The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Some Bodies Matter More Than Others: The Judith Butler Thing

    This week I started an online petition calling for Judith Butler to resign as president-elect of the Modern Language Association. If you're a member or past member of MLA, I'd invite you to sign it and to share it as widely as you are comfortable doing. Here is a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education making a similar case.

    I started this petition because Butler and a bunch of other leading scholars sent a letter to NYU to intervene in a Title IX investigation in which a professor had been found responsible for sexually harassing a graduate student. [NOTE: Link opens Word document.] The case had already been adjudicated, and the verdict was in. Butler and various other big-shots were trying to lean on NYU to minimize the harasser's punishment. They should all know better. But what sets Butler's action apart is not just she was the first signature on the letter but that she explicitly signed as:

    Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley, President-Elect, Modern Language Association (2020)


    The last part is the biggest problem for me. Because the point of including that title is to add more clout to Butler's signature. That letter is about marshaling clout on the abuser's behalf. And it is beyond outrageous to use the Modern Language Association's collective authority to try to protect a senior scholar who's abused a junior one.

    The other signatories of that letter have embarrassed themselves, maybe disgraced themselves. But they were not explicitly speaking as the leader of a major scholarly organization. Butler was. And that makes it impossible for her to lead that organization effectively after this.

    I have no particular connection to this case. I don't know the victim, or the harasser, or Butler. I am an obscure scholar, rather than a star like Butler and her co-signatories. I am just a concerned bystander: a member of the MLA who has grown tired of the endless excuses made for sexual harassment in our profession. I heard too many of those excuses when I was a graduate student and couldn't speak up without ending my own career. Now I'm far enough along to have tenure and be safe from reprisal, but perhaps not so far along that I've completely forgotten how this looks from the bottom. If you're another scholar who's tired of the excuse-making and wagon-circling, please sign.

    Most of the attention this case has gotten has been about the role-reversal angle, because in the accused harasser is a woman and the harassed student is a man. That's extremely rare. The vast majority of academic sexual harassment cases involve male professors harassing female students. There's also an unhealthy share of male students being harassed by other men and female students being harassed by other women. (For what it's worth, the victim in the NYU case is a gay man, a traditional target of harassment.) Female professors harassing men is not something that never happens, but it's very unusual, because that particular abuse of power turns out to be harder to get away with than the others.

    But the gender switch didn't affect Butler et al.'s letter in the slightest. It slavishly follows the establishment playbook used to get male harassers off the hook. It talks about how brilliant and important the harasser is, it talks about what a great person the harasser is socially, threatens the university with blowback if they dare to punish the offender, and personally attacks the harasser's victim. It's the familiar structural problem of professors abusing doctoral students (who are extremely professionally dependent upon their dissertation director, and therefore extremely vulnerable to harassment) and then trying to use their pull to escape consequences. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Many people have various beefs with Butler that I don't. Some people are hostile to feminism, and want to use this incident to discredit feminism. Some people are hostile to literary theory, and want to discredit theory. Some people are hostile to Butler over the boycott-Israel movement, and would like to see her discredited ... you get the idea. I don't share any of those agendas.

    Judith Butler is very smart. Her work is useful. I've taught it to students, and would teach it again, this instance of bad behavior notwithstanding. Literary theory is useful and valuable. Feminism is great. And I have no position on the boycott and anti-boycott movements; I am much more interested in the fight against sexual harassment in the academy. The MLA should fight to protect its junior members. If it won't, it doesn't matter to me what resolutions the organization does or doesn't pass.

    Nor do I think for a second that feminism itself is discredited by this incident. Butler, and the other high-powered feminists who signed that letter, are not the only smart feminists in the world, and you can find lots of feminists fiercely objecting to their behavior.

    Men harassing female students is by far the biggest problem here. But you can't end that problem while giving the rare women who harass men a pass. Yes, women have much less power in the academy than men, and still face enormous misogyny. And that is exactly why letting an occasional powerful woman off the hook will make it impossible to stop men's abuses.

    It will never be the case that women in the academy are allowed a set of privileges that men are not. Men will always get away with at least as much as women, and almost always more. There is no achievable future in which women can still harass students but men cannot. Social privilege doesn't work that way. (By the same principle, there is no achievable future in which queer faculty can get away with sexual harassment but straight faculty can't.) If you preserve the old excuses and dodges for a handful of abusive women, abusive men will keep running wild.

    Precisely because the number of female abusers is so small compared to the number of female victims, gender-neutral enforcement of Title IX rules still represents an enormous win for women. Holding a small number or powerful women accountable is a small price to pay for protecting thousands, and it is literally thousands, of less powerful women.

    Remember, abusers can't do it alone. They rely on enablers, and in academia the enablers have been extremely reliable. We talk about the abusers themselves and the administrators trying to make problems go away quietly. But the real infrastructure of abuse is provided by colleagues. Sexual harassment flourishes in our profession because the rest of us run interference. We look the other way. We hope the rumors aren't true. We give colleagues the benefit of the doubt, but give their victims only doubt. We write letters of support. We have a friendly word with the Dean. Or we just keep our head down and stay out of it, as if staying out were an act of neutrality. Abusers flourish in our field because of our collective connivance, because of what we do but most of all what we fail to do. As a dearly-missed professor once said to me about a case of sexual abuse in my old graduate department, "These are supposed to be enlightened guys, but they stick together like the fucking mafia." It's not any one criminal act that's the problem. It's the ongoing structure of conspiracy. And women, as well as men, have helped to protect the abusers.

    The abuser in the NYU case is one person who harmed another. The letter trying to get that abuser out of punishment is an institutionalized response aimed at enabling future abuses. Protesting against one instance of punishment is only a means to the larger end of preserving senior faculty's privilege of impunity. That is what needs to end. No more letters to the deans pleading for harassers. No more lending our reputations to wrongdoers' cause. Judith Butler wasn't just standing up for one colleague in trouble. She was standing up for an old, corrupt, and long-standing way of doing business. The time for doing business that way is over. We should never look back.

    Comments

    We were in the middle of a build in DC, and something was slowing us down so my boss's boss wanted to go to X dept and explain it was a matter of "national security". "This is DC", my flustered boss responded, "every organization in town is national security".

    Sems every case of sexual harassment is a roadblock to something/someone important. When my kid gets the flu, it's a violation of the universe that I have to drop important meetings and stay home to nurse - doesn't god know i'm important?

    The letter is incredible, as the victim is disappeared. Yes, I know Mr. Bundy allegedly killed a bunch of people, but he's been raising money for the SPCA for years, and it's essential that his work for the animal kingdom continue.

    The Stanford swimmer case stands out as a parallel, even though (perhaps*)  a level or 2 grosser and more awful than this advisor.  *I hate to compare the effects on the 2 victims - they don't need to be and it's too easy to assume and get it wrong & be too dismissive of 1 or the other

    What I don't quite understand is the lack of a proffer: "we think X would be sufficient recourse to discipline repeated intolerable behavior in acknowledging the suffering and unfairness to the victim, but allowing the positive benefits of the instigator's professional work to accrue, while assuring such flagrant improper behavior doesn't repeat".

    But no, it's a startling "oh, just forget it - she's important" from people you'd expect to be intelligent in a letter/petition hat must have provided more than enough time for adult, informed reflection. And yet dozens of some of the brightest minds fell into a most common brainfart. Are we that facile as a species? Seemingly yes - doing the right thing seems further and further from our grasp, even in fairly simple cases - imagine where there are difficult moral dilemmas to work through.

    To be honest, I started off skeptical, expecting some temoest in teapot, for some reason. I'm not even addressing the head of MLA, but possibly should given time to reflect.


    That letter is ugly. It can't make any real case on the culprit's behalf, and it knows the deans have already seen the evidence, so it just resorts to straight thugging.

    The thing is, that letter is an example of a genre. People have been writing letters like this to protect harassers for I don't know how long. The people who wrote this one had seen others.

    And yes, sexual harassment always gets turned into a story about the harasser, not the victim. And it's always about how special and wonderful the abuser is. Let's talk about what a great swimmer Brock is.

    When I was a graduate student at Stanford, one of the faculty got suspended for two years without pay for abusing a graduate student. And somehow every conversation about that, then and since, had to begin with what a brilliant mind the abuser had. Somehow the sexual abuse of a student always turned into this testimonial to the man's genius.

    This is just more of the same.

     


    These are arguments made by the upper echelons of Language Academe?  This:

    “Although we have no access to the confidential dossier, we have all worked for many years in close proximity to Professor Ronell,”

    And this:

    In July, she wrote a short email to him: “time for your midday kiss. my image during meditation: we’re on the sofa, your head on my lap, stroking you [sic] forehead, playing softly with yr hair, soothing you, headache gone. Yes?”

    On the merits of the case, it sounds very much like most academic cases like this.  Often the scholar stays in their position below the supervising academic because they don’t want to lose all the work that they have done, and indeed the opportunity to achieve their goals...and then they are pilloried for waiting so long.


    Exactly. "Why did you wait so long to file the complaint?" But doctoral advisers really can end a doctoral student's career. PhD students are strangely more vulnerable to this in some ways than undergraduates are.

    I mean, why should he have feared retribution? It's not like all of his adviser's powerful friends wrote to the dean to call him a malicious liar.

    I'd also point out that students who have been subject of intense intimacy with professors for years then mysteriously turn out never to have been very bright at all. You're constantly e-mailing him about kissing him, and demanding he pay more attention to you, and then, oh well, turns out he's too stupid? Really?


    "Teach Butler again"? That would be to fail to recognize that her moral passivity, her view that all one can really do is make subversive gestures at power, her apparent inability to develop, adhere to, or defend any normative theory of social justice and human dignity, flows directly into her conduct in this situation. Have we forgotten, or never read, Martha Nussbaum's devastating article on Butler?

    So there are very good, in fact compelling, reasons not to "teach Butler." And in this regard, should we also ignore the nature of the defense being mobilized on Ronell's behalf, based as it is on the idea that the emails were simply subversive acts of irony, a postmodernist game that's being wildly misrepresented by her accuser—parodic efforts that amount to exactly the kind of "gesture" that Butler "teaches"? Ronell, in her writings, has long specialized in that kind of vacuous game-playing, arguably a horrible symptom of the decline of the humanities in this country, and her alleged multiple relationships with male students and abuse of power are, certainly in retrospect, not easily separable from her broader intellectual stance.

    An additional word should also be said about the hypocrisy of the particular academic network of power to which both Ronell and Butler belong--a network that defends Ronell as an ironist, but that stood by in silence when a literary scholar was prosecuted for criminal satire in a court in New York, in a widely publicized case that was reported on over and over again in every major newspaper. In fact, one of those who signed the Ronell letter, former dean Stimpson of NYU, actively participated in that prosecution. It's obviously important to protect Ronell, a member of the network, but a defenseless parodist who isn't part of the group can apparently be jailed without a murmur of dissent. Shame on the entire group of individuals who signed this letter, and on everyone who turns a blind eye to the damage they've done.


    I would also teach Thomas Jefferson's work, which is interesting and valuable, despite my deep condemnation of his personal behavior.

    I have taught the poetry of Ezra Pound, who was a traitor to the United States and ought, by rights, to have been executed for treason.

    I will teach Nathaniel Hawthorne's work again, although I have come to despise his politics.

    And this, O anonymous Quixote, is what academic freedom is. I am free to decide (and charged with the responsibility of deciding) what material will best help my students learn. And I would abdicate that responsibility if I substituted your judgment for my own. Thanks for stopping by.


    Seems more and more think it our job to join the rabble after midnight with torch and hot oil to enforce our perceived rights and affronts of (wo)man at every turn. As the Stones said, I ain't got that much jam (nor want to)


    boy comes to mind Savonarola sure wouldn't think much of you. (So much evil, so little time!)


    I'm devastated, for sure. But his mother probably loved him. Rats in Paradise...

     

     


    Certainly academic freedom allows you to "teach Butler." It also allowed Martha Nussbaum to write her devastating critique. But responsibility is a more complicated matter. Arguably, if you decide Butler will "best help your students learn," you are abdicating--especially in light of what Nussbaum has to say--a certain responsibility with respect to reason and intellectual rigor. At a minimum, one is entitled to hope you will also assign Nussbaum's article, and help your students think through the very real choices that confront them. You could, in theory, believe, and exercise your responsibility by deciding, that a fascist philosopher is the author that will "best help your students learn." As an intellectual matter, I would be doing the right thing by objecting to your decision on all sorts of grounds. That is, unless truth and morality are merely subjective things that each person gets to decide on his own, like the alternative facts of Donald Trump and his advocates.


    Of course truth and morality are *partially* subjective. It's Sophie's Choice every step of the way. The only certainty's a gun to the temple, and even that has its aftershocks.


    Sure, subjectivity has a role to play. But to conclude that there's no such thing as the truth, that everything comes down to power, and that no "normative theory of social justice and human dignity," as Nussbaum puts it, is better than any other--this is no different than Donald Trump's assault on the idea of truth. It's all just alternative facts! There's the aporia of postmodernist "theory," and the American academic community should be pondering its responsibility in contributing to the reality confronting us today--a reality that also includes the decline of interest in the humanities. 


    Your opinion is noted. Thanks again for stopping by.


    Sure. I just found it unconvincing to separate Butler's conduct in the circumstances that have arisen from her ideas (particularly as delineated by Nussbaum), and that of the postmodernist academic power elite from theirs in general. Glad I had the opportunity to point this out and I'm sorry if I offended anyone.


    Apparently Golb was prosecuted for an "online aggravated harassment scheme involving identity theft, criminal impersonation, email forgery." If someone made an email account using my name and sent out emails you'd have a hard time convincing me that it was satire and not identity theft, criminal impersonation and email forgery. I suspect if someone used your name and sent emails to your colleagues you wouldn't laugh it off as satire either. You, like most people here, are protective enough of your true identity that you're using a pseudonym.

     


    Yes, well, the case, over an eight-year period, was decimated by the appellate courts on First Amendment grounds (see the links in my initial comment), until a criminal court judge finally refused to send Golb to jail. You seem to share a common, and I would suggest misinformed, attitude that satire is a light, humorous form of comedy to be confined to contexts in which it's preannounced and expected (e.g. late-night television shows or publications like the Onion). The phenomenon is far broader, and has for centuries involved many aspects that can't be "laughed off," including impersonation. Reread the Letters of Obscure Men: three of them impersonated various theologians including a university dean--and fooled gullible readers around Europe.

    So no, this is not an excuse for trying to jail, through a trial at which "neither truth nor good faith" were allowed as "defenses," the author of an academic hoax that was clearly aimed at protesting against the alleged misconduct of an NYU department chairman. In her writings, Butler repeatedly defends what Nussbaum (somewhat clumsily) calls the "making of subversive gestures at power through speech and gestures," and this is exactly what Ronell and other postmodernists seek to do in their texts. So my point stands: Stimpson's defense of Ronell, seen against the backdrop of her active participation in trying to jail someone for an act of satirical protest judged to constitute "a parody over the the line," is shockingly hypocritical. And so is the defense of Ronell by Butler and others, seen against their silence in the face of such a repugnant criminal prosecution.


    P.s. and the reason so many of us prefer to remain pseudonymous is that we're afraid of some form of retaliation. It's an obvious reaction to the repeated abuse of power that we've seen over the years, and which has manifested itself again in the Ronell letter.


    Since I also use a pseudonym you can surmise that I know the reasons people use them. One abuse of power could be that someone might make an email using my true identity and send emails in my name to my employer and colleagues. I know people that happened to. It was one of the tactics used by a troll at another site I frequented. Again I have no doubt if someone did that to you you wouldn't consider it satire but identity theft.


    I'll speak for myself, thank you. And the issue is not how I would react; it is where the academic community stands with regard to freedom of speech and the First Amendment. New York's aggravated harassment statute was, in this very case, declared unconstitutional because it allowed the state to criminalize "annoying" speech. Most of the other convictions were ultimately vacated for similar reasons. It's not enough for you to "consider" something identity theft, you need to look into the explanation offered and the context. The deans and dons of NYU tried to get someone sent to jail as a favor to their colleague who had been accused of plagiarism (initially by an Israeli journalist, only later in the Gmail parodies). It may be a normal reaction to casually leap to conclusions and bandy around words like "troll" and "harassment" without looking into the background and the details of the incident, but one is entitled to expect more from the seasoned academics who went to the lengths of testifying at the criminal trial in New York. They knew exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. 


    P.s. I also need to point out that your assessment (that you would automatically consider Gmails in a professor's name to be "identity theft" rather than parody) is not shared by media law specialist Arthur Hayes and others. See, again, the links I included in my initial comment. Catharine Stimpson admitted in her criminal court testimony that she immediately saw that the message she received had not been written by the academic in question. Did it not occur to her that she could be reading a rather clumsy and unsuccessful effort at satire?


    Using a name, address (including e-mail), phone number and/or other identifiers of a person who is not you is identity theft.  It is only satire if your true identity is noted within the use thereof, ie an Onion article or "Colbert Report" broadcast.  You're twisting yourself into a disingenuous pretzel.


    I fail to see how that matters to you as you posted above you had no problem when  Letters Of Obscure Men "fooled gullible readers around Europe."


    You're speaking quite clearly for yourself by using a pseudonym here. The issue is not whether there was plagiarism or free speech or the first amendment. The issue is identity theft. Even if there was plagiarism it doesn't give one the right to steal another person's name to send out fraudulent emails. Golb can say or print anything he likes so long as it's not libel. What he can't do is impersonate another person and confess and apologize in his name. How about you send me your real name? I promise I will only use it to send out emails where you admit to a malicious attack on Dr. Cleveland and offer a sincere apology. Just satire of course. Tell me again how it's fine with you if a person uses another's name and sends out emails in his name.

    The fact that the vast majority of academics would not come to Golb's defense is indicative that this is not a free speech issue but identity theft. I suspect most of them had the same thought I've posted. What if someone made an email using my name and sent out "parody" emails to my employer and colleagues? Your inclusion of Golb's identity theft detracts from your critique of Butler.

    By  the way, the list of 16th century behaviors we no longer consider acceptable is nearly endless. That something happened then is no legitimate defense.


    We will have to agree to disagree on this one. The state appellate courts specifically vacated Golb's' identity theft convictions. The Second Circuit then carefully vacated all of the other counts where the emails were "puerile" enough and where they conveyed a "message." You are, to some extent, right in that the Second Circuit left intact New York State's new "harm to reputation" standard because it did not strike the court as being a "clear" enough violation of the Constitution, but this decision has been criticized precisely by the only academic who has written about it, media law specialist Professor Arthur Hayes of Fordham University. Furthermore, the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals dissented, arguing that all of the communications were First-Amendment-protected speech. You appear intent on ignoring, rather than addressing, their arguments.

    Your discussion appears to be based on an imprecise knowledge of the case decisions. In particular, you are ignoring the fact that the case was a massive assault on Golb's rights, most of which was ultimately recognized as such and accordingly vacated by the appellate courts. Sorry to say, you might want to do your homework first. In addition, your position is not logical, for almost all parody damages a reputation, why then not just criminalize any parody. Finally, "what happened in the 16th century" has happened many times since then, and happens all the time online today (see the lengthy list of examples on the site I linked, which include frequent tweets sent out in the "names" of university presidents, which look exactly like the real thing, and which clearly "convey messages," hence not a crime, according to the Second Circuit).


    Your appeals to authority mean nothing to me. When most of the most important of recent Supreme Court decisions are decided by a 5-4 split it's clear that our most important legal authorities disagree on fundamental constitutional issues. Quite frequently the Supreme Court overturns the decisions of the authorities you cite with those 5-4 decisions.  With many people here who think we often argue about those Supreme Court decisions. We don't simply bow our heads as if in church an accept them as truth.

    It often takes time for the law to catch up with new technologies and it's not uncommon for legislatures to take several attempts to make  law to deal with the new realities. Golb may have been fortunate to be prosecuted in the early stages with somewhat flawed laws. Twitter is attempting to deal with this problem of fraud by verifying accounts. There may be other remedies that tech companies try. As awareness grows this issue is becoming more important to users. The problem is obvious even to you given the care you take to protect your own true identity and that makes your arguments so clearly hypocritical. We don't need to criminalize parody. We can simply criminalize identity theft.  I feel confident that the proliferation of identity theft laws passed in numerous states will increase and eventually shake out as I've argued since the issue of identity theft through email is obvious. Since you're incapable of making a coherent argument that goes beyond citing a court ruling we will have to leave it at this level of disagreement. 


    Sure, and let's hope the new laws cut back on "civil liberties," which after all are only established by authority. In China and Russia and Thailand, they put people in jail for online satire, because they see how obviously damaging it is to reputations, especially given the new technologies out there. The American legal notion that satire is a form of protected speech is just based on authority. The Supreme Court's decisions over the years that new technologies don't change basic First Amendment principles is also just a matter of arbitrary authority, so let's rest assured that this will change too with the times. Annoying speech can obviously even lead people to commit suicide, so the notion that for some reason it's protected by a "constitution" is also just a matter of authority. Annoying speech was criminalized for decades in New York, and is becoming even more of a problem now with the new technologies, so this Golb decision holding the contrary and declaring a useful statute unconstitutional was clearly a mistake and hopefully we will soon again be able to imprison people who annoy others (especially members of our academic power elite) with speech. Come to think of it, the whole idea of "facts" is also just an appeal to authority. It's obvious that the immigrants aren't Americans and are just bringing crime into the country, so why give them rights? That "human rights" stuff is just based on authority, so let's separate the families and make sure they stop coming here. Have a good day, and yes, I'll agree to leave it there and disagree.


    P.s. I forgot to mention that the whole idea that people should only be put in jail for endangering public safety or for financial crime is also just based on arbitrary authority and should be discarded. And above all, the idea that "identity theft" is a misnomer and actually means the use of another's personal information to steal money is based on authority and has no application in view of new technologies. The findings of the courts that Golb did not seek to make a thousand dollars or falsify the business records of NYU, and so did not commit identity theft, is again just based on authority and can safely be ignored.. On the other hand, the claims made by Judith Butler and Catherine Stimpson have a special status that allows us to believe them. That's got nothing to do with authority, so it's all good.


    I have no idea what to make of this bizarre rant. Suffice it to say that there is disagreement over this case among legal scholars. It was hotly debated. We happen to live in a country where people can disagree with court decisions. In fact even Supreme Court justices in the minority can publish their dissent. While the Supreme Court is reluctant to overturn precedent at times those minority dissents have later become the majority decision. I generally prefer to express my own thoughts and opinions when discussing issues and not rely on the words of others, even those with more expertise than I. I stand by my arguments but since you refuse to address them here is an article by Eugene Volokh who teaches free speech law and a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic at UCLA School of Law.

     the evidence clearly established that defendant never intended any kind of parody. Instead, he only intended to convey the first message to the readers of the emails, that is, that the purported authors were the actual authors. It was equally clear that defendant intended that the recipients’ reliance on this deception would cause harm to the purported authors and benefits to defendant or his father.

    Defendant was not prosecuted for the content of any of the emails, but only for giving the false impression that his victims were the actual authors of the emails. The First Amendment protects the right to criticize another person, but it does not permit anyone to give an intentionally false impression that the source of the message is that other person

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_v._Golb

    People v. Golb is an extensively litigated New York case in which Raphael Golb was convicted for sock puppetry conduct relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls. His conviction was partially reversed on constitutional law grounds, but was substantially affirmed.

    Golb was a member of the New York Bar. The Appellate Division held that because he "was convicted, after a jury trial, of identity theft in the second degree (two counts) in violation of Penal Law § 190.79 (3), a class E felony," he should be disbarred.

     


    Well, yes, it is not surprising that you would cite the views of Eugene Volokh, a well-known conservative law professor who has on numerous occasions argued in favor of limiting the scope of the First Amendment, and who believes that only a "clear" parody, or one that explicitly declares itself to be a parody, is entitled to protection. In fact, he even tried to convince the Supreme Court that the Stolen Valor statute was not protected by the First Amendment; fortunately he didn't succeed. That the "postmodernist" defenders of Avital Ronell would appear to share such a philosophy, even at the cost of a trial where "neither truth nor good faith is a defense," simply illustrates the well-known fact that the left and the right converge in their documented hostility towards free-speech causes. Let's build some more "safe spaces," and let's definitely require big trigger warnings everywhere, so we can protect our delicate college students, and of course our seasoned professors too, from unwanted speech.

    As for the Wikipedia article you cite, it is obviously out of date, as it doesn't reflect the Second Circuit's decision that gutted the case even further (see the material I linked). Still no comment from the postmodernists on the Second Circuit's distinction between email impersonations that may be intended to "convey a message" and ones that are sufficiently "puerile" (all perfectly legal) and ones that must be intended to "damage a reputation" (not clearly unconstitutional enough for the federal court to reverse the state high court). In the end, this was all about doing whatever it took to protect the reputation of a single academic, just like the Ronell letter.


    P.s. a small correction to my comment above: well-known conservative Volokh tried to convince the Supreme Court that the Stolen Valor statute, which allowed the government to jail anyone who falsely claimed to have received a military medal, was constitutional. The Court rejected his argument and held that fraud can only be criminalized if it's engaged in to obtain a material benefit such as money, or to cause material harm such as loss of money.


    Here is the view of another academic who has read the 56 page indictment and so reveals more of the specifics of the case than I have seen otherwise in writeups but still tries to get to the basic issues which apply broadly in cases of abuse of power.  


    Yeah. That’s a great piece.


    My interest in the issue was sparked by another very good piece. Thanks Doc. 


    Letting all this, all the responses, settle down to the bottom of my stomach, I feel a revulsion for academia. Not the good doctor Cleveland, but for so much of it. The ridiculous and twisted language of the theorists. The incestuous relationships. And the unspoken pretension that, somehow, whatever is going on inside academia is conducted at a higher, more refined level than what goes on outside the walls.

    I'm no anti-intellectual, but if this is what one has to put up with to study...anything in the humanities...then count me out. At the time I graduated from college, I ruled out going for a higher degree. Years later, I regretted the decision. Now I think I made the right one.

    What's wrong with this Butler chick and the others who signed the letter? Leopold and Loeb were smart guys, too. With all her thousands of hours of reading, reflection and writing does she really think that great accomplishment excuses wrongdoing? Even the cleaning ladies on my street who barely speak Spanish know that's bullshit.

    What if Ronell had been a pickpocket? Would the problem then have been that the crime was too lumpen to excuse? And reading a few random quotes from Ronell, I'm tempted to ask: How much do they pay you to write that shit and why? Are your powers of self-reflection and abilities to gauge other peoples' responses so weak that you couldn't figure out that "he just wasn't that into you"? Or what?

    Remember this old saying? A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Fire these fuckers and put them on the night shift.


    Peter, good to see you commenting! That is all.


    Hi Doc, I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent here. Pardon me (I hope) if this doesn't quite fit or you've written about this elsewhere. In my "travels" among writers who might be placed along the right end of the political spectrum, there is a lot of worry about what has happened to academia and, even more, to university students.

    Conservatives have complained about their lack of representation on humanities faculties for a long time, but the criticism has been taking a somewhat different turn for some time now. I'm sure you've heard it: Instead of being asked, or challenged, to deal with a wide range of ideas, many of which are difficult but important, students are being protected from these encounters through devices such as "trigger warnings." And "fragile" creatures that they are or have become, they are demanding "safe spaces" on campuses so they don't have to address other people with views they disagree with and find disturbing.

    As a result, we're turning out a generation of fragile and frightened young adults who are unable to handle conflict or make their way in a world that isn't customized to meet their emotional needs, i.e., the real world. Perhaps worse, these kids demand intellectual conformity to a degree that contradicts the university's commitment to free intellectual inquiry and free speech, etc.

    This general idea is connected to a lot of other issues, e.g., who gets to speak on campus; is there such a thing as objective truth or objective right and wrong; and even, are we coddling kids from a very young age by supervising their every move and not allowing any free (read "unsupervised and therefore dangerous") play long before they reach even the earliest grades. Haidt and a contributor have just written a book about this. And though they're talking about very young kids, I have a sense that their thesis dovetails with what other people claim is happening on campus.

    I know I've covered a lot of territory here, but my first question is: Are these people accurately describing what is happening on campuses and to what degree? IOW, this phenomenon, assuming it's real, has conservatives very worried. My question is whether there's anything to worry about when one examines the reality on campus.

    You work in academia; I don't. It's been over 40 years since I was a college student, and my campus was run by Catholics and unlikely to be overrun by post-modernism, structuralism or the various names "literary theory" seems to go by. (I'm not familiar with the terms, but have some sense they're all used interchangeably, at least by their opponents.) Thinking back, I can't recall any professor holding back or not discussing a topic because it might "trigger" a bad memory, and I can't even think of courses covering subjects that would've triggered such a memory. Rape? Murder? Suicide? Assuming I went to school during the good old days and at a school that could still tell "right from wrong," I can't remember any of my classes touching on, or being devoted to, subjects that might make any younger person flip out and destroy his learning experience.

    So I'm looking for one person's reality check on this cluster of claims. Are we turning out a generation of fragile, helpless adults? Or is this just another variation on conservatives' constant complaint that they're being excluded from the club? Is this real or is it badly edited Memorex?

    Hope I'm being clear here. If you've address this question elsewhere, or know someone else who has, I'd appreciate your pointing me to it. Thanks, Peter


    In my experience, Peter, no. This is not a real problem. And it would take a lot to turn my students into fragile snowflakes: I teach at a public urban commuter school, and my students' lives, as a great Cleveland poet once said, ain't no crystal stair.

    Generally, I think this is part of the conservative worrying-about-college industry, and is more about the writers than about anything much happening at colleges.

    The trigger-warning thing is actually something that started on the internet. People marked blog posts, etc., with trigger warnings so that rape survivors, or child abuse survivors, or combat veterans, would know that they were about to read something that would bring up that trauma. Some of that practice has migrated over to colleges

    For example, last semester I said to students, "You should know that Act Two of this play has a moment of non-consensual sex." I don't think that's making my students fragile. I think that's giving them information and treating them like adults. Fifteen years ago, I would have just handed out a story full of ugly military combat, like "The Things They Carried," and not said anything. Now I will let a class, which may have Iraq and/or Afghanistan veterans in it, have a heads-up. As a friend of mine who teaches community college puts it, "The point is for them not to have a panic attack in class."


    Thanks, Doc.


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