Saucers of Mud

November 4, 2015

A Comment about Germaine Greer and “Stupid Authoritarianism”

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 7:30 am

I was involved in an exchange with someone posting as “Brian” on Leslie Green’s blog. Background: Green enthusiastically endorsed Germaine Greer’s claim that transwomen are not “women.” Justin Weinberg linked to Green’s post to endorse the claim that “The number of critics of students who supposedly want to ‘no-platform’ speakers dwarfs the number of students who want to ‘no-platform‘ anyone.”

Several people (including me) were upset at Weinberg’s linking to Green’s post with apparent endorsement; I think the post obviously exprsses bigotry against trans people, but whatever the issue with that, it was clearly written from a position of ignorance; anyone who had looked into trans issues at all and cared about treating them with sensitivity wouldn’t use the word “transgendered.” (If you think this is mere nitpicking about words, think how seriously you would take a post on Jewish issues if the writer consistently referred to Jewish people as “Hebrews.”) Some people criticized Weinberg on Twitter. My involvement in this exchange came when Brian linked to this exchange, saying that this reaction exhibited “authoritarian stupidity.”

I commented that I didn’t see that:

What I see is one person asking Weinberg, “Do you endorse the whole post or just the paragraph?”, another saying “Your original post looked like it endorsed more than just that paragraph?”, and another person saying that your post contains a lot of offensive stuff. All of which is speech responding to speech. I can’t anything authoritarian about it, unless vigorous criticism is authoritarian.

I also think that the criticism, far from being stupid, is obviously correct, but that’s more of a judgment call.

To this Brian responded:

Matt W: your characterization of what took place is silly rationalization. Anyone interested can view the actual exchange here:

with a repetition of the link he had posted before.

I replied (as I recall) saying that, yes, anyone interested could view the exchange that he had already linked before, and that I was still waiting for an explanation of how my characterization was wrong. This comment has not yet been approved. I’m not complaining about that; people have busy lives and sometimes have no time to approve comments, and anyway Green is not obliged to give me a platform to criticize his allies! But I wanted to record the existence of this comment on my own platform, and also give Brian an opportunity to see it (should he visit my blog) and respond if he likes. In the meantime, anyone who is interested can indeed visit that exchange and judge whether my characterization was “silly rationalization,” or whether in fact what happened was merely vigorous criticism (and not that much of it!) rather than attempted authoritarianism.

…and I guess it should go without saying, but come on. Greer has a long record of saying awful things about trans women. Even if you agree with her theoretical point (which I don’t think you should), saying “Germaine Greer is right about trans-women” would be like saying “Donald Trump is right about immigrants” on the one occasion when Donald Trump says something about immigrants that is not necessarily false. I’m not the best-positioned person to jump into the issues surrounding Green’s post, but I think it is terribly misguided even at the theoretical level (he compares trans women to converted Jews in that their background is different from those of cis women/those born Jewish respectively–but converted Jews are still Jews, so the analogy fails utterly. And a cursory examination of the issues faced by trans women will show why it’s important for them to affirm that they’re women.) And, given how bad Green’s post was, it was unfortunate for Weinberg to link to it without clarifying that he didn’t endorse the stuff that comprised 90% of the post.

In the preceding paragraph I criticized people for things they said. If this be authoritarian stupidity, make the most of it.

(For another discussion, see magicalersatz at Feminist Philosophers.)

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