls.

In the case of child pornography, one could argue that the harm lies in its production. But that argument is getting weaker and weaker as animation gets more and more sophisticated. Very soon now, if not already, animation will outperform live action pornography, both adult and child, both economically and aesthetically.

Inadvertent production is another story. A trusted uncle posts unstaged but nonetheless provocative photos of his young nephew or niece on a child porn site. Since few very small children are recognizable from one year to the next, the right to privacy is probably not being all that seriously violated. And besides, this is one area where what counts as provocative really is in the eye, or loins, of the beholder.

In any event, mens rea isn’t enough. There has to be actus reus. So to convict the judge must himself confess to being stimulated, or pretend he’s not but the man on the Clapham omnibus would be. Either that or the actus reus must be met by the venue in which the images are being shown. The baby Jesus in the manger is one thing. The identical baby Larry in the identical manger is something else. The law has to try not to make a laughing stock of itself. But the juxtaposition at the front of the courtroom of these two images would be just a tad risible.

Then what about some third party – one incapable of interfering with the interference – filming the sexual interference with the child? Then what we have, it seems, is something jurisprudentially indistinguishable from the photo-journalist filming, for example, an ISIS execution. Here the public’s right to know what’s going on in the world – or so it’s standardly argued – trumps the victim’s right to privacy. Fair enough. But then why should small children be afforded greater such rights than an equally innocent adult?

So here the issue must come down to seemliness. It’s unseemly to expose the public to ugliness. That’s why newscasts do tend to cut away from the uglier scenes of man’s inhumanity to man. Or to child. But the pedophile doesn’t find the scene ugly. Quite the contrary. That’s what makes him a pedophile. Come to think of it, by definition. So since no one’s forcing you to look, neither should anyone force him not to.

So confining ourselves, as we have so far, to Mill’s harm principle, there seems to be no good reason, or soon won’t be, to criminalize the production, distribution and consumption of child pornography, and so by parity of reasoning, no good reason to criminalize the production, distribution and consumption of child sex dolls.

But this might be too quick. In addition to Mill’s harm principle there’s Joel Feinberg’s offense principle. No one’s being asked to watch the consumer having his way with his doll, but apparently the very knowledge that he is is deeply offensive to some people.

But it hardly needs saying that this argument proves too much. We fought wars to assuage our outrage at how others worship, and in the wake of that slaughter we decided to live and let live rather than kill and let kill. Anyone who wants to reprise those wars we should kill right now, to save us the bother of having to do it later. This applies to both the recent surge in Islamicism in the Moslem world and of the Christian right in America. No, Fatima, no Virginia, what I do in the privacy of my bedroom is none of your fucking business!

Still too quick. Neither the harm principle nor the offense principle captures what’s come to be called the symbolic harms argument. It’s been most rigourously articulated by Melinda Vadas in a 1987 Journal of Philosophy paper entitled “Could Pornography be the Subordination of Women?”, but it’s since been ratified by the Supreme Court of Canada in its dicta in Butler (1992).

Suppose a female student comes to my office to discuss a paper. I’m looking at her over my glasses, as I’m wont to do when I’m listening intently. But behind me is one of those tacky Mexican velvet paintings of a nude woman. The question is not whether I’m looking at her the same way I’d be looking at a male student. It’s whether she feels herself being looked at the same way I’d be looking at a male student. And that painting has a great deal to do with that. So, argues Vadas, insofar as pornography represents women as meat, and women know they’re being represented that way, such representation needn’t cause the subordination of women because it just is the subordination of women.

I think Vadas is right. But does the argument transfer, first to child porn, and thence to child sex dolls? It’s hard to see how. Child porn doesn’t subordinate children. Children just are subordinate to adults. That’s just what we mean by their being children and our being adults. And so how does a child sex doll subordinate them further? By representing them as acceptable objects of lust? But why wouldn’t they be? Surely that’s what has to be established. And however that is established, it can’t, on pain of circularity, invoke the symbolic harms argument.

And there’s something odd – is there not? – about saying some object, animate or not, ought not to be an object of lust. In what sense of ‘ought’? God has made it clear that a man ought not to lay with a man as with a woman. Well, okay, no one’s asking Him to. But what makes Him think He’s entitled to impose His heterosexuality on the rest of us?

Leaving aside for the moment what does and doesn’t count as an infant, a child, a statutory child, and so on – and so what would count as pedophilia – I’d guess that pedophilia plays a much bigger role in male sexual fantasy than homosexuality. The latter, or so I’m told, runs about 7%. The former must be well over 50%. By which I don’t mean 50% of us are pedophiles. I just mean that for 50% of us pedophilia is included in our fantasy repertoire. If having a sexual response to children is ‘an abomination in the eyes of God’, He’s going to have a whole lot of retooling to do come the Rapture.

Okay, so the unacceptability of lusting after children can’t lie in either the lusting, nor on their being children, but rather in one’s acting on that lust. Is masturbating with a child in mind acting on one’s pedophilia? Presumably not. Is masturbating with a child-associated masturbatory aid acting on it? Hard to see the distinction. So it must be that masturbating with a child-associated masturbatory aid, like a picture or a doll, is thought to increase the likelihood of acting on one’s pedophilia with an actual child.

There’s a preponderance of evidence that those who have acted on their pedophilia entertained pedophile fantasies before doing so. But that’s just a duh. The question is whether these fantasies upped the frequency of the actual interference. Common sense might tell us they must. But common sense is often wrong. Hard to prove it wrong, of course, since it’s hard to imagine how research into it would pass muster with any ethics board.

Nor can we invoke what’s called the precautionary principle, which counsels us, when operating under two or even one-dimensional uncertainty, to take the safer route. But since it’s as much common sense that access to child sex dolls would actually be cathartic rather than provocative, we’re not sure which route is in fact the safer one.

Then try this. Sexual play is practice for the real thing. Practicing on children, even if only simulacra of children, is just poor sexual training. Children aren’t sex partners, and a fortiori neither are dolls. Real adult sex partners don’t act like either children or dolls, and certainly not like child sex dolls. And a fortiori real children don’t act like dolls. For one thing, they cry when you hurt them, and that, for most pedophiles of my acquaintance, is an immediate turn-off.

But the bad training argument hangs on the image of a young man prepping for his first ‘going all the way’, buying the doll, getting the hang of things with it, losing his virginity, and then selling it on Ebay. I’m not saying this couldn’t happen. I’m just saying it doesn’t. It doesn’t because that’s not what people buy these dolls for.

All right, let’s try again. Sex with a prostitute is cheating. Not on one’s wife, though certainly that too if one were married. No, it’s cheating because it’s getting sexual access without having to invest the time and energy the rest of us do. Sex with a sex doll is doubly cheating because it’s getting sexual access without having to pay the prostitute. And sex with a child sex doll is the ultimate cheat because it’s getting sexual access without even having to conjure the illusion of having to work for it. That is, with an adult sex doll one might run a conquest scenario in one’s head. But no such scenario would make sense with a child.

I’m not sure this is right. It seems to me the pedophile could imagine himself seducing the child, though I concede that a resistance scenario, available with the adult doll, would be a bit of stretch with the child one.

Still, I don’t think there’s much to this ‘authenticity argument. The authenticity objection to prostitution is that it puts the prostitute in a position of having to be inauthentic, not the john. Replacing her with a doll relieves the prostitute of that burden. But maybe that’s the problem. It’s yet another case of automation putting real breadwinners out of work. And that, I think, the proliferation of sex dolls will, especially when, with economy of scale, these products become affordable on pretty much any budget.

But it’s not just prostitutes who’ll now have to fend for themselves with more ‘honest’ toil. It’s also a lot of ordinary women who’ve been making their way in the world on the backs of their sexuality. The sex doll is the men’s movement’s revenge on the lesbian separatists. If you say you don’t need us, well neither do we need you!

But from feminists or others, the worry seems to be that these dolls, adult or child, are going to have a devastating impact on the fundamental nature of our social relations, relations which supervene in large measure on our interpersonal sexuality. When one’s buddy is having sex with his Angela Jolie simulacra, how long can the neo-Luddite keep up his claim to the moral high ground with his aging crone? Just as drones and google glasses are doing away with all pretense of privacy, so will sex dolls retire the sexual component of love. Philia will survive. And maybe, if God’s lucky, agape. But not eros. And with eros goes the lion’s share of all poetry, music, drama, and art.

But what does this really amount to, if not the same argument that your same-sex marriage devalues my heterosexual marriage. This is nonsense, on stilts. One could as readily argue that heterosexual marriage devalues same-sex marriage, which, since it doesn’t, neither does the opposite. So no, Virginia, you’re not going to be so special any more, at least not for your vagina. I guess you’re just going to have to find your self-esteem somewhere above your waist.

The argument for these dolls is predictable enough. It’s simply false that there’s a girl for every guy. And certainly false that there’s a child for every pedophile. Some guys just really are too ugly, or socially inept, or isolated in a fire tower, or whatever. To deprive these people of a fundamental human need is a violation of a fundamental human right. It’s not a positive right. No one has a correlative duty to provide these ‘losers’ with sex. But it’s a negative right, imposing a duty not to interfere with their pursuit of it.

My intuitions tell me that the human rights argument trumps. It wouldn’t if there were actionable costs to the exercise of this right. But so far as I can tell, there aren’t.

Of course I’ve been thinking about this entirely from the male perspective. Suppose it were women buying male dolls and so cutting me out of the action. That would be a very different story. Turnabout is not fair play. What’s good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander. Then I’d have to rethink the issue from the ground up.

A dildo is one thing, and if it were attached to a doll in the image and likeness of me, I could probably live with that. But I have a sneaking suspicion the doll wouldn’t be in my image and likeness, because women are notoriously shallow. But I suppose I’ll just have to bite the bullet and concede that if automation renders me redundant, I shall walk off into the sunset knowing I was there when I was needed.

Note to self: Maybe not a line to recommend to post-menopausal women looking to console themselves for the loss of their husbands’ fidelity.


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.