Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Louis Proyect on "Radical Professors"

Louis Proyect pens a piece entitled Radical professors and the hazards of social media that cites four examples of leftist academics who have gotten themselves in trouble by intemperate tweeting: Steven Salaita, George Cicciarello-Maher, Johnny Eric Williams, and James Livingston.

The most egregious case is that of George C-M, a former professor at Drexel University, who was somehow inspired to tweet "All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide." Mr. Proyect offers some background. The tweet was
...prompted by the racist backlash against State Farm Insurance for purportedly advancing “white genocide” through a commercial featuring an interracial couple. This trope of “white genocide” is ubiquitous to the alt-right, including the business about white farmers in South Africa being killed off. After the fuckwit Tucker Carlson claimed that this was taking place, Trump followed up with a tweet even though it had no factual basis. Unlike the University of Illinois, Drexel University defended his free speech rights but George resigned eventually because the death threats and other forms of harassment became intolerable. Like Salaita, he was guilty of nothing except using Swiftian satire that might have been acceptable among leftists but not to Fox News’s audience.
Mr. Proyect claims some context of which I was unaware, e.g., that State Farm Insurance somehow advocated "white genocide" in a commercial. I find this hard to believe. He further maintains that we rightists are somehow fixated on said supposed genocide--I, for one, live in no fear of such an event, however disturbing recent events in South Africa might be.

The upshot of this is that we're supposed to excuse George's tweet as "Swiftian satire," i.e., just harmless fun that only a dedicated right-winger could take out of context.

Of course tweets come without context--almost by definition--and if George is foolish enough to proclaim his ardent desire for "white genocide" via that medium, then who am I to disbelieve him? Even after reading Mr. Proyect's explanation, I can't understand the tweet in any way besides literally.

I don't fear "white genocide," but at the same time I don't believe anybody who advocates it deserves to work as a professor. George has, whether purposely or foolishly, disqualified himself from the academic profession.

As an aside, if some right-wing professor (there are a few) had posted a similar tweet about African-Americans or LGBTQ people, the "Swiftian satire" excuse wouldn't have passed the laugh test. Such a person would have been fired before sundown--and rightly so.

As a second aside, the tweet can possibly be interpreted as a threat, in which case it is not protected speech. Of the four cases Mr. Proyect cites, this is the only one where I'm not sure First Amendment rights apply.

Now lets turn to the sorry case of Mr. Salaita, who opined that "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?" among many other things. Mr. Salaita had been offered a tenured professorship at the University of Illinois, but because of antisemitic tweeting the offer was withdrawn before he could start work. Mr. Proyect writes "It should have been obvious that this was Swiftian satire but the board preferred to placate wealthy Jewish donors rather than uphold academic freedom."

For the life of me I can't see anything satirical in Mr. Salaita's tweets, Swiftian or otherwise. I have no trouble calling him an anti-Semite. That said, he does not directly threaten or libel anybody, so despite being hate speech it is clearly protected under the First Amendment. But he does not have a right to work at the University of Illinois as a professor, and the school was right to rescind the offer.

Mr. Proyect blames "wealthy Jewish donors" for the outcome. I don't know if that's true, but let's suppose it is. The University of Illinois--faculty and students alike--are dependent on donations, especially in Illinois where state funding has been cut to the bone. Mr. Proyect will put that all at risk just so that some clueless little twerp can run off at the mouth with his vile hate speech. Hiring Mr. Salaita would have severely damaged the institution, and the Board had no choice but to let him go.

So why do these people post such career-ending tweets? Are they really that stupid? Well, yes they are, but there is also a larger story to tell. They are all academics and as such they live in an echo chamber. Status in academia is achieved by loudly touting one's anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-misogynist, anti-Israel (Jewish) credentials. It's an arms race--the more and better your virtue-signalling, the higher your status within the community (and the more likely you are to get published, funding, tenure, etc.).

We recently endured such an episode on my campus. A long-time political science professor--often interviewed by The Economist and the New York Times--made the rather obvious observation that the Republican John Faso will likely win the congressional seat over the Democrat Antonio Delgado. He also had the temerity to criticize hip-hop music, leading to a faculty piling-on that lasted for several weeks, ended only by the offending professor's abject apology, though he had said nothing he needed to apologize for.

It's nothing but virtue-signalling all the way down. And sometimes this internecine, academic competition escapes its bounds, leading to tweets that, to people in the real world, are correctly interpreted as hate speech.

That brings us to the sad case of James Livingston, who tweeted
OK, officially, I now hate white people. I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them — us — us out of my neighborhood? I just went to Harlem Shake on 124 and Lenox for a Classic burger to go, that would my dinner, and the place is overrun with little Caucasian assholes who know their parents will approve of anything they do. Slide around on the floor, you little shithead, sing loudly you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white.
I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. Yeah, I know it's about access to my dinner. Fuck you too. 
As Mr. Proyect points out, this isn't even political. It definitely is protected, and further, it's not hate speech, even though it sounds that way. There is no way that Mr. Livingston should lose his job at Rutgers University because of it.

But it is pathetic. This guy is so insecure about his own moral virtue that he has to condemn other restaurant patrons for their lack of "woke-ness." Most people visit restaurants for the food--not to demonstrate their political bonafides. Harlem Shake gets pretty good reviews on Yelp. How would the management and employees feel if all of a sudden white customers stayed away because they weren't "woke" enough?

He's definitely got a chip on his shoulder. Maybe he needs to visit a psychiatrist?

I'll take issue with Mr. Proyect's description of these professors as "radical." A radical implies somebody of independent thought. These people, far from being radical, simply can't control themselves, be it from some psychological defect or too much academic peer pressure. Instead, they are the slaves of a virtue-signalling mob.

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