“Cancel Culture” Has Victims, But You’re Probably Not One Of Them
Behave or else.
It's always interesting when people get wound up over the mildest forms or protest. Remaining seated when asked to stand or taking a knee or turning your back or walking out are all civil actions and should be accepted as part of the conversation or the debate.
If you can't take that, how could anyone reasonably expect that you would graciously accept someone arguing against your position?
This reminds me when (years ago) I sat in on a film lecture at Columbia given by Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris, who was screening "Birth of a Nation." During the Q&A the President of the university's Black Student Union asked Sarris about the obviously racist nature of the film. Sarris's response was ... I'm not sure how to exactly describe this ... but he kind of blinked, rhetorically speaking, and went on about auteur theory. Not directly dismissing the student's remarks, but still dismissing them. So the student, and several other African-American students got up and walked out. And I remember thinking: Good for them.
Many speakers complain about college students' belief that they have a right not to be offended, but those same speakers get offended if their targets don't sit there and take it. "You will debate me, on my chosen topic and in the forum I choose, or you're against free speech!!"
Just happy to see you posting again, Ken lol
Something interesting Ken did in this post is that he used the offending word exactly once, to make plain the title of the book (because if he used asterisks, you might wonder if the title also used asterisks) and otherwise referred to it euphemistically throughout his post.
One might wonder if this was an intentional style choice, designed to convey the point that there is an equally effective way to communicate that avoids the potential for provocation or giving offense, at zero cost.
The idea that the students who disagree should respond with an argument seems really absurd in this case. Would they have actually been okay with it if several students each came up after the speech and accused them of racism in front of the whole crowd? I suspect that they’d characterize that as “shouting them down” and as also violating their right to free speech.
This is a very fine essay. It has exemplified the butt hurt of those concerned with "cancel culture" who give no meaningful consideration of the free speech/association rights of the audience or others.
It is sad to see Harvey fall so low. Randy always had the contrarian publicity hound in him (for example his early death penalty position -- provocative! But dumb.)
Did I behave?
I had the great experience of taking Prof. Randall Kennedy's class on Race & The Law. (BTW- Both Prof. Randall Kennedy and Prof. Duncan Kennedy were commonly referred to by their honorific followed by first and last name, so as to distinguish between the two. The same was true of Professors Paul Weiler and Joseph Weiler).
The Prof. Kennedy who I encountered in the classroom in the early 90s would look askance at the 2022 version. In the class that I took, there was a wide spectrum of views expressed from the conservative (Viet Dinh, for example) to the mainstream to Critical Race Theory adherents (for real, students who were research assistants for actual founders of Critical Race Theory). That Prof. Kennedy frequently stated that "voting with your feet" by boycott was a time-honored form of protest.
It seems to me that cancel culture too often links freedom of speech (protected) with freedom from consequences of that speech (not protected). Being shunned, having sponsors pull funds and boycotts/walkouts are all part of the marketplace of ideas working, as it should.
It is incumbent on the speaker to tune their message in such a way that it is heard by the audience.
The element that is missing from the original article is self-critique. The message from a 20 year old book needs to be presented differently to an audience that wasn't born 20 years ago.
Who in the 70's gave heed to 50's messaging? it was laughed at. By the 90's, 70's ideas were laughably out-of-date.
The current generation is watching and listening to a segment of our culture engage in overt racist behavior and strongly rejecting anything tied to it. Intolerance in the face of increased racism is probably extremely reasonable.
That they will need to mature beyond that and engage the issues that could be presented isn't a triumph of cancel culture, it is a change in response from high school students attempting to engage the current culture.
Until the story comes to the part about the speaker's response, this sounds like the system we want more or less working. That's comforting.
Did the students even give any explicit sign that they were walking out *in protest*, as opposed to just deciding that they didn't want to be there anymore? Is there a meaningful difference between those things when the numbers are large enough?
Silverglate and Kennedy's response is ridiculous in either case, but it's amazing how many people go out of their way to make their audience uncomfortable and are shocked, SHOCKED to see them do exactly what you'd expect from someone who's found themselves in an uncomfortable situation with no pressure not to leave early.
I don't really know what "vigorous dialogue" means in this context - a lot of people claim to want such things, but when their response to harsh criticism is to yell "cancel culture," it feels a little like they don't want a "vigorous" response at all. But I will follow Ken's lead and give Mr. Silverglate more credit than that, based upon his well-earned reputation. Perhaps he really did want to stop and have a discussion with the students, whatever that would look like.
But what is the idea to be discussed here? The disagreement is basically "is it okay to say the n-word, in this particular context, this number of times." We could certainly talk about that, but maybe it's just the kind of thing people get to have different opinions on. You think it's fine, I don't, so we both go on with our lives. We don't have to spend 30 minutes trying to come to agreement on this specific thing.
"Human beings, Rushdie observed in his 1990 essay In Good Faith, “shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee whether to gods or to men”." - https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/aug/14/salman-rushdie-defied-those-who-would-silence-him-too-many-fear-causing-offence
These issues are 100% on school administrators, teachers, and other adults. It's fine for language usage to evolve. But there is no such thing as forbidden words. Words, no matter how distasteful, are not literally violence. Lukianoff/Haidt had it right about one of the great untruths: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker."
Maybe the best retort should have been: "Grow up". But we live in a time where adolescence extends ways past even the mid 20s for way too many people.
Ken White misperceives my objection to the students' walking out. I have absolutely no objection. I recognize their absolute right to walk out. What I was saying is that it is astonishing that students at an elite high school would prefer to walk out on a speaker, rather than engage that speaker and his ideas. Milton students should know, and if they don't already know, they must learn, how to express disagreement in a society that values free speech. HARVEY SILVERGLATE (the speaker)