Saturday, July 29, 2017

Actual examples of "censorship"

tl;dr: I do not at all support the freedom for anyone in academia to say racist stuff. Academia is a complicated environment with a variety of specialized functions; these circumstances make even a no-government-censorship comparison — much less a "free speech means I can say whatever I want wherever and whenever I want" comparison — completely inapt. Fredrik deBoer's article, Yes, Campus Activists Have Attempted to Censor Completely Mainstream Views, basically argues for a free speech right to be a racist asshole on a college campus, harassing, excluding, and marginalizing students of students of color, so long as that harassment is entirely verbal (or a "speech act", like painting a swastika out of feces). I can't think of a more egregious example of a leftist being a bourgeois stooge.

* * *

I'm about to begin my eighth year in academia. We in academia like to think of ourselves as objective seekers after the truth, unafraid to address even the most morally challenging issues and ideas, but even for the most honest and careful, it's never that simple. All research projects, even the physical sciences, are bound up in a lot of social constructions: what to investigate, who gets to investigate it, how it's investigated, and, crucially, how investigation affects the participants' status. In addition to being an institution (meta-institution) that engages in the objective search for truth, academia as an institution confers status, making it possible (or much more likely) for students and professors to achieve social positions of relative power, importance, and wealth. Finally, the university is not ideologically neutral: the university exercises substantial influence on the social legitimation and delegitimation of ideas.

Even a single university is also one of the most complicated coherent institution I've seen. Multinational corporations are larger, but they use a rigid authoritarian hierarchy to manage that size. Universities by their nature cannot employ this strategy. Universities do, of course, employ authority and hierarchy, but nowhere near to the degree of large corporations: a university cannot just tell a professor or student, "Do this task this way or you're fired." A university brings together scores or hundreds of faculty and hundreds or thousands of students, all of whom are pursuing interests of the utmost seriousness and making substantial commitments of time, and for the students, a lot of money. I lived in a commune of only about 30 people, and just reproducing the institution on a daily basis was an exhausting chore; trying to manage the interests, goals, preferences, and desires of thousands of people trying to do something they consider extremely important presents enormous challenges.

The notion of "free speech" and "censorship" is itself complicated. Just the most fundamental sense of the whether government may impose criminal or civil penalties for speech has generated entire specialties of legal scholarship and jurisprudence. What qualifies as "speech"? Under what circumstances can the government engage in censorship? What specifically justifies categorizing this as speech and that as action, and what justifies this censorship and not that? Just to address one narrow component of these questions requires a PhD thesis or a hundred-page Supreme Court decision. Trying to decide what constitutes "free speech" and "censorship" when we're considering the actions of people outside the government is a thousand times more complicated. When does criticism become censorship? When does expressing an opinion become harassment or oppression? How do we explore these questions when people are stuck with each other, when their relationship is fundamentally non-transactional? We cannot simply declare "free speech!" and automatically gain the moral high ground.

We also live under a system with profound privilege and power for Christian, white, male, heterosexual, and cis-gendered people. Members of other religion (or no religion), people of color, especially the descendants of black chattel slavery, women, queer people and people who do not conform to conventional gender norms have for centuries been marginalized, exploited, oppressed, assaulted, and murdered, often in genocidal quantities. The only "objective" questions are whether there is such social privilege, and whether those with social privilege have marginalized, etc. those without it. These objective questions has been answered decisively in the affirmative; to deny these manifest truths is akin to arguing a flat earth. Either you believe this oppression is good, and should be perpetuated, or it is bad, and should be eliminated, root and branch. There is no middle moral position, only arguments over tactics.

If a college professor teaches the flat earth in geology class, if they teach Intelligent Design in biology class, if they teach that vaccines cause autism in medical school, that professor should be fired. For their ideas. If that's "censorship", I'm OK with that.

When we were living together, my (now ex) girlfriend came home absolutely livid. She is black, and her (white, duh) professor told her straight to her face that black people can't learn math. She complained to the head of the department, and he was later gone. Is that censorship? Even if it is, I will say straight out, I'm perfectly OK with that sort of censorship. It was not only wrong, it was oppressive and harmful.

Recently, one of the math professors used an egregiously sexist metaphor in his class. The professor was forced to apologize; I believe the apology was actually sincere, but that's not the point: sincere or not, he had to make it, he had to make it good, or he would have been out on his ass. Again, I will say I'm fine that he was forced to apologize.

I am not, however, saying that anyone in the university — administration, faculty, or students — should have or seek the power to arbitrarily censor anything they don't like. I tutor freshman composition, and I have helped students write papers denying global warming, opposing vaccination, endorsing the hijab, arguing for creationism, and any number of ideas I disagree with. I don't want to tell them their ideas are wrong (my job is to get them to learn how to argue, and (sadly) how to craft grammatical sentences and coherent paragraphs), but even if I didn't think so, I am (as, I think, are their professors) obligated not to tell them that they're wrong and not to write about something else. One important component is that freshman have very little power, and a freshman comp paper will typically not be read by anyone other than the professor, so its potential harm is extremely low.

My point is that we have to think carefully about speech on campus, and not just shout, "Free Speech!" We have to look carefully at the effects of speech, and how this or that speech fits with the institutional constraints and goals of academia.

I do have a few principles more fundamental than free speech (in the sense that people should be able to say whatever they want without any kind of coercive social sanction). First, racism — by which I mean anything that is both false, stupid, or normative and that endorses, perpetuates, legitimizes, or erases the documented, proven oppression of people of color by white Europeans — has no place in academia. Period. People in academia should not say anything even a little bit racist. The government should not fine or imprison anyone or subject them to civil penalty for saying even egregiously racist things, but racists' protection ends there. No academic should ever express any racist idea.

And not just on campus. Both professors and students are public intellectuals, which confers special importance on what they say in public. If a freshman student even tweets a racist joke from home, they have no place in academia: they need to apologize and correct their behavior or go someplace that is not in the business of credentialing intellectual competence. If that is censorship, I'm openly, directly, and completely in favor. And if you're against that sort of censorship, well, I have to ask: what do we gain by legitimizing and normalizing — especially in an institution that proclaims its role at certifying intellectual competence — any sort of speech that perpetuates oppression?

So too with (just off the top of my head) sexism, hetero-normativity, cis-gender-normativity, and religious discrimination. As public intellectuals, academics have zero business perpetuating these evils. I don't care what you really believe; I just want you to shut up about them or get the fuck out of my university.

Sorry for the long-winded introduction to what will be an even longer post. I just want to make my position crystal clear.

* * *

On the one hand, bless you, Fredrik deBoer: in his essay, Yes, Campus Activists Have Attempted to Censor Completely Mainstream Views, he provides actual examples with links of the kind of behavior he considers objectionable censorship. For context, deBoer is a self-identified leftist, with a PhD in (IIRC) English composition instruction. (He's also a pretty good statistician.) On the other hand, I don't think his argument or examples are very good.

Just his claim is highly problematic in itself:
Republican support of colleges and universities has collapsed, likely because of constant incidents on campus that create a widespread impression of anti-conservative bias, and that since our public universities are chartered and funded as non-partisan institutions, and because Republicans control enormous political power, our institutions are deeply threatened. I stand by that case.

I absolutely despise the "impression" claim. This is pure concern trolling. Are these incidents actually creating anti-conservative bias, or are they just creating some "impression". Look, people have gotten the "impression" that I endorse the starvation of millions of people (I have been called both a Stalinist and a Maoist with precisely this implication) because I support a communist state, and not some infantile anarchist utopia. I am just not responsible for people's impressions that are not supported by the actual content of what I say. If you want to argue the fact, argue the fact, not impressions (which are probably self-serving and stupid) about the fact.

deBoer also makes a causal fallacy (For an excellent introduction to causal fallacies, see Siggy's excellent post, Trump’s Past Light Cone.) I agree that Republicans are fighting academia, and it is probably true that there is some impression of anti-conservative bias in academia, but the causal connection is unproven. As a competent statistician, deBoer should at least try to exclude reverse causality: perhaps the incidents that create the "impressions" are the result of, not the cause of, Republican opposition. There could also be other, unmeasured, causes influencing the connection (what we econometricians and statisticians call omitted variable bias). One hypothesis is that the professional-managerial class took state power from the capitalist class, but made a fatal mistake: they did not destroy the capitalist class as a class. The capitalist class regained state power, and they do not intend to make the same mistake: they want to annihilate the professional-managerial class and plow salt in their fields. The university, as the foundation of professional-managerial class legitimacy, is their most important target. Just deBoer's claim is a variant on the argument that leftist intransigence somehow created the racist alt-right, an argument that JMP demolishes in The Alt-Right Was Not A Response To Some "Alt-Left".

deBoer also conflates partisanship with ideology. (If he simply claims that Republicans conflate party and ideology, well duh. Of course they would.) As an employee of a public university and a public community college, I am required to be nonpartisan only in the sense that I am not allowed to endorse or condemn specific candidates, political parties, or ballot measures during an election. That doesn't mean that I have to be ideologically neutral (whatever that means). I can be for good ideas and against bad ideas. Indeed, academia as a whole cannot be even as ideologically neutral as the math department (and math has its own ideological norms). Academia is in the business of conferring or denying ideological legitimacy.

Famous Moments in History, Reimagined By Centrists
Even granting the most charitable possible interpretation of his argument, i.e. the noted incidents really do create "anti-conservative bias" (and not just some "impression"), and this impression really is the most important or dominant cause of the "collapse of Republican support" for academia, it does not then follow that we should refrain from these incidents. Much depends on what deBoer means by conservatism. If conservatism really does mean just the perpetuation of the white Christian patriarchy, with rigid sex and gender essentialism and norms, then academia shouldn't just have a bias against conservatism, we should be fighting conservatism tooth and nail, and not whinging when the racists, etc. fight back. It doesn't matter how much power the conservatives racists Republicans have: we won't undermine that power by not putting teeth in our demands.

On to the examples. (Links are original.) There are a lot, so this will take a while.

Student activists at Amherst University demanded that students who had criticized their protests be formally punished by the university and forced to attend sensitivity training.

This is not an original source; neither deBoer nor Katie Zavadski, the author of the linked Daily Beast article, link to the students' demands. However, the article does quote one demand, "that President Biddy Martin issue a statement saying that Amherst does 'not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the "All Lives Matter" posters, and the "Free Speech" posters.'” "All Lives Matter" is facially racist; according to Zavadski, the "Free Speech" posters are related to Robby Soave's article, Students: Fight Racism, Not Free Speech, which seems to defend the rights of "a random jerk in a truck shouting racial slurs at Mizzou’s black student body president and [those who created] a swastika made of feces appearing on the wall of a residence building." Color me censorious, but I'm 100 percent with the Amherst students.

At Oberlin, students made a formal demand that specific professors and administrators be fired because the students did not like their politics.

The formal demand appears in a 14 page manifesto, alleging pervasive and egregious racism at Oberlin. Presumably, deBoer refers to this specific demand on p. 12, reproduced in full (I cannot copy and paste; I apologize for any errors in transcription):
12. We DEMAMD the immediate firing of:
  • Marjorie Burton, Head of Safety & Security for the mishandling of Black students' safety needs.
  • David Alvarez, & Sergeant David Bender for their complicity and role in the violent mishandling of Zakiya Acey.
  • Gerri Johnson, Accounts Payable Supervisor for their rude behavior towards Black Students and inefficient running of the office delaying the printing and releasing of checks and funds.
  • Ellen Sayles, Associate Dean of Studies due to her mishandling of students [sic] mental & emotional needs.
  • Kathryn Stuart, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives due to her GRAVE mishandling of the mental & emotional needs of students of color, as well as her history with the mishandling of documents that would have allowed students of color to graduate on time.
  • John Harshbarger, Director of Student Health and Counseling Services for his inability to act when students of color have urgent needs and need to change their housing arrangements due to mental health concerns.
  • Allen Cadwallader, Professor of Music Theory in the Conservatory, due to the racist undertones of his course as well as the ways in which he treats Black jazz students who take his course, which is rooted in white supremacy.
  • Stephen Hartke Chair & Professor of the Department of Composition, for his blatantly disrespectful remarks about students [sic] pronouns, racist views on musical composition as well as his lack of effort in hiring Black composers here at Oberlin College.

So basically, the students are demanding that administrators be fired for racist incompetence, and professors for just being racists. Although their punctuation is atrocious, I'm with the Oberlin students.

"The Evergreen State College imbroglio involved students attempting to have a professor fired for criticizing one of their political actions."

This is a little more gray. But the students who are demanding Professor Weinstein be fired not because he criticized their political action (asking white students instead of minority students to observe the Day of Absence) but because they saw his criticism as specifically racist in character. I'll take the professor's side on this one, at least tepidly: I don't think professors should have the freedom to say racist things, but I don't think he said anything actually racist; if he had, he should be fired.

At Wesleyan, campus activists attempted to have the campus newspaper defunded for running a mainstream conservative editorial.

Neither the article nor deBoer link to the offending Argus article; I assume they mean Bryan Stascavage's September 14, 2015 article, Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think, which seems pretty fucking racist.

Regardless, there is not now nor has there ever been a free speech right to funding anywhere. This issue is about whether the student government has a right to control its own money.

A Dean at Claremont McKenna resigned following student backlash to an email she sent in response to complaints about the treatment of students of color.

God damn, but saying that minority student's "don't fit the C.M.C. [Claremont McKenna College] mold" seems just a wee bit racist for the president of the college.

The trend seems clear. Maybe I'll get to the rest later, but I suspect they'll all be the same.

I do not believe that anyone — student, staff, faculty, administration — has a "free speech" right to be a racist, sexist, etc. on campus. If you're fighting for this right, you're fighting to let racist, sexist, etc. conservatives violate the rights — including the free speech rights — of people of color, women, etc. The question is not whether we support this or that rights, but whose rights we support: the bigots' or the victims.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Socialism vs Neoliberalism

In Everyone Hates Neoliberals, So We Talked to Some, Eve Peyser, well, talks to some self-identified neoliberals to try to discover what neoliberalism means. Notably, Peyser asks Aryeh Cohen-Wade about "the hatred neoliberals get from the left" (talk about a loaded question!); Cohen-Wade replies,

I think it's foolhardy and counterproductive. Trump-ism is a five-alarm fire that everyone on the left (defined broadly) should be uniting to oppose. Chapo Trap House–ism is convincing lefties that their true enemies are the people who agree with them 75 percent instead of the people who disagree with them 100 percent. If fighting Trump can't unite the left, nothing will.

But Cohen-Wade is mistaken: counting socialists as "the left," neoliberals are not on the left. Weighted by importance, socialists disagree with neoliberals 99.5 percent, and with capitalists 99.9 percent.* We have exactly two policy positions in common — middle-class women should have easy access to abortions, and the PPACA is better than nothing — and one philosophical position in common — Republicans suck marginally harder than the Democrats — but beyond that, we disagree about almost everything else.

*Nobody's wrong all the time. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Just on policy positions, socialists disagree with the neoliberal Democratic party: just off the top of my head, socialists
  • oppose the carceral state and the racialization of law enforcement and police killings
  • oppose imperialist wars and military action
  • oppose the neoliberal globalization project*
  • opposed the bailout of financial institutions and the abandonment of borrowers after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008
  • oppose the nearly-complete deregulation of financial institutions**
  • endorse single-payer, if not fully socialized, medicine
  • endorse unions, high minimum wages, and other specific working class concerns
  • endorse equal rights for immigrants
  • endorse full abortion and reproductive rights for all women
*Which is not to say that we oppose international trade; we just don't want it at all on the neoliberals' terms.
**Dodd-Frank is a joke.

In these assertions, I am relying on what the Democratic party has, you know, actually done or failed to do. The Democrats have, for example, done nothing about police violence against black people, or access to abortion for poor women, so I must conclude they either tacitly endorse these conditions, or they are utterly impotent.

Actually, I'm having a difficult time finding much of anything socialists actually agree on with neoliberals. The Democrats shed a few crocodile tears over a few socialist concerns, in contrast to the Republicans' unconcealed glee, but as far as actually doing something, the Democrats have a hard time rising even to tokenism.

More importantly, to the extent that neoliberals want to "help" those not in the top couple of income and wealth quintiles, they want to help them by sufferance and charity. Socialists want to empower those currently at the economic bottom: the working class should have a good, secure life by right, not by sufferance, and "the poor" shouldn't even be a category.

The Democratic party has essentially been operating by blackmail: Never mind that we take away any economic power and security you might have, never mind that we throw you in jail in world-record numbers, never mind that we send you off to kill brown people sitting on our oil, never mind that we kill you personally. Never mind all that: vote for us, or those nasty Republicans will take away even the crumbs we throw at you from our McMansions.

No. Fuck you, Democrats. Not for your positions, objectionable as we socialists find them, but for your insistence that you're on our side. You're not.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

I don't care about Harvard

Harvard is thinking about banning fraternities, sororities, and "final clubs". I really don't care. As a communist, I think the whole Ivy League system is terrible, but it's terrible not because it violates universal norms of "free speech" but because it reproduces capitalism (duh).

Background: Report of the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSO), July 5, 2017: After reviewing a lot of data and talking with many interested parties, the committee found that discriminatory social organizations were discriminatory, this discrimination was contrary to the goals of the university, and thus recommended that the university forbid membership in these organizations. They note that at least two other colleges, Williams College and Bowdoin College, have forbidden membership in fraternities or sororities.

In Do Unto Other Harvard Students (July 13, 2017), Conor Friedersdorf argues that the policy is hypocritical, since Harvard is itself a discriminatory institution. I think this argument is lazy. In Harvard’s Steven Pinker on proposal to ban social clubs: ‘This is a terrible recommendation’ (July 13, 2017), Alex Morey quotes Steven Pinker's objections: The university is there to provide an education, not micromanage the students' social lives, that the committee's recommendations are not an "effective, rationally justified, evidence-based policy tailored to reduce sexual assault." Pinker's final complaint,
This illiberal policy [i.e. a policy Pinker disagrees with - ed.] can only contribute to the impression in the country at large that elite universities are not dispassionate forums for clarifying values, analyzing problems, and proposing evidence-based solutions, but are institutions determined to impose their ideology and values on a diverse population by brute force.
is breathtaking in its inanity. Criticizing any policy based on its "impression" is stupid. If these impressions are correct, then Pinker would argue against them directly, rather than arguing against some supposed impression.

Furthermore, the the whole point of universities are to impose ideology and values; the argument is over which kind of values; just above are Pinker's preferred ideology and values he wishes to impose: "Universities ought to be places where issues are analyzed, distinctions are made, evidence is evaluated, and policies crafted to attain clearly stated goals" [emphasis added]. Had Pinker actually read the report, he would have discovered that the report actually does analyze issues, make distinctions, evaluate evidence and crafts policies to attain clearly stated goals, i.e. decreasing intra-campus exclusionary discrimination.

Finally, the idea that the university is implementing anything by "brute force" is absurd hyperbole.

Yes, Steven Pinker is a doofus. In other news, earth orbits sun.

But who really cares? Pinker teaches at Harvard; he has standing to negotiate the university's policies. I do not, so I don't care at all. As far as I'm concerned, Harvard can be totally internally exclusionary or totally inclusive. If you don't like their policies, don't go to Harvard. I didn't, and I'm not crying in my cornflakes.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Initial thoughts on "free speech" on campus

Why is "free speech" even an issue on college campuses. A college campus is a voluntary association, and the privileges and immunities of individuals in a voluntary association are usually (but not always, see below) matters of negotiation, not right.

We could argue and negotiate about whether or not it's a Good Idea to invite, say, Charles Murray to speak on campus. A colleague, whom I admire and respect, concedes that Murray is both wrong and uses bad methodology, but that the university would be best served by openly and critically examining his ideas rather than ignoring him. I'm not sure he's wrong, but in my position as a student and faculty member, I would strongly negotiate for substantive conditions on Murray's (hypothetical) appearance: I might endorse a debate, but I would absolutely oppose Murray speaking under circumstances, such as a commencement address, that did not support critical inquiry.

But the point is not necessarily whether or not it's a good idea (and for whom it is or is not a good idea) to invite Murray to speak; the point is whether Murray has the right to speak on campus or whether my university has an obligation, separate from our already-accepted institutional obligations, to invite him to speak. Our university is a voluntary association, but the government can and does impose rights on even voluntary associations. For example, unless an association is explicitly religious, a commercial voluntary association open to the public has the state-imposed obligation to not racially discriminate; individuals have the right to attend without regard to their race, without regard to the opinions of any of the directly interested parties: even if it were the consensus of the regents, the administration, the faculty, and the student body to exclude black people, we would be legally prohibited — correctly — from permitting such discrimination. So it is not inconceivable that universities must extend some privileges and immunities as a matter of right, and not just negotiation.

However, I think the case has to be made positively that some issue is a matter of right with regard to voluntary associations; the default position, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, should be that an issue is a matter of negotiation.

This distinction is especially important because the U.S. Constitution explicitly makes freedom of speech a matter of right, not negotiation, with respect to federal law, and, since Gitlow v. New York, state law. NAMBLA, for example, need not justify their immunity from prosecution for publishing their views by arguing that it's a Good Idea to publish; they need only point to the First Amendment.

Thus, I'm going to be looking at what kind of arguments supposed proponents and opponents of "free speech" on campus make. It's one thing to argue that it's a Good Idea or Bad Idea to have this or that particular conversation on campus with some individual or group; it's quite another to claim that arguments against this or that conversation are irrelevant because free speech. The first is just negotiation, and as I am an interested party on only one campus, I have little to say about negotiations on other campuses except at the most abstract level.

The second, however, deserves more careful examination. First, do advocates of the right of free speech on campus assert a universal right, i.e. does everyone, or at least everyone fulfilling some objective conditions, have the right to speak on campus, or do they assert a special right, i.e. only some group (e.g. "conservatives") has the right; and other groups' privileges are subject to negotiation? On what basis do they advocate free speech? One could, of course use the First Amendment to argue a more general case, but it is insufficient to just point to the First Amendment, which restricts only federal and state law; it does not automatically extend to voluntary associations.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Capitalist reproduction

Like anything else that persists longer than individual lifetimes, the capitalist political-economic system is reproduced: actual individuals in institutions must take action to ensure that after everyone currently part of the capitalist system has dies, that new individuals find themselves in a working capitalist system.

We can define three categories of social roles in the capitalist system: production, control, and reproduction.

Production consists of actually creating goods and services for profit. People who have a production role are economically justified by creating profit. In my earlier driving analogy, actually moving stuff from one point to another constituted "production"; in the capitalist system, the actual production of all goods and services for profit constitutes production. People who actually produce stuff are part of the working class.

Control consists of determining which goods and services will be produced, and to whom the profits will be allocated. People who largely control production, or who are part of the competition to determine who controls production and receives profit, are part of the capitalist class. So pretty much everyone in the finance industry, as well as the CEOs and members of boards of directors, are part of the capitalist class.

Everyone else (except the lumpenproletariat) reproduces the capitalist system: they ensure that there will be working factories, businesses, and workers in the future, and that these factories, businesses, and workers will have the physical, institutional, and ideological infrastructure to continue to operate in a capitalist system. The important distinction is that reproduction is not justified by profit, nor do those involved in reproduction directly control control production.

Human beings who will eventually become workers, capitalists, and others must be conceived, gestated, born, physically nurtured, educated, socialized, and enculturated. Hence families, schoolteachers, college and university instructors directly reproduce the capitalist system.

The capitalist system relies on coherent and stable institutions of property, contracts, and money. The role of maintaining the stability and coherence of these institutions falls on the government bureaucracy. Hence, most government workers work to reproduce the capitalist system. For example, the Federal Reserve bank manages the money supply. Although they do make a profit (which they turn over to the Treasury department), Janet Yellen's role, and the role of the governors nor the Fed's employees, are not economically justified by the Fed's profit, nor does the Fed actually control production. Their roles are justified because we need the Fed (or some institution that does the same thing, making money coherent and stable) to continue to have a capitalist system at all.

The numerically superior working class must be kept from rebelling. In addition to institutions of enculturation, we need police to ensure by force that those workers who are not sufficiently enculturated to accept their exploitation cannot substantially interfere with the capitalist system.

And, finally, because capitalist production takes place in firms, firms themselves as institutions have to come into being, persist, and their assets disposed of when they die.

Historically, the reproduction of firms was managed directly by capitalists themselves, who in addition to determining what was produced and who got the profits, directly maintained firms as institutions. If the capitalist owners needed assistance, they received that assistance from those who would themselves become capitalists. However, as businesses grew massively in size after the development of railroads in the mid-19th century, it was no longer possible for the capitalist class to reproduce the firm. Capitalists needed a legion of middle managers who, while neither doing much actual productive work, even at the level of coordination of multiple tasks, nor controlling production, were necessary to keep the firm functioning as a coherent institution.

A clear example is the Human Resources department of a large corporation such as IBM. The HR department does not produce computers, software, IT services, or any sort of intellectual property, so they are not workers. The HR department is not judged on the profits it brings to IBM; how could they be? But neither does the HR department control what and how many computers, etc. IBM produces, so they are not capitalists. The HR department does help keep IBM functioning as an institution: the HR department reproduces IBM as a firm, ensuring that there will be an IBM tomorrow.

I have two reasons for drawing the distinction between production and reproduction. First, because the roles have very different economic justifications, they consequently have different kinds of incentives, and thus their members have different ideologies.

This distinction becomes especially salient when the capitalist class tries to transform traditionally reproductive institutions, especially schools, colleges, and universities, into productive institutions. Should schools, colleges, and university be reproductive, i.e. ensuring that there will be a capitalist system tomorrow, or should they be productive, producing a service, "education", that individuals consume in exchange for money, resulting in profit?

I suspect that the capitalist class's efforts to bring education directly into the sphere of production will backfire to their own detriment. It is not at all clear to me that a capitalist-productive school system will ensure that capitalism persists.

The second reason to distinguish between control, production, and reproduction is to differentiate college educated people into different classes. By "college educated" I mean those people whose specific education substantially contributes to their economic role, i.e. exempting those whose degree is obtained primarily for reason of status. Thus I distinguish between engineers and physicians, whose education substantially contributes to their economic role as workers (usually in the labor aristocracy), financial analysts, who become part of the capitalist class, and the legions of middle managers, bureaucrats, accountants, etc. who reproduce capitalism.

My main political interest is viewing the current political crisis through the lens of the struggle for state power between the capitalist class and the professional-managerial class, with the professional-managerial class consisting of college educated people primarily concerned with the reproduction of capitalism.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Marxian class structure of 21st century capitalism

When we analyze something as complicated as human society, we have to make some simplifying assumptions. The Marxian notion of class is one such simplifying assumption.

Marx asserted that every individual's specific, concrete position in the social relations of production has a profound effect on their ideology, i.e. their moral and political thought, and that these positions are broadly generalizable, i.e. individuals' positions in the relations of production are typically not sui generis, and there is more variation between positions than within positions.* The question is not is this simplifying assumption true or false (it is both broadly true and broadly false), but whether it is true enough in ways that we can use to make meaningful explanations and predictions of social behavior.

*Observe that the opposite is true of the supposed objective and physiological characteristics associated with race: there is more variation within a race than between races, leading to the conclusion that these objective characteristics are not relevant in the construction of race, and that race is, primarily, a social construction.

The relations of production and the associated class structure are more complicated today than they were in Marx's time, but we can make some broad generalizations.

We can split up the economic roles in modern society into five broad categories, with some subcategories:
  1. The Capitalist Class, who directly own and control the processes of production
    1. Industrial Capitalists, who directly own and control the physical means of production
    2. Finance Capitalists, who directly own and control access to money
    3. Small Capitalists, the petty bourgeois, who directly own and control small productive businesses and employ others
    4. Rentiers, who live on pure capitalist income streams, but neither perform nor hire significant productive labor.
  2. The Professional-Managerial Class, who use education and specific professional expertise to reproduce the system of social relations, usually for a salary
  3. The Working Class, who actually perform the acts of production
    1. The Labor Aristocracy, who are employed by capitalists, and by virtue of monopolies, command a portion of surplus value. i.e. they are consistently paid significantly more than their labor power
    2. Ordinary Workers, who do not have monopoly protection, and who are directly employed by capitalists; market forces may temporarily increase or depress their wages above or below the political cost of labor power
    3. Freelance Workers, who do not employ others but are not directly employed by capitalists.
    4. The Reserve Army of the Unemployed, who want but do not have a position as an actual worker
  4. The Lumpenproletariat, who either do not want or cannot meaningfully aspire to a position as an actual worker (excepting children, the severely disabled, and the elderly) and must live on the charity of the state or on criminal activity
  5. Other classes, e.g. soldiers, police, scientists, (adult) students

An empirical question, which I have not yet seen well-explored, much less answered, is to what degree and in what directions do ideological opinions actually match these economic classes? (Since I'm going to become a university instructor, perhaps I'll have an opportunity to look myself.) Still, intuition and common sense suggest (but do not, of course, "prove" or even provide evidence for) that class does affect ideology, that we can find at least demonstrable correlations between class and ideology, and perhaps even devise an identification strategy that would reveal a causal relationship.

The first objection is, of course, is that individuals do not neatly sort themselves into classes. What are we to make, for example, of a physician (labor aristocracy) who owns a rental property (rentier) and employs others in a medical laboratory (small capitalist)? But it is not part of the Marxian class theory that there are bright lines between each of the classes. Most people have a primary or dominant class role, even if they do have a toe in another class. More importantly, we should see people participating in multiple classes where the classes are already economically close. By virtue of his position in the labor aristocracy, our physician above already has access to a small portion surplus labor, which he holds in common with rentiers and small capitalists. We see very few ordinary workers who are at the same time industrial or finance capitalists.

A more salient objection is that there are other non-class factors, notably sex and gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion, that substantially affect ideology. I think the proper Marxian response is not rebuttal but concession. Yes, these things matter a lot, and while they interact considerably with class, they cannot be ignored or blithely subsumed into a class analysis. As a Marxist, I say that race matters, sex and gender matters, all the other categories matter, and in addition to class liberation, not just as a Marxist but as someone concerned with human liberation, I support racial, sexual, etc. equality. (However, if someone limits their feminism and anti-racism to endorsing only the proportional representation of women and people of color in the capitalist system, my support would be at best tepid.)

This blog is mostly about me thinking out loud: I need to see what I write to know what I think. Noting these objections, I'm going to explore the relation between class and ideology in subsequent posts.

Production and reproduction

As an analogy, let us say that driving a car constitutes production. The point of driving is to move minds, bodies, and stuff from one point to another. In the Marxian sense, reproduction comprises those activities that are not themselves necessarily actually driving, but are performed to make driving possible in the future. The most obvious reproductive activities are the manufacture of new cars and the training of new drivers. Building an car is not driving — nothing is moved from point A to point B — but without new cars to replace those that fall apart (and additional new cars to make more driving possible) the system of driving would eventually grind to a halt. As importantly, how companies manufacture cars — and how we train drivers — not only makes driving possible, but strongly affects how we drive.

There are other institutions that contribute not so obviously to the reproduction of driving. We must extract oil, refine it into gasoline, and distribute the gasoline to cars. We must build and maintain roads, road marking and signage, create and distribute maps. We must pass laws about how people should drive, and pay police, judges, sheriffs, and jailers to enforce those laws. The Marxian notion of reproduction extends to these activities.

Note that this distinction can occur at different levels simultaneously. For example, a person driving a gasoline tanker to a gas station is actually driving, i.e. producing at the "ontological" level, as well as making more driving possible, i.e. reproducing at the "teleological" level.

The analogy to capitalism is direct: the drivers are the capitalists, the cars are the workers, and everybody else is involved in reproduction.

The Marxian analysis of capitalism divides capitalist social system into three parts: production, control, and reproduction. Production comprises the use of labor to create goods and services for exchange. Control comprises the decisions of what and how much to produce. Reproduction comprises all the institutions that do not actually create goods and services, necessary to ensure that capitalist production continues running in the future.

Like the driving analogy above, the creation, nurture, and education of new human beings to replace those who die and to increase the population constitutes the "obvious" level of reproduction. The less obvious reproductive activities consist of the maintenance and enforcement of property rights, management of money by the government (including the central bank), and accounting.

The least obvious activity that I would classify as reproductive of capitalism is middle management. Immediate supervisors (e.g. shop forepersons) are directly productive, because they directly coordinate their workers' productive activities. Upper management control what and how much is produced, so they are capitalists or directly serving capitalists. But what of middle managers?

Middle management is often caricatured as pointy-haired boss or Ricky Gervais's and Steve Carell's characters from their respective versions of The Office. Middle managers appear ridiculous because they are divorced from the actual process of production, and thus to workers, their behavior appears at best arbitrary and at worst absurd or grotesque. But middle managers serve an important role: they hold large organizations together as coherent organizations. They are thus agents not of production, because they do not produce, nor of control, because they largely transmit control from upper management, but of reproduction: they make the capitalist system of production possible.

(Note that other relations of production can naturally be divided into control, production, and reproduction. For example, feudal lords control production, the serfs actually produce, and the church reproduce the feudal system.)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sturgeon's law

Theodore Sturgeon famously noted that "ninety percent of everything is crap."

I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms. [emphasis added]

The Wikipedia article observes that philosopher Daniel Dennett has reintroduced the observation as an important tool for critical thinking.

Hence I am usually unimpressed by people offering anecdotes about any group doing stupid stuff. Stupidity is interesting, and I appreciate a good laugh at some doofus doing or saying something stupid, but such anecdotes are, as Sturgeon notes, "ultimately uninformative." Thus too with free speech issues on college campuses.

I would add, however, to Sturgeon's law that 90 percent is a lower bound; some topics reach 100 percent crap.

It is not enough to to draw conclusions about a broad topic to dredge up any number of examples of egregiously stupid shit. Sturgeon's law guarantees that there will be no shortage of such examples. We should really try to analyze the best 10 percent.

Furthermore, I think there we can usefully analyze even the stupid stuff. Individual analysis always useful: if so-and-so (<cough> Sam Harris) says something stupid, it's an intellectual virtue to point out that that specific said that specific stupid, and to show how it's stupid. Additionally, not all crap is the same. The ordinary kind of crap is just lazy: the author has simply not thought their position through. In contrast, in some topics, the crap is egregiously lying, completely contrary to actual facts. Generally, when I see a huge percentage of flat-out lies in the crap of some topic, I feel like I can draw conclusions about the topic.

We can also look at the general moral stance of the crap. If most of the crap seems generally morally reprehensible, I'm going to draw the conclusion that even the good stuff is contributing to the moral failure seen in the crap.

While I usually like Fredrik deBoer, his recent essay, "There’s no pro-campus censorship theory for me to debate", is a little frustrating. deBoer offers anecdotes, unsourced, of people failing to make good arguments on consistent principles for campus actions that seem to (maybe) impinge on free speech. I assume they're accurate (deBoer seems scrupulously honest), but veracity isn't the important thing here; I want to know whether deBoer is just plumbing the depths of the 90 percent of crap. And the anecdotes that deBoer offers just show ordinary laziness that is not facially reprehensible. So, while I take his point that academics should construct good arguments for whom they do and do not invite to campus, that he has given us examples of bad arguments doesn't tell us anything new.

I think a good principled argument is actually relatively easy to construct. deBoer complains, "Why do these controversies so often fall along predictable partisan lines?" Well, why shouldn't they? If the struggle is actually partisan, then of course these

I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, but liberals consider conservatives to be not mistaken but actually evil; likewise, conservatives consider liberals to be evil.* I think both positions are, in a sense, "legitimate," in that they might be wrong, but they're not incoherent. If you think some group is actually evil, you have to fight them, and it's impossible to insist on absolute moral purity for everyone opposing them. Hence the liberal students are fighting against conservatism, and so what that people like the Clinton's are not morally pure; at least they're on the right side... or at least not obviously on the wrong side. In a struggle you fight, and as long as the person next to you is aiming in the correct direction, you don't need to ask too many questions. The campus "free speech" issues deBoer points out might not be not a debate on universal values, but rather what it appears to be: a partisan struggle. I think that's a position coherent and principled enough to be worth debating. but an actual partisan fight.

*My personal opinion is that conservatives are indeed completely evil (or completely deluded), and liberals slightly less evil; they mean well, but they're mostly... not exactly stupid, but they're missing too many important points.

Supposing that it is a partisan fight, I don't think deBoer's substantive criticism holds water. deBoer writes,
[Pro-censorship leftist]: What, you want to give “mainstream conservatives” a place to speak on campus? Any conservative contributes to racism, war, and poverty!

Me: Considering we’ve been arguing for decades against the perception that campus is a left-wing indoctrination center, and that the GOP has used that perception to massively defund public universities, this seems like a suicidal stance.

First, of course, I think his labeling of advocates he disagrees with as "pro-censorship" — an obviously value-laden term — poisons the well; he employs the term to label the position, not the argument. I think it might be possible to argue the position that actions such as protesting the invitation of speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, or Condoleeza Rice constitutes "censorship," but it's not so obvious that deBoer can simply assume it.

More importantly, no matter what campus liberals do, as long as educated people and people in academia struggle in any way against conservatives, the GOP will itself create the perception that "campus is a left-wing indoctrination center." This whole line started, as best I can tell, when students started protesting the Vietnam war. Furthermore, the conservative war against academia has little to do with students protesting conservatives; the conservatives are struggling against the professional-managerial class, and academia is the foundation of their legitimacy. Even if students passively accept whatever speakers their administrators deem acceptable, conservatives will not rest until academia is either destroyed or brought completely under the control of the "free market."

deBoer continues, "But anyway — you think the average Democrat doesn’t contribute to racism, war, and poverty?" I completely understand his frustration here, and I feel much the same. Still, commies like deBoer and I are completely marginal in the actual struggle against conservatism. The Bolsheviks welcomed the Kadets in the struggle against the Tsar, so too could we communists at least not complain too loudly and too generally at the struggles of those who do not share our proletarian purity.

I'm not on the side of the liberals or the professional-managerial class. However, the only universal value I see at stake here is that even a completely socialist government should not imprison Yiannopoulos, Spencer, or Rice just for their views. Other than that, fuck them. I don't care who does it, if the pressure of public opinion can stuff these assholes under the rocks they crawled out of, I'm not going to waste my breath defending them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

What is free speech?

Free speech is impossible.

To be genuinely free, free speech must be free of all coercion, not just of coercion exercised directly by the state. If some non-state institution uses coercion, then either the state itself legitimizes the coercion, it which case the coercion is still state coercion, or the state does not have a monopoly on the exercise of coercion, and is not a state at all. Thus, if I say, "The sky is blue," and vigilantes beat me up without fear of state reprisal, then the state has coercively restricted my speech, so I do not have free speech.

But! Speech may itself be coercive. If I walk up to a bank teller and say, "Give me all your money, or I'll shoot you," I am coercing the teller (and the bank, its depositors, and its owners). There is a contradiction: if the state regulates this coercion-by-speech, we lack free speech; if it cannot, it is not a state at all. Worse yet, if I say, "Do not say that the sky is blue, or I'll shoot you," someone's free speech will be violated: either my own — I am prohibited for speaking thus — or the person I'm threatening, who fears to say that the sky is blue.

Indeed, we have broadened the definition of "speech" to communicative acts: if burning a flag is a speech act, then pointing a loaded pistol at someone — so long as I do not pull the trigger — is objectively a speech act. One might argue (sensibly) that threats are substantively different than other speech acts, but to restrict any speech for any reason, however sensible and reasonable, is still infringing on someone's freedom of speech.

The point of the above exercise is to emphasize that we are arguing not about whether or not we should have "free speech" but about the limits and boundaries of permissible and impermissible speech, what institutions actually set those limits, and how they go about setting them.

The question then becomes on what basis are we to determine the limits? As I work through the sources, I'm going to try and determine both where each source advocates the limits should be, and, more importantly, why those limits should be as they advocate.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Free speech, political correctness, and higher education - first bibliography

Fine. I'm going to bite the bullet and do a scholarly investigation of the topic of free speech, political correctness, and higher education. This post will contain a first pass at a non-annotated bibliography. If you have any suggestions for additional sources, please let me know in comments.

My working research question is: are the values of political correctness and free speech in substantial conflict in the context of higher (postsecondary) education? I will define both terms, and investigate where and to what degree they do in fact conflict. I will judge the merits of both sides, and come to a conclusion about the degree we should support each value.

Scholarly sources
Wilson, John K. (1995) The myth of political correctness: The conservative attack on higher education. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Rychlak, Ronald J. (1992-1992). Civil rights, Confederate flags, and political correctness: Free speech and race Relations on Campus. 66 Tul. L. Rev. 1411
Cheney, Lynne V. (September 1992). Telling the Truth. A Report on the State of the Humanities in Higher Education. National Endowment for the Humanities.
Scott, Peter. (2016). "Free speech" and "political correctness." European Journal of Higher Education 6.4: 417-420. doi:10.1080/21568235.2016.1227666.
Pujol, Jordi. (2016). The United States safe space campus controversy and the paradox of freedom of speech. Church, Communication and Culture 1.1: 240-254. doi:10.1080/23753234.2016.1234124.
Kitrosser, Heidi. (2016-2017). Free Speech, Higher Education, and the PC Narrative. 101 Minn. L. Rev. 1987
Robbins, Susan P. (January 19 2016). From the Editor—Sticks and stones: Trigger warnings, microaggressions, and political correctness. [editorial] Journal of Social Work Education 52.1: 1-5. doi:10.1080/10437797.2016.1116850.

Non-scholarly sources
Google "free speech political correctness and higher education"

Roth, Michael S. (August 31, 2016). Free speech, political correctness and higher education. Huffington Post.
Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. (September 2015). The coddling of the American mind. The Atlantic.
Schapiro, Morton. (January 15, 2016). I’m Northwestern’s president. Here’s why safe spaces for students are important. The Washington Post
Cobb, Jelani. (November 10, 2015). Race and the Free-Speech Diversion. The New Yorker.
Strauss, Valerie, (November 20, 2015). Sick of hearing about pampered students with coddled minds? This university president is. The Washington Post
Zimmer, Robert J. (August 26, 2016). Free speech is the basis of a true education. The Wall Street Journal.
Stone, Geoffrey R. (August 26, 2016). Free expression in peril. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Friedersdorf, Conor. (June 30, 2016). Should any ideas Be 'off the table' in campus debates? The Atlantic.
Roth, Michael. (September 19, 2015). Black lives matter and so does free speech. Wesleyan University.
Gersen, Jeannie Suk. (December 15, 2014). The trouble with teaching rape law. The New Yorker.
Kipnis, Laura (February 27, 2015). Sexual paranoia strikes academe. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Cooke, Rachel. (April 2, 2017). Sexual paranoia on campus – and the professor at the eye of the storm. The Guardian.
Schlosser, Edward [pseudonym]. (June 3, 2015). I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me. Vox.
McCormick, Jason . (December 1, 2016). I’m a liberal professor and my conservative students terrify me. The Coffeelicious.
Berlatsky, Noah. (June 11, 2015). Professors do live in fear—but not of liberal students. The New Republic.
Griswold, Alex. (June 3, 2015). Liberal professor vilified As racist for accurately quoting activist. The Daily Caller.
Flaherty, Colleen. (January 30, 2015). Going after the donors. Inside Higher Ed.
Steinhauer, Jillian. (June 20, 2014). South Carolina legislature penalizes colleges for teaching gay-themed books. Hyperallergic.
Kendall, Nancy. (June 9, 2015). Scott Walker is undermining academic freedom at the University of Wisconsin. New Republic
Hentoff, Nat. (Fall 1991). "Speech Codes" on the campus and problems of free speech. Dissent 38: 546-9.
Chait, Jonathan. (January 27, 2015). Not a very P.C. thing to say. New York Magazine, Daily Intelligencer.
Goldberg, Jonah. (February 16, 2015). The University of Michigan's tolerance problem. Los Angeles Times.
Mahmood, Omar. (November 19,2014). Do the left thing. Michigan Review.
Fields, Suzanne. (May 20, 2015). The slow death of free speech. The Washington Post.
Barone, Michael. (Jun 22, 2013). Why does the left want to suppress free speech?
Quintana, Chris, and Brock Read. (June 22, 2017). The Chronicle of Higher Education.
deBoer, Freddie. (June 26, 2017). There’s no pro-campus censorship theory for me to debate. Medium.

I have not yet carefully evaluated any of the sources. Some sources may be dodgy; hopefully, I'll be able to replace them later with more reliable sources.

Damn. I am barely scratching the surface. More later.