I confess; when any public figure engages in such blatant oral obfuscation or convoluted rhetoric, I am suspicious of their trustworthiness from that point onward. Ann Althouse, however, defends Peterson, and, by extension, Harris (and Joe Biden and many more) by writing today,
We’re living in a time when your worst few seconds will be ripped out of context and held up to discredit you. Better never to speak on camera at all than to risk creating one of these horrible clips to be used against you. We’re created a mediascape where only the cocky and reckless will speak freely. Ironically, Peterson will be one of those people. Everyone else will shrink out of public view.
Is it unfair to expect public figures and those who opine and speak for a living to do better than that, though? I know I’ve had some bad moments on the radio and in public presentations over the years, but surely there is a level of gabled thought and rhetoric that can be fairly taken as signature significance, and proof that a speaker just isn’t worth paying attention to.
Normally, I would be confident that a stunner like this would be a guaranteed winner, but, 1) this is Kamala Harris, and she frequently talks like English is a foreign languge and 2) her two most high-ranking Democrat colleagues, President Biden and Nancy Pelosi, are also likely to make no sense for extended periods, though in their cases…well, let’s just leave it at that.
On the Today show, Craig Melvin asked the eminently qualified Vice President—she’s “of color,”,female, and has a pulse—- whether it is time for the White House to try a new strategy to deal with the pandemic. This was Harris’s verbatim answer:
It is time for us to do what we have been doing and that time is every day. Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down.
The predictable appeal of racist “antiracism” cant to the world of scholarship and academia in the wake of the fraudulent George Floyd Freakout is producing amusing or frightening results, depending on one’s regard for higher education and resistance to despair.
Today’s sample of Authentic Frontier Gibberish, for example, comes from “Confronting “White Feminism” in the Victorian Literature Classroom,” recently published in the scholarly journal, “Nineteenth Century Gender Studies.” The author is University of California Professor Lana Dalley, who complains that Victorian feminists are “problematic” [There’s that word again!] because they promote “white feminism.” In other words, social commentators and writers of over a hundred years ago don’t seem to reflect the current approved woke perspective of 2021. This is, apparently, a surprise. Here’s her first paragraph, an AFG classic:
“The transition to virtual learning in Spring and Fall 2020 intersected with international protests for racial justice and, more locally, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, and Amy R. Wong’s call to “undiscipline Victorian Studies” by “interrogat[ing] and challeng[ing] our field’s marked resistance to centering racial logic” (370).(1) More specifically, they call for “illuminat[ing] how race and racial difference subtend our [Victorianists’] most cherished objects of study, our most familiar historical and theoretical frameworks, our most engrained scholarly protocols, and the very demographics of our field” (370). Since then, numerous virtual roundtables and panels have convened to discuss critical approaches to race within Victorian studies and to ponder the relevance of contemporary social justice movements to a field whose borders are historically drawn. This essay emerged from one such panel and offers practical suggestions for reframing pedagogical approaches to Victorian feminist discourses in order to “center racial logic” and “illuminate how race and racial difference subtend” those discourses.(2) Its suggestions are certainly not meant to be exhaustive, but simply to offer one set of practices for making the Victorian literature classroom more responsive to contemporary conversations about race and gender.”
“Authentic Frontier Gibberish,” or AFG, named in honor of Gabby Johnson of “Blazing Saddles” fame, is the public phenomenon of solemn and meaningful-sounding word clouds designed to make the naive and the barely educated (that is, most of society) feel certain that they are in the presence of superior intellect when in fact they are in the thrall of either con artists or morons.
Ethically, it falls somewhere under the categories of dishonesty, incompetence and disrespect, depending on the AFG culprit. It would be difficult to find a more blazing example than the “Gun Violence Prevention Policy” offered by Maya Wiley, the civil rights attorney and former de Blasio counsel who’s running for mayor along with approximately half the city. Gun-related violence has roughly doubled in New York City thanks to the weak law enforcement policies of her client, so Wiley is giving the same foolish voters who elected de Blasio twice a chance to emulate San Francisco and make the city even more dangerous and unlivable. At least I think that’s what she’s proposing. As with all “Authentic Frontier Gibberish,” it’s hard to tell, and that, of course, is the plan.
I’m going to stick with the summary, by your leave, but you can try to make sense out of the whole thing if you are a masochist or an optimist. One part of both that is frighteningly clear: Wiley pledges to “Reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion and invest those funds directly into the communities most impacted by gun violence.” The second part of that sentence is classic AFG, since “invest those funds directly into the communities most impacted by gun violence” is meaningless, but the first part is called “Defunding the police.” Almost 10% of the NYPD’s operating budget was cut in the last budget cycle, and the result was a crime wave. Obviously the best plan is to cut more!
John Stuart Mill (1806–73), was born on May 20, not merely the most important figure in ethics to have a connection to this day, but also the most important human being born on this day in the history of civilization—yes, even more than Cher, who turns 75 today. Mill’s refined the concept of liberty that required the freedom of the individual in opposition to state control. He was the most influential proponent of utilitarianism, the crucial ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham. He helped reform scientific inquiry and research, recognizing the pervasive risks of confirmation bias, by clearly explaining the premises of falsifiability as the key component in the scientific method.
Mill was also a Member of Parliament and a towering figure in liberal political philosophy. You have certainly heard or read his most famous quote: “A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”
A thorough biography and analysis of his work is here.
1. Justice Breyer doesn’t care about making sure the Supreme Court doesn’t get more conservative. Good. That’s not his job. Democrats realize that their control of the Senate is hanging by a thread, “thread” defined as a few superannuated Senators who could drop dead any second, giving the GOP a majority. Thus they are increasingly pushing Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 82, to retire now so Joe Biden can name an appropriately liberal replacement (who will also have to be female and black, vastly limiting the pool of possible choices without concern for actual legal competence.) “Breyer’s best chance at protecting his legacy and impact on the law is to resign now, clearing the way for a younger justice who shares his judicial outlook,” wrote Erwin Chemerinsky, the hyper-partisan dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley in The Washington Post this month. Got that? The 80+year-old Democratic Senators have to hold on to their jobs like grim death, but Breyer is being lobbied to retire. Hypocrisy, they name is Democrat! But it isn’t Breyer:
The Justice has been particularly vocal about the importance of not allowing politics to influence judges’ work, including their decisions about when to retire. “My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said last month in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment….If the public sees judges as politicians in robes, its confidence in the courts, and in the rule of law itself, can only diminish, diminishing the court’s power.”
I wonder if he’s read (or seen) “The Pelican Brief”…Meanwhile, research suggest that retirement tends to kill Supreme Court Justices. A paper in The Journal of Demography studied the effects of retirement by Supreme Court justices on their future longevity, and found that the effect of retirement was about the same as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The Democrats don’t care if Breyer dies sooner than later, though, as long as he does it when they can pick his successor, or after he’s quit.
“The way Trump…the way China will respond is when we gather the rest of the world that in fact [unintelligible] in in fr… in in in in open trade and making sure that we’re in a position that the world, uh, that that we deal with WHO the right way that in fact that’s when things begin to change, that when China’s behavior is going to change.”
—-Joe Biden yesterday, in an interview with NPR.
Why is this unethical? It’s unethical for anyone to run for any public office, especially President, when he or she is subject to outburst of Authentic Frontier Gibberish like that. To do so is irresponsible, unpatriotic, a breach of public duty, and dangerous.
Yesterday, I wrote about Rebecca Walkowitz, the English Department chair at Rutgers University, sending an email to the Rutgers community titled “Department actions in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” In order to “contribute to the eradication of systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and people of color,” she announced, the English Department will begin “incorporating ‘critical grammar’ into our pedagogy.” “Critical grammar” pedagogy “challenges the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, non-standard ‘academic’ English backgrounds at a disadvantage,” her email states. “Instead, it encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them w/ regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on ‘written’ accents.”
This, I concluded, was one more example of the solution to “systemic racism” being rammed down our metaphorical throats by the World’s Woke consisting of removing any standards that any segment of black America found the lest bit inconvenient or challenging—you know, like competing for jobs, SAT scores and having to obey lawful directives from police officers. I wasn’t the only one, though the report on this initiative came from the College Fix, a conservative site that reports on the leftist nonsense in our institutions of higher learning. There has been literally nothing about this episode in the mainstream news media. The New York Post—but that’s a Murdoch publication, so thus presumptively eeeevil—did have a brief editorial note about the matter:
“….Rebecca Walkowitz, vowed to incorporate “ ‘critical grammar’ into our pedagogy,” which will challenge “the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues,” so as not to put students with poor “academic” English backgrounds “at a disadvantage.” Another goal: “decolonizing the Writing Center.” How does lowering standards serve justice? Executive dean Peter March and spokeswoman Dory Devlin didn’t respond to request[s] for comment.”
Two esteemed Ethics Alarms readers, however, argued that I, as well as the College Fix and others, got her intent backwards. Heeere’s commenter Here’s Johnny (emphasis mine):
[I]n saying “Critical grammar pedagogy challenges the familiar dogma”, they are doing the right thing. The familiar dogma being challenged is that proper grammar is not important. That dogma came into play to cut some slack to students whose grammar was not perfect, for cultural, or native language, or other reasons. In challenging that dogma, Rutgers is saying that the phrasing of a message must be looked at critically. It may be that slang, or cultural ways of speaking are appropriate, or it may be that standard grammar is necessary. Students must know the difference and use what is right for the message and the audience.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) endured only a day of searing criticism before it removed its racist chart on “whiteness” from its website. The site replaced the graphic, which Ethics Alarms reproduced here and here and never wants to see again, with this statement:
At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we believe that any productive conversation on race must start with honesty, respect for others, and an openness to ideas and information that provide new perspectives.In that context, we recently unveiled “Talking About Race,” an online portal providing research, studies, and other academic materials from the fields of history, education, psychology, and human development.Our goal in doing so was to contribute to a discussion on this vitally important subject that millions of Americans are grappling with. Since yesterday, certain content in the “Talking About Race” portal has been the subject of questions that we have taken seriously. We have listened to public sentiment and have removed a chart that does not contribute to the productive discussion we had intended. The site’s intent and purpose are to foster and cultivate conversations that are respectful and constructive and provide increased understanding. As an educational institution, we value meaningful dialogue and believe that we are stronger when we can pause, listen, and reflect—even when it challenges us to reconsider our approach. We hope that this portal will be an ever-evolving place that will continue to grow, develop, and ensure that we listen to one another in a spirit of civility and common cause.
On Ethics Alarms, the term “Authentic Frontier Gibberish” is used to describe “intentionally (or sometimes just incompetently) incoherent double-talk used by politicians, advocates, lawyers, doctors, celebrities, scientists, academics ,con artists and wrong-doers to deceive, obfuscate, confuse, bore, or otherwise avoid transparency, admitting fault, accepting accountability or admitting uncomfortable truths. The term comes from “Blazing Saddles,” in this memorable scene.
It sometimes arises from incompetent communication skills, which are unethical for anyone in the public eye to employ. Sometimes it is more sinister than that, and occurs when someone chooses to create a vague word cloud that obscures the speaker’s or writer’s real purpose…and sometimes the fact that they are frauds. Sometimes AFG is designed to convey a feeling while avoiding sufficient substance to really explain what he or she means.
Sometimes, it feels like gaslighting.
A New York Times article was ostensibly about “Dealing with Bias in Artificial Intelligence.” This was, obviously, click-bait for me, as the topic is a developing field of ethics. The introduction stated in part, “[S]ocial bias can be reflected and amplified by artificial intelligence in dangerous ways, whether it be in deciding who gets a bank loan or who gets surveilled. The New York Times spoke with three prominent women in A.I. to hear how they approach bias in this powerful technology.” The statements of the first two women—I see no reason why only female experts on the topic were deemed qualified to comment—were useful and provocative.
Last, however, was Timnit Gebru “a research scientist at Google on the ethical A.I. team and a co-founder of Black in AI, which promotes people of color in the field, [who] talked about the foundational origins of bias and the larger challenge of changing the scientific culture.”
Here’s what she said (Imagine, the Times said this was “edited and condensed”! ). The bolding is mine.. Continue reading →