Political Correctness and Freedom of Speech: Looking for a Balance

Reading recently about a so-called ‘appropriation prize’–and two different takes on it, by Vicky Mochama and Dr. Jordan Peterson–prompted me to finally gather and clarify my thoughts on the issue of political correctness and freedom of speech, and write about it. Though I agree with one or two points Dr. Peterson made (mostly about criticism and censorship), I agree mostly with Mochama. (I will say right now that the ‘appropriation prize’ was a dick move.)

I’ve noticed the majority of people who are quick to cry ‘free speech’ do so when people dare to call them out on their ignorance and/or inappropriate behaviour–in short, for such people, ‘free speech’ means ‘don’t call me out for being a dick.’ I’ve also noticed a portion of this group attempt to stomp on their critics’ freedom of speech, by way of dogpiling, doxing, swatting, and other forms of online harassment, and by using terms like ‘social justice warrior/SJW,’ ‘cuck,’ ‘mangina,’ ‘white knight,’ and/or ‘special snowflake,’ which attempt to discredit and silence the targets of these terms and stop important conversations, while actually revealing the immaturity of the people using these terms. The fact is, freedom of speech works all ways, and applies to everyone.

That said, there’s being considerate of other people, and there’s tiptoeing around other people.

One major down side of political correctness is those who subscribe to it can–and a lot do–let their emotions get the better of them. And that has consequences, a lot of them negative; chief among those consequences is all reason goes out the window. For instance, it shouldn’t be considered politically incorrect to make statements of fact, and we should be able to disagree amicably on everything from finer details to the bigger picture. It’s important to be able to distinguish between statements of fact, differences of opinion, and jerkassery, and respond accordingly.

In order to have fruitful discussions, we have to ditch the black-and-white thinking and learn to recognize nuance. And this is also where listening skills come in handy; our discussions will be more fruitful if we know where everyone is coming from. The most important thing is to keep in mind that everything is up for discussion.

I’ll conclude by acknowledging that it is, by no means, easy to find a balance between political correctness and freedom of speech, but it is a necessary exercise.

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Positive vs. Wishful Thinking

I’d like to address another bee in my bonnet, which, this time, is people confusing wishful thinking with positive thinking. These people postulate that thoughts have magical powers, and can do everything from helping people get rich to preventing illness of any kind, and it’s your fault if bad things happen to you because you allegedly weren’t “thinking the right thoughts.” And that’s where positive thinking turns into delusion.

I have nothing against positive thinking: it can be a great motivator–it can boost and maintain morale–but anything beyond that is wishful thinking. Thoughts do not have magical powers; action is still required if we want anything, and even then there are no guarantees. We have to understand there are things that are beyond our control–though I’ll grant how we respond to them is important. But none of us is Vilos Cohaagen from the 1990 film Total Recall–none of us has the power to alter reality to suit our whims.

And it’s thinking we can alter reality to suit our whims that positive thinking becomes wishful thinking–and that’s where the danger lies. Thought is not a panacea–thinking the so-called “right” thoughts cannot cure all that ails us. And telling people who are in bad–or undesirable–situations that they’re in those situations because of their thought processes is a reprehensible form of victim-blaming; not everyone can rise above their circumstances. And that’s the big thing that bugs me about wishful thinking posing as positive thinking: it ignores biological, political, and other realities. But big business, political leaders, and others love it because it absolves them of any responsibility to change the way they operate.

Within reason, a positive outlook can do a lot of good, and visualizing a positive outcome for our endeavours can help us persevere, especially when the going gets tough. But it’s important to realize things don’t always work out the way we want them to, and things beyond our control can get in our way. A positive outlook is good, but it’s actually not helpful to ignore the bad and the ugly, instead of acknowledging them.

Tempest in a Teapot?

As much as the latest backlash against social progress disheartens me, the actions and attitudes of people who champion social progress which actually hinder that progress disappoint me as much, if not more. Yes, people who champion social progress can hinder social progress, chiefly by spreading misinformation and acting in ways which alienate people, many of whom may be potential allies. I call such people–I’m thinking, right now, about extreme and/or misandrist feminists, the vegan police, scientifically illiterate vegans and environmentalists, anti-war activists who blame Islamist terrorist acts entirely on Western governments–social-justice dogmatists.

Yes, it’s infuriating that it’s 2016 and sexism, racism, speciesism, classism, heteronormativity, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry still exist. Yes, it’s maddening that people who engage in any form of bigotry use any number of excuses–for instance, religion, culture, peer pressure–to, well, excuse it, or those among their number deny the prejudice and bigotry happen, or exist, altogether. But condemning the folks who engage in prejudice and bigotry, and don’t respond well to being called out on it, is not a constructive response, or reaction. Nor is turning social justice, or a positive attitude towards social progress, into dogma.

I understand the frustration of social-justice dogmatists–of all types and stripes–but lashing out at people, condemning them for what they’re doing and/or not doing, and adopting a holier-than-thou attitude don’t solve anything; nor does it help to harbour attitudes of ‘us vs. them’ or ‘with us or against us’–we have to at least meet each other halfway. This doesn’t mean compromising our principles or accommodating dangerous ideas, but we have to at least try to understand those we don’t agree with.

Social-justice dogmatists mean well, and I believe they have the best of intentions, but their actions, and even some of their ideas, ultimately hurt their respective causes, mostly by acting holier-than-thou, alienating those who don’t agree with all of their ideas, and trying to silence those who disagree with them. Negative, hurtful actions and ideas negate the best of intentions.

The urge to make a difference is strong–and noble. Idealism is fine, but we must live in the real world. In this day and age, skepticism is important–especially if we want to actually make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants.

Backlash, Version…?

Within the last two or three years, I’ve noticed people fighting back against advances in rights for women, people of colour, poor people, veganism, and other progressions in society. The way I see it, these people fall into at least two groups: those with privilege–eg. the manosphere and so-called ‘race realists’–who don’t want to give it up, and thus want to uphold the status quo and even turn back the clock; and those who side with them because they don’t want to suffer the same sorts of abuse as feminists, vegans, or anyone else who champions social progress, of any kind. Either way, this anti-progress attitude aims to stop social progress, simply because a number of people with one form or another of privilege have decided they don’t want to share, or to treat people who aren’t exactly like them like they matter.

In this backlash, the term ‘social justice warrior’ is thrown around as a blanket insult towards anyone who indicates they care about the world we live in, and our fellow creatures of all species, sexes, sexual orientations, ethnicities, gender identities, creeds, and so on, as are the terms ‘white knight’ and ‘mangina,’ which alerts me to the manosphere’s need to make up its collective mind about how its members view non-manosphere males. (Also, those terms are misandrist, as they state men don’t really care about the world or anyone who isn’t exactly like them, and those who actually do aren’t really men. In short, these terms are products of biological determinism.)

I acknowledge that those who give themselves the labels ‘vegan,’ ‘feminist,’ ‘anti-imperialist,’ and other labels associated with social progress of any kind say stupid things, and take things too far, but those participating in the backlash against social progress who deal with these folks use the same brush to paint everyone else, including more rational people, who give themselves labels associated with any kind of social progress, simply because a few people with privilege have an ‘I don’t wanna share’ attitude. I realize it’s human nature to generalize, but it’s important to know when doing so can do damage, particularly in the area of poisoning the well. This goes for everyone, whatever label(s) we give ourselves.

I’m a vegan, a feminist, I care about the environment, LGBTQ rights, and racial and ethnic equality, and I don’t care what anyone believes as long as it doesn’t negatively impact society. But I understand the importance of making sure one has one’s facts, and has them straight, before speaking, if one doesn’t want to make an ass of oneself. I understand misandry is a form of sexism and misanthropy is a form of speciesism (humans are animals–religious zealots and ‘spiritual’ types, get over it). No doubt there are others like me. Ergo, those who participate in the current backlash against social progress use the lunatic fringe of all social-progress movements to strawman, and poison the well against, the more rational among us–and we do exist.

Non- and anti-vegans, those who call themselves ‘men’s rights activists (MRAs),’ ‘race realists,’ etc., benefit from the status quo, and don’t want to see anything change as a result, apparently not realizing the status quo hurts them, too. I understand a lot of these folks operate out of ignorance, apparently having dealt only with the crackpots among those who disagree with them, and blind even to the ways they benefit from the status quo, never mind how it hurts them. The way I see it, only a tiny portion of the above entities want the status quo to stay as it is because of the ‘I don’t wanna share’ mindset. I’m guessing they can’t see how they themselves can benefit from social progress.

I know it shouldn’t shock me there are still people, in this day and age, who are afraid of change–of any kind. Afraid to let go of whatever privilege they have, perhaps because they don’t think they’re important without it. It doesn’t help there are those willing to deliberately misrepresent ideas, such as feminism, veganism, the struggle for racial and ethnic equality, and rights for LGBTQ folk and others who have never had a lot of power in society, and are willing to use the lunatic fringe of movements for social progress in their misrepresentations. I, for one, hope the numbers of the people afraid of change, and who actively fight against it, will peter out as time goes by, but all those of us who want change can do until then is educate people, and fight the status quo.

All My Thoughts on Globalization

Talk on this subject has been dormant within the circles I move in here in Vancouver, but I’m sure the topic will come up again before long–this is Vancouver, after all, and people here who style themselves activists have a real bone to pick with globalization–or, rather, what they think it is. So, before that happens, I’ll tell you all my thoughts (right now) on globalization.

Wikipedia defines globalization as ‘the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views (sic), products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.’ This integration and interchange has occurred for thousands of years, at least since the Middle Ages, if not earlier. Sure, much of globalization from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century manifested in the form of imperialism, but discoveries were made and exchanges took place. Now, in the age of air travel and the Internet, globalization is inevitable. Thanks to today’s technology and communications infrastructure, the world is growing increasingly interconnected and pluralistic. It even helps with activism, by enabling activists to coordinate their activities via the Internet–the 1999 protest against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, for instance.

Now I have to address a couple of major issues I have with those who bash globalization: first, the way they freak out when they see anyone in a different nation (especially if said nation is underdeveloped) wearing, say, a Roots or Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt (with or without traditional garb) while themselves enjoying things such as sushi, yoga, or anime in their own backyards–apparently not realizing they can’t have their cake and eat it, too–and talk about the concept of globalization as if it’s not a system of give and take–in effect, confusing, and conflating, the definitions of globalization and imperialism, the latter of which is what they’re really against. The thing is, ‘globalization’ and ‘imperialism’ are not synonyms. Granted, globalization can be done better, by acknowledging power dynamics between nations and ensuring more developed nations don’t take advantage of less developed nations; however, the attitude of ‘what’s best for business’ being the highest priority, rather than globalization, has wreaked ecological, economic, social, and other forms of havoc. P.S.: Complaints about people in different nations wearing, eating, or using, etc. items made by North American, European, etc. companies just create a tempest in a teapot.

I’m all for calling out injustice and inequality. But let’s make sure we learn the definitions of the words we use, and stick to the real issues.

Cultural Appropriation

It’s finally time for me to address an issue I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, and which has occupied my thoughts for quite some time now (and may make me seem like a bandwagoner here): the issue of cultural appropriation. I’ll sum up my thoughts here: While context is important in regards to cultural exchange of any kind, and I acknowledge white people especially have to take history and social reality into account when we adopt aspects of non-white cultures (since we’re the ones with the most privilege), there is such a thing as taking things too far.

Take, for instance, the idea that white people shouldn’t wear clothing, jewellery, or body decor (such as mendhi) from cultures not our own, especially of our own accord, as doing so can be considered cultural appropriation. Clothing, objects, and symbols of any kind have no meaning in and of themselves; people give these things meanings. And cultures–past and present–are made up of people. Granted (as an example), a non-Native wearing a war bonnet is the equivalent of someone who never served in the Canadian Forces wearing a Victoria Cross–that I can agree with, especially considering the war bonnet, as an object and as a symbol, hasn’t been adopted into the non-Native mainstream to date. But is it really cultural appropriation if anyone, regardless of ethnicity, adopts something, or a few things, from one or more different cultures which have been not only adopted, but absorbed, into the Western mainstream?

Now, let’s look at the hypocrisy of those on the lunatic fringe (let’s be fair here) of those who complain about what they consider ‘cultural appropriation’–more specifically, disciples of the New Age movement who subscribe to the belief that what they consider cultural appropriation is wrong. For instance, Jeffrey Armstrong, Heather Lounsbury, and Jordan Pearce (of ‘Spirit Science’ fame) peddle products, services, and rhetoric modeled on some version of ancient Eastern philosophy, such as Ayurveda (in the case of Armstrong) and traditional Chinese medicine (Lounsbury). The thing is, these folks are white. Will those New Agers who whinge about cultural appropriation go after them for actually misappropriating other cultures–and for their own personal gain–or will they resort to special pleading? Especially when one considers that New Age products, services, and rhetoric are geared towards middle-class people, the vast majority of whom are white…

Because of globalization (a topic I’ll cover another time), the world has become more interconnected, and thus there is more cultural exchange and cross-pollination than ever before, so, except for a few situations, it’s ridiculous to talk about cultural appropriation, especially when originating cultures can access aspects of their own cultures, especially once those aspects have been adopted and absorbed into the mainstream. As John McWhorter once wrote, “With gay white men and black women, for example, it’s not as if the black women are being left without their culture after the “theft,” … The idea that when we imitate something we are seeking to replace it rather than join it is weak. … Every language in the world is shot through with words and grammatical patterns from other languages—that is, signs of people in the past doing what we would call ‘appropriating.'”

All of that said, I agree it’s not unreasonable to ask that we show respect for other cultures, and to ensure all cultural exchanges and borrowings are done on a level playing field. That is, everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gets credit for what they create; we not misrepresent, nor perpetuate stereotypes of, other cultures (Katy Perry, here’s looking at you); there’s enough for everyone (think yoga and what we in the West think of as ethnic food); and there are no double standards (think Kylie Jenner’s cornrows and Miley Cyrus’s dreadlocks).

In conclusion, like with everything else, it’s important to keep the subject of cultural appropriation in perspective.

An Open Letter to Progressives on International Blasphemy Rights Day

Today–September 30–marks International Blasphemy Rights Day. While the majority of the nonreligious are posting comic posts on social-media outlets today to mark this day as a day to criticize religion and say doing so is OK, I’m going to use today as an opportunity to address the left in the developed world, in regards to its stance on religion.

To all of you progressives:

I believe your minds are in the right place in regards to wanting to make the world a better place for everyone, and not just a privileged few. But giving a free-hall pass to people who commit heinous acts in the name of religion is not the way to go, nor is making excuses for them, nor attempting to shift the blame onto other entities, such as the governments of industrialized nations such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, etc.–though I will be among the last people to say these nations don’t have shitty policies, which effect the world beyond their borders.

Now on to the topic at hand: Islam. Islam is a religion, not a race–let’s at least try to distinguish between the two terms. Also, why are you sending us the message that Islam is beyond criticism, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is the enemy of humanity, is Islamophobic, bigoted, racist, pro-war, pro-occupation, pro-imperialism, etc.? Islam is not special, and does not warrant, nor should it be given, special consideration or treatment. There is a line between defending people who happen to be Muslims and demanding Islam be considered above reproach, critique, and even mockery, and treated as such. For instance, you’ll have to make like everyone else and live with it when people call out Islamic apologists like Hamza Tzortzis and Reza Aslan whenever they talk crap. And, lastly for this topic, stop it with the promiscuous use of the term ‘Islamophobia’–it doesn’t do anyone any favours, and we need to keep this discussion moving if we want to solve problems. If we want to end religious privilege–everywhere–we have to bring Islam to the same level as all religious and superstitious belief systems.

I would also like to take this chance to point out that criticizing, satirizing, and parodying religion, as opposed to giving it privileged status, does not infringe on people’s right to be religious. In societies such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, European nations, etc., people have the right to believe whatever the hell we want; what we don’t have the right to do is impose our beliefs on other people, in any way, or use our beliefs to infringe on the rights of others. If you want a better world, you should acknowledge the damage religion–and yes, that includes Islam–does, and help ensure it does not have a privileged place in society, but instead is kept in check like any other ideology is, and should be.