More speech disruption, this time at Rutgers

As I’ve mentioned before Spiked is mounting a four-session “Unsafe Space” tour in the U.S. (see schedule here), featuring thoughtful people debating a variety of topics—all of which are “controversial.” The first discussion, “Title IX: Feminism, sex and censorship on campus”, was supposed to be at American University on September 28, but was canceled at the University and had to be held elsewhere, probably due to pressure from the University branch of the American Association of University Women. (Jebus!)

The second discussion took place at Rutgers on October 2. The topic was “Identity politics: the new racialism on campus?“, and featured Kmele Foster, Sarah Haider,  Mark Lilla, and Brian Stascavage. It wasn’t canceled, but there were loud and aggressive protestors in the audience who disrupted the presentations and made the Q&A largely impossible to hear. The session is described by J. Oliver Conroy in an article in Quillette, “Get on the bus or get under it: Shouting down free speech at Rugers.” Conroy not only describes what happened, but includes a thoughtful discussion of intersectionality. First, a bit about the disruption:

As if some signal had been given, the protesters, who had remained mostly quiet during the panelists’ opening statements, began working overtime to hijack the evening. For the course of the 90-minute panel, they repeatedly interrupted the panelists (and other audience members) to deliver vociferous, open-ended monologues that went on for minutes; they drowned out the panel by chanting “Black lives matter” (a slogan completely unrelated to anything the panelists had just said); and they started screaming whenever someone said something with which they disagreed. Usually they kept screaming till they ran out of breath or coherence.

The panelists responded with grace and generosity. They not only tolerated the disruptors’ obnoxious behavior, but gave the protesters numerous opportunities to speak. In fact, the panelists repeatedly made it clear that they agreed with many of the protestors’ concerns. But that was beside the point. Most of the protestors clearly had no idea who the panelists were (they kept mispronouncing their names) or what the event was about; their rage was rooted in a vague sense that the panel’s very existence was an injustice and they therefore had a mandate to shut it down and prevent its contagion from spreading.

Many of the disruptions took the form of impromptu, condescending lectures on intersectionality, a once obscure academic theory that has over time become the driving doctrine of identity politics for a significant part of the progressive and radical Left. Simply stated, intersectionality refers to the idea that people exist at the intersection of multiple identities, and some of those identities have suffered greater disadvantage than others. So, for example, a white woman is oppressed by virtue of being a woman; but a white gay woman is doubly oppressed, and a black or Latina lesbian is more oppressed than either. Intricate instructional diagrams (such as the “matrix of oppression” table and the illustration below) exist to guide initiates. [JAC: See the article for the illustration.]

Now the idea that you can be oppressed in multiple ways is not only worth considering, but surely true. A black woman will face more obstacles than a white woman, who in turn will face more obstacles than a white man (the apogee of privilege). That’s surely worth pondering, and understanding, even though “class” seems to mysteriously disappear from the matrix. What bothers both Conrad and me is how “intersectionality” is used to give one a form of “speech privilege”: in other words, if you’re oppressed in any way, you can claim authority in all arguments on your axis, if you’re oppressed in two ways, you can shut down an even larger group of people, and so on. Beyond that is the criticism that not everybody who is, say, a woman, will have the same political opinions or the same “lived experience.” This does not mean we shouldn’t consider people as groups, for bigotry is based on group membership.

What seems to bother Conroy most is not the concept of joint forms of bias, but what that has done to Leftist politics, producing something he calls “the intersectional worldview”. That, he claims (and I agree), is somehow ineluctably wedded to censoring the speech of others, either through deplatforming, harassment, or simply declaring that those on other “axes” don’t have the “lived experience” to credit them with a worthwhile opinion:

The intersectional worldview is obviously incompatible with the basic tenets of life in a liberal democracy. That doesn’t bother intersectional activists, however, because they believe liberalism itself to be an elaborate sham that uses the illusory equality of procedural democracy – free and fair elections, courts, the rule of law, the Bill of Rights – to paper over vast social injustices. In the eyes of the intersectional Left, the very idea of universal rights is fatally flawed – or “problematic,” to use a frequent, lazy phrase – because those rights can benefit the wrong people, such as white supremacists (in the case of free speech), or campus rapists (in the case of due process and the rights of the accused).

There is a creepy authoritarian bent to all of this. For someone really steeped in the intersectional worldview, almost any tactic or behavior can be justified if it serves the purpose of fighting “oppression,” the definition of which is elastic and gets a little more capacious every day. Because many intersectional activists believe that exposing people to harmful ideas can cause them emotional trauma, they view speech as a form of literal violence. For that reason, it is justifiable to shut down opposing voices before they even speak, a tactic called “no-platforming.”

. . . I’m not the first to notice that intersectionality has less in common with an academic school or political movement than a religion. It is a fundamentalist religion, with no tolerance for ambiguity and, like any newly founded religion, it is insecure. People who disagree are blasphemers; people who change their minds are heretics; and the true believer cannot ever rest knowing that out there – somewhere, anywhere – are people who think differently. They must be converted, or destroyed. And, like a religion, intersectionality has its rituals and catechisms. As linguist John McWhorter put it in an incisive essay for The Daily Beast:

The call for people to soberly ‘acknowledge’ their White Privilege as a self-standing, totemic act is based on the same justification as acknowledging one’s fundamental sinfulness is as a Christian. One is born marked by original sin; to be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege.

And the effects on free speech and free exchange:

The whole teetering husk of what we used to call democratic civil society is built on the crucial premise that one can coexist with others with whom one disagrees, even people whose views one finds repugnant. But the protesters at Rutgers, like those at William & Mary and Reed and campuses across the country, made it clear that they can’t. They view free speech, and rights in general, as a one-way street. They are entitled to voice their opinions at any and every moment, but people who hold what they’ve decided are the wrong views are entitled to no opinion at all. Ever.

. . . Actually, the intersectional Left will leave at least one enduring legacy: a generation of university-educated people – “progressive” yet deeply illiberal – whose attitudes toward free expression range from indifference to skepticism to hostility. In a particularly bizarre twist of history, students today regard free speech – once one of the defining causes of the American Left – as a “rightwing” doctrine, and therefore suspect. A woman in my college year explained it to me with chilling clarity: sometimes ensuring “truly fair speech” in “the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’” requires the “temporary dissuasion of opposing rhetoric.” She is now a lawyer.

Now I don’t know exactly what’s inherent in intersectionality that’s caused this, but the connection drawn by Conroy is clearly true. I don’t remember such censorious attitudes coming out of the civil rights movement in the Sixties, the women’s movement that took off at roughly the same time, or the gay rights movement two decades later, but there we dealt with single axes of oppression. Does this happen only when there’s more than one, putting people in synch on one axis but at cross purposes on another? (The classic example is that of feminists who become illiberal when they praise Islamic societies that oppress women.) Don’t ask me; I’m a biologist.

I can only imagine what will happen in the last two sessions, which are these:

November 2, New York Law School: “Is the Left eating itself”, with Bret Weinstein, Angus Johnston, Laura Kipnis, and Brendan O’Neill

November 6, Harvard University: “Is political correctness why Trump won?”, with Wendy Kaminer, Steve Pinker, Brendan O’Neill, and Robby Soave.

Tickets for both events are free and still available; all you have to do is go to the link above and click on “Get your tickets now” for the event you want. I have tickets for the Harvard event, but don’t know if I can make it for sure. I trust the universities will make some effort to stop disruptions.

And even if there are disruptions, you’ll get to see it in the flesh.


  1. Travis
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    ” A black woman will face more obstacles than a white woman, who in turn will face more obstacles than a white man (the apogee of privilege). ”

    More, or different? I’d argue “different” disadvantage but it seems that most of society agrees that women are oppressed or have it significantly worse than men

    • Max Blancke
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      I would say “different”. If those hypothetical people are applying for college or a corporate position, those advantages seem to be reversed. Of course this was not true in the past. But we are speaking of the present.
      In my career, which spanned military and then civilian spheres, aggressive recruiting of female and minority applicants at all levels has always been a priority.
      There are probably a host of other situations where there are obstacles for those groups. But there also paths to success that have been carefully prepared, and doors held open. But people have to choose to participate in the process. That has been the problem, as I have seen it.

      • stephen
        Posted October 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Well put.

  2. Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the idea that “intersectionality” should be taken care of. Too bad it is being spoiled by crazies – like so many other worthwhile things.

    • denise
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Taken care of how?

      • Posted October 31, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Well, starting with the (seemingly to me) banal truism that one can be subject to several forms of prejudice at once and that they may have emergent effects together.

        • denise
          Posted October 31, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          Yes, and do what about it?

          I think it IS a banal truism, and I’m at a loss as to how it leads to any concrete action.

          • Posted November 2, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

            Well, when it comes time to remediate for the problems, keep it in mind. For example, don’t require someone to pay out of pocket for a wheelchair ramp … (except for perhaps the very rich)

  3. Liz
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering also what will happen. The NYU event would be good if on a Saturday. I’d like to see those speakers. Hopefully they aren’t interrupted.

  4. Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    If you cannot control your meetings, you lose the respect of others and invite more and worse disruptions. Events of this type need to research how to exert control legally, then do that. It probably means hiring off-duty police or private security to forcibly remove disrupters from meetings. Just trying to be nice to these fanatics is useless and stupid.

    • Ryan
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      This is the true problem.

      Students are students; if you never push back it is inevitable that the crazies become bold.

      I’m awed by the immaturity of the protesters, but disappointment is reserved for the administration that allows (and even supports!) this garbage.

  5. Blue
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I ask, too, as does:
    .why. at all the discussion ? but, then
    again, there are soooo many such hypocrites
    as this one:

    “my children’s book” / “is my focus”

    What a father – mucker … … him.


    • Blue
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      “If you think women are crazy, then you’ve
      never had a dude go from hitting on you
      to literally threatening to kill you
      in the time it takes you to say ‘no thanks.'”
      — — Ms Kendra Wells

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    If I want an instructional diagram on intersectionality, I’ma go with the flowchart Mo’Nique laid on Jerry Springer in the movie Domino:

  7. Paul
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I think generalizations like ‘women are more disadvantaged than men’ are very unhelpful.

    In my area, being poor and from the ‘working classes’ would place a white man at a disadvantage to middle class people in many situations.

    • Travis
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Well the idea is that ignoring all other variables, women have it worse than men. People seem to mostly accept this without question… I think those people mostly haven’t even heard the opposing opinion or considered it honestly.

      The mainstream narrative is filled with example of women’s issues, from trivial to severe, and nearly none of men’s issues, despite there being plenty (bodily autonomy, child custody, domestic violence, education as a whole, sexual assault to name a few). In addition, people view for example Islam as misogynistic (really it is misanthropic and hurts men in similar severity but different ways).

      I might be called a misogynist for this post for pointing out that the number of victims of Islam is actually double what most people even consider, or that men’s issues in the west are on par with women’s issues

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      You exaggerate. If Malia Obama can score a Hollywood internship (with Harvey Weinstein I believe) then a poor white boy from your area must have an even better chance. 🙂

  8. danstarfish
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I can’t reach Quillette’s website now. I hope it isn’t another Denial of Service attack on them like what happened after they wrote about James Damore. The article looked very interesting.

    • Posted October 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      I thought it was just me.

    • somer
      Posted October 31, 2017 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      If you want to see the whole of the actual debate its available on the Learn Liberty Facebook page

      Watch panelists Mark Lilla, Bryan Stascavage, Kmele Foster, Sarah Haider and moderator Tom Slater discuss identity politics.

  9. TJR
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    The “matrix of oppression” table is incredibly west-centric.

    Moslems are oppressed and Protestants privileged in Saudi Arabia, really? To take the obvious counterexample.

  10. Curtis
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure young, white women still face more obstacles than men. My wife and I are both white software engineers and our son and daughter are high schoolers who are currently planning to be engineers. We know my daughter has advantages in getting into selective high school programs and will have an advantage getting into an engineering college.

    Which is more likely, my daughter getting raped or my son being falsely accused of rape after drunken sex? Will my daughter get more advantage getting an engineering job or being discriminated once she get it?

    I know my wife has faced both discrimination and sexual harassment. I also know she has gotten some advantages from being a woman. At this point, we both expect our daughter to get more advantages than disadvantages from being a woman. I freely admit that we could be wrong.

  11. Jake Sevins
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard this called the “Oppression Olympics” before: the competition to see who wins an argument based on identity alone.

    Although I’m not a Ben Shapiro fan, I did laugh out loud once when he suggested that if we could find a half-black half-Latino transgender amputee we could be done with elections and she could just rule all of us.

    • Travis
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m also not much of a fan of his except I do appreciate that he engages honestly (from what I’ve seen) and is quite witty

  12. DrBrydon
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I don’t remember such censorious attitudes coming out of the civil rights movement in the Sixties, the women’s movement that took off at roughly the same time, or the gay rights movement two decades later, but there we dealt with single axes of oppression.

    I think for those movements, there were groups that were clearly not enjoying their full rights. Now they are being taught that these rights aren’t enough. It’s the old, old story: Perfection is possible, but not this way.

  13. Posted October 30, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    What’s inherent in intersectionality that caused this? Nothing. It’s not inherent. It’s one way, not the only way, to spin it. Please don’t fall prey to the essentialism of political ideas as a way to oppose essentialism of race and gender.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s pretty obvious that the Democratic abandonment of the white working class is a major reason for the election loss of 2016.

    The hostility of a few black women to the Wonder Woman movie due to her being white (and the actress a former soldier in the Israeli army) is disheartening.

    It is true that some white feminist ideas are mainly of interest to suburban middle-class women, and are of limited relevance to women in minorities, but that isn’t any reason to dismiss the former out of hand.
    (This was a common criticism of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” which

  15. Posted October 30, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    As a psychological value the ‘hurt’ felt can only go so deep and level off. No matter how many ‘hurts’ are felt and i would say only one event of anguish, hurt can be felt at any given time. The brain is not capable of dividing it all up and applying percentages, utility to each category of perceived hurts. So we get a blanket affect.
    If the speaker is white, all ‘hurts’ can be applied, if brown only part or…. none (gulp) it’s a male and white, triple the hurt!
    I would ask, which is it your feeling right now tender young things… please apply appropriate audible volume to indicate.
    No reasoning can be achieved under these conditions.

    “Usually they kept screaming till they ran out of breath or coherence.”
    Perhaps that will be the ultimate end of it, after all, under the free speech paradigm, all must be heard.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      The scary thing to me is how much they sound like the earnest youth of China in the mid 20th century, and Cambodia a couple of decades later.
      If those kids( and they are not all kids) ever get into a position to enforce their beliefs on the rest of us, we are in for a hard time.

  16. Posted October 30, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    After foaming at the mouth re tallying the ways in which some of us are less advantaged than others, I hasten to say that not all of us live in that world. I am a white woman through no choice of my own. I was raised in a poor family by poorly educated parents who worked hard to give me better advantages than they had. I had support of family and friends and no one held me down. I was raised by a strong woman who believed women entirely capable, and proved it routinely. I don’t consider myself to be a mistreated weakling.

    Shutting off discussion, shouting people down,
    constantly and angrily displaying feelings of mistreatment is not an effective method for improving and individual’s or group’s life benefits. Not all white people are privileged, female or male. Not all people of color are disadvantaged, female or male. We must learn how to share distribute opportunity without throwing tantrums.

  17. John Crisp
    Posted October 30, 2017 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Just a couple of points:

    1) If you look at the comments below the Quillette article, there is one by Lee Jussim, who was also at the meeting. For anybody who knows his work, he is a long way from being an intersectional identity warrior. He has not remember the meeting in quite the way described in the article, notably commenting that there was in fact a considerable amount of dialogue and discussion. He also argues that the kind of protests that actually took place at the meeting are also a form of protected speech.

    2) Prof Ceiling Cat and others often express concerns about what this generation of students will be like when they “enter the real world”, whether they will melt like snowflakes in the flames, or give free rein to their bullying and tyrannical tendencies. I guess that will depend on the individuals. When I was at university in the UK in the mid-1970s, most of my circle of friends was left wing, and a significant number purportedly Stalinist, Leninist, Maoist, Trotskyist… Of those whose life path I know, the majority have gone on to careers in the law, finance, banking, etc. A few have turned their political beliefs to lower paid but high social value careers in refugee work, social work, teaching.

    The human brain does not reach full maturity until the early 20s, maybe 25 in men. Give these kids a chance. I suspect that most of them will not mature into snowflakes or bullies…

    • somer
      Posted October 31, 2017 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      Past societies made allowances for this and impressed on youth that some things come later in life and therefore some things may even be restricted til later or until a defined skill period is attained – altho of course some mental faculties are actually better before 25. This is considerably less so than even 30 years ago. New modes of business that emphasise change over skill also encourage this attitude that new is always better. For various reasons Universities are under pressure to please more, sometimes at the expense of standards. Outside work, students have minimal respect for learning of professors etc. The value of factual information is also denigrated by modern commercial outfits like Facebook for example.

      At any rate I think the difference is that socio political thought at universities and in society has developed to a version that actively dislikes free speech, propagates an exclusionary intersectionality and an overt anti enlightenment anti west agenda that was absent or at least secondary before. Now the cry is to shut down free speech and expression, bully staff and invade classes, demand ever narrower and less empirically based courses. The protests are completely different from the 60s and 70s in content and form, which is not to say there were not some ratbag protests back then.

    • BJ
      Posted October 31, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      We don’t need to take anybody’s word regarding what really happened, as there is video of the entire event:

      Having watched some of the video, the initial article’s description of it is completely accurate. Regarding Mr Jussim’s claim that these purposeful disruptions and attempts to shut down lectures (Jussim can equivocate all he wants, but it’s clear in the video that these “protesters” are trying to shut down speakers they find to be saying something offensive at several points in the video) are just free speech like the lecture itself, that is hogwash. The place to allow protests is outside the lecture hall. There is no legitimate reason to allow protests within the event; otherwise, every time there is a lecture these idiots don’t like, we have to afford them the “right” to shut it down. I would also note that they had the opportunity to voice their opinions in the Q&A session, but they instead chose to chant and shout over the speakers during the panel, and tried to drown out the Q&A so there couldn’t be any dialogue. Rather than have a dialogue, they tried to shut that down as well.

  18. PJ Crepeau
    Posted October 31, 2017 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Only one force is strong enough to counter this anti-free speech ugliness at colleges:

    Alumni. And the withholding of their money.

    If alumni demanded that administrations squelch this nonsense, under penalty of withheld fundraising monies, things would change right quick.

    After all, most alumni are old enough to know better and rich enough to make a difference.

  19. Craw
    Posted October 31, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Another example: teaching the Pythagorean Theorem promotes “white privilege”

    • Posted October 31, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately this sort of thing is at least 20 years old – it came out along with some of the pomo nonsense in the 1990s when we got people advocating that some Native American group should be taught calculus before division because they are used to “rates of change” but not sectioning things into pieces. There’s a high amount of nonsense density in that, but you’d have to be able to divide (or take a limit!) to notice that … 😉

%d bloggers like this: