Posts Tagged ‘Facebook mob’

on reaping the whirlwind

May 9, 2017

I have read with some interest the travails of Dr. Rebecca Tuvel, who wrote a philosophical argument that the distinction being made between transgender identity and transracial identity (i.e., the former is widely accepted, the latter rejected) is untenable. Apparently the social media mob so familiar on Twitter and Facebook has been ferocious. All the familiar claims of violence and fear and hatred are being made against Dr. Tuvel because of her ideas.

One of her former professors, Kelly Oliver, has written an apologia for her and her essay, remarking on the hijacking of feminism. Although I am sympathetic to Dr. Tuvel’s plight, the apparent surprise at what has happened seems a bit out of place. Professor Oliver suggests calling this era of outrage-as-argument “the Trump era” since President Trump got elected, she writes, “by voicing outrage.” This seems to me to be one or two steps behind the process.

Professor Oliver observes some troubling dynamics, including the public/private split of opinion expressed. She tells of scholars who defended Dr. Tuvel in private, but were silent or sometimes even critical in public. This prompts her to write, “The question is, why did so many scholars, especially feminists, express one sentiment behind closed doors and another out in the open? Why were so many others afraid to say anything in public?”

She also makes this observation: “Part of the problem with the response to Tuvel’s article is that some seem to feel that they are the only ones who have the legitimate right to talk about certain topics. At best, this is identity politics run amok; at worst it is a turf war.”

Dr. Tuvel’s experience is quite familiar to many people in the United States who have not accepted critical orthodoxy on gender, race, economics, politics, and a host of other topics. It has been the case for several years now that dissent from critical orthodoxy on these topics is guaranteed to elicit the sort of condemnation Dr. Tuvel has experienced. An aspect of the situation is precisely what Professor Oliver has observed, that only some critically approved people can offer any view on the topic, and only the approved point of view.

This is the dynamic the Donald Trump tapped into during his campaign. What Professor Oliver sees as characteristic of society beginning sometime in 2016 has actually being going on for a couple of decades. Much of the support for Donald Trump was a reaction to this. That Professor Oliver, who holds an endowed chair in philosophy at a prestigious university, would be confronted with this dynamic close up, since it is happening to a friend and colleague, demonstrates how far along the problem is.

Professor Oliver laments, “The viciousness of the attacks was fueled by the mob mentality of Facebook. Dissenters, even those who just wanted a civil discussion of the issue, were shut down immediately or afraid to voice their opinions in public. Some who in private were sympathetic to Tuvel, felt compelled to join in the attacking mob. The thought police were in full force. . . . Some who joined in the protests later admitted in private that they hadn’t even read the article. . . . Just this morning, I received a text from someone I respect, lamenting the cruelty on social media, but telling me she was sure she would disagree with the article and find it offensive, even though she hadn’t yet read it.”

She also asks, “If an essay written by a young feminist scholar in support of trans rights is violent and harmful, then haven’t we leveled all violence such that everything has become swept up by it, and the very notion of violence has lost its meaning?” The answer, of course, is “yes,” but this is the inevitable fruit of the course critical academia has been traveling for several decades. It’s a shame that people with the position and influence of Professor Oliver are only now seeing it, and hoping to do something about it.

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