Friday, January 26, 2018

Are We Free to Discuss America's Real Problems?
By Amy Wax, University of Pennsylvania Law School

There is a lot of abstract talk these days on American college campuses about free speech and the values of free inquiry, with plenty of lip service being paid to expansive notions of free expression and the marketplace of ideas. What I’ve learned through my recent experience of writing a controversial op-ed is that most of this talk is not worth much. It is only when people are confronted with speech they don’t like that we see whether these abstractions are real to them.

The op-ed, which I co-authored with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 9 under the title, “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture.” It began by listing some of the ills afflicting American society:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

We then discussed the “cultural script” — a list of behavioral norms — that was almost universally endorsed between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These norms defined a concept of adult responsibility that was, we wrote, “a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.” The fact that the “bourgeois culture” these norms embodied has broken down since the 1960s, we argued, largely explains today’s social pathologies — and re-embracing that culture would go a long way toward addressing those pathologies.

In what became perhaps the most controversial passage, we pointed out that cultures are not equal in terms of preparing people to be productive citizens in a modern technological society, and we gave some examples of cultures less suited to achieve this:

The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.

The reactions to this piece raise the question of how unorthodox opinions should be dealt with in academia — and in American society at large.

It is well documented that American universities today, more than ever before, are dominated by academics on the left end of the political spectrum. How should these academics handle opinions that depart, even quite sharply, from their “politically correct” views? The proper response would be to engage in reasoned debate — to attempt to explain, using logic, evidence, facts, and substantive arguments, why those opinions are wrong. This kind of civil discourse is obviously important at law schools like mine, because law schools are dedicated to teaching students how to think about and argue all sides of a question. But academic institutions in general should also be places where people are free to think and reason about important questions that affect our society and our way of life — something not possible in today’s atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy.

What those of us in academia should certainly not do is engage in unreasoned speech: hurling slurs and epithets, name-calling, vilification, and mindless labeling. Likewise we should not reject the views of others without providing reasoned arguments. Yet these once common standards of practice have been violated repeatedly at my own and at other academic institutions in recent years — and we increasingly see this trend in society as well.

One might respond, of course, that unreasoned slurs and outright condemnations are also speech and must be defended. My recent experience has caused me to rethink this position. In debating others, we should have higher standards. Of course one has the right to hurl labels like “racist,” “sexist,” and “xenophobic” without good reason — but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Hurling such labels doesn’t enlighten, inform, edify, or educate. Indeed, it undermines these goals by discouraging or stifling dissent.

So what happened after our op-ed was published last August? A raft of letters, statements, and petitions from students and professors at my university and elsewhere condemned the piece as racist, white supremacist, hate speech, heteropatriarchial, xenophobic, etc. There were demands that I be removed from the classroom and from academic committees. None of these demands even purported to address our arguments in any serious or systematic way.

A response published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, our school newspaper, and signed by five of my Penn Law School colleagues, charged us with the sin of praising the 1950s — a decade when racial discrimination was openly practiced and opportunities for women were limited. I do not agree with the contention that because a past era is marked by benighted attitudes and practices — attitudes and practices we had acknowledged in our op-ed! — it has nothing to teach us. But at least this response attempted to make an argument.

Not so an open letter published in the Daily Pennsylvanian and signed by 33 of my colleagues. This letter quoted random passages from the op-ed and from a subsequent interview I gave to the school newspaper, condemned both, and categorically rejected all of my views. It then invited students, in effect, to monitor me and to report any “stereotyping and bias” they might experience or perceive. This letter contained no argument, no substance, no reasoning, no explanation whatsoever as to how our op-ed was in error.

We hear a lot of talk about role models — people to be emulated, who set a positive example for students and others. In my view, the 33 professors who signed this letter are anti-role models. To students and citizens alike I say: don’t emulate them in condemning people for their views without providing a reasoned argument. Reject their example. Not only are they failing to teach you the practice of civil discourse — the sine qua non of liberal education and of democracy — they are sending the message that civil discourse is unnecessary. As Jonathan Haidt of NYU wrote on September 2 on his website Heterodox Academy: “Every open letter you sign to condemn a colleague for his or her words brings us closer to a world in which academic disagreements are resolved by social force and political power, not by argumentation and persuasion.”

It is gratifying to note that the reader comments on the open letter were overwhelmingly critical. The letter has “no counterevidence,” one reader wrote, “no rebuttal to [Wax’s] arguments, just an assertion that she’s wrong… . This is embarrassing.” Another wrote: “This letter is an exercise in self-righteous virtue-signaling that utterly fails to deal with the argument so cogently presented by Wax and Alexander… . Note to parents, if you want your daughter or son to learn to address an argument, do not send them to Penn Law.”

Shortly after the op-ed appeared, I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen for a while and asked how his summer was going. He said he’d had a terrible summer, and in saying it he looked so serious I thought someone had died. He then explained that the reason his summer had been ruined was my op-ed, and he accused me of attacking and causing damage to the university, the students, and the faculty. One of my left-leaning friends at Yale Law School found this story funny — who would have guessed an op-ed could ruin someone’s summer? But beyond the absurdity, note the choice of words: “attack” and “damage” are words one uses with one’s enemies, not colleagues or fellow citizens. At the very least, they are not words that encourage the expression of unpopular ideas. They reflect a spirit hostile to such ideas — indeed, a spirit that might seek to punish the expression of such ideas.

I had a similar conversation with a deputy dean. She had been unable to sign the open letter because of her official position, but she defended it as having been necessary. It needed to be written to get my attention, she told me, so that I would rethink what I had written and understand the hurt I had inflicted and the damage I had done, so that I wouldn’t do it again. The message was clear: cease the heresy.

Only half of my colleagues in the law school signed the open letter. One who didn’t sent me a thoughtful and lawyerly email explaining how and why she disagreed with particular points in the op-ed. We had an amicable email exchange, from which I learned a lot — some of her points stick with me — and we remain cordial colleagues. That is how things should work.

Of the 33 who signed the letter, only one came to talk to me about it — and I am grateful for that. About three minutes into our conversation, he admitted that he didn’t categorically reject everything in the op-ed. Bourgeois values aren’t really so bad, he conceded, nor are all cultures equally worthy. Given that those were the main points of the op-ed, I asked him why he had signed the letter. His answer was that he didn’t like my saying, in my interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, that the tendency of global migrants to flock to white European countries indicates the superiority of some cultures. This struck him as “code,” he said, for Nazism.

Well, let me state for the record that I don’t endorse Nazism!

Furthermore, the charge that a statement is “code” for something else, or a “dog whistle” of some kind — we frequently hear this charge leveled, even against people who are stating demonstrable facts — is unanswerable. It is like accusing a speaker of causing emotional injury or feelings of marginalization. Using this kind of language, which students have learned to do all too well, is intended to bring discussion and debate to a stop — to silence speech deemed unacceptable.

As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, we can make words mean whatever we want them to mean. And who decides what is code for something else or what qualifies as a dog whistle? Those in power, of course — which in academia means the Left.

My 33 colleagues might have believed they were protecting students from being injured by harmful opinions, but they were doing those students no favors. Students need the opposite of protection from diverse arguments and points of view. They need exposure to them. This exposure will teach them how to think. As John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

I have received more than 1,000 emails from around the country in the months since the op-ed was published — mostly supportive, some critical, and for the most part thoughtful and respectful. Many expressed the thought, “You said what we are thinking but are afraid to say” — a sad commentary on the state of civil discourse in our society. Many urged me not to back down, cower, or apologize. And I agree with them that dissenters apologize far too often.

Democracy thrives on talk and debate, and it is not for the faint of heart. I read things every day in the media and hear things every day at my job that I find exasperating and insulting, including falsehoods and half-truths about people who are my friends. Offense and upset go with the territory; they are part and parcel of an open society. We should be teaching our young people to get used to these things, but instead we are teaching them the opposite.

Disliking, avoiding, and shunning people who don’t share our politics is not good for our country. We live together, and we need to solve our problems together. It is also always possible that people we disagree with have something to offer, something to contribute, something to teach us. We ignore this at our peril. As Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review on August 29: “What if the progressive analysis of inequality is wrong … and a cultural analysis is closest to the truth? If confronting the need to change behavior is punishable ‘hate speech,’ then it is hard to see how the country can resolve its social problems.” In other words, we are at risk of being led astray by received opinion.

The American way is to conduct free and open debate in a civil manner. We should return to doing that on our college campuses and in our society at large.


Feminism’s clay feet exposed on British television

By Bettina Arndt

British journalist Douglas Murray said he'd never seen a television interview more catastrophic for the interviewer. Others are naming TV journalist Cathy Newman's grilling of Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson as a pivotal moment exposing modern feminism's clay feet. Within three days of the 30 minute Channel 4 interview being posted on YouTube it had attracted over 2 million viewers and Newman's performance was greeted by widespread hilarity on the twittersphere.

Channel 4 now seems to have woke up to the self-inflicted damage the interview is doing to one of the station's stars and is in damage control with Newman playing the victim role claiming she's receiving "vicious misogynistic abuse." Station management is employing extra security to deal with what they claim are threats to Newman's safety. Whilst there is no evidence the flood of online criticism of Newman constitutes any threat, Peterson has responded by telling his supporters to constrain their comments.

Ironically the major gotcha moment in the interview was all about freedom of speech. Newman decided to grill Peterson about the reason the Canadian psychology professor had first attracted international attention – namely his refusal to use manufactured gender pronouns now mandated under law in his country. After a series of ill-informed, aggressive attacks failed spectacularly to disconcert her calm, reasoned guest, Newman asked Peterson, "why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person's right not to be offended?"

The good professor responded: "Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we're having right now. You're certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that?" he said, acknowledging her attacks had made him rather uncomfortable but that was fine. "You're doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on…But you're exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that's fine. More power to you, as far as I'm concerned."

His answer left Newman totally floundering. The good-natured Peterson smiled sweetly and said: "Ha, gotcha!"

But it was on the classic feminist issues that Newman was exposed as a vapid ideologue incapable of defending her cherished beliefs. Peterson's rational, fact-based responses to questions about women's achievements in the workplace went totally over her head. Newman responded to evidence with anecdotes, claimed he'd made statements he hadn't. Their discussion on the gender wag gap started like this:

Peterson: Multivariate analysis of the pay gap indicate that it doesn't exist

Newman: But that's just not true, is it. That nine per cent pay gap, that's a gap between median hourly earnings between men and women. That exists.

P: Yeah but there's multiple reasons for that. One of them is gender but it's not the only reason. If you're a social scientist worth your salt you never do a uni-variant analysis. You say, well, women in aggregate are paid less than men, then we break it down by age, occupation, interest, personality.

N: But you're saying basically it doesn't matter if women aren't getting to the top, because that's skewing that gender pay gap, isn't it. You're saying that's just a fact of life.

P: No, I'm not saying it doesn't matter. I'm saying there are multiple reasons for it that aren't being taken into account.

N: But why should women put up with those reasons? Why should women be content not to get to the top?

P: I'm not saying that they should put up with it, I'm saying that the claim that the wage gap between men and women is only due to sex is wrong, and it is wrong, there's no doubt about that. The multi-variant analyses have been done." And so went on, with Newman incessantly straw-manning, niggling, attacking and wilfully refusing to listen to Peterson's responses.

Many, like British sociologist Nicholas A Christakis, found themselves in awe of Peterson's cheerful, reasoned responses. "This man Jordan Peterson is preternaturally calm and composed in the face of a hostile interviewer who also had simply not thought adequately about her ideas and approach. Facts and reason are powerful allies," he tweeted.

But unfamiliar territory for feminists who are rarely confronted with this type of evidence, particularly in public. UK conservative politician Paul Weston points out that what's so extraordinary about the Peterson interview is that it managed to refute the ideological claptrap which holds sway throughout much of the mainstream media. As he says in a YouTube video posted this week, the anointed liberal elite which controls the media knows it doesn't represent popular opinion but "works tirelessly to make damn sure no one's allowed anywhere near the media bubble to propose a learned valid legitimate opinion."

Yet Peterson slipped through and Newton and her team were shown up for not doing their homework to discover why it is that this formidable man attracts literally millions of followers online. Journalist Tim Lott, writing last year in the Spectator UK, said that after listening to hours of Peterson's videos, he concludes the man is "one of the most important thinkers to emerge on the world stage for many years." As Newman discovered to her peril.


Progressive Critics of Trump’s HHS Are Sliming Christians for Enforcing the Law

Efforts to undo the Obama administration’s unconstitutional subversion of Congress are welcome and long overdue.

This morning, Politico made me laugh, opening an article about the Trump administration’s department of Health and Human Services with this incredibly misleading paragraph:

"A small cadre of politically prominent evangelicals inside the Department of Health and Human Services have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care — a strategy that’s taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise"

The reality is that the Trump HHS has issued a notice of a proposed rule (essentially, a draft regulation for public review and comment) that will empower the agency to robustly enforce multiple statutes passed by Congress and signed by presidents from both parties — statutes that the Obama administration had unlawfully and unilaterally revised or undermined.

In other words, the Trump administration intends to enforce the law as written, creating a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the civil-rights office of HHS.

The only scandal here is the enduring (mainly progressive) idea that the executive branch can or should possess the authority to ignore or change laws passed by Congress.

The religion of the Trump officials is irrelevant. Only their actions matter.

The background is simple. For many, many years Congress has included within various statutes a series of conscience protections for health-care providers who work at federally funded health-care facilities. These conscience protections mainly prohibit doctors and nurses from being forced to participate in abortions, sterilizations, and assisted suicides. They’re found in the so-called Church Amendments, the Coates–Snow Amendment, the Weldon Amendment, the Affordable Care Act, and multiple other pieces of the United States Code. They have been passed by Democrat- and Republican-controlled Congresses, and signed by Democratic and Republican presidents.

It would be difficult for the American people to speak more clearly through their elected representatives. In a nation that still functioned according to its constitutional design, the executive branch would be obligated to robustly enforce these laws. Instead, ideological bureaucrats have all too often taken the view that enforcement is optional. Sometimes these same bureaucrats will take it upon themselves to functionally rewrite the statutes.

The Obama HHS, for example, both dragged its feet on enforcement and passed regulations that actually undermined the intent of the law as written by Congress. In fact, it issued a rule that quite literally changed a statute. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability” in federally funded health programs, HHS health programs, and “Health Insurance Marketplaces.”

In its regulations, however, Obama’s HHS unilaterally expanded the nondiscrimination categories to include “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy.” Thus, the Obama administration on its own created a rule that would require, for example, surgeons to amputate healthy organs as part of a gender “transition.”

It undermined statutory conscience protections for Christian doctors under the guise of preventing “discrimination” against women seeking an abortion. It created a minefield of potential conflicts between its regulation and multiple federal statutes.

On December 31, 2016, a federal judge enjoined enforcement of the Obama administration’s rule on the basis that it “contradict[ed] existing law” and “likely violate[d] the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

As of today this injunction is still in force. If anyone actually “weakened” Obama-era “protections for abortion and transgender care,” it was a federal judge interpreting federal statutes, not the “prominent evangelicals” at Trump’s HHS.

Oddly enough, you can read the entire Politico article and not find a single reference to this court opinion. Nor do you find any serious discussion of HHS’s statutory obligation to protect rights of conscience regarding abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide. Instead, you’ll find a lengthy discussion of the religious beliefs and backgrounds of various Trump administration HHS officials. You’ll find critics’ claims that HHS is “blurring the lines between church and state.”

The Obama administration perfected this art, justifying a series of unilateral actions with the claim that it was “forced to act” because Congress was “broken.” Examples are legion. Congress didn’t pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, so the Obama administration re-interpreted existing federal nondiscrimination statutes to include prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Congress didn’t rewrite the nation’s drug laws, so the Obama administration issued a series of memoranda that dramatically slowed down enforcement of statutes prohibiting the cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana.

Congress didn’t alter the due-process rights of college students, so the Obama administration issued a “letter” that transformed the legal landscape on campuses from coast to coast.

Congress didn’t reform the nation’s immigration laws, so the Obama administration implemented DAPA and DACA, two programs that together potentially impacted millions of illegal immigrants. In fact, this weekend’s government shutdown was a result of Obama’s unlawful DACA program.

The Trump administration rightly terminated the program, which didn’t even pretend to go through Congress or any sort of rulemaking process. If Trump let such a flagrant violation of the Constitution stand, there would be no shutdown. It’s that simple.

According to the modern progressive political project, any branch of government can make law. Yes, Congress can pass statutes, but Congress is controlled by Republicans, so it’s “broken.”

If Congress doesn’t pass a statute, then the president can simply re-interpret existing laws or exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to create entirely new legal protections or government programs.

If a later GOP president attempts to restore actual statutory standards, then he’s — to borrow Politico’s phrase — “weakening federal protections” for favored identity groups. Then, of course, the courts exist as a backstop, even to the point of telling President Trump that one president’s memorandum binds the presidencies that follow — if, that is, the judge in his infinite wisdom believes that the next president is “arbitrary” or “capricious.”

The subversion of the fundamental constitutional structure of our government is an extraordinarily consequential matter — far more consequential than the fact that there are now a bunch of icky Christians in HHS who are — gasp — enforcing a series of federal statutes passed by both parties.

Read the rule proposed by Trump’s HHS. It is fundamentally and essentially a recitation of the department’s clear statutory mandate to protect rights of conscience.

Progressives who have a problem with these protections need to take their case to Congress, not slime Christians for enforcing the law.


California dreaming again

But not in a good way.  In CA everything is bad for you -- including both potatoes and coffee

A California state judge is poised to declare coffee cancerous in the coming months.

A law passed in the state in 1986 requires business and public places to post warning signs if anything on the premises is found to be potentially harmful.

Research findings on coffee range from fully in favor of its preventative effects to utterly opposed to it.

The lawsuit over the beverage has similarly split Californians, some of whom say the warning is part of the state’s health-conscious transparency, while others say the signs and labels are so ubiquitous that they have lost their meaning.

California passed proposition 65, the Safe Drinking water and Toxic Enforcement Act, in 1986 after forceful campaigning by citizens, including Jane Fonda.

Under the measure, the state has to publish and update (at least once a year) a list of chemicals that have been found to cause cancer, birth defects or to harm reproductive health.

In the last 30 years, that list has grown to a whopping 900 chemicals, including acrylamide.

Acrylamide is a byproduct of some foods when they are cooked by methods that require very high temperatures, such as frying, roasting or baking, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Research has found particularly high levels of acrylamide in fried potato products, including French fries and potato chips.

The chemical also forms when coffee beans are roasted, leading the American Cancer Society to advise people to reduce their intakes of coffee, as well as grains and potato products.

Acrylamide contributed to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) classification of coffee as a carcinogen more than 25 years ago.

In 2016, however, the international agency eased up its warnings against the drink, instead advising that all ‘very hot’ drinks are carcinogenic.

Now, a court rather than a health organization is set to determine coffee's risks.

'The fact that a court is trying to establish causality between coffee and a disease is a tough thing to do,' says Dr Robert Shmerling, who has reviewed literature about coffee in his writing for Harvard University.

He says that some studies that have found cancer risks to coffee are later discredited.

'If you look at enough possibilities, you might find one even if there's not truth to it because of the way that statistics are set find an 95 percent chance that something won't happen by chance,' Dr Shmerling says. 

In some studies on cancer and coffee 'this is that five percent,' chance of coincidence, he says

But that hasn’t stopped the Council for Education and Research on Toxins (CERT) from bringing its case against dozens of coffee companies, including Starbucks and Keurig, neither of which replied to requests for comment.

The group is represented by Long Beach attorney Raphael Metzger and gained national attention in 2011 for suing McDonald’s and Burger King over claims that their French fries have dangerous levels of the same chemical, acrylamide.

Acylamide turns into a compound that can damage and cause mutations in DNA, raising risks for cancers in animal studies, according to the National Cancer Institute.

However, ‘a large number of epidemiological studies…in humans have found no consistent evidence that dietary acrylamide exposure is associated with any type of cancer,’ the institute’s site says.

That hasn’t stopped warnings to become nearly ubiquitous in California, to the chagrin of some residents, like Twitter user Jake NotTapper, who said ‘everything is known to the State of CA to cause cancer: mattresses, coffee, chemo and other cancer drugs (yes, really).’

New standards for Proposition 65 warnings will come into effect in August and will require companies to attach labels specific to their particular products and whatever substance in them is linked to  cancer.

Coffee may be included, depending on the outcome of the current lawsuit, but everything from parking garages to raw wood will now have to come with explanation of their carcinogens.

It is unclear how effective these warnings are at communicating risks, let alone changing behavior.

In 2014, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard University conducted a broad review of research on the effectiveness of disclosures on psychology, and concluded flatly that 'disclosure requirements appear to have been less effective in changing recipient behavior than their proponents seem to assume.'



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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