The Antivitist Trend in the West

Recent events have suggested that there is a trend afoot in the West: that life is overrated and that death is not so bad. Call it, for lack of a better term, antivitism (from Latin vita, life).

I'm not saying there's a "death cult." But there is evidence of a rather odd trend that seems to celebrates death or at least that greatly undervalues life. By the end of this post I'll have a fuller account of the attitude in hand. This attitude may be seen most often among certain young but world-weary activists. I don't mean just the young and activist, but one less often sees this view among older people, with healthy children, and the politically apathetic.

"All right, what are you on about, Sanger?" you ask.

Well, I'll tell you.

First let's consider euthanasia. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that euthanasia advocates are a "death cult." Insofar as euthanasia is strictly an end-of-life "palliative care" decision and it is passive euthanasia (i.e., the doctor doesn't actually flip the switch), this doesn't seem to valorize death or devalue life. It is euthanasia for depression—especially active euthanasia, and even more especially for the young—that would essentially encourage the most fragile among us to give up, to stop living, and to entertain the strange fantasy that dying is OK. Death is preferable, such people say, pretending that they are being sensitive (because all their views are driven by a desire to be sensitive) because it is merciful. Never mind that we're talking about killing; it's sensitive killing, and if you aren't on board, you just don't understand. The suggestion is that life couldn't improve, so killing yourself (even if you're quite young) can be preferable—if that's what you decide.

The appalling recent case of Noa Pothoven is illustrative. Noa, a 17-year-old victim of repeated sexual assault, killed herself slowly, by not eating or drinking, while her parents and doctors stood by idly. That this was allowed to happen might be written off as a weird Dutch excess. But while people around the world were wringing their hands about the horror, another surprisingly large or at least loud group of people, also quite international, complained bitterly that people were calling this "euthanasia," as if this label particularly mattered. This semantic dispute went proxy for the real issue: should minors be allowed to kill themselves just because they're depressed? The answer should be obvious, but for that strange coterie of "antivitists," death was a sad, tragic, but very welcome blessing for Noa. Her parents and doctors did, the antivitists affirm, just what they should have done: stand by idly while she killed herself.

Only a failure to properly value life and its possibilities, and by comparison to positively value death, could lead one to such a position.

So now perhaps you have an idea of what I mean. Some might immediately want to add abortion to the list of antivitist positions. I'm not so sure. Perhaps it isn't fair to call all abortion advocates "antivitists." The pro-life (or anti-abortion) argument here is that a newly-gestating life in the womb is a human life, though not a sentient one, and all human life has a right to live, and snuffing that life out is murder. The killing of a fetus for the convenience of the mother strikes some with great horror.

My view on this, which I don't hold to very strongly, is that abortion in the first few months is easier to dismiss because the fetus cannot even feel pain. However that might be, abortion after viability is very problematic for me, and for most people. After that point, you must twist yourself in logical knots if you wish the deny the obvious fact that there is a baby that with as much ease could be born into the world as killed (though at much greater expense afterward, if allowed to live). Such "late-term" or "third trimester" abortions shows considerable contempt for that little life, particularly when the mother's life is not at risk. Late-term abortions make up a very small percentage, just 1.3%, of all abortions in the U.S.; but if they should be considered murder, that would still be 35 murders per day in the U.S.

However that might be, I certainly think favoring genuine infanticide can qualify you as an antivitist. Even in this case there are exceptions: there are certain cases of babies born brain dead, who will never be sentient or who will never know anything but pain. Killing them is more uncontroversially a mercy when—though it is horribly tragic—there is nothing worth calling a human life that could have been preserved. Peter Singer highlights these sorts of cases. But on my view, obviously, not all birth defects qualify, and certainly the convenience of the mother does not qualify.

But has anyone maintained that outright infanticide of healthy infants, just because the mother doesn't want a baby, is acceptable? Well, it's 2019, so I suspect you won't be surprised when I tell you the answer is yes. It's not just campus dudebros who apparently think so. If you want to do a more serious search for answers to this question that don't take the form of Republicans trash-talking Democrats for favoring late-term abortion, don't call it "infanticide." Call it "neonaticide"; the Chicago Tribune reported that "a conservative estimate puts the incidence of neonaticide in the U.S. at 150 to 300 annually." It so happens that this crime was defended by two freshly-minted Ph.D. ethicists back in 2012; their term for it was the chillingly clinical-sounding "after-birth abortion," maintaining that newborns should be permitted to be killed if their mothers don't want them.

Fortunately, the view never really caught on—unless you wanted to count the aforementioned people who support the killing of viable babies who were extracted from the uterus in order to be killed (i.e., they would survive if they weren't killed). There would seem to be quite a few of such people, though such people disagree with the "infanticide" epithet.

Clearly, it seems to matter what you call the killing of babies.

Now, I am aware that I keep using a formulation that must sound uncharitable and paradoxical, if not absurd: that some positively prefer, celebrate, or valorize...death. Is that just rhetorical excess on my part? Maybe. But it certainly isn't excess in the case of the very best example of antivitists: antinatalists. As the Collins Dictionary has it, antinatalism is "a philosophical position that opposes human procreation, holding it to be morally wrong." They really do dislike life, or at least new life. They think that to be born is to be harmed. Look at how philosopher David Benatar's book title has it: Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

As interesting as this might be, I'm not going to discuss it in great depth, partly because it isn't really a massive movement and partly because I don't feel like debunking easily-debunked philosophical nonsense. The point is that there really is a small minority of people—mostly young and sad people (on Reddit, 80% are under 26 and 59% depressed or suicidal)—who take the position that life is simply a bad thing, and that death would be better, or as Benatar puts it, it would be better never to have been born. These people must really dislike It's a Wonderful Life (one of my very favorite movies). In it, the angel Clarence disabuses the hapless George of his belief that it would be better if he had never been born.

Along these lines, I would be remiss not to mention those who do not want to procreate; I refer to the childfree movement. Their Reddit group is much larger than the antinatalist one, though they are philosophically largely in alignment. In fairness, most of these people simply want society (especially their own parents) to stop bothering them with expectations to procreate. Of course they're not necessarily antivitists, let alone part of a "death cult."

But a sizeable number of people in the movement do believe it is positively wrong to procreate; and they take this seriously, going so far as to declare quite unashamedly that they hate children. This is the populist side of antinatalism. I imagine most people already know that this isn't some wild-eyed scare-mongering; The New Yorker saw fit to give a platform to the view (quoting Benatar, again, among others). These more passionate childfree antinatalists have dismissive epithets for those who do choose to have children: "breeders." These people value their own lives, presumably, if they aren't among the many miserable antinatalists, but not so much the lives of children, i.e., of new people on the face of the earth. Obviously, people who are angered by the addition of new human beings need not valorize death; but it seems fair to say that they do not place a premium on life per se, beyond their own lives and perhaps those of people who are already here (as long as they aren't children, I guess; one can only wonder at what age they stop being abhorrent).

So there are some views that strike me as being, prima facie, "antivitist" views.

Here's a problem for my view. People who favor extreme abortion rights, euthanasia rights, antinatalism, and the childfree lifestyle tend to be on the left or libertarian—and the left and libertarians alike are generally opposed to capital punishment. So a challenge to me would go, "Hey Sanger, you said these people favor death. [Well, maybe in the case of some post-viability abortion advocates and antinatalists.] If they were some kind of 'death cult,' wouldn't they be in favor of capital punishment? But they hate capital punishment! So there! These people care about quality of life, of course!"

I can't disagree. This suggests, then, that there is something more subtle at work than that they simply "celebrate death or greatly undervalue life." Clearly, we need to draw a distinction. It isn't a desire for death per se, I think, that characterizes antivitism; it is one's own death, or that of those one is responsible for, or would be responsible if one did not oppose creating new life. That seems more reasonable, if still rather deranged.

Also, let me concede something before I'm accused of a really gross error. Of course, you wouldn't have to accept a general principle that human life is not terribly valuable in itself, or that death or never having been born is preferable to life, in order to accept most of the above views. I mean, logic may be chopped in various ways, and I don't wish to imply that people are part of anything remotely resembling a "death cult" simply because they embrace one of the views described above. Of course that would be wrong.

So what am I saying?

In frank discussions of these topics, one does frequently comes across deeply pessimistic remarks: life is hell; the terminally depressed can't change; death would be a blessing; it would be better never to have been; new lives are little more than bloodsucking parasites; people who create new life are mere contemptible "breeders." All of these are, I maintain, undercurrents of ultra-sophisticated, world-weary nihilism that pop up in discussions of late-term abortion rights, euthanasia rights, antinatalism, and the childfree lifestyle. It seems that some wish to impose their own hatred of their own lives on the rest of the world, and that this manifests in support for the positions mentioned. That strikes me as coming from a profoundly misanthropic place.

Another pessimistic modern sentiment, not discussed above, falls under the same umbrella: our lives are meaningless and absurd; there's no escape from the nausea that our radical freedom in a postmodern world. This isn't so much misanthropy as more straightforward pessimism that is part and parcel of the rejection (as "false consciousness") of any religion-based or naturalistic values that might give life meaning.

If there is an antivitist trend, whether rooted in nasty misanthropy or nihilistic pessimism, and if it continues to grow as it has in recent decades, then I suppose the next things to expect would be:

Maybe I'm onto something. I'm not saying this post clinches the matter. But if I'm right, this would tend to explain why various kinds of morbid and deeply depressing entertainment have become so popular in recent decades.

Is letting a 17-year-old die morally equivalent to killing her?

A spate of news articles appeared yesterday, reporting that Dutch 17-year-old mental patient Noa Pothoven was euthanized. This formulation—she was euthanized—caused outrage in certain circles. This is factually incorrect, they say. She was not euthanized. She took her own life.

What are the facts of the case? She was sexually attacked and assaulted three times, beginning at age 11, which led to severe depression and anorexia. She wrote an autobiographical account of her troubles. At age 17, she decided she had had enough. With her parents' acquiescence, she refused food and drink, and last Sunday, she died.

So why do people like Politico correspondent Naomi O'Leary and Reason writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown insist that she was not euthanized? Because Noa's problems, as the latter writer puts it, "did not come to an end with the state permitting a doctor to kill her." She chose to commit suicide, while her parents and doctors stood by and did nothing, respecting her wish to die. That's not euthanasia, O'Leary and Brown say. O'Leary found this to be infuriating "misinformation."

To this, many others respond: of course it's euthanasia. What else do you call it when a doctor stands by and allows a patient to starve herself to death—all the more tragic in this case because the patient is just 17 years old?

The question looks like an unresolvable semantic one. But logic-chopping ethicists come to the rescue with a distinction: Noa was subjected to passive, not active euthanasia. The difference, as the BBC explains, lies in the difference between killing and letting die. Nobody killed Noa (in fact, she asked for help, and was rightly refused); but they did let her die.

If you leave it at that, no one is the wiser, because the real questions, clearly, are: (1) Is there a moral difference between active and passive euthanasia in this case? And: (2) Did Noa's parents and doctors do right or wrong?

Given a case that sounds so outrageous to some, it is easy to glibly declare that there is no difference. But there are plenty of cases in which there certainly seems to be a difference between killing and letting die. Changing the case makes this rather clearer. Suppose a 50-year-old man like me is severely depressed and wants to die. Is there a difference between you shooting him through the head, and his doing the same thing while you stand by idly? (Let's assume it's you could easily take the gun away.) Clearly there is. But wherein lies the difference?

There are a couple, actually. First, in the case of active euthanasia, you are taking action. We can ask the question, "Why did you pull the trigger?" We can ask a similar question in the second case, "Why didn't you stop him?" but the questions are actually quite different.

Second, more to the point and more importantly, to permit active euthanasia requires that we adopt policies, moral and legal, that distinguish between murder and euthanasia. But there is no such requirement if we permit only passive euthanasia: here we need only adopt policies to distinguish between suicide and passive euthanasia. (For one thing, it's not passive euthanasia if nobody knows you're committing suicide.)

Active euthanasia is more morally fraught because it resembles murder, and murder is rightly regarded as one of the very worst crimes it is possible to commit. But allowing someone to commit suicide looks very different indeed from murder, because the motives are deeply different. If you stand by while your 50-year-old friend commits suicide, you might very well feel guilty later, and people might well blame you for doing something wrong (or rather, for not doing what you should have done); but nobody can sensibly accuse you of murder.

Ultimately—as is the case with most ethical questions—it is ultimately about the policies, the rules, the principles. Do we want to be a society that approves of people committing suicide? Should that be regarded as a real possibility for people? Should it figure into their calculations as an option, sometimes? And then, if so—do we want to take the morally fraught step of helping people to carry out this dreadful choice?

Let's briefly consider both sides here.

The more conservative approach points to the impact that the choice has on others, that the policy has on society at large, and whether we even have the right to throw away a gift given to us by the divine. No man is an island, and the official approval of suicide causes trauma far beyond that experienced by a person suffering in bodily pain or depression. The trauma is compounded when others participate in carrying out the decision. In the case of Noa, consider the lifelong trauma her dramatic act will have on her parents, family, friends—and now also the broader society in which other 17-year-olds might be tempted to solve their problems this way.

The reason that liberals and libertarians are typically in favor of euthanasia (passive at least, and often active as well) is that this respects the choice of the individual. Whether to go on living is a deeply personal decision, they say. Hence society's rules should permit a negative outcome if that is our choice. If this encourages others (or rather, alerts them to the possibility) to do the same, perhaps that's for the best. Why should people be forced to live if they don't want to? Even if there are some awful consequences, this is the price we pay for freedom.

This is not an easy question, and you're frankly an idiot if you pretend that it is. But there's a complicating factor in Noa's case. She was young, just a few years older than my son. I can't imagine "permitting" him to commit suicide as I stood by. The idea fills me with horror.

The admitted fact is that she lacked a mature mental capacity. Moreover, while I don't really approve of the clinical language, one might say she was ill in addition to being young. Now, typically, as in the case of the 50-year-old, we might credit the person's choice as being mature and considered, and therefore free and worthy of the respect of a person with dignity. Do we owe a mentally ill young person the duty to dignify her choice as also one that is free? I'm not so sure. She was unformed, and she was not thinking straight. Had she been my daughter, I would have had her committed to an asylum that would help her get better. I would not have respected her choice, being one made by an immature and ill person.

I pity Noa's parents and doctors. But I also accuse them of doing something very wrong indeed—by not taking action when they clearly should have.

By the way, it's not lost on me that one might argue that anybody, regardless of age, with severe depression might be thought to be sufficiently impaired that we should not credit his decision to end his life as being free, and hence we should always work against it and instead institutionalize the person. But I'm not making that argument, as it raises further, hard questions. Noa's case strikes me as being rather clearer. The combination of her youth and her mental incapacity mean that her caregivers had absolutely no obligation to credit her choice.

Remarks on the drug crisis

As a drug-legalization libertarian, watching this video wasn't easy:

It's a highly opinionated piece of propaganda; but it is also extremely persuasive. Thinking about this might make me moderate my position on drug legalization. I bear a few things in mind, which I will list simply:

  1. Cities like San Francisco and Seattle are being garbage dumps full of drug addicts.
  2. This is portrayed as a "homelessness problem," when the vast majority of the "homeless" are in fact drug addicts.
  3. Most can't escape addiction without help.
  4. Meanwhile, it has become fashionable for many big city and state government politicians to essentially permit all the bad behavior that enables the homelessness-due-to-drugs problem: not just vagrancy, of course, but also public drug abuse and selling, stealing, and even robbery and worse. This is all, apparently, in the name of sensitivity and compassion.
  5. If that's true, it doesn't seem very compassionate to me.
  6. Is this problem the consequence of legalizing drugs? Because if so, I'm not sure I'm in favor of that after all. I mean, good lord.
  7. Maybe the problem can be solved by jailing for drugs only when a person commits even a relatively petty crime (such as vagrancy on private property).
  8. Watch the video all the way to the end, when it starts talking about the Rhode Island drug rehabilitation program. I can't say that I'm totally convinced it works as well as they say it does (this is a very biased piece of propaganda, after all), but if it does, this should be implemented nationwide.
  9. New York cleaned up its act after Rudy Giuliani started enforcing the little quality-of-life laws. We should start thinking that way about the homelessness and drug addiction problems.
  10. I have a great deal of pity for the drug addicts. Past a certain point, you can't blame them for how they are. They really do need help. If this is what more or less free-and-legal drug addiction looks like, their lack of control becomes a problem for all of us, if it results in conditions like those San Francisco and Seattle are facing. And then it makes a lot of sense to get those people help as part of how society responds to their crimes.

Which of these claims is wrong? I'm not committed to them; but if they're true, they're a very serious indictment of our current systems.

Reply to Prof. Sears' rant against free speech defenders

Updates below.

Here's a quickly-assembled response to this interesting Twitter thread, by a Matthew A. Sears, professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New Brunswick. When classics professors say the sorts of things he did early morning on April 28, I think a response is in order.

(I'm not responding on Twitter, because I don't do politics on Twitter anymore, and that's because it's the wrong medium for long-form thinking. Political discourse is better when it is beyond tweet length.)

Dear Prof. Sears,

In this reply, I'm going to go tweet by tweet and unburden myself of some replies. Let's get right to it.

We should name every white supremacist. Name every writer, blogger, YouTuber, and politician that inspires them. Plaster their faces in public. Fire them from their jobs. Hound them from restaurants. Expose them and those that fuel them for the hateful pathetic wretches they are.

When you use the phrase "white supremacist," I seriously have to wonder whether you mean, well, me. I'm a libertarian, and I defend free speech. The problem here is that the phrase "white supremacy," which once was understood to mean the sick world view of bona fide KKK members and Nazis, has come to be applied to the mere fact that white people are unjustly "privileged" by their race. Actually, the phrase was "white supremacism," referring to a set of beliefs (an -ism). As it became increasingly unacceptable to progressives that white people enjoy unjust advantages, this fact came to be called "white supremacy," which is very close to "white supremacism." Then the "clever" progressive idea was that anyone who isn't as outraged by this unjust advantage is a white supremacist (the phrase you used).

When the left started saying, in 2015 or so, that white supremacy was suddenly once again a growing trend, I didn't notice any such trend. I did notice the trend of talking about the trend, though. I thought it was weird, and I wondered what the left was up to. I don't think there are more people today who seriously hold racist views than there were, say, 10 or 20 years ago, let alone 40 or 50 years ago. I think that on the left and the right, there is more actual racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance in the West than there ever has been in the history of the West. Perhaps this progress (and I agree: it really is progress) isn't fast enough for the left. But more likely it is the case that the left saw the increasing consensus that bigotry really is an awful thing, and it struck them as a wonderful opening to accuse their opponents of being intransigent bigots.

Anyway, if it were true that there were massive numbers of white supremacists—say, all or half or even a quarter of the people who voted for Trump (in historical terms, that really would be a massive number of people)—then I might agree with you, Prof. Sears. Then I, too, might say, "My God, look at how prevalent bona fide white supremacy is becoming. We've got to do something about this. Let's try shaming them!" I really hate racism, too, and, you know, shaming can work, at least if the shamer and the shamed have some values in common.

But it's not true; there aren't massive numbers of white supremacists out there. They remain probably less than 5% of the population (maybe less than 1%; what the percentage would be would, of course, depend on how you define and operationalize the term). Anyway, the only way you can conclude that the rise of "white supremacism" (that -ism again) is a problem is if the vast majority of the people you want to call "white supremacists" actually do deserve to be called "white supremacists." Of course they don't deserve that epithet, I think, and the vast majority of people outside of the radical left think so too. You make it sound as if most or all Trump voters are white supremacists; in other words, about 25% of eligible voters in the U.S. That probably sounds plausible to you. But again, it doesn't to me, and it doesn't to the vast majority of people outside of the radical left. The suggestion is just bizarre.

So maybe you can see why it would be alarming to me and to many other people who might find themselves lumped in, by you, with cross-burning, swastika-wearing fascists. This is utterly bizarre for a classics professor to say. If the classics professors, of all people, are now saying we need to shame Trump voters for being white supremacists, hound them from restaurants, and get them fired, then the real problem lies with unhinged leftist agitators, not with any white supremacists who actually deserve to be called that.

And that includes every vile little shitlord in a campus "free speech" club who spends his time platforming white supremacist trolls under the banner of "free speech," and every grifting liar that goes on about campus "censorship" and the "marketplace of ideas."

What a thing to say. My first reaction is this. Sir, you are a professor. When I was teaching college, I would never, ever have called any of my students, singly or collectively, no matter what I thought of him, a "vile little shitlord." What an appalling thing for a professor to say about his potential students. How dare you?

Like it or not, this reveals that you simply cannot be trusted to teach those students who would join free speech clubs. When I was a grad student, I was in a libertarian club. If I were a student today, I'm pretty damn sure I'd join a free speech club. I sure as hell wouldn't want to take a class from you, though, after reading these tweets, even if your research interests and papers do look very unwoke and ideologically un-edgy.

Since the appearance of actual white supremacists on campus is a rare occurrence indeed, the person "who spends his time platforming white supremacist trolls" is, one can only conclude, simply any member of a conservative and libertarian club (that invites speakers).

This says far more about you than it does about any person you're inclined to dismiss (and, indeed, dehumanize) as a "vile little shitlord" or "white supremacist troll" or "grifting liar." What it says is that not only do you dislike the right, i.e., anyone who advocates for conservative or libertarian ideas you disapprove of; not only are you personally intolerant of them; not only are you willing to say so publicly; but, beyond all that, you are a classics professor at a state university who passionately urges every "woke" person to shame, fire, hound, insult, and probably drive away from your university pretty much everybody on the right. And that they deserve to be called "white supremacists," which is pretty much the worst thing that you can think of to say about a person.

How on earth can a classics professor think this way?

Did you ever believe in free speech? If so, when did you stop believing that the right should have it? Don't you see any connection at all between free speech and intellectual tolerance? How on earth can you be a teacher of classics and and fail to see the value in being confronted with ideas that are deeply antithetical to your own? After all, left-wing intellectuals study Mein Kampf and conservative intellectuals study Das Kapital; all intellectuals in liberal countries like Canada should be able to recognize the importance of remaining open to serious discussions of ideas opposed to their own. That's precisely why many of us are wringing our hands about free speech and censorship on campus. People who called themselves liberals were not long ago the biggest defenders of free speech, and their ideological inheritors are now, amazingly, some of its biggest opponents.

(It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the thought that some of the censorious progressives might actually have been themselves open-minded, tolerant, free-speech advocating liberals not so long ago. How does that happen?)

And if there's a political party that attracts the pepe the frog and "white genocide" crowd, that party should be called out - including by the mainstream press - as a white supremacist party that helps to create the environment in which Jews and Muslims are murdered.

The people who fear a white genocide because they fear the white race being extinguished are, I'll grant you, pretty damned problematic. Some of them really are white supremacists. But not everyone who worries about the decline of Western civilization—say, readers of National Review or students of Hillsdale College or, maybe, a few of your strangely quiet classics students—would feel comfortable couching their worries in terms of "the white race."

Similarly, a lot of the young fools who think it's funny to post memes featuring Pepe the Frog are not white supremacists. Some of them are black, or of other ethnicities. They post the memes to have some fun at your expense and get your goat, which they clearly have done. Young people really enjoy having fun at the expense of their self-important elders.

Now, you "wonder" if there's a political party that goes in for Pepe and the "white genocide" theory; clearly, you think there is one, and it's the Republicans; and "that party should be called a white supremacist party". This is weird, though. It's like you're in the middle of the religious wars in Europe, in a place where there are approximately equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants, and you say it's time to "call out" your religious enemies. What does that even mean? That everyone on your side should say everyone on the other side is the worst thing you can think of, a "white supremacist"? And say it over and over again? Is that what a mass calling-out of one side by the other side would look like? What effect do you suppose it could possibly have?

And you're a classics professor, saying this. You will never live this down, Prof. Sears. Well, either that, or society will move inexorably toward some sort of weird, new kind of civil war, in which your views will become the new norm. That after all seems to be what you're advocating.

Because if there really are such things as "Canadian values" or "civilized values" like these dog-whistlers keep blathering on about, those values should include calling out white supremacy and calling BS on claims of "irony" or "debate" regarding racist memes and ideas.

"Dog-whistlers" indeed. The implication is that one can't loudly and earnestly advocate for free speech sincerely, or to worry about the decline of things like, I don't know, the classics, because it's really just code (a "dog whistle" that the left seems particularly good at hearing; go figure) for white supremacism.

Anyway, no. It isn't a civilized or Western value (by now, maybe it's a Canadian value, eh?) to agitate for what amounts to civil war, putting everyone from one ideological camp at the throats of everyone from the other. That's not a Western value. The Enlightenment values that you, Prof. Sears, ought to stand for as a professor of liberal arts, definitely include such things as free speech, intellectual tolerance, and a little thing you might have learned once as an undergraduate but have clearly long since forgotten, namely, the principle of charity.

People are dying. And if opposing the environment in which people are dying means that some MAGA-hat- wearing wanker doesn't feel "comfortable" on campus or out in public, then so be it. Because that wanker makes it his life's work to make the marginalized feel unsafe.

Look. I don't know if there have been more attacks on Jews (by Christians) or on Muslims (by Westerners) than there were, say, four years ago, before Trump. I'd like to know, but coming to a fair judgment on such a freighted question would be difficult indeed. Let's suppose the attacks have increased; even then, I still wouldn't know if any part of the cause of such a problem is the election of Donald Trump. I wouldn't rule it out. But, again, coming to a fair, unbiased judgment would be very hard.

Here's something I do know. It is extremely unconstructive to tar people who are merely, as they have for generations, defending Christian and Western values, and who really are capable of loving people of all races and religions, with the brush of "white supremacism," or to blame them for and lump them in with mass murderers. I would of course say the same thing to any right-winger who attempted to smear all of the left with crimes committed by leftists. In both cases, I would say that's a ridiculously bigoted and actually dangerous thing to say. It's very similar to the sort of thing we used to take bigots to task for, when we were growing up in the 1970s or 1980s, when those bigots implied that black men were all bloodthirsty killers. It's profoundly unjust to blame all members of a group for the crimes of some unhinged members of the group. Don't you agree, Prof. Sears?

The problem here is that somebody wearing a MAGA hat, or complaining about campus censorship, inspires two extremely different reactions. To the Trump voter, the hat is a declaration of allegiance to Trump's outlook, candidacy, and policies. For them, it's not unlike a bumper sticker or a yard sign or a political protest—it ought to be fairly innocent. But to the left, owing to breathless screeds such as yours, it has become a symbol almost as bad as a swastika or a burning cross.

When a conservative sports the hat, not only do you conclude the person is a "white supremacist," it really freaks you out that the person actually feels empowered to wear the hat. He shouldn't feel comfortable wearing it, you say, because it means—well, it means exactly what you say it means. It means he's a wanker who is a white supremacist. You don't take his self-interpretation seriously. It's like Pepe—it can't possibly be ironic because it means what you say it means.

Don't be a useful idiot. And don't think for a second that these people are actually interested in "debate."

In other words, don't practice political tolerance. Doing so makes you a "useful idiot." The smart people are all intolerant, like Prof. Sears.

Of course, if you actually sit down with plenty people outside of the radical left and talk to them about the issues of the day, from immigration to free speech to socialism, you'll find that they really are interested in debate. Many of us actually thirst for good debate, because honest, fair-minded, charitable political debate is so goddamn rare today.

Prof. Sears, you are clearly projecting when you say these people aren't interested in debate. You just got done with an unhinged rant in which your main point is that these people aren't worthy of the respect needed to have a sensible debate. It's true of you, not them, that you aren't actually interested in a debate with your opponents. You want to shut them down, shame them, get them fired, and probably get them expelled. After all, why on earth would you want to debate anyone so inhuman as a "white supremacist"?

--Larry Sanger

UPDATES (5/3): Matthew Sears has since removed the tweets, which makes me rather glad I quoted them rather than embedded them below. Newsweeknoticed the tweets, and even quotes me in response. By the way, the tweets of mine that Newsweek quoted are gone, mainly because I've vowed not to use Twitter for politics other than to support and defend my blog posts. I removed them myself. Who knows, maybe Matthew Sears felt the same. Or maybe he was shamed into removing them. I doubt we'll ever know.

Gay activists and Hollywood liberals vs. traditional Muslims vs. free speech liberals

Here's a richly ironic slice of our strange, sad old world in 2019.

Ellen Degeneres is (quite rightly) protesting the Sultan of Brunei for introducing the death penalty (stoning to death) for gay sex. He's also executing people for adultery, but Ellen doesn't mention that:

To this, a reply was posted by an account, "Jihyo" (apparently, the name of a Kpop singer), who claims to be a Demi Lovato fan and medical student, and who writes various pro-Muslim comments. The reply was:

This is a Sharia law in Islam. And lgbt is never okay. I am an educated person & a medical student. In gynecology, urology & dermatology departments, we often get gay patients with terrible diagnoses. They always come with complaints relate to their sexual activities.
(I'm not embedding this because it repeats that Ellen tweet also might well be removed anytime by Twitter. But that's just a cut-and-paste quote of what "Jihyo" wrote.)

In the ensuing war of words, which you can easily imagine if you don't look for yourself, "Jihyo" is taken to task for being "cruel and inhumane," for being not in the "21st century," an "offensive agitator" and "nasty," etc.

One person more seriously responds that "there is no religious justification for this punishment." This is an interesting formulation: does the person mean that no religions cite any justification for stoning gays to death, or that no such religious justification would succeed if attempted?

For their part, the Sultan, his people (who perhaps understandably do not criticize his policies), and this "Jihyo" clearly disagree with both interpretations, as do many other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, Yemen, and others. All have the death penalty for gay sex.

So now we have the interesting spectacle of Ellen, along with reliably progressive celebrities like George Clooney and Elton John, criticizing the Sultan of Brunei for a policy that they might or might not realize is already practiced in the most devoutly Muslim countries of the world.

And, interestingly, nobody is calling them "Islamophobic."

Well, why the hell not? Shouldn't they be called Islamophobic? What gives? If a conservative, or Allah forbid an alt-right conservative, were to dwell for long on the precise same facts about the modern Islamic world, if they were to call traditional Muslims "cruel and inhumane," not in the "21st century," an "offensive agitator" and "nasty," etc., then what would happen to them? Well, the U.K., Canada, Austria (probably all of the E.U.), and other countries do criminalize criticism of Islam—whether such laws should, in fairness, apply to Ellen's criticisms of Muslims seems unclear.

The weird unresolved tensions and rich ironies on display here are no doubt what caught the attention of a Paul Joseph Watson, who has worked for Alex Jones' Infowars for many years. Once, he called himself a member of the "alt right," before the term became much more clearly associated with fascism. He is, whatever else he is, an avowed foe of the left. Earlier today he posted an article on the kerfuffle titled, "LGBT vs Islam (Choose Your Fighter)," and wryly observed, "This one isn’t going to end well, is it?"

But is it only erstwhile "alt right" people like Watson, and free speech zealots like me, who observe the ironies involved here? Of course not. Old-fashioned Bill Maher could be counted on to notice the weirdness, too. He criticized Clooney for proposing a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel: "What about Saudi Arabia? If you really want to get back at them, stop driving or using oil."

Gay conservative Andrew Sullivan made some well-placed observations on Maher's show as well: "The nice thing about a free society is that you can have a political life and then you can have your actual life. Not everything has to be political." He added, "We shouldn't be dictating our lives by religion, according to the dictates of wokeness. It kills the vitality of a free society."

Sadly, this hullabaloo will all probably disappear in a week's time. Brunei will start executing gays, just like Saudi Arabia. Gay activists will go back to making common intersectional cause with Muslims from countries where those same gay friends would be executed. After a few years, self-righteous (but strangely unreflective) Hollywood progressives will once again start checking in at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Europeans and Canadians will keep enforcing blasphemy laws against Islamophobes who criticize Islam, even when such unwoke cretins are criticizing Islam for executing homosexuals—as long as the cretins aren't too powerful and aligned with the left, of course. Then it's OK. Then they're not Islamophobes.

Attempting to make sense of all this, the beautiful people will placidly declare that they "contain multitudes." Life will likely go on much as before.

Until this year, when I decided to lock down my cyber-life and reformed how I use social media, instead of writing the above, I would have just posted some snide remarks on Facebook or Twitter. But since I've quit Facebook and don't use Twitter except in service of media I have some control over, i.e., Everipedia and this blog, now I have to consider whether the issue is worth making a whole blog post over. In this case, I thought so.