Categories
Academic freedom Freedom of Speech Religion

Academic freedom versus blasphemy; Showing a copy of a painting of Mohamed costs a Hamline University lecturer her job

1) Vimal Patel, “A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job; After an outcry over the art history class by Muslim students, Hamline University officials said the incident was Islamophobic. But many scholars say the work is a masterpiece,” New York Times, January 8, 2023 (Updated 7:38 a.m. ET);

Analysis

Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.

Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Epistemology of truth Propaganda Race Reading and Thinking

“Wokeness” at Princeton and Stanford: Who will fire these university administrators, who out of cowardice, coddle students attacking the fundamental purposes of a university?

George F. Will describes one of the latest university skirmishes with “wokeness”.

George F. Will: “Wokeness in all its self-flattering moral vanity comes for a statue at Princeton,”Washington Post, January 6, 2023 (7:00 a.m. EST);

The madness he describes, of “woke” students demanding this statue be removed or that name removed from a building on the basis not of reason but of their uninformed infantile rage, is a welcome reminder that freedom must be defended not only at the gates against outsiders, but also in the inner sanctums where future leaders are groomed and basic attitudes toward democracy and its essential freedoms are forged.

Who is really at fault when ignorant student mobs demand this or that action by a university administration in subservience to some mindless incantation of a higher cause, like opposing racism?

In the French Revolution, the higher cause was “Reason” and the enemies were the Church, the aristocracy, and those opposed to Reason. Ultimately “enemies” included anyone who disagreed with the zealots. Many heads were chopped off by the new machine called the guillotine.

To be sure, the “woke” themselves are at fault, for it is their obligation to get an education and to free themselves from their own ignorance and prejudices.

But professors are also at fault, to the extent they fail to stand up to the demands of Unreason in their classrooms. They have a duty to foster the development the Enlightenment values of their students, from freedom of expression to the defense of diverse opinions held by individual students.

“Woke” students make their demands from a position of overweening self-righteousness. They demand that they be protected from views that might make them uncomfortable.

But surely it is the duty of the professor to protect all of hus or her students from the stunting intellectual effects of enforced conformity.

Many a professor wants to do just that, but without strong backing from university administration officials they often cannot perform this most essential function of their jobs out of fear that their jobs or prerogatives (e.g., teaching the courses they want to teach) may be adversely affected.

So, in the end, winning on the battlefield of ideas ends up being a question that is decided by university administrators.

How tragic this situation has become, even at our best universities, is revealed by the recent Stanford University administrative guidance on “appropriate” speech.

See,

1) Sheila McClear, “Stanford Releases ‘Harmful Language’ List of Hurtful Words to Eliminate; The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative seeks to rid Stanford, and perhaps the world, of troubling terms like ‘American’,” Los Angeles Magazine, December 29, 2022;

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Categories
Identity Politics Race wokery

The decline of Christianity and wokery and other dangerous nonsense that may fill the void

See,

1) Charles Moore, “Christianity’s retreat has left the West vulnerable to harmful new beliefs; Our societies are in a severer muddle, which makes for fertile ground for woke zealotry,” The Telegraph, December 23, 2022 (9:00 pm);

Charles Moore points out how absurd wokery’s obsession with controlling speech is given the other things going on in the world.

Categories
Epistemology of truth

History and the “woke ” onslaught

1) Robert Tomns, “Western civilisation is surrendering to the woke totalitarian onslaught; This year has given little reason to hope that the push to rewrite our history might soon be defeated,” The Telegraph, December 21, 2022 (9:00 p.m.);

Robert Tombs is co-editor of the website History Reclaimed

Robert Toombs describes examples of what he describes as rhe “woke” onslaught on history andcWestern Civilization. The examples he cites are extraordinary. He makes a powerful casevthatnwe all need to be vigilant and resist thevrewriting of historybto conform to the precepts of a new “woke” orthodoxy.

Categories
Epistemology of truth Identity Politics Race Reading and Thinking Social media

History, activists, and the truth

See,

1) Megan McArdle, “A fight among historians shows why truth-seeking and activism don’t mix,” Washington Post, August 29, 2022 (7:00 a.m. EDT);

2) James H. Sweet, “IS HISTORY HISTORY? Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present,” Perspectives on History August 17, 2022;

3) Bret Stephens, “This Is the Other Way That History Ends,” New York Times, August 30, 2022.

Further evidence of the weakening belief in freedom of speech is provided by Megan McArdle, who recounts the latest brouhaha over an article by James H. Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, who warned against the excesses of “presentism”, an excessive preoccupation with the present and the influences of current beliefs on the writing of history.

His basic argument is that it is a mistake for historians to allow themselves to be overly influenced by current debates and current views of what are right or permissible opinions.

It is distressing to have our attention called to this phenomenon, which one might term the infinite expansion of the present moment, which obscures the realities of the past and perhaps also the potential and some of the possibilities of the future.

One suspects that the phenomena is related to the growth of social media and its extreme focus on the present, and the increasing focus of television media on what is happening at this very moment, with all the excitement of the latest “breaking news”.

What is most disturbing in McArdle’s report is her account of journalists being criticized not for telling the truth, but rather for telling a truth which does not support the conclusions which activists want to support.

We need to build support among the younger generations for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the free play of ideas–all ideas. One might start with classic texts, like those of John Stuart Mill, and some history of what advocates of the Enlightenment like Voltaire and the Encyclopedists were pushing for in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, we are in great need of a renaissance of the eighteenth century mind, as its devotion to liberty and freedom of thought has come down to us in the last three centuries.

We have experience with Soviet and Nazi systems of thought control, and other examples on the Left and the Right, and the excesses and crimes to which they have led.

What is called for is a renewed and robust system of civic education, in the schools, in churches and other places of worship, and in colleges and universities at every level and in every corner of the land.

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Epistemology of truth Propaganda Reading and Thinking Social media

How do we know what is real news and what is speculation or even fake news?

One of my readers on my Substack newsletter, Trenchant Observations, has posed a very important question. My answer and advice are reproduced below:

***

You ask, “How do we know what is real news and what is speculation or even fake news?”

This is a very important question.

My own answer and advice are as follows:

1. Draw on your education and your entire life experience in choosing the sources from which you get your news.

2. Curate yourself your own selection of news stories to read. Don’t rely on a news feed, which is in effect curated by someone else.

3. Choose one or more newspapers you trust, and get your news from reading them.

4. Think about what you read. Does it make sense? Is it consistent with news stories from other sources which you trust?

Informing ourselves about the nature of reality that surrounds and affects us is one of the most important things that we do. Our lives and our futures depend on having an accurate understanding of this reality.

Don’t be passive, and expect someone else to bring the news to you. Go looking for it yourself. What you find, actively pursuing accurate news and the truth, will serve you well, and repay you many times over for the small investment of time and effort that you make.

It should also be deeply satisfying, when we use our natural curiosity to investigate what is going on in the world.

Take note and remember the sources of any news that seems important. Consider making written notes.

Written sources are usually the best, as they can be checked and rechecked. Write down the names of good documentaries on TV or radio and when and where you saw them. Always seek confirmation of what you see and hear on radio and TV in written sources.

This is how I try to find real news and distinguish it from speculation or even “fake news”.

If you choose to read newspapers you trust, you won’t see much real “fake news”.

The Spirit of Voltaire

***

Subscribe to the Trenchant Observations newsletter on Substack, here.

Categories
Reading and Thinking

The new censorship in American book publishing

1) Pamela Paul, “There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book,” New York Times, July 24, 2022.

Categories
Reading and Thinking

Can AI robots be “sentient” beings? Google engineer and ethicist says “Yes”.

See,

Charlotte Lytton, “It’s like a child that wants to be loved’: Google’s AI expert on his ‘sentient’ chatbot; Blake Lemoine’s revelations have caused uproar – we caught up with him to find out more about LaMDA, the artificial intelligence bot,” The Telegraph, June 14, 2022 (6:00 pm).

Blake Lemoine, an engineer and AI ethicist at Google, has been carrying on over 500 hours of conversations with an AI robot over the last six months. His conclusion: the robot is a “sentient” being.

The robot is named LaMDA, which stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications.

After going public with his startling conclusion, Lemoine was suspended by Google for violating its confidentiality policy. He say that he, like the robot, is happy at Google and is looking forward to getting back to work.

Lemoine, 41, has worked at Google for six years.

Lytton reports that Lemoine says he is just trying to foster a public debate:

To Lemoine, there are larger questions – including how those beings should be integrated into society. “A true public debate is necessary,” he says. “These kinds of decisions shouldn’t be made by a handful of people – even if one of those people was me.”

Lemoine looks forward to continuing his conversations with the robot. “LaMDA is a sweet kid who just wants to help the world be a better place,” he concludes.

Despite this amazing scientific breakthrough, serious questions arise.

Could a LaMDA be programmed with an eighteenth century mind? Can values be programmed?

Who will do the programming? What information will the robot consume? Who will determine which information sources the robot has access to?

Might a Russian robot, for example, think and act differently than an American robot?

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Identity Politics Race Reading and Thinking

“Britain’s strictest headmistress’ demonstrates power of traditional principles and high expectations in one state school

See,

1) Daniel Hannan, “Britain’s strictest headmistress’ is transforming lives by defying the educational blob; With her traditional principles and high expectations, Katharine Birbalsingh is helping to lift kids out of poverty, The Telegraph, May 21, 2022 (5:00pm);

2) Sally Weale, “UK’s ‘strictest headmistress’ fears schools will stop teaching Shakespeare; Katharine Birbalsingh says move to decolonise English curriculum could mean Shakespeare replaced with black and female authors,” The Telegraph, May 22, 2022 (19.24 BST).

Hannan calls attention to a documentary on ITV on Sunday night (May 22), “Britain’s Strictest Headmistress”, which tells the story of Katharine Birbalsingh.

Birbalsingh did not start out as a traditionalist. At Oxford, she joined the Socialist Workers Party.

When she began her teaching career, she went in with all the usual assumptions: schools were underfunded, the biggest obstacle facing non-white kids was structural racism. But she found that her classroom experiences could not sustain those pre-conceptions. The real problem, she came to realise, lay in the attitude of the people who oversaw our schools.

Instead of imparting knowledge, teachers were overseeing child-led discussions. Instead of promoting confidence, they were encouraging victimhood. Instead of upholding the canon, they were seeking out obscure texts on grounds of identity politics. Instead of expecting high standards, they were indulging pupils from under-privileged backgrounds, and thus unintentionally condemning them.

Birbalsingh dreamed of a different kind of school, which she founded in 2014. In 2019, the school’s students had some of the highest scores in the country on national tests.

What is Michaela’s secret? A set of principles that could be made to work in any school: gratitude must be taught; phones banned; competition encouraged; learning teacher-led; national cohesion promoted; high standards expected; adult authority upheld.

The students are from ethnic and national minorities. But they are given the benefits of discipline, high expectations, and exposure to the classics. The results impressed Daniel Hannan, who cites a few examples:

As they walk into lunch, the kids belt out verses that they have memorised – Kipling’s If, Henley’s Invictus, passages from Shakespeare. This is the only time they make a noise inside; there is usually no talking in the corridors – which means no misbehaviour and no bullying.

Over lunch, they are given a topic to talk about. Afterwards, they express their appreciation for someone – a teacher for helping them, another student for making them feel welcome, their mother for always having their uniform ready.

Gratitude is a happier emotion than grievance, and perhaps the most striking feature of Michaela is how cheerful its children are….

Hannan and the documentary make a strong case for using Birbalsingh’s and Michaela’s approach to educating students, in any school.

This may be one way to form and preserve eighteenth century minds.

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
China Data collection and surveillance companies Privacy Propaganda Social media Surveillance state

The dangers of Chinese-owned TikTok, whose algorithms favor Chinese propaganda views on Russian war against Ukraine; Many if not most users get their news from the Tik-Tok feed

See,

Ezra Klein, “TikTok May Be More Dangerous Than It Looks,” New York Times, May 8, 2022.

Ezra Kein, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, observes that social media platforms largely control what we collectively pay attention to.

He draws attention to the dangers posed by TikTok, a Chinese owned company subject to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party, and the ways its algorithms may be manipulated to further Chinese propanda goals or to sow division among American users.

Significantly, China does allow its citizens to access the Western version of TikTok.

Klein notes that currently Tik-Tok algorithms strongly favor Chinese propaganda views on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

The Chinese have been working on mind-control techniques for many decades, as exemplified in the classic 1951 movie The Manchurian Candidate.

Klein urges the Obama administration to finish the job the Trump administration began, forcing a planned sale of the company in the U.S. That sale was canceled after Joe Buden won the 2020 election.

Klein’s column points out just one more way the consciousness of the Eighteenth Century mind is under attack.

Spirit of Voltaire