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Virginia Schools Butcher The English Literature Curriculum To Appease Social Justice Zealots

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Humanity’s intellectual and artistic horizons must not be limited by the delicate sensitivities of society’s most easily-offended members

It has happened again – another oversensitive, censorious American school district has suspended the works Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird from their high school curriculum pending a full review of the two novels’ artistic merit versus their supposed offensiveness. And this time, all because of one solitary parental complaint.

The Guardian reports:

To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been suspended from the curriculum in some Virginia schools, after a parent complained about the use of racial slurs.

Harper Lee and Mark Twain’s literary classics were removed from classrooms in Accomack County, in Virginia after a formal complaint was made by the mother of a biracial teenager. At the centre of the complaint was the use of the N-word, which appears frequently in both titles.

The woman who made the complaint said her son struggled to read the racist language, telling the Accomack County public schools board: “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” The challenge also appears to be motivated by the current political landscape in the US, as the mother told the board: “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

What a pathetic person, and what terrible parenting. If her son “struggled to read the racist language”, it is only because he was deliberately made fragile. Made fragile by his own parent(s) and by the society in which he grew up, which constantly, wrongly taught him that sticks and stones may break his bones, but words can kill him stone dead.

The danger is that by bowing to these petty, whinnying requests for censorship, our overall society is dragged down to the level of the weakest and most intolerant members. Little Timmy can’t read this book without weeping and being triggered, so now nobody can read it.

Are we really to shuffle books in and out of the school syllabus according to how sensitive people feel following a presidential election? Is a book’s inherent worth subject to fluctuate according to the changing political fortunes of the Democratic and Republican Parties? This is ludicrous.

As this blog has argued numerous times, the “N-word” has no power to harm beyond that which we give it by pretending that there is no difference between using the word in anger and clinically discussing it in a classroom, court of law or television news broadcast.

And there is a difference. Being called a nigger is not tremendously pleasant. As a mixed race young man (like the child whose insufferable parent demanded the ban), I have had occasional direct experience myself. But this is a world apart from reading or hearing the word in the context of studying a great work of literature. And people who are unable to make this distinction should not be allowed to hold the rest of society back by virtue of their self-inflicted fragility.

 

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German Politicians, Drunk On Power, Prepare A Fresh Assault On Free Speech

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German social media users test their leaders’ patience by exercising awkward, unruly free speech at their own peril

German politicians, ever anxious to squash strident criticism of their unilateral and, uh, somewhat controversial decision to expand the population by nearly a million migrants and refugees in the space of a year, are rounding on social media companies to strike another blow on already-constrained freedom of speech in Europe.

From Deutsche Welle:

Volker Kauder, a member of German Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, has said Facebook should pay for failing to remove online hate comments. There has been a surge in xenophobic posts as refugees have arrived over the last year.

Speaking to German magazine “Der Spiegel,” Kauder said: “The time for roundtables is over. I’ve run out of patience.” He said if companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter failed to remove offensive comments within a week of them being posted, they should be penalized with a 50,000 euro ($54,490) fine.

Social media websites needed to rethink their strategy, he said. “Otherwise, I have another suggestion. Cigarette packs always carry a warning that smoking can be dangerous. Why don’t we ask these [social network] providers to carry a warning on their websites, saying: ‘Anyone who communicates here must expect insulting remarks,'” Kauder said.

Kauder also insisted that the justice ministry should demand that the companies submit the IP addresses of people who posted hate messages on social networks.

Because heaven forfend that politicians should have to explain their decisions and win support for their actions (or better yet, follow the will of the people in the first place once in awhile). Far better to simply make it increasingly difficult for people to register their boisterous dissent.

Note the language. Kauder has “run out of patience”, suggesting that free speech in Germany is something granted to citizens at the sufferance of their thin-skinned leaders rather than an inalienable right. And of course that is exactly how it is in Germany, and most of Europe (including Britain). If some jumped-up politician decides that the civil discourse has become too un-civil – or, let’s be realistic too critical of them – then it is perfectly legitimate for them to turn the screws on private companies to shut it down.

Note too the ludicrous “public health” defence creeping into politicians’ language. One interpretation of Kauder’s threat to slap a mandatory trigger warning on the home pages of social networks is that he thinks so little of the German people’s intelligence that he genuinely believes they might currently be unaware that websites where political issues are discussed may contain opinions with which they disagree. That is one interpretation. But the other one (and the correct one in my view) is that it is simply a way of trying to hurt private enterprise for not bending the knee and doing government’s bidding.

Stephen Fuchs of the German-American culture blog German Pulse shares the same suspicions:

Do I think Germany is out of line to expect a level of cooperation to remove highly offensive posts once reported? No, not entirely. Where I begin to disagree though comes when any government starts policing excessively to the point where our outlets for expression become restricted by a set of rules that make any level of opinion a bannable offense.

How long until Germany pushes Facebook to delete any negative comments or opinions about a certain political party or candidate?

Negative remarks about refugees are deemed hate speech in Germany, but what about the negative remarks about Merkel’s refugee policies? Should we expect Facebook or Twitter to delete those immediately as well?

Maybe the government would be better off addressing the real issues that lead to the divisiveness, instead of playing the “you hurt my feelings” game online.

This is why free speech needs to be an absolute and indivisible right. It is a fragile freedom, with the slightest infringement causing a crack which easily grows and fractures our entire right to self expression. And while some (like Fuchs) may find it distasteful, the battle for freedom of speech must be fought at the unpalatable margins. Only by defending the rights of the racist to spew their bile about Syrian refugees can we be confident of preserving the upstanding citizen’s right to criticise German immigration policy without fear or expectation of censorship.

And as German Pulse rightly points out, no one step, no new draconian crackdown on freedom of expression is ever enough – just as one new health warning on cigarettes sugary food is never enough for the public health police. Individuals and companies cede more of their rights and autonomy, and it only ever emboldens the state to demand yet more.

Demanding that social media companies submit the IP addresses of users who post “hateful messages”to the justice ministry suggests that the German government (or at least significant factions within the ruling Christian Democratic Union) aims to become much more proactive in their persecution of thought and speechcrime. Why dream of building a massive database of social media users who type unacceptable keywords or are reported for causing “offence” by their thin-skinned peers unless you plan on unleashing some kind of retribution on them in response?

This is yet another dark day for free speech in Europe, but perhaps there is an upside – Theresa May will be able to find so much common cause with Angela Merkel over their mutual contempt for basic civil liberties that their shared authoritarianism could yet grease the wheels of the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

 

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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Latest Front In The Social Justice War: Censoring Beloved Children’s Books

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We must resist the insidious rewriting of beloved classics to make them retroactively conform to today’s social attitudes and dogmas

This blog has been (justifiably) quite hard on Ariane Sherine, the Spectator’s latest affirmative action hire, expressing exasperation with her wide-eyed surprise that Ukippers and pro-Brexit folks don’t immediately lynch every single Asian person they come across and suggesting (ahem) that she represents everything that is wrong with the closed shop of Westminster political journalism.

But credit where credit is due – her latest piece in The Spectator identifies a real and insidious issue, and Sherine even manages to come down on the right side of it.

That issue: the censorship and rewriting of beloved children’s literature to make the texts conform to with the current dogma that young people must not be exposed to old-fashioned turns of phrase, ideas or even names which jar with today’s coddling, infantilising and achingly PC culture.

Sherine writes:

Six years ago, the publishers Hachette took the well-meaning yet preposterous step of making ‘sensitive text revisions’ to Enid Blyton’s classic Famous Five books. So ‘tinker’ was changed to ‘traveller’, ‘mother and father’ to ‘mum and dad’ and ‘awful swotter’ to ‘bookworm’. The suggestion that tomboy George needed ‘a good spanking’ became ‘a good talking to’, while girly Anne’s assertion, ‘You see, I do like pretty frocks — and I love my dolls — and you can’t do that if you’re a boy’ had its final clause removed, rendering the sentence throwaway rather than poignant. Unsurprisingly, given that all the charm had been stripped out of them, the revised editions flopped, and last weekend it was reported that Hachette were reverting to the originals. The publishers conceded that the updates had proved ‘very unpopular’.

But Hachette isn’t the only culprit. Earli­­­er this year, I bought my five-year-old daughter one of the Blyton titles I had enjoyed most as a child, The Magic Faraway Tree. I read it aloud to her, expecting to feel warmly nostalgic, but I merely felt baffled and irritated to discover that the publishers, Egmont, had also made several unnecessary changes. The names Fanny and Dick had been changed to Frannie and Rick. At first, I thought this was a misguided effort to avoid schoolchildren giggling at unintentional innuendo, but then I found that the names Jo and Bessie had also been pointlessly updated to Joe and Beth.

Joe and Beth? It wasn’t enough for Hachette to butcher beloved Enid Blyton characters, they really had to turn them into preening, insufferable hipsters too? No, this is too much.

Sherine continues:

Decisions to amend old, politically incorrect texts are based on a myth: that children are malleable, delicate creatures. Let’s eradicate anything remotely contentious! But anyone with a child over five knows that to edit the past is to insult both their intelligence and their resilience. My little girl is astute, tough and robust, and gleefully recounts gruesome fairy tales she has heard from friends. A colleague’s young sons delight in reading Old Testament stories of massacres and murders in their 1960s version of the Bible. These parables won’t turn our children into serial killers, and nor will Blyton’s unreconstructed slant on the world adversely influence their characters. I spent ages five to 12 engrossed in Blyton’s novels, and am yet to be branded sexist, racist or classist.

She’s lucky; I myself have been accused of the holy trifecta (sexism, racism and classism) despite being a mixed race person from pretty humble socio-economic background, primarily because I fail to spout the “correct” progressive left wing opinions on social justice, affirmative action and redistribution – but I don’t hold my avid readership of The Five Find-Outers to blame.

But Sherine is absolutely right, children are resilient creatures. In fact, children are the the epitome of anti-fragility – that precious quality of actually becoming stronger and more durable the more they are challenged and stretched in their thinking. And yet we seem determined to beat this precious quality out of our young people today, and we do so with such zeal that by the time they leave school for university many young adults are quivering wrecks, convinced that any exposure to conflicting ideas or any feedback less than warmly affirming will somehow gravely injure them and even “invalidate” their carefully-constructed “identities”.

More:

In fact, older books’ anachronisms can prompt useful conversations about changing attitudes towards race, sex, sexuality and class. The comedy writer Nathaniel Tapley recently encouraged his young son Thomas to read the 1967 children’s book Lion Adventure by Willard Price, remembering the boys’ adventure series as being rip-roaring fun. When his son asked: ‘Daddy, what does, “This is black man’s country’ mean?”’ they went on to discuss how differently people think about race these days, and whether or not people should live together.

[..] Children should not be patronised or mollycoddled — they should be free to read all about the amusingly quaint ideas, thoughts, words and names from the olden days, however sexist, unpalatable or wrong these may be considered now. They can learn from the past — but only if it remains uncensored.

This is a really important point. I was born in 1982, and some of the things I read in Enid Blyton books seemed strange or jarring to modern sensibilities even then. Did this in any way detract from my enjoyment of the books? No. Did it cause me to absorb the 1940s attitudes toward race and gender contained within? No. Did it prompt a conversation or two with my mother about why things were different, or why characters talked a certain way? Probably, yes. And from those discussions I learned and grew, as will young children today if they are given the chance to read the unadulterated, uncensored Enid Blyton.

This doesn’t just apply to children’s literature, of course. In 2011, a pinch-faced, hectoring Social Justice edition of Huckleberry Finn was released, in which the racist term “nigger” was replaced with the more emollient “slave”. This in turn was in response to numerous schools dropping the American classic from their curriculum because the PC zealots in charge preferred to pander to the imagined fragility of their students rather than read and teach through the awkwardness to understand the time and context in which the book was written.

But whether it is adult literature or beloved children’s classics, publishers have no business vandalising and defacing important artefacts from human civilisation just because they fail to live up to the tremulous, wobbly-lipped standards of the Permanently Offended.

Ariane Sherine is right to be outraged at the censorship of Enid Blyton. We should all be outraged. Because as with everything else connected with social justice, the progressive censors are not really signalling their low approval of these long-dead authors. No, what they are actually doing is signalling their disapproval of us. They are saying that we either are too pathetic and delicate to understand these social and literary anachronisms, or that we simply cannot be trusted to hear racist, sexist or homophobic dialogue in the context of great or beloved works of literature, lest the lumpen masses seek to recreate the 1950s (or the 1850s) in today’s world.

In other words, the progressive censors believe that you are either a perpetual victim or a would-be future racist, sexist or thought criminal. And if there is any ugly sentiment which should be purged from the world, the progressive metro-left’s sneering contempt for ordinary people would rank very high indeed on the list.

 

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Top Image: “The Magic Faraway Tree” by Kerry Darlington

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Conservatism, Behind Enemy Lines

Rod Dreher reports on a fascinating (and depressing) exchange posted on the wall of Princeton professor Robert P. George, between Professor George and a closeted conservative colleague.

The recounted exchange is worth posting in full:

Closeted conservative colleague: “I don’t feel I can say what I think, at least not at this stage. I have a family to care for and other responsibilities, you know.”

Me: “Sure. I’m not criticizing you.”

CCC: “I’ve seen people’s careers ruined for saying what they think.”

Me: “I have, too. I’m really not criticizing you. I assume you’re following your conscience.”

CCC: “You say what you think and you’ve survived. But your the exception.”

Me: “I’ve been very fortunate. That’s true. But there are plenty of others. I’m not unique. There’s Harvey Mansfield, Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Jim Ceaser, and others. Even some people they’ve tried hard to destroy have survived. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin,” for example. They threw everything they could find at him, every calumny imaginable. They tried to get him formally investigated and fired. But he has beaten them. I predict he’ll be promoted to full professor this year.”

CCC: “Yes, but there have been lots of victims, too.”

Me: “Yes. Alas. Lots of victims.”

CCC: “You think I should say what I think.”

Me: “I think you should follow your conscience.”

CCC: “That’s just your way of saying I should say what I think.”

Me:; “Look, as I said, I’m not criticizing you. Only you can discern the demands of your own conscience. I didn’t even bring this whole subject up, you did.”

CCC: “I know what you tell your graduate students to do. You tell them not to hide their politically incorrect views.”

Me: “Well, yes, I hardly hide my advice to them. They initially find it counterintuitive. Their natural instinct is to hide their dissenting beliefs or downplay them. I think that’s risky from a character point of view and also not the best strategy for success.”

CCC: “You ARE judging those of us who keep our opinions to ourselves, then.”

Me: “For heaven’s sake, I’m just saying that there is a certain moral hazard in not speaking your mind. As scholars, we’ve got a special obligation to truth and a vocation to truth-telling. Of course, everybody has a basic obligation to honor the truth, as best they grasp it, but our obligation is even more central to who we are. So, speaking for myself, I don’t see what the point of being a scholar is if we’re not willing to speak the truth as best we understand it. I mean, there are lots of other fields we could go into. We could be lawyers, or doctors, operate hedge funds. There’s the insurance business. Wendy’s franchises. Anyway, again speaking for myself, if I felt I couldn’t speak the truth out loud, I would abandon academic life and go do something else.”

CCC: “You’re not afraid to say what you think because you’ve been able to get away with it without your academic career being ruined.”

Me: “That’s exactly backwards. I’ve been able to get away with it because I’m not afraid to say what I think. Fear empowers the bullies. They’re far less bold and aggressive when they know you’re not afraid of them.”

CCC: “Well, I am afraid of them.”

What emotion do you suppose is primarily motivating CCC? I think that the answer is quite clear: terror. Sheer, unbridled terror at the thought of being purged not only from one’s current job but from one’s profession field altogether if one so much as questions the progressive, social justice/identity politics dogma which has descended on academia like a suffocating blanket.

Where else in history have we seen such terror, such fear of having one’s heretical personal beliefs exposed and punished by the state or the mob? It’s hard not to give way to hyperbole, but this is literally the stuff of Orwell’s 1984, or (back in the real world) Soviet Russia during the purges.

And for what? To bring about forced adherence to the new orthodoxy on gender identity, racial politics, climate change, immigration and any other left wing cause du jour. Left-wing academics and students have abandoned any glancing interest in persuasion as a tool, and have jumped straight to brutal enforcement. Some academic fields will take longer than others to fall under the jackboots of this new authoritarianism – the STEM subjects are still relatively free, the humanities dangle over the precipice while the social sciences have long since fallen – but all are heading in the same direction.

And this is why Robert P. George’s own stance matters, and is correct. Just as there can be no equitable accommodation with people who want to establish a fundamentalist Islamist caliphate across the West, neither can conservative academics and other defenders of free speech split the difference with the authoritarian, petty tyrants who are busy consolidating their control over the university campus. One either has academic freedom and the right to free speech, or one does not. There is either censorship and an ideological test for working in certain professions, or there is not.

The time for keeping one’s head down and trying to avoid trouble is over. Those of us who believe in free speech and unrestricted academic enquiry have an obligation to speak out in defence of those being persecuted or intimidated for their beliefs, today and in the future, whether we agree with the particular speech in question or not.

They can’t arrest us all and they can’t fire everyone simultaneously. Conservatism needs to make a stand, to boldly assert that it will not be intimidated and purged from academia without a fight, or without exposing the progressive, social justice cultists as the modern day tyrants that they are.

 

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Inclusive Language Week – This Is How Western Civilisation Commits Suicide

Ball pits, puppy dog videos and safe spaces – the seeds of Western civilisational decline are being sown on the university campus

Heat Street reports on the slow-motion suicide of Western civilisation:

During its “inclusive language” campaign, California State University-Northridge students lounged in a bouncy-ball pit and held forth about words that hurt their feelings in a so-called “vent tent,” Heat Street has learned after exclusively reviewing documents and video footage.

CSU-Northridge’s event stretched on for an entire week, teaching students about “potentially hurtful phrases” and cautioning that “using non-inclusive language can have a negative affect on others.”

The University Student Union, a student-led nonprofit campus organization, spent more than $1,000 in student fees on the event, according to invoices. Urging students to avoid hurtful language, USU came up with a list of offensive words — and then printed them in huge, all-caps text, hanging the poster on campus regardless of their supposedly triggering potential.

[..] USU also created a spinning wheel of the phrases it deemed offensive, hiring a videographer and prompting students to describe why a word or term could cause emotional harm and what language they’d use instead.

Most students acquiesced. Some suggested that specific words be banned outright.

The article doesn’t quite do it justice. Apparently California State University-Northridge also laid on a ball pit for their infantilised students to sit in and carp on endlessly about their feewings.

Katherine Timpf, who does an excellent job covering the social justice beat for the National Review, reports:

Students at the California State University–Northridge sat around in a big ball pit (which they a called a “vent tent”) and talked about hurtful words and their feelings as part of a school-sponsored inclusive language campaign.

According to video and documents obtained by Heat Street, the campaign lasted for a week, was put on by the University Student Union (USU), and cost more than $1,000 in student fees. It’s not clear exactly how much of that money was spent on the ball pit rental, or if there is any research supporting the idea that sitting in a ball pit while having a discussion provides any educational and/or therapeutic benefits.

Maybe Glenn Reynolds was right the first time – if these infantilised people are so desperate to be treated like children, maybe we really do need to look at temporarily removing the franchise from them by raising the voting age.

It is obscene as it is absurd that the current generation of students in the English-speaking West, living in the most prosperous and technologically advanced age in history and enjoying tools and luxuries undreamed of by their grandparents, have nonetheless been raised to be so self-involved and determined to wallow in their own confected fragility. What are we doing?

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

 

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