What Roxane Gay Misses on #MeToo

At this point, being surprised at the number of women who have experienced sexual harassment is ridiculous. People are depraved, as they have always been, which is why there were so many “#MeToo”s on social media this week. This is not new information, as Roxane Gay pointed out in her op-ed for the Times, yesterday:

We already know victims’ stories. Women testify about their hurt, publicly and privately, all the time. When this happens, men, in particular, act shocked and surprised that sexual violence is so pervasive because they are afforded the luxury of oblivion.

Every once in a while, there’s a chorus of public testimony to the awfulness of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, usually triggered by a related major news story (e.g. Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein). But does all this public testimony do anything? I’m skeptical, as is Gay. Sexual harassment doesn’t stop being a problem when we acknowledge that it’s a problem. It takes more than “awareness” of sin to stop sin. So what do we do?

Gay says that men need to confess:

Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.

The problem with Gay’s solution is that it will not change anything. Men who habitually harass women probably don’t care all that much about ending sexual harassment. And other men probably don’t have a lot to confess to in this regard. (How many men have actually cornered a woman in a hallway or made lewd comments to a co-worker? Or am I just being naive?) As far as I can tell, this would be only a “balm,” as Gay puts it, making some people feel better because it looks like progress is being made. But what we really want is an antidote, a way to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment.

And this is, in large part, the responsibility of men, too, albeit in a different way. Fathers have to raise their boys to be good men instead of contemptible creeps. Feminists complain about “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture,” but that’s the default setting for depraved human souls. Counteracting the tendency towards sin requires that we replace it with something else. Merely giving everyone a list of things not to do will not work. We need a positive vision of what it is to be good. And boys in particular need to be taught what it is to be a good man, and how a good man treats the women around him.

But even this will not completely eliminate sexual harassment. The depravity of the human soul can be mitigated, but it cannot be overcome (not by us, at least). We owe it to one another to do our best to solve our many problems, but some problems are intractable. We shouldn’t be surprised when we cannot save ourselves from ourselves. Only Jesus can do that.

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Ulrich Baer is Destroying America

Who is Ulrich Baer, you ask? He’s a university professor and administrator at NYU. According to his faculty web page, part of his job is to “strengthen NYU’s ongoing effort to create the most diverse and inclusive community of outstanding faculty, students, and staff.” Put another way, he’s one of the high priests of the diversity cult.

This may seem like an extreme characterization, but it’s accurate. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I unsubscribed from the New York Times after they published a whole host of op-eds that were not fit for publication. The one that pushed me over the edge was Baer’s argument in favor of censorship.

This morning I watched the recording of a discussion held at Kenyon College between Baer, Charles Cooke, editor of National Review Online, and Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor. The topic was free speech. Baer and Fryberg both argued that there need to be more limitations on free speech, while Cooke argued that the robust speech protections in our law ought to be maintained.

Fryberg’s line of argument was the stuff you’d expect from a left-wing academic who is committed to creating social justice at all costs. Native Americans such as Fryberg need to “develop a voice” in isolation from oppressive speech from more privileged groups. If they aren’t given space to develop in this way, then they’re effectively being deprived of their free speech rights. This is a stupid argument. None of the greatest minority advocates in U.S. history relied on censorship of the oppressive majority to “find their voice.” Figures such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall rose to the challenge of an overwhelmingly hostile majority and worked to enact justice. But today’s minorities need to be shielded from bigoted words? Absurd.

But as bad as Fryberg’s arguments were, Baer’s were even worse. At least she was making claims, albeit dumb ones. Baer, on the other hand, refused to say anything substantive, which demonstrates the weakness of his position. Cooke would repeatedly point out that no one person is competent to decide what kind of speech constitutes hate speech. But then Baer would respond that someone is, although it may not be him or anyone else on the panel. It’s not particularly reassuring for the person making the pro-censorship argument to say, “I’m not sure who is competent to censor, but there’s gotta be someone out there to do it, right?”

Later, Baer was pressed by an audience member to be more specific about what kind of speakers he thinks should not be allowed to speak on university campuses. This was in response to claims from Baer that universities ought to be more discerning when it comes to giving platforms to speakers. He basically responded that he could name names, but he wouldn’t do so in order to avoid dignifying the people by acknowledging their existence. Of course, the consequence of his refusal to say just who he thinks should be censored is that we actually have no idea what his position is—maybe he just wants to keep David Duke off of campuses, but maybe he also thinks that Charles Murray and Ben Shapiro are hateful bigots who should be kept as far away from impressionable young minds as possible.

And that’s the problem with these anti-free speech arguments. When taken to their logical conclusions, they quickly lead to absurdity. I can imagine Baer as a character in a Socratic dialogue. Socrates pushes him into a corner, but Baer just keeps doubling down on his claims without clarifying them or supporting them until he angrily storms away, saying something like, “I don’t know how to answer you, but you’re wrong, and I’m right.” Eventually, of course, he will conspire with his fellow citizens to have Socrates killed, because that’s what you do when people are “corrupting the youth.”

The utter spinelessness of people like Baer is what has allowed destructive illiberal tendencies to flourish in our universities.  By refusing to talk specifics, they obscure the debate, making it harder to see what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is that people are becoming increasingly pro-censorship, albeit for different reasons than in the past.

Apology to Jess Mathews and the EST

After talking to people and taking another look at all the things I said on Twitter and on this blog, I’ve realized that I was really cruel to the EST staff and especially to Jess. I deleted the post. I’ve deactivated my Twitter account. I’m taking a break from social media to think more about what possesses me to say such awful, unkind things to people. Sorry to everyone that I put down.

Jess has been very gracious to me, and I’m thankful for that. I would certainly not have been so gracious if someone else had done the same to me.

To whoever reads this: please pray that I stop being such a shitty person.