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February 29, 2016

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Orin Kerr

It is perhaps worth flagging that Stanley will be debating "Free Speech on Campus" at Yale tomorrow as part of the Intelligence Squared debate series. It will be Wendy Kaminer & John McWhorter vs. Jason Stanley & Shaun Harper. I think all of their debates are available as a free podcast afterwards.

anon

Much of the "silencing" in academia is as a result of clique behavior, demanding conformity of thinking (and labeling certain ideas "unthinkable").

A sort of obvious example, IMHO, are "Hitler references." The facile resort to "Godwin's law" by some stifles the discourse we should have been having for years about the nature of humans to gravitate toward charismatic leaders who pit "us" against "them."

Because of the mores in the academy, however, any comparison of that which is so clearly comparable - happening before our eyes in fact -- is verboten.

Lubet claims to be a liberal in the classic sense. But this involves more than combating speech with more speech. It also involves an open mind, a willingness to consider all sides, a rejection of convention in thinking and group think that stifles free thought. For example, a liberal most definitely would look at the trends in society, e.g., from Kennedy to the present in the Democratic party, and would consider integrity on all sides of the political spectrum.

As for "hate speech" that is defined by some as any position that doesn't conform to the radical extremes of one branch of one political party, this is a symptom of severe cognitive dissonance (demanding tolerance and acceptance while viciously attacking and hating anyone who doesn't immediately agree with any and every proposition.)

True libel, on the other hand, can be addressed. It's funny that, on a site devoted to the faculties of law schools, have we forgotten the difference? (hint: group libel is generally not recognized, but, as always, there are exceptions).


Stan Nadel

An excellent response to an incoherent article by Stanley--who seems to equate criticism with censorship as long as it is his allies who are being criticized.

David Schraub

Well put, and I agree entirely. Jason has recently been on a kick arguing (correctly) that criticism of ideas, presentations, or practices as racist, sexist, or otherwise biased is not a free speech violation but an example of counterspeech. But when it is Jews doing the criticism, suddenly he reverts right back to crying "censorship". It is grotesquely hypocritical, made all the more jarring because of just how closely his arguments against the Walzer/Yudof article track the beats of the conservative "people criticizing me means I'm being silenced!" claims he spends the majority of his time critiquing.

Again, the initial argument (critical counterspeech does not violate free speech; and persons arguing the contrary often do so to silence claims of prejudice or discrimination by outgroups) is absolutely right. Unfortunately Jason has made it abundantly clear that the check he is writing is one Jews are not entitled to cash. And that's bullshit.

Jason Stanley

Sorry for not being more clear, and the misunderstandings in these comments are largely my fault. Let me explain at greater length.

I am not objecting to criticizing critiques of Israel's policies. I am firmly for everyone's free speech; I am a free speech absolutist. At Paur's talk, everyone has the right to challenge her arguments. Specifically, a campus is a place in which people listening to a talk can criticize the talk, or not go, or whatever. I brought in Yudoff and Waltzer's article because it seemed to me to make some problematically anti-free speech moves. First, it had two anti-free speech aspects; the suggestion that the administration take sides, and the clear calling in of violent threats, which is easily foreseeable. I then making a parallel, albeit quite abstract, to the weird strategy of the Heterodox Academy.

First, I don't think that administrators should take sides on positions that should be subject to the norms of open campus debate. Secondly, we sadly live in a culture in which it is possible to call in brutal anonymous violent threats on people. And that's anti-free speech. I don't know if people are just pretending that they don't know this. But the Wall Street Journal article has literally placed Paur's life in peril, judging by the threats she is getting. Folks, that's not cool. I have been subject to death threats myself, for my articles about racial mass incarceration. I have a strong Jewish identity. But I also have a strong identity as someone whose positions, specifically on racial injustice in the United States, have resulted in scary threats. I become very upset when I see others calling in those forces. It's frightening and you shouldn't do it. It's anti-free speech. Don't pretend you don't know what you're doing.

The more abstract point is the one more central to the piece. Yudoff and Waltzer are saying that the campus climate at Vassar that allows for the airing of critiques of Israel, but not vigorous pushback, is not the policies surrounding the last Gaza incursion, but a fear of being critiqued in a campus culture that is chilling to free speech. This, I'm saying, is weird. Why assume that the lack of objections to Paur's talk in the question session was because of a lack of free speech culture at Vassar? Maybe what she was saying wasn't that objectionable. And this is the weirdness going on with the Heterodox Academy as well. They are saying that the lack of people on campus pushing back against anti-racism is due to a lack of free speech, not the intrinsic implausibility of the position in question. That prejudges an issue that it is the purpose of academic discourse to decide. That's a quite abstract parallel. But it's a parallel that's real. It's my fault for not being more clear about it, so sorry people.

I'm going to call out David Schraub's horrendous accusation. David and I were at the same academic conference. He gave a terrible argument and I explained why his argument was terrible. It has nothing to do with my religion or his religion. It has to do with the fact that he gave a bad argument. I get that feelings are sore when you are refuted in public, but trying to denigrate my connection to my identity is kind of a negative strategy in response to that.

Finally, the assumption that my "allies" are the critics of Israeli policy is mistaken. My "allies" are the ones who are devotees of free open debate (and don't respond to getting refuted in academic conferences by weird hypotheses about self-hating Jews). I support the existence of the state of Israel. As anyone can see from my CV, I have no problem giving lectures in Israel, and am returning again this summer for lectures. I am strongly and proudly Jewish. But I conceptually am able to distinguish the policies taken by the Likud government from my own religious identity. And we do ourselves a disservice if we run them together. I see these confusions in the Yudoff and Waltzer article, in their extreme rhetoric.

And to reiterate the main point again, the assumption that only a lack of free speech prevented the (Jewish studies!) faculty at Paur's talk from replying is the weird assumption in question in the article. It mirrors the Heterodox Academy's assumption that only a lack of free speech prevents people from challenging antiracist positions. Again, I apologize for not making this more clear.

And finally, to reiterate: if I refute you and you in an academic conference, it doesn't mean I am unfair to Jews. It may just mean that your argument isn't very good. Let's back off the personal and focus on ideas.

I think that our campuses do an excellent job of hosting open debate. I assume that if Paur's arguments weren't met with strong opposition by the 8 departments that hosted her talk, that's good evidence she had some good arguments. My positions, which are admittedly not Likud party line but far from outside Israeli mainstream views, can withstand the vigorous campus debate. I do not agree with BDS, obviously. But they have every right to state their views, and I believe that my positions, which are well within the mainstream of Israeli politics, can stand up in open debate with their views. And if we give up on this, well, where are we then?

Jason Stanley

Also, I'm disturbed by the clear misrepresentation of Paur's views. Why is this continuing and why is this happening? There is nothing in the linked article that asserts that the Israeli government has harvested Palestinian body parts. Only by deliberately misrepresenting the linked paper can you say that. So it is simply false, and you can verify it is false, by reading the linked article. I really think our ideas can stand on our own, without having to misrepresent other people's ideas.

I confess I haven't done the empirical research Paur and others have about the other issues. But I have read enough of just war theory and various things about war to understand that there is no easy way to fight a war. So I don't know about what the IDF's tactics have been and can't speak to them. This is not my scholarly area. But I do know enough about just war theory to know that it's....really complicated, including surrounding issues of civilians. How about engagement between actual Israeli theorists like Halbertal, who are informed, bringing in other just war theorists on this topic? I would benefit from this. The topic of war is philosophically complex, and just war theory is thorny. I don't see engagement here on those issues. I see attempts to vilify and misrepresent instead. Here is an idea...how about open debate and discussions, about the thorny, complex issue of just war?

Jason Stanley

Ack. I can see this post is verging on propaganda, rather than an attempt to engage, so I am now regretting my decision to do so. The author writes, "Stanley accuses Heterodox Academy types of complaining too much when conservative speakers are prevented from presenting their views." No I don't. This is complete fakery. I make no such accusation. What is going on here?

I'm willing to apologize for unclarity in a dense piece. I'm sorry, I should have spelled out the argument more. But I can't apologize for accusations that I didn't at all make.

Jason Stanley

I rely on the empirical assumption that when you challenge antiracists, they don't email you violent threats. Apparently, when you challenge Likud policy, you are subject to scary violent threats. I agree with Lubet that if that disanalogy is incorrect, then one part of my argument against Yudoff and Waltzer fails. And I fully agree that this is an empirical assumption I do not support in the text.

Alexander Tsesis

Alexander Tsesis

Prof. Stanley,

I find suspect your claim that the lack of response to Paur was an indication that the audience thought she made good points. I suppose it's possible. If so, I would be even more troubled by the Vassar audience. One difficulty of assessing Paur's statements is that the event wasn't recorded. But the reports of what was said are not those of academic discourse but fallacy under the guise of academic statements.

My understanding is attendees reported her to make veiled blood libel claims (ie. the claim that Israel harvests Palestinian organs and the claim that Israel engages in summary executions) that have long ago been investigated and refuted. Moreover, those claims are not merely benign but we know that they are used in terrorist recruiting, and Paur is reported to have supported "'armed' resistance," rather than negotiated settlement. (I had never heard of her before this came up so I don't know what her actual positions are on these things, but am solely going off the reports.) Moreover, I wonder but also don't know whether the environment at the event was hostile (an issue relevant to Title VI of the Higher Education Act), if so that might explain the lack of response, if not it might point to something else. One thing I fail to see is how the extreme fallacies she's purported to have made contribute to the marketplace of ideas given that they confuse rather than advance any reasonable argument. The blood libel of Jews using Christian children's blood, for instance, caused immense harm. It was not merely benign tomfoolery. The absolutist free speech claim fails to recognize that not all speech is politically benign, a lesson well demonstrated by al-Awlaki's sermons. Indeed, not all false political speech is counteracted by truth (witness the effect of pro-slavery thought in the South, where despite the availability of anti-slave and abolitionist statements appearing in the Congressional Globe and Southern newspapers, it was racism that won out in the marketplace of ideas; or take the example of how effective antisemitic speech has been in causing violence and scapegoating; neither were statements against Tutsis in Rwanda merely a matter of vehement debate but had very real consequences).

On the threats you purport she's been receiving, if true that would be abominable. But has anyone actually read or seen them? If accurate, the police must get involved.

David Schraub

I assure you, Jason, that there are no hard feelings from the UConn conference. I tremendously enjoyed myself there, and I'm delighted to announce that the fruits of my "terrible argument" have just been published this week alongside many of the other excellent contributions to that conference in Social Theory & Practice (Vol 42.2, special issue on Dominating Speech; my article is entitled "Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith").

Jason was a vigorous participant in the Q&A of my session; some of his contributions were more useful than others (as I recall, he did inspire me to think more carefully about the issue of triaging scarce deliberative resources; I dedicate some time to this issue in the final draft of the paper). You can read my contemporaneous reflections on the conference here (http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2014/11/dominating-anti-semitism.html); which include comments by Jason where (on the one hand) he said he "very much enjoyed" my talk which he found did not provoke any "large disagreements between ]me] and anyone else" and that "(on the other) complained that I had suggested "that critiques of Israel's policy towards Gaza are a fortiori instances of [anti-Semitism]". I, of course, suggested nothing of the sort (why would I -- I've been a critic of Israel's Gaza policies as well) -- I suggested that particular criticisms in particular contexts phrased in particular ways might be anti-Semitic, and that the way you sort the wheat from the chaff is by dealing with the cases individually rather than making sweeping declarations that such charges are generally bogus.

Indeed, I distinctly recall him framing his questions as trying to distinguish between my "racism, sexism, and Zionism examples" -- but my presentation did not contain "racism, sexism, and Zionism examples". It contained "racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism examples". Specifically, I talked about Howard Jacobson's review of Caryl Churchill's "Seven Jewish Children" (Israel related, but Jacobson's complaint was not that Churchill was not "Zionist"), and a passage by Habermas -- completely unrelated to Israel or Zionism -- where he stated that "anyone who accuses me of anti-Semitism hardly expects a response." The push to subsume "criticism of anti-Semitism" (even in cases -- like the Habermas example -- that have no bearing on Israel) under a perceived "inability to tolerate any criticism of Israel" was in many ways illustrative of the moves I was critiquing.

So I continue to think, then and now, that Jason has an implicit anti-Semitism exception to his general views of how discrimination claims ought to be treated. I say this not to impugn anyone's Jewish identity (Jews are as entitled as anyone else to get "Jewish" questions wrong), nor as a personal insult (anymore than any claim of implicit bias -- racism, sexism, and so on -- are merely "personal" slurs -- speaking of exceptions to the rules, does Jason believe this in any other context other than anti-Semitism?). I say it because I think the shoe fits, and because I don't believe anti-Semitism claims are especially differentiated from other claims of oppression which too often are wrongfully declared illiberal, out-of-bounds, illegitimate, or censorial. To quote directly from my horrible paper:

"A claim of racism, sexism, or antisemitism need not come attached to any assertion of insincerity or bad faith. This is because the contours of discrimination are not exhausted by the intentions of the speaker. It is a perfectly valid discursive request to interrogate potential injustices lurking within positions honestly taken and passionately felt. To reduce such inquiry to a mere search for hidden motivations is to dramatically circumscribe justice talk generally."

Jason Stanley

Alexander,

Professor Lubet posted a transcript of the talk. I simply think it's extreme misrepresentation to attribute the claims you attribute to her on the basis of that talk. Though I have never met Paur, I taught at Rutgers and so know that yes police are involved. Universities now hire security when she speaks on the basis of the threats against her. And then newspapers even make fun of the fact that she now needs a security presence, as here:

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/scaredy-cat-bomb-thrower-article-1.2544174

I have received one piece of hate mail simply on the basis of my repudiation of misinterpretations of her talk, so I an only imagine what she is experiencing. We need to denounce this forcefully. You can disagree with views, but this is just wrong.

Jason Stanley

David,

I'm sorry, what's at issue between us is an academic disagreement about a paper you presented. We can go bore everyone by going through the arguments, some of which I did think were good. But there were analogies you drew that I rejected, and they didn't have anything to do with Judaism but just the abstract structure of the argument. If you have fixed them in response to my objections, I am pleased, but can we please set to rest that issues about soundness and validity of arguments bear on identity. They don't.

David Schraub

I gladly endorse all of that. I agree that our disagreement is academic, not personal (based on the paper I presented and, in the current context, the column you wrote). And I agree that argumentative soundness/validity does not bear on identity (our Jewish identity does not make either of us inherently correct or incorrect about our assessments of given arguments; including on how they should cash out in the Jewish case). And I don't take you to be claiming that there's anything necessarily wrong with interrogating whether we apply our principles evenly across various identity axes or, if not, exploring the causes of the inconsistency (obviously the crux of our disagreement is about whether the relevant principles are being cashed out appropriately in the Jewish case vis-a-vis other axes of oppression; but I assume you don't think that the line of inquiry is wrong in principle even if you think my particular appraisal is substantively incorrect).

Finally, I'd also like to add my full-throated condemnation of any threats of violence directed to Prof. Puar (nobody asked me, but it's worth saying sua sponte). I actually have very little doubt she has received some, for it sadly seems that this is becoming a more and more ubiquitous event among persons whose controversial speech falls under the public spotlight (just in this thread it appears Jason's experienced this, Steven's experienced this -- even I've gotten one or two over the course of my career, and I'm pretty low-profile). Threats of violence are awful to be on the receiving end of and are a stain on any social commitment to free expression. They shouldn't be viewed as anything other than abhorrent no matter what one thinks of the speaker's underlying views.

Jonathan H. Adler

Prof. Stanley --

If you believe that those who make mainstream conservative and libertarian arguments on controversial policy questions are never subject to death threats (or threats against their families), you are sorely mistaken. I can attest first hand that such hostile responses are disturbingly common.

JHA

Jason Stanley

Dear Jonathan H. Adler,

I think it is particularly deplorable and hypocritical for those whose concerns are first and foremost with humanism and equality to engage in such tactics. I stand in solidarity and support of everyone who participates in public political discourse, and their right to speak their mind without having to face such fears. To be honest, a lot of my commitments lie here; with the importance of public political discourse, to be carried out in an atmosphere free of physical threat and harm. Whenever I hear of an academic facing such threats, I must confess to great anger. It sounds like you have suffered from such attacks, and I harshly condemn them and stand with you in support of your right to speak without fear. Really, that's among my central commitments here.

Scott Rose

Where, in all of this, is mention of the fact that in her Vassar speech, Puar called for "armed resistance" against Israel (at a time when jihadists are stabbing Jews with intent to murder them, and deliberately ramming their vehicles into them at bus stops and other public locations)?

Puar said in her speech that "we need" . . . . "armed resistance" against Israel.

Why has this fact disappeared from the discourse?

Scott Rose

P.S. -- Jason Stanley asserted that the Wall Street Journal op-ed, alone, led to a "wave of violent threats against Puar." His apparent demonizing falsehood there would not likely sustain cross-examination were Stanley under oath in a court of law. Puar's speech was widely reported, debunked and condemned online, even before the WSJ op-ed was published. Why would the WSJ op-ed, alone among all the published criticisms of Puar's speech, provoke violent threats? It is appalling to see Stanley continually distracting from the issue of whether Puar's shocking and irresponsible anti-Israel assertions can be documented as true, or are falsehoods. Stanley accuses two co-authors of an op-ed of "predictably" provoking "a wave of violent threats" against Puar -- his assertion borders on the defamatory and additionally is of profoundly dubious veracity.

Stanley appears unwilling to engage honestly with the relevant issues. The relevant issues are, do Puar's anti-Israel lies, in their aggregate, constitute speech that a reasonable person could define as evidencing hatred of Jews? If so, than are the WSJ writers correct to opine that Puar's anti-Israel hate speech and lies should not be considered just another academic point for debate? To begin to answer these questions, Puar's speech has to be rigorously fact-checked by competent, impartial fact checkers.

Scott Rose

In addition to calling for violence against Israelis, Puar supports a total boycott of Israeli academics. She thinks that no Israeli professor should be allowed to speak at any American school.

Here (yet again) we see Jason Stanley's galling hypocrisy; he supports Puar's right to call for violence against Israelis, and to call for Israeli academics to be banned from speaking in American universities, but he makes no answer to *her* for her call to have Israeli professors banned from the United States.

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