That’s Not Funny

By David Ottlinger

One good thing to come in the wake of these frequently misguided and often intolerant student protests has been a real and surprisingly hopeful national conversation about public discourse. I can’t remember a time when so much energy (and printer’s ink) has gone into debating free speech and censorship.

I want to focus on one small area of our public discourse and its troubled relationship to censorship and that’s comedy. Certainly I am not the only one, as over the years, there has been a regular stream of controversies and shouting matches over what kinds of jokes ought to be deemed permissible.  Only recently, Patton Oswald got in a protracted and often amusing debate with Salon over criticism leveled against a joke that was deemed “racist.”  [1] Jerry Seinfeld, always a remarkably clean comic, has complained about increasingly sensitive audiences. [2] Chris Rock has gone as far as to say that he has given up on college audiences, and so too, to hear him tell it, did the late, great George Carlin. [3] In rapid succession, Daniel Tosh and Anthony Jeselnick made national news for telling jokes involving rape. [4] Loveable degenerate Jim Norton has even made censorship something of a cause celebre, often spitting bile at “coddled, hair-patted little babies” (Norton’s view of American college students). [5] Outrage over comedy has become something of a regular feature of American political life, and it is worth talking about, partly because it brings together so many of the most interesting parts of our discourse. It is, at once, political discourse, discourse about art, and discourse about the intellectual life on our college campuses.  Looking into it can yield insights for our larger conversations about public discourse. All these beleaguered comedians have met with the same statement, “That’s. not. funny.” Finding out what this phrase means to those who use it and how it became so important may tell us a great deal.

As is repeated wearingly often, comedy is subjective. What one person finds funny, another may not. But are some things categorically unfunny? As one writer in Salon put it, perhaps a touch naively, “Humor is subjective but is it that subjective?” [6] The contention is that some subjects are so awful and disturbing that no treatment could ever make them appear funny. The piece continues, “ I don’t have it in me to find rape jokes funny or to tolerate them in any way. It’s too close a topic. Rape is many things — humiliating, degrading, physically and emotionally painful, exhausting, irritating. It is never funny for most women.” I am highly suspicious of these kinds of claims. The reasons for my suspicion are well captured in Graham Greene’s classic short story “A Shocking Accident”. [7] In the story a young boy who idolizes his father has to endure the tragedy of his father’s untimely death, when he is killed by a falling pig. This porcine emissary of death falls five stories, when the balcony of a poor Neapolitan family gives way, just as the unfortunate traveler was walking directly below. Now our narrator has to endure for the rest of his life the fact that his father’s death is both a deeply felt tragedy and something funny to pretty much everyone. No one would deny that the loss of a parent, especially at a young age, is a great source of grief, but that does not stop the case being funny. It’s funny, essentially, because it is such an absurd and undignified end and because it was such an astronomically unlikely thing to happen. In fact it is funnier because it is tragic. The fact that it is so embarrassing and undignified, as well as the fact that if he were one step farther he might have lived a long and profitable life, make the situation funnier, not less funny. The mismatch between the great importance of a man’s entire life and the insignificance of livestock falling from a balcony has a dark irony. It strikes me that many things in life are like this. As Mel Brooks supposedly said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” [8]

There is another problem with this kind of thinking as well, concerning the difference between realities and representations. Many things are categorically bad in reality, but that does not imply that representations of those things are always bad or without value. I never, ever want to see an old man have his eyes pushed out by boot-heels or a pregnant woman be strangled, but I want very much to see these things in the theatre, and when I see that the Royal Shakespeare Company is representing these events in producing King Lear and The Duchess of Malfi, I wish, desperately, that I could go. There are many other examples. Black comedy has often been high art. There is a wonderful comedy scene in Measure for Measure, in which a prisoner is to be taken away for execution, but the hung-over prisoner can’t be bothered and would really rather just get to it tomorrow. [9] And of course there is Lear’s pointless and sadistic taunting of the recently blinded Gloucester in the famous Dover beach scene: “O, ho, are you there with me? No eyes in your head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light.” [10] No one doubts that these are horrible things, but joking about them is undeniably great literature.

But really, while critics of “offensive” jokes most often say “That’s not funny” I am not always convinced that that is really what they mean. Very frequently complaints about jokes make references to “rape culture” and “systems of privilege” and other things of this kind. The Salon piece quoted above is typical in this respect. The author contends that joking about rape means “participating in a culture that encourages lax attitudes toward sexual violence and the concerns of women” and that “Silence gives consent.” These are essentially moral and political complaints. No doubt these critics are sincere when they say that they do not find these jokes funny, but this is more or less tangential to their main complaint. They believe these jokes are immoral and politically irresponsible and those considerations should trump whatever aesthetic value they may have. Occasional arguments that censorship and “call-outs” make comedy better are disingenuous and palpably false. [11] The real argument contends that whether or not the jokes are funny, they cause harm by contributing to a culture and society which is unjust. According to this argument, the critics are not really contending that something is not funny, but that there are some things that should not be laughed at.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. There is something missing from the picture that Salon and other organs of opinion paint of a society of individuals passively inputting discourse and outputting behavior. Something vital. And that something is autonomy. This has also been a great part of what makes the recent Yale and University of Missouri protests so maddening and makes me want to drive to Connecticut and throw copies of On Liberty and the Areopagitica into windows. (Of course that would be a real invasion of space, unlike the fake invasion of space of taking people’s picture while in a public place.) Classical liberal theory, on which our Western societies are based, paints an entirely different picture. There, the picture is of autonomous individuals debating, reasoning, making judgements and forming contracts and agreements with other individuals, which become laws and form the basis for society. This is a picture of individuals actively engaged and determining their own values. A person may hear an argument, entertain it and then reject it. But it just doesn’t seem to enter the mind of many critics that a person could hear a joke about rape, laugh, and still maintain a strong moral stance that rape is heinously wrong and even be politically engaged in trying to prevent rape and other forms of violence. No, for writers like those whom  we have been discussing, our behavior is just a function of our surroundings. A joke about rape goes out into society and causally shapes those who hear it. It makes them laugh about rape and then causes them to fail to take rape seriously. They in turn say flippant things which causally shapes other people. Perhaps some of these people actually commit rapes. For thinkers like John Stuart Mill, it was vital to an open democratic society to foster individual reasoning and freedom of thought. For such thinkers, the way to intervene is to encourage the individuals hearing these jokes to think independently and form their own morals. Then they need fear no jokes. For many today, such an intervention just does not seem possible. People will just do what they are culturally determined to do, so it is better to keep them from hearing bad things, so they don’t turn around and do bad things.

There is a real danger in promulgating this kind of picture. If you tell people that they are just culturally determined sheep, they might start to believe it and so become culturally determined sheep.  Autonomy is like a muscle that must be used. Exercise of reason and critical thinking must be cultivated. This kind of discourse leads to lassitude that is very serious for a democracy. People are not building the skills necessary to debate and form opinions, and this means that they will not have the skills necessary to form coalitions and put things into law. No doubt, the authors who want to censor jokes do so because they want to make society a better place. But I fear the way they are going about it may undermine our ability to do so. Ironically, the attempts to improve society by censoring speech may leave us without the skills we need to really improve society, the skills needed for an active and engaged public.

But for all that I have said, I do have a certain nagging sympathy for these critics of comedy. It is not so much that I think some jokes should be censored and people making these jokes should be “called-out,” but that I sometimes share the sense that something in our comedy has gone seriously wrong. A number of times I have been watching some piece of comedy, laughing, and getting the uneasy feeling that I am being made worse, not better. For several years now, the best and most popular comedy has been the comedy of brutality. It is the kind of comedy that stares into the blackest realities and finds laughs there. The greatest purveyor of this kind of comedy is undoubtedly Louis CK. His stand-up and his shows deal deliberately with some of the heaviest subjects. No doubt this kind of comedy is a reflection of the times. We hear and see so many tragedies from around the world that it is hard not to become numb. President Obama himself commented that even for him, commenting on school shootings had become, in a sense, routine. [12] How much more so then, for the average citizen who can do so much less than the leader of the free world? Even now I am writing with reporting in the background, on mute, of the slayings in Paris. Our comedy seems to have become the comedy of detachment, of numbness. This is dangerous. The response to the problems of the world should be action. No one can single-handedly change the world, but many people doing their part can have a great impact. This is less likely to be the case, if everyone is using this kind of comedy as sort of narcotic to ease the pain, without treating the source of the pain, namely, the many political problems facing the world.

So I have some sympathy with those who argue there are some things we should not laugh at or at least not laugh at, in the way we do. Likewise these critics are right to see political importance of jokes and other aspects of popular culture. No show that we watch or article we read is that important, but the sum total of these is culture. Culture shapes us, informs us, determines what questions we ask and, just as important, which ones we don’t ask. The critics are right that influencing culture is important. But though they are right in their ends, they are wrong in their means. Censorship, shame and “call-outs” will not be the way to achieve the change we need. We need to recognize people’s basic ability to argue and self-determine. We need not just to bully people but to convince them. For the culture to really change, we need people who don’t want to say sexist things, not silent sexists. People are made and shaped by culture and people are autonomous self-determining agents. Going forward I may be listening to less bleak, detached comedy, but I will be making that decision for myself.

Notes

Trigger Warning! Some of these links contains salty language. You have been warned.

[1] One of Oswalt’s attacks: http://www.pattonoswalt.com/index.cfm?page=spew&id=168

It later ended with a “peace summit” here: http://www.salon.com/2015/03/11/salons_patton_oswalt_peace_summit/

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/10/opinions/obeidallah-jerry-seinfeld/

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/chris-rock-colleges-conservative_n_6250308.html

[4] http://www.salon.com/2012/07/12/daniel_tosh_and_rape_jokes_still_not_funny/

[5] http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/05/21/you-have-become-what-you-hated-why-the-hosts-of-popular-opie-and-anthony-show-are-fed-up-with-the-progressive-left/

[6] http://www.salon.com/2012/07/12/daniel_tosh_and_rape_jokes_still_not_funny/

[7]http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143039105?keywords=graham%20greene%20stories&qid=1447515862&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

[8] My only sources are wiki and quote websites so the attribution is uncertain: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mel_Brooks

[9] http://shakespeare.mit.edu/measure/measure.4.3.html

[10] http://shakespeare.mit.edu/lear/lear.4.6.html

[11] Two examples, one cited above: http://www.salon.com/2013/07/31/jerry_seinfeld_provides_an_antidote_to_jeselniks_junior_high_humor/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/21/arts/television/political-correctness-isnt-ruining-comedy-its-helping.html

[12] http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/01/politics/oregon-shooting-obama-response/

Categories: Essay

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47 Comments »

  1. I don’t get it. Some people criticise comedians. Comedians criticise them back.

    Free speech on both sides. What exactly is the problem? Isn’t that how free speech works? Are people rounding up comedians and sending them to labour camps in America now? Does “On Liberty” have a section that I missed where it says people shouldn’t criticise comedians?

    We had the PC brigade when I was young, only they weren’t called PC because that term hadn’t been coined yet. We called them the ‘right-ons’. Always finding sexism and racism where it wasn’t.

    Perhaps some of them would have been authoritarian had they any power. But they didn’t, because we didn’t let them. We laughed at them and told them to get perspective. If they wanted us to attend a consciousness raising session we would tell them we are off to the pub for a consciousness lowering session and ask them if they wanted to come.

    I am not sure why the same strategy wouldn’t work today. I doubt that they are more numerous today than they were nearly forty years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robin: That’s right. You don’t get it. What’s going on today, with “calling-out,” Twitter mobs and shaming, is nothing like what PC types did back in the 80s or 90s. People are losing their jobs; speakers are being disinvited from engagements; whole countries worth of academics are being boycotted.

    If you don’t see how all of this makes a liberal regime of the sort Mill describes in On Liberty impossible, then you didn’t understand it. Your description of how we can just “laugh at them and tell them to get perspective” ignores everything that goes on, preciely when people try to do just this.

    Dan T. linked to this in an earlier discussion. It’s worth watching, on this very point.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robin,
    “Does “On Liberty” have a section that I missed where it says people shouldn’t criticise comedians?”
    As a matter of fact On Liberty has large sections devoted to the concept of social censorship. Mill insists up and down that it is not just legal barriers to free speech that are the problem. When people bully and try to impose costs on other speakers for expressing their opinions this is equally a threat to the deliberative process of democracy. So I do think you “missed” a central concept.

    “Some people criticise comedians. Comedians criticise them back. Free speech on both sides. What exactly is the problem? Isn’t that how free speech works?”
    A lot of activist groups say things like this. I remember Sonia Ossorio, the leader of NOW, said it to Patrice O’Neal after Don Imus was thrown off the air. Lindsey West said it to Jim Norton when they agreed to debate. The editor of Salon said it to Patton Oswald in the debate I linked to above. It is important see why this is false. Ossorio’s statements in particular struck me as disingenuous. It is one thing to criticize a person or their views. It is another to go after people’s sponsors and try to drum up a mob to scare people’s employers. After you do the latter you cannot invoke “the free marketplace of ideas”. What these groups are doing is not giving people reasons to believe something in a way which respects their autonomy to accept those ideas or not. They are trying to impose social and economic costs to force people into silence, not to rationally persuade people. Again that is not consistent with the deliberative ideals of a democracy.

    ” I doubt that they are more numerous today than they were nearly forty years ago.”
    There are many great pieces in Vox, The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education which imply you are just wrong about this. Also Dan and Massimo have been in the academy all the period you referred to and bear witness, as many others do, to significant changes.

    Like

  4. David

    That Graham Greene story is one of my favourites also and you make some very good points.

    I would probably take a different approach to autonomy, however, seeing it more in terms of action than thought or thinking. What irks me most about the modern world of work is that, for whatever reasons (some connected with changes in the way our legal systems work), people (including professionals) are no longer trusted to make their own decisions, so everyone is now spending a lot of time ticking boxes and so on. Professionals are less autonomous than they have ever been, and the same applies to people doing a whole range of jobs which once required them to exercise their intelligence and judgement but no longer do (to anywhere near the same extent). As you say, autonomy needs to be exercised or it withers away. It’s just that I see autonomy in slightly different terms to you.

    The other point I want to make relates to this passage:

    “Censorship, shame and “call-outs” will not be the way to achieve the change we need. We need to recognize people’s basic ability to argue and self-determine. We need not just to bully people but to convince them. For the culture to really change, we need people who don’t want to say sexist things, not silent sexists. People are made and shaped by culture and people are autonomous self-determining agents.”

    I think there is a conflict in what you are saying here in that there is an implicit assumption (sorry, that word again that caused some problems in our last exchange) that there is this correct position which you see but others don’t.

    The bottom line is, not only do you want people to behave well, you want them to think correctly also. I see your point in a way (motivation and all that). But I also see dangers in your approach. When does persuasion become subtle propaganda or ‘reeducation’?

    And what’s wrong with being a ‘silent sexist’, for example, or even a ‘silent racist’? I tend to see other people’s thoughts as being none of my business.

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  5. Dan K, in fairness to Robin, what he says is, “I don’t get it. Some people criticise comedians. Comedians criticise them back.” So, he’s only, it seems to me, addressing one aspect of this debate, though I’m sure he’ll will amplify. You, on the other hand, broaden the context considerably when you write,

    “Twitter mobs and shaming, is nothing like what PC types did back in the 80s or 90s. People are losing their jobs; speakers are being disinvited from engagements; whole countries worth of academics are being boycotted.”

    This is not to say there isn’t merit in broadening this topic, as David has and you are in your remark. There is. But I would like to see some remarks addressing boundaries, tolerance, and motivation. That is extremely problematic, as David suggests in his piece.

    Humor, satire, and ridicule are inherently and intentionally subversive, and that can many times be a good thing, especially when of a socio-political nature. It makes us question the nature of human hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and rigid ideological positions that are waved like membership cards to identify us, just in case, I suppose, our species membership might be questioned at the front door.

    This is an excellent topic, and it is one that I tend to address on a case by case basis. Twitter is, of course, a problem at times, particularly for those inclined to use it for purposes that were perhaps not anticipated by its creators. Ditto Facebook and many other forms of “social media” (I’m beginning to loath that expression.). But PC has been around for ages as historically evident in elitist and egalitarian cross-talk, in the affectations of snobbery and anti-snobbery, even, it would seem, in today’s dress codes. To wit, I received a wedding invitation recently and noted in small print: “Dress–Daytime formal.” What’s “daytime formal” I asked a friend. Hmm, is that like “business casual”? Oh, you think, freshly laundered and pressed pants and a shirt? Yeah, he said and added, Footwear too would be advisable.

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  6. David

    On re-reading your bit about ‘silent sexists’, I see that you probably meant people who don’t say sexist things but who behave in sexist ways. Originally I took it to refer to people who (hypothetically) had sexist thoughts but spoke and behaved in non-sexist ways. So ignore the last paragraph of my previous comment!

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  7. Hi Dan K,

    I am not sure what qualifies as a “call out”, but if it means writing about them and pointing out their behaviour in the media then people were “called out” all the time in the early eighties. I was called out in a prominent activist newspaper because I didn’t attend a demo. For the record, I didn’t give a toss that I was called out.

    Of course there was no twitter back then.

    If a scientist had worn “that” shirt in the early eighties then people would have written about it and called it sexist. If a scientist had said in the early eighties that the trouble with girls in laboratories is that you fall in love with them and they fall in love with you and when you criticise them they cry, then people would have written about it and called it sexist.

    I don’t see that anything has changed on that side. But today he is sacked by bodies like the University College London, The Royal Society and the European Commission for Research.

    If you are looking for something that has changed then that is what you should be looking at.

    As far as I know Twitter mobs are not employers and have no power to terminate employment. This can be the result when they are backed by the old, rich and powerful – such as in the example I gave in the previous thread. In that case there were major figures with the ability to stymie the communication minister’s political ambitions if he did not pressure for the resignation. The communications minister was currently considering where to cut the budget and his government had form in using budget cuts as leverage over public broadcasters.

    But a normal journalists or twitter users have no such power, so if people are sacked because of something said on twitter or by a journalist, then the responsibility rests with the employer.

    Also, regarding twitter mobs – anyone could get onto twitter for about $30 for a cheap tablet and access to a public wi fi point. There are 241 million active twitter users each day and it would only take a tiny percentage of those to create a sizeable twitter mob. A twitter mob, in itself, cannot be taken as evidence of anything. Twitter is just a microphone on the kind of chatter which always went on in any case.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robin:

    Okay, you don’t see any different sort of problem, today. I do. David does. Dan Tippens does. Professors at universities across the country do. And many, many others do, as evinced by how much is being written about the topic.

    As for the efficacy of Twitter mobs, the TED talk I linked to explains it with great clarity. If that doesn’t persuade you, nothing I say will.

    I find the attitudes and behaviors of the current crop of Social Justice Warriors to be completely antithetical to the basic principles of liberalism. I’m sorry that you don’t, but there it is.

    Like

  9. Hi Robin,

    I think that massive twitter mobs of million of people represent consumers for companies. If a company continues to employ someone who is being attacked by the mob, they are guilty by association in this mob’s eyes. That is terrible publicity for them, and hurts their business. Consequently, they end up firing the person who is being indicted by the Twitter mob. In this way, Twitter mobs do have the power to get people fired. That is just one example of how the power of twitter mobs is achieved.

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  10. dantip, I don’t think Robin is blind to your point. But I do think some of us are trying to find some coherent connection between the depiction of digital mob justice and the many forms humor can take when freedom of speech and expression are supposedly valued in a supposedly democratic government. David’s piece is entitled “That’s Not Funny” and raises questions like whether a comedian or artist

    Like

  11. Sorry, computer snafu. To finish:

    “whether a comedian or artist” should self-censor his material to accommodate a supposed audience or submit it in advance to a arbitration panel for approval and what might this mean. Actually, I’m fairly sure that Robin has the same problems with SJW as you and Dan K seem to have.

    Like

  12. Dan K,

    “Okay, you don’t see any different sort of problem, today.”

    Interesting. Did you really think that I said that? Even though I had made an explicit point about what is different today?

    You are under no obligation to try to understand my point, but if you are not going to try, why ho to the trouble of replying at all?

    Like

  13. Perhaps we should just shun all comedy, if we are thinking of it as a tool to make society better. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert made jokes of FOX News conservatism for years, yet Republicans still won both chambers of Congress and many legislatures and governorships of the states. Comedy doesn’t do any good, it seems. Perhaps other forms of content could work better.

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  14. Hi David.

    “So I do think you “missed” a central concept.”

    No, not unless you can tell me how you got to my word “criticise” to your term “social censorship”

    How is a criticism social censorship?

    Like

  15. Here is a piece from the Independent seems relevant.:

    In the 1980s, Hill came under concerted attack from feminists and (the killer blow) the new wave of alternative comedians. Ben Elton denounced him as a “dirty old man, tearing the clothes off nubile girls while chasing them round a park”. This was not strictly true (Hill thought it was funnier to get the girls to chase him), but it was said in a tone of such moral righteousness that only the most reactionary braveheart dared to question it. The curious thing about the alternative comedians was that they would not brook any alternative. Despite their socialist pretensions, they despised the coarse, working-class, vaudeville tradition from which Hill’s comedy derived. Theirs was the humour of the middle-class dinner party: all politics and irony and verbal jousting.

    Jemima Lewis “Why did the British disown Benny Hill?” The Independent
    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/jemima-lewis-why-did-the-british-disown-benny-hill-479887.html

    Note, that is the 1980’s

    This, also from Wikipedia:

    The alternative comedian Ben Elton made a headline-grabbing allegation, both on the TV show Saturday Live and in the pages of Q magazine (in its January 1987 issue), that The Benny Hill Show was single-handedly responsible for the incidences of rape in England during the period in question, and also suggested the programme incited other acts of violence against women

    So, there you have it. SJW comedians from the 1980’s, calling out and shaming another comedian to try to drive him out of the business.

    Not a new phenomenon.

    Like

  16. Robin,
    On your reply to DanK. You seemed to say that the pressure was no different it was just that companies were more inclined to cave. Hence: “I don’t see that anything has changed on that side [the activist side]. But today he is sacked by bodies like the University College London, The Royal Society and the European Commission for Research. If you are looking for something that has changed then that is what you should be looking at.” Isn’t that tantamount to saying the problem has not changed, just the reaction to it?

    “How is a criticism social censorship?”
    I tried to explain above. It becomes social censorship when it goes beyond trying to make a case for your position and becomes a matter of trying to impose a cost on people who disagree with you. Arguing that what one said is wrong is one thing, trying to drum up bad publicity to get a person fired or get sponsors to reject them is another. One says, here are reasons why you should act differently. The other says, act differently or face being fired, socially outcast, harassed etc.

    Mark,
    “I would probably take a different approach to autonomy, however, seeing it more in terms of action than thought or thinking.”
    Freedom of action presupposes freedom of thought. For an action to count as free a person has to have chosen it on the basis of reasons they have considered. You imply this yourself when you remark that what is needed is ” intelligence and judgement”.

    “I think there is a conflict in what you are saying here in that there is an implicit assumption (sorry, that word again that caused some problems in our last exchange [and it will again!]) that there is this correct position which you see but others don’t.”
    I certainly don’t assume that my position is correct or I wouldn’t have bothered to motivate it with arguments. I do assume that there is *a* correct position, or some range of correct or objectively better positions, but so does virtually all political discourse. If you are a liberal and you want to argue your position, you have to assume you are right in a way which gives other people reason to act. Let me turn it around, do you think conservatives and liberals just have different opinions but neither is more right than the other?

    “But I also see dangers in your approach. When does persuasion become subtle propaganda or ‘reeducation’?”
    I’m not sure what you are implying. Yes I certainly think there is a difference between rational persuasion and propaganda. Would you prefer that I denied the difference? It strikes me such a view would be associated with quite a few more dangers…

    “And what’s wrong with being a ‘silent sexist’, for example, or even a ‘silent racist’? I tend to see other people’s thoughts as being none of my business.”
    Presumably actions that perpetuate sexism, racism and unjust structures of power will issue from these beliefs. At the very least these people will not be engaged in positively changing social norms for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. “How is a criticism social censorship?”
    I tried to explain above. It becomes social censorship when it goes beyond trying to make a case for your position and becomes a matter of trying to impose a cost on people who disagree with you. Arguing that what one said is wrong is one thing, trying to drum up bad publicity to get a person fired or get sponsors to reject them is another. One says, here are reasons why you should act differently. The other says, act differently or face being fired, socially outcast, harassed etc.
    ——————
    This is spot-on. And it’s what’s different today.

    Like

  18. . The other says, act differently or face being fired, socially outcast, harassed etc.

    So, you are saying, for example, that the SJW’s removed Dr Tim Hunt from his various positions?

    The Royal Society, University College London and the European Research Commission had no choice in the matter?

    Like

  19. David, I enjoyed reading. Touchy subject for me, I got a few emotional alarms but you canceled them rapidly.

    On what’s funny, I guess it depends on the person’s baggage, and cultural evolution. When I first saw ‘All in the Family’ episodes in the early 70’s I found Archie’s sexist remarks and Edith’s stupidity and submission moderately funny, but yesterday when I watched two reruns with my mother I was surprised at how unfunny and even painful I found it to watch their stereotyped interactions.

    You said in a comment: “trying to drum up bad publicity to get a person fired or get sponsors to reject them is another. One says, here are reasons why you should act differently. The other says, act differently or face being fired, socially outcast, harassed etc”

    I feel that kind of behavior is always wrong. At the same time it reminded me a lot of our Canadian conservative party’s tactics during elections and their time in power, and that made me think, when I look at the systematic racism, sexism, and marginalization in our culture over the past 50 years, I wonder if the characterization that we’ve been living for a long time now in a culture that perpetuates, at times overt, but maybe mostly implicit and systematic shaming, has some merit to it.

    About what’s new, shaming wise, I think I still need to think about that some more.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Robin,

    “there you have it. SJW comedians from the 1980’s, calling out and shaming another comedian to try to drive him out of the business.”
    Yes there you have it, *a* case of comedians driving a comedian out of the business. They seem much more more frequent nowadays. I mentioned cases involving Daniel Tosh, Patton Oswalt, Anthony Jeselnick, Jim Norton, Patrice O’Neal, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and George Carlin. I could also have mentioned cases involving Amy Schumer, Opie and Anthony, Steve Harvey, Don Imus, Ricky Gervais, Louis CK , Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfreid, Bill Mahr and Trevor Noah. Also Benny Hill was pretty ridiculously politically incorrect and pretty stale as a comedian, and I suspect the latter had as much to do with the antipathy of younger comedians as the former. People today are targeted for much more marginal comments as several pieces (including the TED talk and the Patton Oswalt debate, as well as what went on at Yale) make clear. It’s hard for me to say why this does not all seem different to you.

    [article you cite]”Despite their socialist pretensions, they despised the coarse, working-class, vaudeville tradition from which Hill’s comedy derived. Theirs [the alt-comics’] was the humour of the middle-class dinner party: all politics and irony and verbal jousting.”
    Hmmm. Not the way I recall Marc Maron, Bill Hicks, Dana Gould, Eddie Izzard or any other founding alt-comic I can think of. They were all pretty coarse and working-class. Author sure seems to have his own ideological axe to grind though.

    “The Benny Hill Show was single-handedly responsible for the incidences of rape in England during the period in question, and also suggested the programme incited other acts of violence against women”
    I would have read that as bombast out of anyone’s mouth let alone a comic’s.

    Also your use of SJW in context here is anachronistic, the term was not in currency and the comics of then strike me as quite different.

    “So, you are saying, for example, that the SJW’s removed Dr Tim Hunt from his various positions? The Royal Society, University College London and the European Research Commission had no choice in the matter?”
    Of course it is not as though the institutions bear no blame but it can be quite difficult for them. They want, better, need to keep up their endowments, attract students and attract researchers. All of that requires projecting to the world that they can offer a professional and reasonably inviting work environment. Really bad publicity and scandal threatens all of that. So these institutions are put in a really bad spot. And SJWs bear responsibility for putting institutions and the people they employ in those really hard spots.

    Marc,
    ” I enjoyed reading.”
    Thank you.

    “At the same time it reminded me a lot of our Canadian conservative party’s tactics during elections and their time in power, and that made me think, when I look at the systematic racism, sexism, and marginalization in our culture over the past 50 years, I wonder if the characterization that we’ve been living for a long time now in a culture that perpetuates, at times overt, but maybe mostly implicit and systematic shaming, has some merit to it.”
    No doubt. I understand the temptation to “fight fire with fire”, but for the reasons I tried to outline above I don’t think it’s politically advisable. We need to win people over not bully them.

    “About what’s new, shaming wise, I think I still need to think about that some more.”
    Well you might have a look at the pieces I cited, it will give you a sense. Some (particularly blatant) others of note:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/28/pc-culture-freedom-of-speech-freedom-to-be-offended
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/we-have-distinguish-between-outrage-and-justified-rage-marginalised
    http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/09/uns-cyberharassment-report-is-really-bad.html

    Like

  21. DanK – I’m glad you posted that Jon Ronson TED talk. He’s a true original – a kind of hero IMO. Everybody go read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

    Previous book, Them: Adventures With Extremists has him hanging out with and gives rides to British Islamic demagogue. He just follows an idea to all sorts of crazy places, including to a shack somewhere in Arkansas with militia types who knew people who got killed at Ruby Ridge, and honestly believe the UN black helicopters were coming for them and/or Obama was coming for their guns. And you will, I think, feel for them if you read it.

    He spent a lot of time with two nerdy engineers who got crushed over making some silly penis joke, and the young woman who started their shaming who ended up I think much more crushed and humiliated than them, pursued by “rape the bitch” type comments like Ronson mentioned. Yeah, that’s quite a common theme, and the other side of the coin of the “SJW” phenomena. When I asked a group including many 20-something grads of good colleges, starting a discussion at http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/laj/irrationalism_on_campus/ about what they thought of the SJW/micro-aggressions/etc. kerfuffle, the experiences were about half and half: SJWs and on the other hand people expressing racism and rape-laced mysogeny such as I think has gotten new respectability in reaction to the “War on PC” that’s been going on esp. since Obama took office (and a little before).

    Ronson’s telling of one of the chief mobbers of Justine Sacco, that he said the experience was “delicious”, and “Oh she’s all
    right”, illustrates a major aspect of what I think it’s all about, namely the decline in empathy. Google the phrase, and you’
    ll get as impressive a list of articles from Psychology Today and major journals, saying empathy has decreased by 40% in the l
    ast few decades, with the biggest drop in the last decade.

    The really obnoxious SJWs don’t get humanity. Solicitude for the painfully outcast should be informed by empathy inconsistent with the glee of “getting” somebody.

    This connects to many things in my mind, and I could write an article with connections from Ira Berlin to Simon Baron-Cohen and many more if anyone would care to encourage me.

    Like

  22. Hi David, thanks for the response.

    “Freedom of action presupposes freedom of thought. For an action to count as free a person has to have chosen it on the basis of reasons they have considered. You imply this yourself when you remark that what is needed is ”intelligence and judgement”.”

    I was talking specifically about autonomy (picking up on a word you used in the essay) and using that word in a very well-accepted sense. I think the claims I made – including the reference to using one’s judgement and intelligence – are quite clear and do not necessarily imply the particular view of human action which you outline. You are talking more philosophically and about something subtly different, using the term “free action”, and claiming more than what I am claiming (about choosing and about reasons). I would be inclined to question your claims which don’t quite accord with my understanding of how humans normally operate. Often the ‘reasons’ are not worked out consciously in advance, and intelligence and judgement manifest themselves in relatively spontaneous actions.

    Your main (questionable, as I see them) assumptions relate to your picture of human freedom and human action which I touched on above.

    But in my comment I also referred to your statement about agreeing with the ends of certain activists but not their means: you wanted to “convince” people they were wrong in their attitudes etc., not just bully them. I took it that the arguments you were talking about were designed to do this (i.e. to convince others to a point of view which you had already settled on). They were a means to an end. You are claiming in your comment, I take it, something like this: that these arguments – now being advocated for use in persuading others – were previously exploratory arguments which you used to arrive at your own conclusions.

    You go on: “I do assume that there is *a* correct position, or some range of correct or objectively better positions, but so does virtually all political discourse. If you are a liberal and you want to argue your position, you have to assume you are right in a way which gives other people reason to act.”

    I understand (and accept) the last sentence up to “… you are right” but I don’t understand how the final clause fits in. You seem to be changing the subject mid-sentence. I don’t get the logic of it.

    “Let me turn it around, do you think conservatives and liberals just have different opinions but neither is more right than the other?”

    I would look at particular claims or opinions. But on many value-related questions I don’t think one can really claim to be ‘right’ in an objective sense (as one can about factual or scientific matters).

    ” [quoting me] “But I also see dangers in your approach. When does persuasion become subtle propaganda or ‘reeducation’?” I’m not sure what you are implying. Yes I certainly think there is a difference between rational persuasion and propaganda. Would you prefer that I denied the difference? It strikes me such a view would be associated with quite a few more dangers…”

    I am saying it’s a continuum.

    “Presumably actions that perpetuate sexism, racism and unjust structures of power will issue from these beliefs.”

    Which is why I asked you to ignore that final paragraph.

    “At the very least these people will not be engaged in positively changing social norms for the better.”

    So you want everyone to be an activist! Is it a case of those who are not with us are against us?

    Like

  23. Hi David,

    Yes there you have it, *a* case of comedians driving a comedian out of the business

    Are you saying this was an isolated incident? As I said before the “right-ons” were a big pest back in the 1980’s, you can disbelieve me if you like, but it is still the case.

    I recall also when comedian Bert Newton stood on the stage with Muhammad Ali in 1979 and said “I like the boy”, the howls that he should be sacked and never employed by anyone again, although Newton clearly made the remark in complete innocence – something appreciated by Ali himself.

    Also Benny Hill was pretty ridiculously politically incorrect and pretty stale as a comedian,

    Are you saying that Daniel Tosh is not ridiculously politically incorrect? Or that Jerry Seinfeld is not stale? What does it have to do with it? Hill was clearly not being attacked on the basis of his staleness.

    Also your use of SJW in context here is anachronistic, the term was not in currency and the comics of then strike me as quite different.

    Just because you come up with a new term for something does not mean that it is new. If there is a difference then it is lost on me. The ‘right-ons’ of the early eighties would have threatened livelihoods and social ostracism if that option had been available to them and they harassed as much as they could. They made activism a pain in the neck, the absolute ideological soundness or nothing at all attitude, whereas most activists took a more relaxed, pragmatic approach to this. They are winning now because you are letting them win.

    Of course it is not as though the institutions bear no blame but it can be quite difficult for them.They want, better, need to keep up their endowments, attract students and attract researchers. All of that requires projecting to the world that they can offer a professional and reasonably inviting work environment. Really bad publicity and scandal threatens all of that. So these institutions are put in a really bad spot. And SJWs bear responsibility for putting institutions and the people they employ in those really hard spots.

    Right, and so projecting the image that no matter how senior you are, no matter how well respected, no matter how competent you are, you will be instantly dismissed on the say so of any group of random whingers is an “inviting” work environment?

    That is a completely new and unsuspected use of the word, “inviting”.

    No, their behaviour was utterly cowardly to completely fold like that, they should have taken time to examine the fact and they should have stood behind Hunt. As I said, there is no difference to the articles that would have been written, had Sir Tim Hunt made those remarks in 1982. The attacks on Hunt would have been exactly the same. The response to them would have been different.

    Oh, and the excellent Eddy Izzard is, I believe, born and bred middle class. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    Like

  24. I had seen the Jon Robson video before, but I did a bit of a refresher.

    First we have the journalist who had done something wrong and was apologising to an audience. The organisers put up a large screen in front of him with unfiltered tweets.

    Now, help me out here, were the SJW’s or was twitter supposed be to to blame for the organisers doing something monumentally stupid like that?

    I mean, seriously, what did they think would happen? We’re they like “there are trolls on twitter, who knew?” afterwards?

    Ok, next there is the hapless PR exec. Now you have to admit this is a little like the guy in the story cited in the article who got hit by a falling pig. Tragic, but funny.

    A high powered senior PR exec would be expected to have a sophisticated understanding of the workings of social media, right?

    Yet here is one who blithely tweets what looks like a racist tweet.

    When you hit that tweet button, you don’t send a message to a cosy group of like minded pals, you publish a message, potentially to 275 million active users from all walks of life, from.all over the world, the good, the bad, the indifferent.

    So tens of thousands of these tweeters, about one hundredth of one percent of the active users saw this ‘kick me’ sign and took a kick. When exactly was this golden age of empathy when you couldn’t have found one hundredth of one percent of a random group of humans who wouldn’t have done the same?

    So what are you going to do? Ask all 275 million Twitter users to behave themselves?

    So did twitter fire her? No, her company fired her. If she would have been fired for that tweet even if it had not gone viral, then all the retweets and jokes had nothing to do with it. If she wouldn’t have been fired if it hadn’t gone viral then the company are clearly pandering to bullying.

    On the other hand they might have considered that this type of misjudgement meant she was not the person to be in that high powered job which likely included the design and oversight of the company’s social media strategy.

    As for the woman at the python conference, she was clearly out of order shaming the men like that and the conference organisers told her so at the time.

    But then again, the decision to fire the man was entirely that of his employer. If there were no other factors, or similar patterns of behaviour prior to this then clearly it was an over reaction.

    Although she handled it wrong, the problem that the woman identified is real and the IT industry are trying to deal with it in various non coercive, non divisive and non bullying methods. That gets no attention. By focussing on the bad and stupid things people do you give the impression of a society that has become illiberal and dysfunctional.

    I am more interested in what people are getting right.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Well, we seemed to have reached an impasse. In reading this piece and the commentary, I had a problem pinpointing a central point, of focus, except for uneasily identifying with David’s dithering in the final paragraph. Who can really disagree with “We need not just to bully people but to convince them”? But, of course, this is to reiterate the question: “And what is it we’re trying to convince them of, just in case it has become less clear in the course of this discussion?” I could do a bullet point presentation of some of the points touched on here, but I doubt it would resolve much to the satisfaction of all. But the good news is we are not alone in our confusion. The Atlantic has devoted an ongoing commentary on it. Some of you may already be familiar with it. The latest to make a contribution is Freddie deBoer. You can find his viewpoint and others here:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/all/2015/11/debating-the-protests-at-mizzou/415212/#note-416091

    For those of you interested in “humor,” as in why is that funny or not funny, I recommend the following in SEP:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/

    Like

  26. I’m largely with Thomas Jones here, if I understand him aright. The conversation seems somewhat muddled. I had hoped that a discussion of the nature of comedy would ensue as part of the general conversation, but much here has largely pursued the SJW problem. I admit this is a problem, and I admit that part of the problem involves censuring comedy. But without a broader discussion of comedy itself, its difficult to describe what form of comedic speech needs defending from SJW attacks. This is especially true if we include satire and sarcasm comedic genres (as I think we must).

    Surely a photo of a gorilla with the name “Obama” pointing to it, crosses some sort of line, and can only be amusing for those racially biased against the president. In the early ’30s, Der Sturmer published reams of cartoons of Jews depicted with monkey tails, contributing to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

    It should be noted that SJWs use quite a bit of propagandistic satire and sarcasm to ridicule whomever they see as opponents (even if such should be friends ostracized for not completely following the party line).

    The problems here arise because, contra the opening remarks of this essay, there is nothing subjective about humor. It seems to originate in the animal perceptions; a child sees a parent stumble, and can’t help but giggle without knowing why. But it evolves socially, and is largely structured by the values of one’s peers. The seeming ‘subjective’ quality probably arises from development of a sense of the privacy of our thoughts, our ability to keep what we are thinking to ourselves, thus allowing us to assume values somewhat incongruent with those of our peers. But these values remain shared with someone, and there isn’t anything one person can laugh about or snicker over, that doesn’t strike another person as just as amusing.

    In politics, humor forms part of the herd psychology that unifies groups or mobs; but it can also be used by outsiders to break through that psychology and ridicule the herd.

    Politics is, in part, the struggle over what we should find amusing. To take an extreme example, most reasonable people are filled with horror and outrage over the recent attacks in Paris; but we can easily guess that there are thousands of jihadis who are laughing gleefully over the slaughter. And it is certain that they would assert that we should all adopt their religious views, and find the slaughter of unbelievers as amusing as they do.

    Well, this isn’t quite the comment I would have wished to make; but it seems necessary here to raise the question of what we mean by comedy in a political context, and what forms of humor we wish to defend, and what forms we find offensive, and why.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. USEFUL BACKGROUND: From Wikipedia on “Political Correctness”

    In the 1970s, the New Left began using the term “politically correct”, in the essay The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970), Toni Cade Bambara said that “a man cannot be politically correct and a [male] chauvinist, too.” Thereafter, the term was often used as self-critical satire, Debra L. Shultz said that “throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the New Left, feminists, and progressives… used their term ‘politically correct’ ironically, as a guard against their own orthodoxy in social change efforts.”[3] As such, PC is a popular usage in the comic book Merton of the Movement, by Bobby London, which then was followed by the term ideologically sound, in the comic strips of Bart Dickon. In her essay “Toward a feminist Revolution” (1992) Ellen Willis said: “In the early eighties, when feminists used the term ‘political correctness’, it was used to refer sarcastically to the anti-pornography movement’s efforts to define a ‘feminist sexuality.’ ”

    According to one version, political correctness actually began as an in-joke on the left: radical students on American campuses acting out an ironic replay of the Bad Old Days BS (Before the Sixties) when every revolutionary groupuscule had a party line about everything. They would address some glaring examples of sexist or racist behaviour by their fellow students in imitation of the tone of voice of the Red Guards or Cultural Revolution Commissar: “Not very ‘politically correct’, Comrade!”

    Two odd things have happened. One is current extremism expressed through twitter mobs, attempts to get professors fired, etc. You really should take a look at whether these people, as opposed to those framing the narrative about them, ever really use the phrase “political correctness”. I doubt it has. To say that it is the name of an ideology is absurd. The point is the link this innocuous phrase, since nearly everybody had admitted to it with something nefarious.

    Like

  28. Do I sound paranoid? Here is a quote from a 1999 letter by Paul Weyrich, founder of powerful and secretive right wing organizations, “Frustrated with public indifference to the Lewinsky scandal”(wikipedia on Weyrich), exiting politics to devote full time to the culture war business:

    Those who came up with Political Correctness, which we more accurately call “Cultural Marxism,” did so in a deliberate fashion. I’m not going to go into the whole history of the Frankfurt School and Herbert Marcuse and the other people responsible for this. Suffice it to say that the United States is very close to becoming a state totally dominated by an alien ideology, an ideology bitterly hostile to Western culture. Even now, for the first time in their lives, people have to be afraid of what they say. This has never been true in the history of our country. Yet today, if you say the “wrong thing,” you suddenly have legal problems, political problems, you might even lose your job or be expelled from college. Certain topics are forbidden. You can,t approach the truth about a lot of different subjects. If you do, you are immediately branded as “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “insensitive”, or “judgmental.”

    If this sounds harmlessly fringey, go Google{“political correctness” “Social Marxism”}.

    I discovered and wrote about this, nearly 5 years ago in http://therealtruthproject.blogspot.com/2011/02/integration-of-theory-and-practice.html which is about a founding document of a sort of cultural warfare wing of the right.

    Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them.

    We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment’s rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American.

    We must always operate based on this cardinal principle: Leftists are never morally responsible for the evil they commit; … We must learn to treat leftists as natural disasters or rabid dogs (very Leninist sounding, I say)

    The new movement must be, in part, exclusive and elite. It must not be afraid to pass along a body of knowledge that is not readily accessible to and understandable by everyone. The strong appeal of a feeling of exclusivity and superiority will give our members a reason to endure the slings and arrows of popular disapproval. (E.g. the “knowledge that ‘PC is Cultural Marxism’ and the founding myth about that)

    The New Traditionalist movement will appeal to the masses, but not immediately. The ideas of the masses never come from the masses.

    We must recognize that literature and philosophy do not appeal to the masses. This is why we must develop ways to spread our philosophy using non-rational means–especially the moving image.

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  29. Germane Greer delivers the lecture at Cardiff University after all. Well done Dr Greer,well done Cardiff University. Well done, even, the protesters for protesting and not disrupting.

    That is what I am talking about. That is how it is done.

    And, Hal – interesting snippet about political correctness. I don’t recall hearing the term in the early eighties, maybe that was in America. We did use the term.”ideologically sound” in a mocking sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Posted too soon again

    Why should anyone assume that twitter mobs trying to get professors fired are politically correct. The right have a particularly nasty practice. A twitter mob was trolling a left wing professor. They rattled him and he started to answer in kind, swearing at them. Then a right wing pundit posts all the professors sweary answers with a “your taxes are fundung this filth” sermon, asking why the uni were employing him. He got fired. Exactly the same thing happened to a left wing journalist soon after. I saw it begin to happen to a friend of mine and alerted him, but he was onto it already and ignored, blocked or politely replied to the trolls.

    This kind of thing is not the reserve of the left or the young.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. EJ – I remember it; Wikipedia just confirmed it for me.
    Robin – “Why should anyone assume that twitter mobs trying to get professors fired are politically correct. The right have a particularly nasty practice….”
    Most of the craziness over hyper-inclusivity or crushing insensitive (or perceived as such) speech is at least a sort of grassroots looniness.

    But there is every reason to think that the right is marvelously coordinated. The number of their institutions is astounding.

    Based on David Brock’s Blinded by the Right I am sure that most of their book outpourings are commissioned, with advances adequate to reward the author if the book flops (of course some established writers like Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg don’t need this) His career took a turn when he found he could not stomach what he was hired to do. If you follow Thomas Sowell’s career, after several years of struggle, he wrote one respectable conservative-friendly book, quickly after that got set up at the Hoover institute (1980 to present), turning out a plausibly argued book every few years, but after 2002 turning out close to 2 works of right wing attack-dog type work a year.

    There is the “New Traditionalist” movement founded by the once quite openly powerful Paul Weyrich, that proclaims itself a guerrilla movement and dismisses past efforts by WF Buckley types to reason the world into their views.

    Eight years ago I started to observe among all the forwarded emails of urban legends and some genuine angry citizen and/or crackpot’s soap boxing, were carefully constructed lies, supported by photo-shopped images and/or putting very clever distorting twists on actual events, modifying old news stories to look new, etc. See http://therealtruthproject.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-not-really-right-wing-mom-and-her.html.

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  32. Hi Dave, in large part I agree with your essay, but also feel that Robin has a point that to some extent attempts at censorship have always existed, and a major change is how much people are kowtowing to such bizarre demands these days.

    Of course this could be due to the greater size and public nature of criticism today v earlier, creating a psychological compulsion to respond/cave in. For example in the past you might have had write in campaigns against something, but it would likely only be seen on a local scale (the people receiving the letters) except where it was chosen to be made more public, and even then the audience would be relatively limited. Now any crank writer has the potential ear of an enormous number of people around the world, and someone being criticized (or potentially linked to that person) can’t sweep it under the rug, or ignore it as easily.

    What I didn’t get was your statement regarding Benny Hill…

    Also Benny Hill was pretty ridiculously politically incorrect and pretty stale as a comedian, and I suspect the latter had as much to do with the antipathy of younger comedians as the former.

    The first charge seems inconsistent with the message of your essay. Are you saying there is an objective standard for “pretty ridiculously politically incorrect” versus just politically incorrect such that calls for censorship may be excused?

    On the second charge, by coincidence my gf and I were watching some of his shows recently. We liked it. But maybe he now seems “fresh” after all the brilliant intellectual comics have had enough time to make highbrow comedy seem stale. I like Ben Elton’s work, but really, Hill was funny too.

    To ejwinner, I agree it would have been interesting to get more into a discussion of humor/comedy. But I totally disagree with your claim…

    …there is nothing subjective about humor. It seems to originate in the animal perceptions… But it evolves socially, and is largely structured by the values of one’s peers. The seeming ‘subjective’ quality probably arises from development of a sense of the privacy of our thoughts, our ability to keep what we are thinking to ourselves, thus allowing us to assume values somewhat incongruent with those of our peers. But these values remain shared with someone, and there isn’t anything one person can laugh about or snicker over, that doesn’t strike another person as just as amusing.

    Maybe you overstated what you meant, but that reads as if everyone (or at least the same cohort) ends up sharing the same sense of humor. There is too much private time and possibilities for personal reflection (not to mention small group interactions) to exclude developing a sense of humor separate from most of those around you. There is of course a social dimension to comedy (the jokes one can tell to get a laugh), but not necessarily to one’s sense of humor (the entirety of what can make one laugh).

    …most reasonable people are filled with horror and outrage over the recent attacks in Paris…

    I’m not sure I’d agree reason has anything to do with those feelings. They would result from more basic emotional interests, largely empathy and dislike of injustice and cruelty. That IS members would not have those feelings is largely a lack of empathy (indeed an antipathy) for those targeted. Reason would have very little to say here about what people would/should feel.

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  33. Hi all, thank you for the continued responses. Sorry to be a bit slow in returning the ball, I was ruminating.

    Robin,
    “Are you saying this was an isolated incident?”
    Of course not, and of course there has always been social censorship, but I still feel confident in asserting that there is more of it and it is frequently of a different nature and intellectuals and commentators in high places are joining in more. I have adduced mountains of evidence for this and could find mountains more. Witness what Jonathan Chait wrote and the immediate reaction it received. It goes on and on. Also, as I noted before, many people who lived through the same period, like Dan and Massino, will attest that times have changed. I’m not sure what else to say.

    “Are you saying that Daniel Tosh is not ridiculously politically incorrect?”
    You got me there. A lot of comedians are pushing the boundaries and more so than before. I would not call Jerry Seinfeld stale though, he continues to click with young people. Understands Youtube very well. And I still definitely think Hill was in the cross-hairs of young, innovative comedians because he was old-gaurd, even if they didn’t necessarily cop to it.

    “Right, and so projecting the image that no matter how senior you are, no matter how well respected, no matter how competent you are, you will be instantly dismissed on the say so of any group of random whingers is an “inviting” work environment?”
    Come now, you can’t think that is my view. But if a “Cambridge is soft on harassment” narrative starts to spread, people may hear the gist of the story but not all the facts and the reputation of the institution gets damaged. Cambridge and other institutions should not try to be “inviting in the newfangled, expansive sense but they are expected to provide a workplace free of harassment and when these stories get out the public perception is often that they do not. That is not fair, but it is.

    “The attacks on Hunt would have been exactly the same.”
    I can’t understand why you think this. There was no Huffington Post in 1982. There was no Gawker. There were no twitter mobs. Some people thought the way moder SJW’s do but they were fewer and had far less support.

    “So did twitter fire her? No, her company fired her…the decision to fire the man was entirely that of his employer. If there were no other factors, or similar patterns of behaviour prior to this then clearly it was an over reaction.”
    I think this is false and it is dangerous to absolve all actors except those directly involved. This kind of thinking which makes agents completely responsible for their own actions and does not look for social factors beyond is misguided and politically quite dangerous. It is what is driving the “culture of violence” narrative heard from people who want to hold black people responsible for their own lot instead of their plight and oppression. It is what is driving the “women are just choosing not to major in STEM” narrative from those who do not want to confront the fact that women and girls constantly receive signals that turn them away from serious studies. Culture matters. As I said in the article this is a point of agreement between myself and the people I am otherwise criticizing. And as Gary Becker once quipped, there is a name for firms that are not utility maximizing, they are called former firms (quoting loosely). Publicity and economic pressure matter to businesses and institutions. This is not to say we cannot criticize them when they cave, but it is not easy for them to resist either.

    “I am more interested in what people are getting right.”
    Well, as I argued, what we are getting wrong is seriously threatening our ability to discuss and take political action, so I find that important to debate. “Positivity” will not pull us through.

    Thomas,
    Let me say something in defense of my “dithering”. In fact I made what I take to be a fairly concrete point. I will repeat it. “It [criticism] becomes social censorship when it goes beyond trying to make a case for your position and becomes a matter of trying to impose a cost on people who disagree with you. Arguing that what one said is wrong is one thing, trying to drum up bad publicity to get a person fired or get sponsors to reject them is another. One says, here are reasons why you should act differently. The other says, act differently or face being fired, socially outcast, harassed etc.” The prevalence of this kind of social censorship is invidious and threatens political action for reasons I outlined.

    ” Who can really disagree with “We need not just to bully people but to convince them”? ”
    You would be surprised. Jonathan Chait quotes professor Brittney Cooper: ““The demand to be reasonable is a disingenuous demand. Black folks have been reasoning with white people forever. Racism is unreasonable, and that means reason has limited currency in the fight against it.” I hear this rhetoric a lot. “Do you *really* think we are just going to convince racists not to be racists? Like black people havent been struggling for basic freedoms and dignities for hundreds of years? We don’t need to tell black people If they are good maybe white men will dispense them their rights, we need to make white people responsible for their actions.” It writes itself.

    ej,
    “Surely a photo of a gorilla with the name “Obama” pointing to it, crosses some sort of line, and can only be amusing for those racially biased against the president.”
    That’s true and I think there should be some social censorship for this kind of speech. I am not always against social censorship. See comments to db below. Also we don’t necessarily need, thank God, a complete account of humor to talk about it. It is hard to come up with a complete account of science, for instance, but we can still say all kinds of things about science relatively unproblematically.

    Hal,
    Interesting stuff, thanks.

    db,
    Nice to see you again.

    “Robin has a point that to some extent attempts at censorship have always existed”
    Sure but I never said social censorship recently cam into existence just that it has changed in nature and intensity and become far more prevalent.

    “What I didn’t get was your statement regarding Benny Hill…
    [Me]’Also Benny Hill was pretty ridiculously politically incorrect and pretty stale as a comedian, and I suspect the latter had as much to do with the antipathy of younger comedians as the former.’ The first charge seems inconsistent with the message of your essay.”
    I didn’t manage to say in the article, and I am kicking myself now, that I am not categorically against social censorship. Some social censorship seems essential to social cohesion. As Mill put it, “All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law.” It is a good thing, for the most part, that white-supremicists are scorned out of public discourse. What I am saying is that that power is weilded recklessly in our current culture. That sad, I was probably too quick to throw Hill under the bus. I recant. Mostly I just hate the British music-hall crap that the pythons smashed. But really if ever the term “objectification” had any purchase it applies to the way Hill used women. But I guess if I am going to defend Patrice O’Neal and Nick Dipalao I have to defend him too. Damn.

    Chait piece: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/not-a-very-pc-thing-to-say.html
    On Liberty: http://www.bartleby.com/130/1.html

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  34. db, I think your problem with ej’s comment just underscores the difficulties one encounters when trying to situate humor–in its many forms–into the context of PC or SJ as a response to it. It seems fairly clear from the SEP article that mammals have may have an innate sense of the incongruous and of play signals. Whether such responses are objective or subjective is a topic that only leads to a dead end. If one’s sense of humor were kept private–whatever this might mean– it is doubtful we would be entertaining this topic. David imputes motivation when he touches on means and ends, and concludes that he will self-arbitrate with respect topics and situations. I think most of us do the same while acknowledging that someone may have said or have done something that we find funny while also asinine. Stand-up comics experiment with this balance through trial and error. If Seinfeld or Rock decline to appear before college audiences, it may be because they are refuse to engage an audience that may have biased views regarding the rules of engagement. Ironically, this in itself is rather farcical and difficult to decipher within claims of free speech and democracy in action.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Mark,

    We have gone around in this way before. The philosophical statements I made were made in my own voice and were not meant to be attributed to you. In your comment you continue your habit of making philosophical statements which are not elaborated at length. As such you always have a kind of plausible deniability when someone engages. It is always possible to say “that’s not what I said”. (You have already begun to do this.) Generally you give the impression that this is living without philosophy. I tried to argue in my Philosophy and Philosophobia why this kind of practice is inadequate. I think it papers over the philosophical assumptions of positions and leaves them undefended. Views can appear to be uncontroversial or “common-sense” much more easily when they are not subjected to much scrutiny.

    “Your main (questionable, as I see them) assumptions relate to your picture of human freedom and human action which I touched on above.”
    I really wish you would stop calling my positions assumptions. In my formal studies I have centered a great deal on Kant’s first Critique. I have thought a lot about agency and reason-responsiveness. If you have a different view I am happy to debate it, but you will have to lay it out. Labeling my views “assumptions” does not undermine them. Also it is philosophically uncontroversial and, I would have thought, generally uncontroversial that political freedom presupposes freedom of thought. This is true on very different conceptions of agency.

    “You go on: “I do assume that there is *a* correct position, or some range of correct or objectively better positions, but so does virtually all political discourse. If you are a liberal and you want to argue your position, you have to assume you are right in a way which gives other people reason to act.” I understand (and accept) the last sentence up to “… you are right” but I don’t understand how the final clause fits in. You seem to be changing the subject mid-sentence. I don’t get the logic of it.”
    If some value is objective in any significant sense it ought to count as valuable for many or all people. In philosophical terms it must be “inter-subjective”. If my reason for acting the way I do counts for me and not for you, it is not the kind of thing we can argue over. It is not “objective”.

    “[Me] ““Let me turn it around, do you think conservatives and liberals just have different opinions but neither is more right than the other?”
    [You] I would look at particular claims or opinions. But on many value-related questions I don’t think one can really claim to be ‘right’ in an objective sense (as one can about factual or scientific matters).”
    Well then I think you are maintaining something very odd, something radically out of step with everyday discourse. Are politicians and journalists arguing over their positions and their values all just wrong to think they can be argued? I think not, and confronted by this kind of skepticism I usually wonder if the skeptic is willing to be a skeptic at all hours of the day. If that is what you believe you will have to stop arguing over politics, the relative value of various movies etc.

    “I am saying it’s a continuum.”
    I would agree, I just don’t see how it impacts my arguments.

    “So you want everyone to be an activist! Is it a case of those who are not with us are against us?”
    Pretty big leap there. No, I just note that not many people will become activists if no one is convinced of the arguments. Also it is not just a matter of becoming an “activist”. We occasionally make decisions which can be informed by one’s moral holdings. A feminist may be a different person around the office, without becoming an “activist”.

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  36. David, as much as I would like to continue, shortly after I posted my latest comment to db, a personal crisis arose in my family that required my attention throughout the night and will today as well. Perhaps, we’ll be able to revisit the topic in the future.

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  37. Hi David, thanks it’s been nice seeing essays from you.

    Just to be clear I understood your point and largely agree with it. The important part of my mentioning Robin’s position was not the first half of the sentence (which you quoted) but the second half. So basically I see there being two problems, the change in the nature of public criticism and the change in response to public criticism. And I was trying to suggest the former might have something to do with the latter… however, I have this feeling which I think goes with Robin’s argument that working on that second part (our reaction) is perhaps more important than working on the former.

    So maybe if people start defying Twitter mobs, their power and meaning will dwindle. I guess this is an ironic call to publicly shame people for giving in to public shaming.

    On Mill, he goes on to say the only things that should be restricted are things that overtly harm someone, so I don’t think comedy would fall into that. Certainly I think comedy should go wherever it wants. Even supremacists should have a space to tell jokes they find funny. Though yeah, I would be glad/relieved if there isn’t much interest in that humor.

    I like Monty Python of course, but what can I say I like Benny Hill too. As far as objectification goes, I’m not sure who wasn’t objectified. If the argument is that women were displayed as sex objects, then men were basically punching bags… especially old feeble men. How many hit to the groin jokes were there? It’s lowbrow.

    Hi Thomas, I agree with your reply. Defining this stuff is tricky. And I don’t mean to deny any underlying, shared elements which help construct an individual’s sense of humor. I also like your take on a differing approach to the rules of engagement. I also read your last response and hope whatever you are dealing with at home turns out ok!

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Thomas,
    Sorry to hear that, of course I understand.

    db (and Robin),

    “So basically I see there being two problems, the change in the nature of public criticism and the change in response to public criticism. And I was trying to suggest the former might have something to do with the latter… however, I have this feeling which I think goes with Robin’s argument that working on that second part (our reaction) is perhaps more important than working on the former.”
    So I think there has been some confusion here. Of course it is not principally the fomenting the twitter mobs but the twitter mobs themselves that hold primary responsibility here. It is not just the student who excoriated that poor staff member at Yale but the 750 odd students who subsequently signed an open letter of protest. But my point is that those people, the people who are giving Jessica Valenti and Laurie Penny all those clicks are *participating in the social censure as are the people tweeting and messaging nasty things on social media. They are raising people who promulgate certain dubious ideals to prominent places of influence by patronizing them. In arguing against these kinds of views I am not trying to silence these voices, that of course would be contrary to everything I have argued, but trying to sway their readership away from them. (But perhaps this is not what you meant by public response, I am not sure.) But for all that those who do use their considerable influence to encourage the kind of poor behavior we are seeing at Yale and Missouri must be taken to task.

    “On Mill, he goes on to say the only things that should be restricted are things that overtly harm someone, so I don’t think comedy would fall into that. Certainly I think comedy should go wherever it wants.”
    I am re-reading Mill right now, but I am not sure that is quite true. If it is it is very hard to make sense of his endorsement of a proper roll for social censorship. At any rate we can view propagating racist speech and ideas as creating harm to society. Even considerable harm. (Looking into it.)

    “Even supremacists should have a space to tell jokes they find funny.”
    Now really think about this. I mean *really* think about facing this situation. What if someone was reliably making supremicist jokes on NBC for instance my intuition is that the kind of tactics that are over-used now, going after sponsors, drumming up protest, might be totally appropriate. Somethings really are beyond the pale. (If its a case of these guys renting a basement to have their meetings, that is obviously different.) It is just a question of where lines are drawn. Saying we should open the boundaries does not commit us to completely open boundaries.

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  39. David

    In your original response, after summarizing some of your views, you said: “You imply this [i.e. your way of seeing the issue] yourself when you remark that what is needed is ”intelligence and judgement”.” But I didn’t imply any such thing (as I have explained).

    And now you say: “The philosophical statements I made were made in my own voice and were not meant to be attributed to you.”

    Okay.

    “In your comment you continue your habit of making philosophical statements which are not elaborated at length. As such you always have a kind of plausible deniability when someone engages. It is always possible to say “that’s not what I said”. (You have already begun to do this.) Generally you give the impression that this is living without philosophy. I tried to argue in my Philosophy and Philosophobia why this kind of practice is inadequate.”

    I can’t open my mouth, apparently, without doing (bad) philosophy (“… your habit of making philosophical statements which are not elaborated at length”).

    This gives me, you say, a “kind of plausible deniability…” But maybe when I say, “That’s not what I said,” I am stating a fact. And maybe, just maybe, I was not doing philosophy in the first place but just speaking English.

    I am trying to talk about issues which seem to me important. I honestly don’t care if it’s ‘philosophy’ or not.

    You say: “I really wish you would stop calling my positions assumptions.”

    I did not call your positions assumptions. I am suggesting that certain assumptions (which I do not share) underlie them.

    This is what I actually wrote: “Often the ‘reasons’ [for acting] are not worked out consciously in advance, and intelligence and judgement manifest themselves in relatively spontaneous actions.” And: “Your main (questionable, as I see them) assumptions relate to your picture of human freedom and human action which I touched on above.”

    You have arguments for your views, but I am saying that your views are also influenced by certain assumptions or beliefs (about how the brain works and so on).

    [Speculating… I suspect you underestimate the significance of unconscious levels of processing relative to conscious thought and argument, etc. You look to Kant, apparently. But he, like his beloved Rousseau, were still deeply influenced by religious modes of thought. For me, the 19th century changed everything. The Romantics were wrong about just about everything, but the revolution in thought which they precipitated made a new secular outlook possible on a broad scale. Many of the basic intuitions of such thinkers as Nietzsche and Freud about religious thinking were, I believe, quite sound, and, in terms of human psychology, some of their ideas (about the importance of unconscious processing) proved to be more or less on the right track, as research in social psychology, cognitive science, etc. has shown.]

    “[Quoting me] “I would look at particular claims or opinions. But on many value-related questions I don’t think one can really claim to be ‘right’ in an objective sense (as one can about factual or scientific matters).” Well then I think you are maintaining something very odd, something radically out of step with everyday discourse.”

    Not at all. What I actually said is boringly unexceptionable (for those who reject a religious/Kantian notion of a ‘moral law’ built into the universe). Russell and many others have said the sort of thing I am saying here.

    With respect to the possibility of debating moral, political or aesthetic views, of course we can talk about these things and, so long as our views are not too far apart, we can have a productive discussion.

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  40. I’ve kept an eye on this one, and have indeed enjoyed the way things have gone towards the end. I’ll begin “meta,” and then backtrack a bit.

    What do we mean by this “humor” term? It seems to me that it’s a positive sensation that we experience, or a reward, given observations which happen to bring the stuff. And while this need not put anyone down whatsoever, apparently “put downs” can be quite humorous.

    So you tell a friend that you’re off to your barber for a haircut. Your friend then suggest that you have him cut the rest as well! Yes, ha ha, that was actually what you meant by “haircut.” But the humor concerns how he validly contradicted you, even though you know, that he knows, exactly what you meant. So here we have second and third order theory of mind dynamics (what you think he’s thinking, as well as what you think he thinks you’re thinking). Of course theory of mind is something that we’re highly sensitive about. What if others display disrespect for us? This can feel horrible, but nevertheless be quite humorous to others. It just is what it is.

    Now as far as social media goes, yes this has indeed brought more potential for people to unite to punish those that they believe have been disrespectful. We here may not find anything wrong with a professor who says that students ought to have the chance to dress in various costumes of their choice, but if certain students believe that some will do so to humiliate them, then that professor may now become the focus of a social media attack. This is an expansion of democratic power, though let’s all be frank about how ugly democracy can truly be. Just as few are all that worried about how well Jeselnick or Tosh will fare, I’m reasonably sure that our universities will cope, though there should indeed be some disturbing blood spilt from time to time.

    As far as culture goes, when I first met my English wife to be’s 15 year old brother, I learned that he had never heard of Benny Hill, nor (and he a musician of the same apparent genre) Depeche Mode. I was gobsmacked! How could a people so quickly forget such things? It occurs to me now however that few probably consider what I deem important, to be worth remembering at all.

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  41. Mark,

    I confess to having some difficulty in this exchange. I understand I am making assumptions but I have difficulty in discerning what these are taken to be. I understand that I am taken to be influenced by religious thought but I am not certain how . I understand you have a different view on some matters but I am not understanding what those views are. When I guessed at what your views on agency were, for instance, you were not satisfied I had understood you. Probably if I guessed at the thinking behind your comments on “moral law” I would have no better success. I am left unsure of how to respond.

    As I read your comments, some seem to say that we are able to rely on “common sense” and do without philosophy. If so we do disagree and I have made my case as to why this is generally not possible. Let me say where I think it causes problems here. I addressed you to say, “You imply this [i.e. your way of seeing the issue] yourself when you remark that what is needed is ”intelligence and judgement”.” I apologize for not being clear. I intended to state not that you intended to imply a further view, but that your *position* implied certain facts. Not recognizing this implication causes certain instabilities. Wilfred Sellars wrote that “To achieve success in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to ‘know one’s way around’ with respect to all these things, not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, ‘how do I walk?’, but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred.” (Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man) Sometimes even “boringly unexceptionable” views cause us to trip.

    One example concerns moral objectivity, as we have been discussing it. You earlier said that ” on many value-related questions I don’t think one can really claim to be ‘right’ in an objective sense”. Later you said “With respect to the possibility of debating moral, political or aesthetic views, of course we can talk about these things and, so long as our views are not too far apart, we can have a productive discussion.” I don’t believe we can maintain both of these things. The latter statement presupposes that certain reasons are inter-subjective and so count as objective in the sense in which I have been using “objective”. Of course a person may say that they are not in contradiction because that is not what is meant by them. But what we say and what we intend to say are two different things. When we say that moral and aesthetic views can be discussed or disputed, I contend, we imply inter-subjectivity whether we mean to or not. I know that a certain suspicion follows technical, philosophical terms like “inter-subjective” but I am quite convinced that they are meaningful and clarifying.

    I am sorry to have left you with the impression that you can say nothing to please me. That was certainly not my intention and in any case it is not true. I value your contributions and these exchanges. For what its worth the only times I have heard you open your mouth were to discuss philosophy and if I have not always judged what you said to be correct, that is only natural. After all philosophers rarely agree. You write “I am trying to talk about issues which seem to me important. I honestly don’t care if it’s ‘philosophy’ or not.” I will say that I believe this can cause many problems. As I have argued in the past philosophical questions are distinctive and require distinctive tools. Without those tools we will have limited success.

    The reason your use of “assumption” in regards to my view rankles, is that it almost implies that I had not considered the views you mentioned. I read “I suspect you underestimate the significance of unconscious levels of processing relative to conscious thought and argument, etc.” You are right that I look to Kant and in fact Kant has a very lively sense of the subject’s opacity to itself and how little of our mental processing we consciously witness. I am also very aware of those who make arguments against agency or kinds of agency on this basis from Nietzsche to Freud to Daniel Kahneman. I do not ignore these views, but I do judge them to be inadequate.

    These exchanges tend to be at their best when we are able to get down to specifics. If you respond further, perhaps you could help me to understand where specifically you think I am going wrong and what “assumptions” I am making.

    Eric,
    Glad you have been enjoying the discussion. I am generally quite suspicious of searching for “theories” of what is funny if that means finding anything like necessary and sufficient conditions.Also I don’t think my arguments in the piece depend on any special conception of humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Hi David,

    No your piece didn’t require theory on the nature of humor, though as you may have noticed, I do like to clarify what it is that I’m talking about. Lately I’ve been trying to interest others in my definition for “morality,” since I do consider this to be a useful perspective from which to address moral questions (such as how we might usefully consider our repugnant thoughts.) This is radical stuff however, so I must tread lightly on the hope that some will develop a true curiosity for my ideas, and not simply label me as an opponent to be overcome.

    I believe that I understand why you’re “quite suspicious of searching for “theories” of what is funny if that means finding anything like necessary and sufficient conditions.” If it were indeed possible for humanity to develop such a model, then surely this would be printed for all to see in our modern psychology text books — so your suspicion is certainly warranted! Still I did hope for you to find my provided model of humor, useful. Observe at least how well it conforms with your “subjectivity” requirement.

    So what shall you do with me now? Am I an opponent to be overcome given that I do have grand ambitions? Hopefully you’ll instead view me a person who respectfully seeks your help in his Quixotic adventure — or his quest to help “fix” our quite primitive mental and behavioral sciences.

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  43. Hi David

    You wrote: “As I read your comments, some seem to say that we are able to rely on “common sense” and do without philosophy. If so we do disagree and I have made my case as to why this is generally not possible.”

    Common sense has its place in ordinary social life and discourse, but I agree that it has its limits. Science, for example, takes us way beyond common sense.

    “I apologize for not being clear. I intended to state not that you intended to imply a further view, but that your *position* implied certain facts.”

    No problem. But I strongly dispute that using ordinary words (like ‘intelligence’ and ‘judgement’ and ‘autonomy’) in a very standard way to talk about how professionals and other people in paid employment have less scope these days to exercise these capacities than they did in the past has the implications you suggest.

    My “position” on language use (and maybe on freedom also) has something in common with that of the later Wittgenstein but I had deliberately avoided mentioning him because I didn’t want the discussion to spin off into one about Wittgenstein’s views (some of which I reject anyway).

    “Not recognizing this implication causes certain instabilities. Wilfred Sellars wrote that “To achieve success in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to ‘know one’s way around’ with respect to all these things, not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, ‘how do I walk?’, but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred.”

    Right. So I am the unreflective centipede?!

    “Sometimes even “boringly unexceptionable” views cause us to trip… One example concerns moral objectivity, as we have been discussing it. You earlier said that ”on many value-related questions I don’t think one can really claim to be ‘right’ in an objective sense”. Later you said “With respect to the possibility of debating moral, political or aesthetic views, of course we can talk about these things and, so long as our views are not too far apart, we can have a productive discussion.” I don’t believe we can maintain both of these things. The latter statement presupposes that certain reasons are inter-subjective and so count as objective in the sense in which I have been using “objective”.”

    I was using the word “objective” in a more standard way. I would see inter-subjectivity more in terms of shared perspectives, beliefs, assumptions or intuitions.

    ” [Quoting me] “I am trying to talk about issues which seem to me important. I honestly don’t care if it’s ‘philosophy’ or not.” I will say that I believe this can cause many problems. As I have argued in the past philosophical questions are distinctive and require distinctive tools. Without those tools we will have limited success.”

    But then you have the problem of clearly delineating this distinctive area. Every discussion seems to come back to one about ‘the nature of philosophy’!

    “The reason your use of “assumption” in regards to my view rankles, is that it almost implies that I had not considered the views you mentioned. I read “I suspect you underestimate the significance of unconscious levels of processing relative to conscious thought and argument, etc.” You are right that I look to Kant and in fact Kant has a very lively sense of the subject’s opacity to itself and how little of our mental processing we consciously witness. I am also very aware of those who make arguments against agency or kinds of agency on this basis from Nietzsche to Freud to Daniel Kahneman. I do not ignore these views, but I do judge them to be inadequate.”

    This is where we differ greatly.

    I trust we will have more opportunities for discussion. I am pressed for time at the moment and I think this thread may be closing soon, so I will post this now. All the best.

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  44. David,

    I totally agree “Censorship, shame and call-outs” isn’t the way to go. I also don’t think it makes sense to dismiss parts or the whole of other’s arguments with ‘micro’ shaming and similar put downs. In that context I love your last comments.

    It only makes sense to be charitable when arguing for more charity in discourse.

    And there’s a lot more involved in these issues than I was expecting.

    Notes:

    Trolls and public incredulity. Emotional force and volume in arguments at the detriment of substance. Shock radio, shock cartoons, shock games, shock politicians, sponsored news stories, a drop in critical analysis, sensationalism, stories that use what amounts to hearsay as a source. Mob hearsay. Characterizations based on insufficient data.

    “Business as usual, more shame, more clicks, more dollars” “We’ve got a compassion deficit and an empathy crisis” “Shaming as a blood sport has to stop” “These symptoms are the the product of the culture we have created” –Monica Lewinsky

    (non-verbatim quotes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_8y0WLm78U )

    Meta notes:

    The dominant culture’s usual trouble of getting its mind around various minorities’ different cultural realities.

    The attempt to impose things like ‘basic standards of civility and rationality’ in situations where one would be lenient if the situation was seen with the other person’s baggage and from their cultural perspective.

    The rise of cultural co-mingling (good) and the resulting rise of some forms of inter class and inter culture conflict (not so good).

    The tension between ‘sides’ analysis and reconciliation.

    And the song that’s been running through my head as I’m writing this. The Karma Police 🙂

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/radiohead/karmapolice.html

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