Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lysenkoism Today: Lisa Feldman Barrett, "When Is Speech Violence?"

Nothing like a bit of pseudoscience in defense of totalitarianism.
   Her answer is that certain kinds of stress can allegedly cause real physical harm and:
   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.
   On the other hand, when the political scientist Charles Murray argues that genetic factors help account for racial disparities in I.Q. scores, you might find his view to be repugnant and misguided, but it’s only offensive. It is offered as a scholarly hypothesis to be debated, not thrown like a grenade. There is a difference between permitting a culture of casual brutality and entertaining an opinion you strongly oppose. The former is a danger to a civil society (and to our health); the latter is the lifeblood of democracy.
By all means, we should have open conversations and vigorous debate
   What she's really (in some sense of 'really') saying here, however, is that it's an empirical question. If speech is harmful, it should not be permitted on campuses. So the question of what it's permissible to say on campuses is now put in the hands of--God help us--the psychology department and medical researchers. The principle here is that what we should be permitted to say should be determined by empirical findings--however they should turn out. Should we have freedom or totalitarianism? Empirical question, my friends. Empirical question.
   But this piece is just so terrible on so many levels that one hardly knows where to start. And I've got stuff to do today.
   First, the "scientific" conclusions add nothing to this argument. It's just window-dressing. This is the same argument liberals have been having with anti-liberals since the Enlightenment or so. This is a well-known form of sophistry. Take an old argument and tart it up with some barely-relevant alleged science. The important argument is that people like Milo are offering nothing but abuse and no real ideas, unlike people like Murray. And, indeed, if Milo were only standing in the Pit screaming racial epithets, that would be a different matter. Of course that isn't what he's doing. At all.
   Second, this doesn't give her the conclusion she wants in any way, shape, or form. There's undoubtedly a continuum of alleged-but-almost-certainly-non-actual harm between Milo and Murray. There's no sharp cutoff, but just alleged differences of degree. So were we to implement this daft suggestion, we'd then allot time to Milo and Murray on the basis of their degree of harm, which I suppose we'd have to measure with some precision. For all we know, Murray will cause more stressons to embed themselves in your third chakra than Milo will.
   Third, of course, nothing in here shows that speech is violence. All it alleges is that some speech can have harmful effects. Without, of course, noting the beneficial effects of free speech.
   Fourth, and more importantly: this is one of the main disagreements between liberalism and the anti-liberal left: liberalism (broadly construed, so as to include conservatives, obviously) holds that truth and autonomy matter. The PC left tries to reduce everything to a question of harm, and then gerrymander results so that it appears that speech of which they don't approve comes out on the wrong end of their utilitarian calculations. Without, of course, doing any of the actual science or actual calculations...not that that actually matters much. The error is going down this disastrous road at all.
   Fifth, this would give the PC left even more incentive to train themselves up into ever-more-delicate states of snowflakery. All that matters is harm. This idea is already what motivates their histrionics: they're trying to convince us that they're so delicate that they are harmed by ideas with which they disagree. It doesn't matter that they don't even have to listen to them--just knowing that someone else is speaking the words somewhere is enough. And I have no doubt that one can work oneself up into a state of genuine anguish.
   Sixth, there's nothing here that limits this insanity to campuses. Campuses are a beachhead. These ideas, if right, should be implemented nationwide. It shouldn't even require repeal of the First Amendment, since violence per se is not protected speech.
   Behold, the sate of contemporary academia: terrible reasoning combined with totalitarian leftist politics and pseudoscience. That is: neo-Lysenkoism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there was one one guy who did not deserve to outlive Stalinism it was Lysenko.
Well if anything he did convince my mother that the Soviet aristocracy was not comprised of super humans, we all have our purpose I suppose.

And yeah, the neo-Stalinist crybabies are not worth much.

5:06 PM  

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