Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who's Afraid of Laura Kipnis?

Do you remember Laura Kipnis?

Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern had the temerity to challenge the current campus orthodoxy over rape culture and trigger warnings. She did it in a publication called The Chronical of Higher Education.

Her article was excellent. I posted about it here.

As though to prove her right a battalion of Northwestern students decided to protest. Like the Brown Shirts of yore, they wanted Kipnis to be punished for hurting their feelings… by which I mean, for expressing cultural values that ran counter to theirs.

Michelle Goldberg wrote about these vulnerable darlings in The Nation… of all places:

… including, apparently, their vulnerability to articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education. As the protesters wrote on a Facebook page for their event, they wanted the administration to do something about “the violence expressed by Kipnis’ message.” Their petition called for “swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article,” and demanded “that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.” 

Note well that these enemies of the first amendment have decided that Kipnis engaged in violent speech. To their minds, such speech needs to be punished. They are functioning within a crime/guilt/punishment paradigm.

To which Goldberg responded by pointing out the contradiction inherent in the students’ message. Truth be told, she was not the first to do so, but she presented it well:

It’s easy to sympathize with the young feminists’ desire to combine maximal sexual freedom with maximal sexual safety. Yet there are contradictions between a feminism that emphasizes women’s erotic agency and desire to have sex on equal terms with men, and a feminism that stresses their erotic vulnerability and need to be shielded from even the subtlest forms of coercion. The politics of liberation are an uneasy fit with the politics of protection. A rigid new set of taboos has emerged to paper over this tension, often expressed in a therapeutic language of trauma and triggers that everyone is obliged to at least pretend to take seriously.

It says something when The Nation, surely a leftist publication, gets it. My only objection is that I think it's far more dangerous than melodramatic. After all, its the mentality that gave us, not only Ernst Rohm's Brown Shirts but the Red Guards. 

Perhaps it’s time to stop pretending. We do better to denounces and dismiss these assaults against free speech.


Ares Olympus said...

Agreed, it is a good summary article, and almost necessary to be from the left to be heard at all.

And I agree it easily becomes more than melodrama, given the Title IX "directive" from 2011 into a mission creep of protecting women from men without due process.

Without top-down orders like that, the melodrama could work itself out into necessary learning curves of youthful exuberance.

Anonymous said...

Someone also needs to point out that calling Kipnis' speech "violent" is a misuse of the word.

Violent speech (if such a thing even exists) should connote the aggressive type of speech you hear in rap music or the movie "Raging Bull." To call Kipnis' article "violent" is so overwrought and inaccurate it's almost funny. It's like calling the writing on a Pop Tarts box "violent."

If female college students insist on engaging in this type of hyperbole, they're going to create a stereotype of millennial women that going to damage their credibility in the workplace for a long time.

Stereotypes can be hard to shake. The image of the average female college student being mentally unstable and on the verge of breaking down over someone's mere written words is starting to take hold. The working world is a place where disagreements and debates happen. You need to be able to weather all sort of things. These shrinking violets are not the people anyone is going to want to put in charge of any project, department, or agency.

-- Days of Broken Arrows

David Foster said...

Margaret Soltan had a thoughtful piece about this matter, here;

In comments, someone said: ”At least now you don’t have to invent your own rules"...which, oddly enough, reminded me of something someone wrote several years ago in an aviation magazine: "If you do anything with your airplane that is not consistent with the Pilot's Operating Handbook, then you are a test pilot."

In a traditional society, the Pilot's Operating Handbook consists of the accumulated set of laws, rules, traditions, expectations, conventions, and manners. When the POH is thrown out, then everyone is a test pilot. Some people are very good at this, and thrive in ways that would be unlikely or impossible in a traditional society. Some, on the other hand, have a very hard time.

To continue the analogy: there are plenty of airline pilots, general aviation pilots, even military pilots who are good at what they do but would not want to be test pilots and who would be unlikely to thrive (or perhaps even survive) in such a role.

Sam L. said...

Anon, "Pop Tarts box" is a sexist, misogynist, and anti-woman SLUR! SHAME on you! (/sarc off) And the product maker, too.

Ares Olympus said...

On the issue of calling for free speech, Christopher Hitchens was the master, like this debate: Christopher Hitchens voices his opinion on the subject of the Hart House Debating Club debate: Be it resolved: Freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate.

And transcript here:
Every time you violate – or propose the violate – the right to free speech of someone else, you in potentia you’re making a rod for your own back. Because to who do you reward the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom you’re going to award the task of being the censor?

For myself free speech mostly makes sense, that is to say I'd rather have open hatred than secret or anonymous hatred, and you know where you stand with a hater, so you can respect their willingness to stand for something, or against something, as long as they give you the same respect to honestly hate back.

Of course the problem is how to deal with "vulnerable" listeners, and there are two sorts of vulnerable groups - there are "victims" who feel threatened by ideas, and "mentally ill" people who may act out hatreds they hear, like shock jock radio for instance. So I'm probably more worried about the second group who are attracted to hatred than the first who can just retreat from it.

I'm not 100% against the concept of "Trigger warnings", but it needs refining, and it doesn't clearly help in protecting people from their own lack of self-awareness.

What's curious for myself is I rarely feel threatened by ideas, but because I have the power to step back from my own emotional reaction, or safely explore my own emotional reaction, my own extrapolations of an idea that sounds dangerous, I also don't clearly know when to speak up against bullies.

It gets confusing fast as those calling out bullies become bullies themselves, and have no idea. Which brings us back to the start of this topic!

Dennis said...

For your edification:

Ares Olympus said...

Thanks for the link Dennis. Camille Paglia sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders.

It would be interesting to hear a dialogue with her opponents, but a straight rant is good too.