A Missed Opportunity

When neo-Nazis decide to hold a rally, it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, do not support it. For one thing, the Nazis were our enemies in World War II. They killed Americans in battle. For another, overt racism is generally regarded by Americans as the evil that it is. Nazism isn’t popular. Just because you can dredge up a couple hundred angry white guys doesn’t mean you have a “movement” in any meaningful sense. It just means that you have a couple hundred angry white guys.

What happened in Charlottesville was despicable. It’s not surprising to me that Americans from across the political spectrum condemned the rally, as well as the violence that it occasioned. Indeed, I think the widespread condemnation is really good evidence that I’m right to think that America’s population is 99.99 percent against Nazism. What’s frustrating for me is that our response to this could have been one of national unity. We basically all agree that the people who went to this rally are the scum of America. Why not call attention to that? Why not emphasize that the left and right in America can be unified against race-based hatred?

Instead, what I’ve seen on Twitter is a bunch of people on the left criticizing people on the right for failing to condemn the white supremacists (even though they were condemning the white supremacists). And then when it became impossible to ignore the fact that basically every mainstream conservative figure had, in fact, condemned the rally in the strongest possible terms, people questioned their sincerity without grounds:

The political divide in our country is so deep that we can’t even unite in our opposition to Nazism. Even when our political foes do and say exactly what we do and say, we can’t give them any credit. Disgraceful.

Even the criticism of Trump’s weak statement on the rally has been mostly bipartisan, with many highly visible conservative figures calling attention to his failure to explicitly condemn white supremacy:

You’d think that, since people on the left and right are saying the same thing, they would stop being at each other’s throats for just a second, but we’re incapable of doing that. God help us.

Equality: a Poor Substitute for Justice

Equality does not matter. Without further context, the mere fact of equality or inequality has zero moral implications. What actually matters is justice. When people talk about the importance of equality, they’re trying to talk about justice, but they’re doing so imprecisely.

It is obvious that different people should be treated differently. A high-achieving student should be given admission to a prestigious college, while a mediocre student should not. To treat the two students equally would, in fact, be unjust. Give to each what he is owed. Through her achievements, the high-achieving student has demonstrated that she is owed something which the mediocre student is not.

There are many ways in which you can be owed something. Personal merit is one of these ways. Another way is by being wronged. If someone steals from you, then they owe you what they stole from you. You can also be owed something by entering into and fulfilling your side of a voluntary exchange with another person. I work for my employer, and as a result, they owe me my salary.

Certain people would have us believe that unequal outcomes between groups are prima facie evidence of injustice. These people are relying on our failure to properly distinguish equality and justice to further their political agenda. A good example of this is the so-called wage gap. We are told that the average woman makes 77 cents per hour for every dollar per hour the average man makes, the implication being that we’re a misogynistic society that values female labor less than male labor. In reality, this gap is more reasonably explained by how women, on average, are less motivated in their career choices by salary than are men, on average, as well as by how women, on average, are more agreeable and therefore less likely to ask for increased pay than are men, on average.

The same people who hold up the “wage gap” as an example of systemic misogyny point to underrepresentation of certain groups in certain sectors of society as further evidence that we are evil. Google engineers are mostly men. This must be because Google hates women. African-Americans are underrepresented at elite undergraduate universities.* White supremacy. We don’t even question the inference, because we don’t understand the difference between inequality and injustice.

And yet, when other inequalities crop up that don’t fit the narrative of the oppressive patriarchy, we ignore them. Far more men than women are incarcerated. Women now earn a majority of academic degrees. The NBA is disproportionately African-American. Does the justice system discriminate against men? Do universities favor women? Is the NBA racist against white people? No, no, and no.

If your goal is really equality, then you should be just as concerned about the inequalities in the last paragraph as you are about the “wage gap” and Google’s sex ratio. But the absurdity of casting the examples I just gave as examples of injustice should lead you to instead reject the goal of equality and put justice in its place. Sometimes, outcomes will be unequal, but if these outcomes are the result of just processes, then there’s no reason to worry about them.

*I recognize that, to a significant degree, this is a result of past injustices. Jim Crow, racist housing policies, and the refusal of local governments to protect blacks from racial violence have had an enduring effect on African-Americans, and I believe that justice demands a remedy. My point, though, is that it is these injustices that are relevant to deciding who is owed what, and not the fact that African-Americans are underrepresented in colleges. Even if they were overrepresented, they would be owed something because of the gross injustices perpetrated against them.

On Affirmative Action

First of all, shame on the New York Times. Again.

The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

[. . .]

The document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions policies. But the phrasing it uses, “intentional race-based discrimination,” cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campuses. [emphasis mine]

The NYT makes this about anti-white discrimination. The DoJ document only says that affirmative action causes certain groups to fare worse in college admissions than they should. This is true, even more so of East and South Asians than of whites.

Anyway, I’m not here to bash the NYT. I’m here to talk about affirmative action. I think the policy is a bad idea, but that there are more convincing ways to argue for it than others. It depends what justification for the policy is given.

Justification 1: Diversity

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2013), the Court concluded that discrimination in college admissions on the basis of race is acceptable when it secures the educational benefits of having a diverse student body. This is a stupid argument (courtesy of Justice Kennedy, of course). I don’t think there are substantial educational benefits to learning in proximity to people of a different skin color any more than there are substantial educational benefits to being only around people of one’s own race. And even if such benefits did exist, it still wouldn’t justify discrimination. Suppose one could demonstrate that segregated schools uniformly perform better. Does this justify de jure segregation? Of course not! Either discrimination is okay or it isn’t. Guess what? It isn’t.

Justification 2: Accounting for “Privilege”

Don’t be alarmed by the use of scare quotes around “privilege.” I’m not here to tell you that the concept of privilege is bogus. What I will say is that it is usually overstated. Progressives would have you believe that all of society is systematically biased against minorities in subtle, unconscious ways (e.g. the SAT is racist, which is why black test-takers don’t score as well as white test-takers do, on average). As a result, every person who is part of a marginalized group needs a little boost in order for there to truly be equal opportunity.

This, too, is ridiculous. While racism is by no means a thing of the past, the idea that we live in a systematically racist society is nonsense (unless you’re talking about anti-Asian bias in college admissions). Important concepts to progressives like unconscious racial bias have little to no scientific support. I believe that the concept of privilege, if it is to be useful, should pertain to the persisting effects of past overt racial discrimination, rather than to the effects of current unconscious bias (I consider this to be a better explanation of the racial disparity in SAT scores: past discrimination -> poorer economic and educational opportunities -> entrenched poverty -> poor SAT scores). And the appropriate remedies for these two kinds of harm are different.

Justification 3: Rectifying Past Wrongs

I hint at this a little bit at the end of the last section. Obviously, there have been egregious injustices in our history. There still are today,  but they are far rarer than they once were. When discrimination of this sort takes place, justice demands that there be restitution. People should be given what is rightfully theirs. Hence affirmative action?

The difficulty of this approach (which I think is nevertheless the only reasonable one) is that many of the injustices happened long in the past, and the initial victims are long dead. It is often impossible to determine what might constitute an appropriate remedy. There are just a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, if we can conclusively prove that a black family was run off of their land, and if we can trace that family to a currently living family, then that land should be returned to them. But if your father was deprived of an educational opportunity because of his race, to what compensation are you entitled? Should you be let into Harvard just because he should have been? What if you’re not as smart as he is? What if you don’t want to go to Harvard?

I think that, rather than modifying our admissions standards to give certain ethnic groups a leg up, we should give those descended from victims of egregious injustices* compensation in another form: tuition. Why boost people into schools that they might not be qualified for, saddle them with debt, and then send them away with diplomas that may not get them jobs? A much better way to help victimized black Americans accumulate wealth and human capital would be to heavily subsidize their tuition payments, provided that they get in based on the same standards as everyone else. This is just one idea, but I think it’s better than modifying admissions standards for different racial groups.

*Important note: not all black Americans are victims of egregious racial injustices like slavery and Jim Crow, because some black Americans are more recent immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean. Nigerian-American households actually out-earn white American households.

Yes, Real Socialism. No, not Real Conservatism.

Twitter is filled to the brim with asinine opinions (known colloquially as “hot takes”), such as the following:

Is the Trump administration really a representative of “modern conservatism”? Surely not. Trump isn’t a conservative. He’s a right-wing populist authoritarian. Ask any conservative and they’ll tell you this.

(There’s also the important point that the memo didn’t say anything about white people being discriminated against. It was about affirmative action, yes, but Asians suffer far more as a result of affirmative action than white people do. It would be just as reasonable to assume the memo was about discrimination against Asian applicants. This isn’t about white victimhood. It’s about justice.)

One person did tweet an interesting thought on whether the Trump administration should be considered “conservative”, however:

And another person added:

This has made me think: is there a difference between saying “not real socialism” and “not real conservatism”? I think there is, and that I am justified in saying that Trump and the GOP as a whole don’t represent modern conservatism, while also saying that the numerous failed attempts to inaugurate a socialist utopia are representative of real socialism. The reason for this is because the core tenet of socialism inevitably leads to a the authoritarian horrors of the past century, whereas no core tenet of conservatism leads to rent-seeking on behalf of certain ethnic groups.

The core doctrine of socialism is the abolition of private property. Some way or another, “the people” own everything, whether it is via the state as their supposed representative or as a democratic collective. But the only way to abolish private property in a regime where people own property is to confiscate it from them, unless you can convince them to give it up voluntarily—and you can’t. Socialism thus necessarily begins with theft. The assumption socialists make to justify this initial act of theft also justifies all sorts of other human rights violations, which is why socialist regimes have been such terrible human rights violators. The assumption: the infinite good of inaugurating and advancing a socialist utopia far outweighs the finite bad of robbing or even killing a few of these fools who stand in our way.

Once you accept the assumption that all of your actions can be justified so long as they advance the Cause, you have created the ideal conditions for the rise of a totalitarian state. And even if you don’t become a despot, someone will kill you, seize power, and become a despot. It’s what happens when we tell people that it’s okay to steal and kill in order to advance political ends.

Nothing in conservatism, on the other hand, can be reasonably linked to the white victimhood politics of Trumpism. The key attributes of conservatism are skepticism of sweeping change, a strong emphasis on following established procedures, and advocacy of a smaller government. Each of these can potentially be useful for white victimhood politics, but if followed faithfully, they will often conflict with the white victimhood agenda. In contrast, the core tenet of socialism, when taken to its logical conclusion, permits and perhaps even encourages the sorts of atrocities (throw off the chains of bourgeois morality!) committed in every communist country that has ever existed, as long as someone thinks that the atrocities advance the proletarian revolution.

If we’re skeptical of sweeping change, then we should readily say that Trump’s hastily written travel ban was ill-advised. If we care about established procedures, then we should condemn Jeff Sessions’s promotion of civil asset forfeiture. If we want a smaller federal government, then we should fully repeal the ACA. Most of what this administration does flies in the face of conservative principles. And if you read conservative publications, then you know that conservatives are far from happy with it.

This is no surprise; it’s not like we elected him thinking he would govern as a conservative. Those conservatives who voted for him did so while holding their noses, hoping just that he would be better than Hillary. Trump’s rise to power and illiberal policies are not the fault of anything endemic to the conservative philosophy. Rather, our current political climate, combined with the extreme unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, gave him the perfect opportunity to win the presidency. And now he’s doing what we knew he would do.

Cake, Again

A while back, I wrote about the Colorado baker being sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Since then, the Court has granted cert in the case. Very exciting, especially with the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the bench.

Today, I have a somewhat different opinion about the case, which I got from a Twitter exchange with Ole Miss lawprof Chris Green.

I’m still not convinced that the state is required to make an exemption for the baker by the Free Exercise Clause. But Green’s claim that the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects against unjustified occupational restrictions is interesting to me. Unfortunately, the Privileges or Immunities Clause is dead, at least for now (see The Slaughterhouse Cases).

Jail for the BDSers

So the GOP can’t repeal Obamacare, but it looks like they might be able to pick up enough bi-partisan support for a bill that makes it illegal to support the BDS movement or any other anti-Israel boycott. I guess the sentiment is okay. I like Israel and I hate the BDS movement, which hates Israel. Israel is obviously better than any of the other regimes out there in the Middle East, most of which are ruled either by autocrats or Islamists (or autocratic Islamists). But the First Amendment protects speech. If you care about the Constitution (as many of the bills supporters claim to do), then you can’t support this bill in good conscience.

And yet, this bill has 45 cosponsors, 31 of whom are Republicans and 14 of whom are Democrats. I am most disappointed in Sens. Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse, as I never thought either of these outspoken constitutionalists would sponsor a bill that flagrantly violates the First Amendment. Shame.

Both of my state’s senators are also cosponsoring the bill. I’ve never actually called my senator’s office before, but I think I might go ahead and do that to express my opposition. If your senator is on this list, maybe you’d like to do the same:

Sen. Portman, Rob [R-OH]*03/23/2017

Sen. Nelson, Bill [D-FL]03/27/2017

Sen. Rubio, Marco [R-FL]03/27/2017

Sen. Menendez, Robert [D-NJ]03/27/2017

Sen. Collins, Susan M. [R-ME]03/27/2017

Sen. Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT]03/27/2017

Sen. Graham, Lindsey [R-SC]03/28/2017

Sen. Young, Todd C. [R-IN]03/28/2017

Sen. Boozman, John [R-AR]03/28/2017

Sen. Isakson, Johnny [R-GA]03/28/2017

Sen. Peters, Gary C. [D-MI]03/28/2017

Sen. Hatch, Orrin G. [R-UT]03/30/2017

Sen. Perdue, David [R-GA]03/30/2017

Sen. Roberts, Pat [R-KS]03/30/2017

Sen. Wicker, Roger F. [R-MS]03/30/2017

Sen. Hoeven, John [R-ND]04/04/2017

Sen. Cornyn, John [R-TX]04/04/2017

Sen. Fischer, Deb [R-NE]04/04/2017

Sen. Heller, Dean [R-NV]04/24/2017

Sen. Moran, Jerry [R-KS]04/24/2017

Sen. Crapo, Mike [R-ID]04/24/2017

Sen. Cantwell, Maria [D-WA]04/24/2017

Sen. Grassley, Chuck [R-IA]04/25/2017

Sen. Capito, Shelley Moore [R-WV]04/26/2017

Sen. Schumer, Charles E. [D-NY]05/01/2017

Sen. Ernst, Joni [R-IA]05/01/2017

Sen. Hassan, Margaret Wood [D-NH]05/08/2017

Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY]05/09/2017

Sen. Lankford, James [R-OK]05/16/2017

Sen. Burr, Richard [R-NC]05/17/2017

Sen. Donnelly, Joe [D-IN]05/23/2017

Sen. Scott, Tim [R-SC]05/25/2017

Sen. Cruz, Ted [R-TX]06/05/2017

Sen. Manchin, Joe, III [D-WV]06/05/2017

Sen. Strange, Luther [R-AL]06/05/2017

Sen. McCaskill, Claire [D-MO]06/06/2017

Sen. Thune, John [R-SD]06/12/2017

Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR]06/12/2017

Sen. Sasse, Ben [R-NE]06/15/2017

Sen. Coons, Christopher A. [D-DE]06/26/2017

Sen. Bennet, Michael F. [D-CO]07/12/2017

Sen. Sullivan, Dan [R-AK]07/12/2017

Sen. Cassidy, Bill [R-LA]07/18/2017

Sen. Tillis, Thom [R-NC]07/19/2017

Sen. Cotton, Tom [R-AR]07/19/2017

NYT Argues for Censorship (Again)

The New York Times editorial board is trash. This is why I unsubscribed from the NYT in the first place. They publish poorly argued propaganda pieces, some of them written by terrorists. The article that pushed me over the edge when I unsubscribed was some postmodern BS about how free speech really means just free speech for the privileged, and that censorship of the privileged is necessary for everyone else to be truly free. Yesterday they published an article that disguises the same censorious reasoning in a cloak of moderation.

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

It’s obviously the punch. The only reason the threat has any meaning for you is that it tells you that a punch is coming. The harm of the threat is derived from what is being threatened. This is why direct threats are not protected speech under the First Amendment. They are not just offensive words, but an indication of intent to commit an act of violence.

But Ms. Barrett isn’t so sure which is worse:

[S]cientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life.

Your body’s immune system includes little proteins called proinflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation when you’re physically injured. Under certain conditions, however, these cytokines themselves can cause physical illness. What are those conditions? One of them is chronic stress.

Okay, so all of those things might be true, but if someone punches you in the head hard enough, you can die. Whatever harm might be caused to you by the threat is nothing compared to the harm of actual violence. This is why we get stressed when threatened. Our body is preparing for Fight or Flight so that we don’t get killed. Surely Ms. Barrett, a psychology professor, knows this and is just being disingenuous.

And this is where the article makes its key inference:

If words can cause stress, and if prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that speech — at least certain types of speech — can be a form of violence. But which types?

Whoa, there. Something in this seems fishy. Is it always violence to cause someone physical harm? Is it always the words themselves causing the stress? And isn’t there somewhat of an important difference between stress and prolonged stress? Ms. Barrett obviously has an agenda, which is to give pro-censorship arguments a semblance of scientific legitimacy. That’s why she’s able to make such a flawed inference. That speech can sometimes be violent is a foregone conclusion, for her.

But let’s continue hearing her out. Tell us, Ms. Barrett, what kinds of speech can be violent?

The scientific findings I described above provide empirical guidance for which kinds of controversial speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable on campus and in civil society. In short, the answer depends on whether the speech is abusive or merely offensive.

Offensiveness is not bad for your body and brain. Your nervous system evolved to withstand periodic bouts of stress, such as fleeing from a tiger, taking a punch or encountering an odious idea in a university lecture.

What’s bad for your nervous system, in contrast, are long stretches of simmering stress. If you spend a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety, that’s the kind of stress that brings on illness and remodels your brain. That’s also true of a political climate in which groups of people endlessly hurl hateful words at one another, and of rampant bullying in school or on social media. A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it.

I’m okay with the abuse/offense distinction. I think that’s real and useful. My problem is how she defines the difference between abuse and offense. It has nothing to do with the words themselves or the ideas they express and everything to do with the effect they happen to have on whoever hears them. Offensiveness merely causes “periodic bouts of stress,” while abuse causes “long stretches of simmering stress.” Given Ms. Barrett’s inference above, this makes sense. It is only prolonged stress that causes physical harm, so the only words that should be considered violent are the ones that cause prolonged stress.

But this line of argument is fundamentally no different from saying that speech that makes me feel bad should not be allowed unless I get to encounter it on my terms, with a trigger warning and therapy dogs handy, or not at all. If the psychological harm caused by the speech is the metric by which we decide which speech is violent, then those who are psychologically weakest get to veto any speech that causes them stress. But as far as I’m concerned, the fact that my opinions cause them stress (even if it’s prolonged) doesn’t necessarily mean I shouldn’t express my opinions; it might just as well mean that they need to grow a thicker skin and stop being a baby.

Why can’t we just stick with the Court’s established First Amendment jurisprudence? Why is it not enough to say that direct threats and fighting words are not protected speech? What else is there for us to prohibit?

That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.

Oh, of course. Provocation and hatemongering shouldn’t be allowed. Never mind that provocation can sometimes be useful, and that not much of what Milo is doing can be reasonably described as hatemongering. But wait a minute, if Milo’s speech really is so bad, then why don’t you just not listen to him? Why must you storm into his event and make a racket so that no one else can hear him? If the psychological harm is really the issue, then the snowflakes should be fine to just stay in their room listening to calming nature sounds on Spotify, coloring, and doing yoga until the bad man goes away.

And this is where it becomes clear that this shoddy argument was never fundamentally about protecting people from prolonged stress, but about justifying censorship on any grounds possible. You don’t have to go listen to Milo Yiannopoulos speak when YAF invites him to campus. But you go anyway and try to shut him down, because you’re not motivated by safety, but by power. The power to decide who can speak and who cannot. It just so happens that pretending to be weak and emotionally fragile is a great way to get people on your side, these days. Appearing weak is the key to gaining power.

That’s what most of these arguments seem to come down to. They are appeals to things that we all want, such as safety, well-being, and civility. But when you examine them closely, it becomes apparent that those making the arguments are interested most of all in power, and that safety, well-being, civility, et al. are just means to that end. Don’t be fooled.

Betsy DeVos and Title IX

Betsy DeVos is apparently considering rolling back the Obama Administration’s Title IX regulations that govern the way schools handle cases of sexual harassment or assault. My former classmate had this to say:

Noble sentiment, here. Sexual assault is bad, of course. We should want it to be annihilated. But this raises a bunch of questions. Who is “we”? Must “we” include the federal government? And how much “more” do we have to do to combat sexual assault before we’ve started doing too much? Is there even a limit? Presumably there is. We’ve passed it already.

There are two reasons why Betsy DeVos should roll back the guidance and regulations at issue. First, they are illegitimate. And second, they would be bad policy even if they were legitimate. Sexual assault is an evil that I wish we could eradicate, but the fact that sexual assault occurs does not justify executive overreach and civil rights violations.

The Title IX statute governs gender-based discrimination in educational institutions. The meat of the statute (most of the rest of the statute consists of exceptions to this clause) is as follows: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” Nowhere in the statute do the words “sexual harassment” or “sexual assault” appear. This is because the statute is not about sexual harassment or sexual assault. It is about gender-based discrimination.

How is it, then, that Title IX has become nearly synonymous with procedures for responding to accusations of sexual assault? In short, the Obama Administration decided that if a college fails to respond adequately to sexual assault allegations, it is creating a hostile environment for women that effectively excludes them from the benefits of an education program.

Now, this would be a decent rationale for amending Title IX, but it is by no means a sufficient justification for claiming that Title IX already requires colleges to respond in such-and-such a way to sexual assault allegations beyond what their respective jurisdictions already require (because sexual assault is already a crime, let’s remember). Title IX, however, has not been amended to deal with sexual assault. All of the guidance pertaining to Title IX and sexual assault has no constitutional legitimacy; it is the work of unelected bureaucrats. Are we really okay with unelected bureaucrats making rules to govern the sex lives of college students? I’m not.

But even if the guidance had constitutional legitimacy, it would be bad guidance. It’s bad because it violates the due process rights of the accused and relies on bad definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent.” My former classmate is at least somewhat familiar with the first of these arguments. This is his response to a friend who presented it:

Well, to start, this isn’t just school policy. These are federal regulations which schools must follow in order to receive federal funds. In other words, if there are due process concerns (and Jonah does not dispute that there are), then those concerns exist because the federal government is compelling schools to handle sexual assault cases in a certain way. (And it’s not like there’s a caveat attached to the 5th and 14th Amendment Due Process clauses saying that they only apply in criminal cases.)

In any case, Title IX tilts the scales in favor of the accuser to the detriment of the accused. This is a problem, especially when you factor in the ridiculous definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent” (affirmative, enthusiastic, and very very specific) that are floating around, these days. These terms have been redefined in such a way as to potentially include any sex act which one of the parties later regrets (i.e. retroactively decides that it was nonconsensual). This, combined with the lack of due process protections, can and does result in schools taking action against the accused on shaky grounds.

Take what happened at Amherst, for instance. A woman and a man engaged in sexual activity. He was blackout drunk (incapacitated!) and did not remember the encounter. She later wrote in a student publication that she had been made to participate in a nonconsensual sex act. Text messages that she sent the night of the incident indicate that this was not true. One thing led to another, and the man (who seems to be the actual victim, here, in more ways than one) ended up getting expelled from Amherst for this incident. Amherst never looked at the text messages and refused to allow the man to appeal the decision. He later successfully sued the college in Federal Court.

This is an extreme case, but the fact that it happened should give us pause. As nice as it sounds to talk about “doing more” to combat sexual assault, there are serious drawbacks to the approach taken by the Obama administration. Just because rape is bad doesn’t mean that we have to treat all rape accusations as true, and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” should not be limited to the courts. Requiring colleges to treat unproven allegations as true opens the door for abuse, as does the broadening of the definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent.” So let’s not do that.

To make it clear, I have no sympathy for actual perpetrators of sexual assault. What’s of concern for me is the way the accused are treated. The presumption of innocence, much like free speech, freedom of religion, and other fundamental rights we hold dear in the U.S., is not just a legal doctrine, but a cultural norm. The more we tell ourselves that some people, in some circumstances, should be punished by the government before their guilt is demonstrated in a court of law or an equivalent forum, the easier it will become to roll back civil rights protections. And that would be far worse than the status quo.

Western Civilization: the Common Enemy of Islamism and Leftism

Linda Sarsour is getting a lot of heat lately as a result of a speech in which she used the word “jihad” to describe the social justice struggle against Trump and Co.

I hope that we when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or in the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.

The use of “jihad” here is not concerning to me. I know it’s just the Arab word for “struggle,” and that the violent terroristic jihad isn’t the only kind that exists. It’s really no different from encouraging people to join #TheResistance. Resistance can be violent or non-violent, and jihad is the same. As such, I don’t think that Linda has given us any more reason to criticize her than she always has. She’s saying the same thing she’s always said, except in slightly different words.

What’s more interesting to me about this speech is how it relates to Donald Trump’s recent speech in Poland, which, from what I’ve heard, was pretty good. He’s been criticized for praising “the West” and “Western Civilization,” which are apparently code words for white supremacy.

For both radical leftists and Islamists, “the West” is a metonym for all that is evil and must be eradicated. This seems to me to be the reason behind the bizarre alliance of radical leftists and Muslims in the United States. To the radical left, “the West” means the oppressive white cishet patriarchy that must be dismantled. To Islamists, “the West” is the part of the world actively rebelling against Allah that must be destroyed. The two groups differ in the way they understand their aims, but they seek the same concrete goal of destroying the West.

My take on Linda Sarsour is that she’s more of a leftist than an Islamist. She spouts off the dumb social justice rhetoric about oppression and stuff, but she doesn’t talk about how the infidels are an abomination to Allah and must be destroyed. She’s doing the same thing that non-Muslim SJWs do, using Islam as an identity marker to signify victimhood status. Her use of “jihad” in her speech is less concerning than the paradox that being a member of one of the 21st century’s most regressive religions somehow gives you authority to speak as a progressive and decry “fascism” and “white supremacy.” She herself may not advocate the imposition of Sharia law, but she can delude people into thinking that Sharia wouldn’t be so bad.

Islamism is the common cold. It’s a problem that we need to take certain precautions to avoid, but it’s manageable. Leftism is AIDS. It destroys our ability to distinguish between what is good and evil so that we can no longer protect ourselves from Islamism and other ideological ailments. Obviously, both are bad, as both aim toward the dismantling of Western Civilization, but the more immediate threat is Leftism. Let’s make sure our criticisms of Sarsour and her friends reflect that.

A Common Non Sequitur

It seems that in political/philosophical discussions, no matter what you’re talking about, someone will attempt to argue against your view by injecting “nuance” into the debate. Or at least, they’ll explain how the difficulty of the questions we’re discussing means that we should hesitate to claim confidence in our beliefs. The tricky thing about this is that it is, indeed, important for us to recognize our epistemic limitations. But it doesn’t follow from this that we ought to suspend belief whenever questions are too complex for us to be certain of our answers to them.

People on both sides of the political spectrum do this. For example, I believe that the Civil War was about slavery, at least for the parties who had the power to make decisions relevant to the waging of the war. Some people I know who are right-of-center on the political spectrum argue that other factors (usually states’ rights or economics) were significant enough that it would be inaccurate to say that the Civil War was about slavery. Which is fine. That’s something we can discuss. The problem is when people say my view lacks nuance as if that in itself is evidence against the truth of my view. It’s not. If my view is wrong, it’s wrong because it’s wrong, not because it lacks nuance.

Likewise, those on the far-left are not so enthusiastic about attempts to define human nature. An attempt to say what it is to be human is likely to be met with claims that humanity is far too complex for us to understand its essential features. I’ll be the first to say that I want to be careful when it comes to making bold claims about the nature of human existence. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make such claims at all. In fact, to dogmatically cling to the formula that human nature is indefinable is to make a dogmatic claim about human nature, viz. that it is indefinable. The argument that humanity is too complex for us to know its nature not only fails to present a substantive challenge to my views, but also includes a dogmatic claim about human nature that seems to be defeated by the argument itself.

Some things are nuanced. Some things are not. The merit of a view does not depend on the view’s nuance or lack thereof. It depends on whether the view is true. Just because a question is hard doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an answer, nor does it mean that my answer is wrong.