Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Debate. And Other Equally Weird Incidents.

1.  I tried to watch the Biden-Trump debate last night but instead my television gave me a show where two kindergarten children were having temper tantrums with red faces, bulging eyes and a lot of fist-shaking, and the supervising teacher was a powerless ninny.  Well, one of the children threw most of the tantrums and refused to listen to the teacher/moderator*, so then the other child had to also yell and bellow, in order to get any attention at all.

Sadly, that was the debate in the presidential elections of the still most powerful country on earth.  I had to turn on closed captioning as I was unable to understand what was being said.  That could have been because I am not a native speaker of English but more likely it was because neither is really Donald Trump.

It was all a waste of time, as more time had to be spent reading what the two men had actually said and also counting all Trump lies.

2.  My keyboard is old and has given me lots of trouble, recently.  Pressing the h-key gives five h's and then I have to delete four of them, and pressing the comma-key gives three commas.  The reason, my friends lies deep behind the keys.  Years of muck.  Today the Command-key stopped functioning which made copying and pasting impossible.  So I took a corn cob fork to the keys.

That is not the recommended approach, mind you, but now my keyboard works again.  However, I also removed the space-bar and only then went to the website where they tell you that under no circumstances should you remove the space-bar as it is extremely difficult to put back.

Indeed, and even more difficult if the microscopic pieces of white plastic playing some role in the behind-part of the bar fly high into the air and then disappear into the darker corners of the room.  But I DID put the space-bar back, and although it looks drunken it works.

3.  What has kept me from turning even weirder than I already am, in these times of the horrible plague, is my garden.  The plot is not large but it is full of plant and animal life, including hundreds of bees and even quite a few butterflies.  Also robins which are so tame that when I have my breakfast sitting on the steps they try to steal my croissant.  

There is a wonderful beauty in the way the garden dies for the winter, and nothing smells as delicious as good soil in the autumn.  I love the combination of the scattered late flowers, bee-covered, with the yellowing ferns and the bright red dogwood leaves.

I also have a surprise late flowering from a plant with white lacy flowers.  I bought it at a plant sale a year ago as chives.  

The thing is:  It's not chives, and I am not at all sure that it even belongs to the alliums or is edible.  I didn't know that earlier so chopped the leaves up and put them in an omelet, though I did notice that they didn't seem to have any flavor.  This is called a natural experiment which establishes if a plant is poisonous or not (do not attempt at home).

The sad thing, of course, is that the plant was sold as chives.  But that Donald Trump is the leader of the so-called Free World is much, much sadder.


*I kept sternly telling the moderator to mute his mics, but he didn't listen, either.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Short Post on Trump's Candidate For The Supreme Court

Donald Trump thinks that replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett on the bench of the US Supreme Court is an excellent idea.  After all, wimminz is wimminz, right?

Bader Ginsburg was an incredible fighter for the law to treat women and men fairly*.  Coney Barrett's views on what fair treatment might be are likely to be just a little different as I wrote in 2018  when she was also considered for the court.

If they can, the Democrats should refuse to grant Coney Barrett a hearing before the elections, the way the Republicans did in 2016 with Obama's candidate to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.


This source lists five laws which Bader Ginsburg championed before she became a Supreme Court Justice.  Reading the list is also a good reminder of how very recent many of those changes are, even though most of us now take them for granted.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

On The Markets For Surrogacy And Sex Work


On Surrogacy


A July NYT article frames the question of surrogacy as pitting two progressive causes (feminism and LGBT+ rights) against each other.  It also introduces us to a rather surprising concept of fertility rights:

While plenty of New Yorkers have formed families by gestational surrogacy, they almost certainly worked with carriers living elsewhere. Because until early April, paying a surrogate to carry a pregnancy was illegal in New York state.

The change to the law, which happened quietly in the midst of the state’s effort to contain the coronavirus, capped a decade-long legislative battle and has laid the groundwork for a broader movement in pursuit of what some activists have termed “fertility equality.”

Still in its infancy, this movement envisions a future when the ability to create a family is no longer determined by one’s wealth, sexuality, gender or biology.

“This is about society extending equality to its final and logical conclusion,” said Ron Poole-Dayan, the founder and executive director of Men Having Babies, a New York nonprofit that helps gay men become fathers through surrogacy. “True equality doesn’t stop at marriage. It recognizes the barriers L.G.B.T.s face in forming families and proposes solutions to overcome these obstacles.”

Notice how "creating a family" and "forming families" are used in that quote.  It's quite clear that they are not including adoption as one way families can be formed.

Though this particular article focuses on gay men and fertility,  the "fertility equality" concept would actually apply to people, in general.  That right to pass one's genes on would not apply only to, say, gay men, but to all individuals, whether partnered or not, including all who are either medically infertile or who don't have physical access to a uterus, sperm or eggs.

After reading that NYT piece I felt uncomfortable and a little scared.  On the one hand I truly sympathize with all who yearn to have children and cannot, for whatever reason, and I also understand the activists' argument that heterosexuals have always been in a better position to pass their genes on than homosexuals, and that there is a certain existential unfairness about that.

On the other hand, my mind flashed me pictures of a dystopian future where a certain sub-class of women, largely defined by abject poverty and possibly also by race or ethnicity,  would become global breeders for the wealthiest socially or medically infertile individuals and couples.

The clear dangers this new movement would pose, should it become widespread, ought not to be swept under the progressive carpet:  The increased demand for surrogacy it would create would be satisfied by poor women with few other income-earning alternatives (1), and the clear power imbalance between the two parties in any such surrogacy contract would require, as a minimum, strong regulatory oversight (2). 

I also don't agree that any of us has a fundamental right to biological parenthood, though I do believe that we have the right to refuse it (3).

But my discomfort with this story has also to do with the way it plays across the sex classes male and female.  While the benefits from easier access to wombs (as well as to eggs and sperm when surrogacy is interpreted in a wider context) are likely to be greater for men as a class (4), the negative consequences of that easier access are almost completely concentrated on women as a class:

The medical risks of donating or selling sperm are minimal, but egg donations or sale require the injection of hormones and an invasive procedure (under sedation) to retrieve the eggs (and nobody seems to have studied the possible long-run health effects of that), and gestational surrogacy (5) is at least as risky as pregnancy in general and probably even riskier.

More importantly, the commercial market legal surrogacy creates is best understood as one of the markets (6) which sells or rents access to the sexual/reproductive parts of the female body.  Though labor markets, of course, can in general be viewed as sites where we rent out our bodies (and minds) for various tasks, the difference here is that the markets trading in access to the sexual/reproductive parts of male bodies are extremely tiny when compared to the markets trading in access to the sexual/reproductive parts of female bodies.

That difference matters when judging the desirability of markets for legal surrogacy.  It matters even more when we remember that globally we are still quite far from true equality of men and women and that in some parts of this world women have little say over how their bodies might be used.  In such places a vibrant market for surrogacy could create yet another way for others to exploit vulnerable women.  Surrogacy can become a big business and those most likely to financially benefit from it are probably not the surrogates but the owners of surrogacy agencies.

On Sex Work

Sex work (7) is another example of a market where most of the trading is about access to the sexual/reproductive parts of the female body.  Although both men and women work in prostitution, the majority of those working in the industry are female.  What's even more fascinating is the fact that pretty much all of its customers are male (8).
I believe that those characteristics of this market place should be kept in mind when we debate such questions as the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution, the Nordic model, sex trafficking and so on:  The supply side consists of mostly women while the demand side almost entirely consists of men. 
Remembering that difference matters, because it is not only the sex workers (and the managerial level employees (including pimps) as well as those who own the industry) who are affected by the various initiatives; it is also the customers of the industry.  
For instance, decriminalization also decriminalizes the consumption of paid sex while the Nordic model only decriminalizes the sale of sex.  The former benefits the consumers of commercial sex, the latter does not.  One consequence of this is that decriminalization of sex work is likely to cause a greater increase in demand for commercial sex than the application of the Nordic model.
I do not intend to dive into the turbulent debates currently taking place around the question of whether it would be a good idea to decriminalize all sex work (9).  But I do want to point out that much of that debate ignores the fundamentally gendered structure of the sex industry and so treats the generic sex worker as an individual apparently equally likely to be male as female (10). 
The position of women in many countries is still very unequal with that of men and this results in a power imbalance between sex workers and their clients.  Thus, the conditions under which sex workers operate deserve extra-careful scrutiny and monitoring, both to minimize the danger that people are being forced into the industry as well as to protect the bodily safety of the workers and to stop them from being exploited by the owners of firms in the industry.


(1)  Places where paid surrogacy is or has been legal include Russia, India and Ukraine, though India is in the process of curtailing it. There are negative reports from Ukraine on the unregulated aspects of the industry, including ill-treatment of the surrogates, but the country has been a popular destination for foreign couples seeking a surrogate.  

Likewise, some earlier reports from India talk about the exploitation of the surrogates while others point out that surrogacy is one of the few available ways for the poorest of women to improve the lives of their families and themselves.  I was unable to find out much about the Russian surrogacy industry except that it seems vast and caters to foreigners looking for a surrogate and that a recent human trafficking case exists against some surrogacy agencies.

(2)   Those able to afford surrogacy are likely to be much wealthier than the women agreeing to be surrogates and this gives the former more power.

And, as Gloria Steinem noted in her letter opposing the new surrogacy law in New York state, creating a market for surrogacy is not that far removed in its risks from allowing a commercial market for, say, kidneys, and it should be scrutinized equally rigorously.  

The new New York law does provide some safeguards against the exploitation of the surrogate, but in my opinion it still has several problems, including the fact that it places no upper level on how many surrogacy pregnancies a woman can undertake.

(3)  I mean that in general, not in the sense of judging different groups of potential parents against each other.  This is because becoming a genetic parent requires the participation of another person and results in yet another person being born, and the well-being of those other individuals also matters.  

The danger in using the rights-language in this context is that it disguises the possibly unsavory ways in which those rights could be satisfied by ignoring the well-being of others.  The commercialization of women's reproductive systems is one of those unsavory ways.

 (4)  Because Lesbian (female-bodied) couples, to pick one example, are much less likely to need a surrogate than gay couples as in most cases they already manage access to a uterus.

It's also true, however, that the situation where commercial surrogacy is illegal offers Lesbian couples more alternatives to having their own genetic children than it does to gay couples.  This is because it is easier to acquire sperm than eggs and acquiring those is far, far easier than finding someone who is willing to undergo pregnancy on behalf of others for altruistic reasons, the only kind of surrogacy which is allowed when commercial surrogacy is ruled out.  And gay (male-bodied) couples don't have wombs.

(5) A gestational surrogacy does not use the surrogate's egg(s).  This means that she is not genetically related to the child she produces. 

 (6) The others, today,  are markets for sexual services of various kinds.  A historical example of another similar market is wet nursing.

(7) This term is often used very widely, to include not only what is called prostitution but also the creation of pornographic material, exotic dancing and so on.  It is also sometimes applied to people who do no direct sex work, such as owners of escort agencies or pimps.  In this post I use the term to refer to only direct hands-on (!!) type of sex work.  Prostitution would be the closest match to the way I use the term in this post.

(8) Indeed, the term "sex work" doesn't tell us that the work is aimed at bringing sexual relief not to every adult but to a mostly male clientele.  There is very little sex work aimed at the female market out there.

I realized that last night, so want to share it with you! 

It might be time to remind everyone that although most consumers in the markets for sex are men, most men are not consumers in the markets for sex.  Likewise, although most sex workers are women, most women are not sex workers.  The point, of course, is not to make false generalizations or to attribute genetic guilt to, say, all male-bodied people. 

(9)  Because all my haz mat suits are in the laundry, but also because to say something meaningful requires empirical evidence I have not been able to find.  

The amount of evidence that is needed is so enormous that I can't even think of a quick way of summarizing it, but it should certainly cover thorough demographic, earnings and life-long health information on large samples of sex workers, from the highest paid escorts to those who work in the streets,  the actual hierarchical structures of sex work firms and the profits they make, comparative data from countries with different legal rules about how to handle prostitution and how those differences affect sex trafficking and the well-being of sex workers, and so on.

The online debates I have followed tend not to employ empirical data but are most often based on anecdotal evidence which might apply to one case but not to other cases and tell us little about the overall statistics. 

(10) This is common in the statements activists make in social media, but it also crops up in newspaper articles in the absence of any clear reference to the heavily gendered nature of the commercial sex work industry.  
One example of this is an April New York Times article discussing the impact of the coronavirus on sex workers and on those who make money out of posting erotic pictures and videos of themselves on sites such as OnlyFans.  
The blurb under the title of the article states: "More of us are making and watching sexual performances online now. Fewer of us are paying", and inside the body of the article there are multiple references to "people" doing this work and to "people" consuming it.

To be fair to the New York Times, a 2019 article on the OnlyFans site does address the gendered nature of the industry.  But it seems to be increasingly common to describe sites as that one in very gender-neutral terms.  Two recent examples are this one and this one.

If I had to speculate about the reasons for this apparent shift I would pick the general desire to remove the stigma from sex work, to treat sex workers with respect, and to focus on those aspects of the work which can be found in all types of work.  Those are laudable goals.  I just don't think they require hiding the very unequal distribution of men and women on the two sides of the commercial sex market.
As an interesting (and long!) aside, many online debates on sex work ask the question if sex work has any special characteristics which distinguish it from all sorts of other legal jobs people have and which could therefore be used to justify keeping it illegal.  
This question is usually raised in exchanges where someone first argues that it is the dangerous and unpleasant aspects of prostitution which set it apart from other jobs and someone else then argues that many other jobs are also dangerous and unpleasant but are not made illegal, so why should sex work be singled out for a different treatment?

The usual candidate for that legal-but-also-dangerous-and-unpleasant-job is coal mining.  When I saw that exchange for the first time I immediately started thinking about any possible differences between sex work and coal mining (as something to do when I couldn't fall asleep at night).  
The most obvious one, of course, is the fact that sex workers are overwhelmingly female while the consumers of commercial sex are almost all male.  Coal mining is slightly different:  While coal miners today are also overwhelmingly of one sex (male), those who consume the coal they mine are not mostly female.
Another difference in how these two jobs are viewed is pretty visible to anyone who has spent time in social media. Have you ever seen an angry comment on Twitter, say, call someone "a fucking coal miner," say?  Yet it's not at all uncommon to see angry comments, usually (but not always) by male commenters, which call someone "a fucking whore."  The target of such slurs tends to be female but not always. "Whoring," for example can be aimed at male politicians whose policies the angry person doesn't like.

So sex work is viewed differently from, say, coal mining in that those who perform it are stigmatized and the work itself is a common metaphor for deplorable forms of behavior of various types.

I believe that the above two differences start fitting into the overall puzzle about how coal mining differs from sex work, in more general terms,  when we add a third difference between the two jobs:

There are non-market alternatives for the former but not really for the latter.  What that economic jargon means is that the most common way people have sex is not by exchanging money for it,  but as non-financial exchanges of pleasure in a romantic or at least friendly relationship such as marriage.
Ideally, sex within such a relationship is based on mutual desire and results in mutual pleasure, though of course reality may not match that ideal image.  Nevertheless,  the stigmatization of sex work may have partial roots in the bitterness and hurt someone might feel for having to pay for sex rather than being sexually desired as a person without any exchange of money being necessary.  The angry use of terms denoting a sex worker may originally be born from that hurt.

More generally, I believe that markets for the access to the sexual/reproductive parts of female bodies present a special case largely because they are commercialized alternatives to what we usually view as the functions of marriage or similar non-market arrangements and because these alternatives do not benefit men and women equally.





Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Harpers Letter on Justice And Open Debate And What Followed. Act III.


For part 1 of this post go here and for part 2 here.


Finally, the last part of this post which I should not have framed as a play.  Perhaps as a metaphoric marathon crawl across silences of various kinds?




Anyway, this is the finale of this post.  I am going to begin with the reactions to the Harpers letter.  They are quite diverse, ranging from enthusiastic agreement (1) with the message of the letter to most adamant disagreement.    

Some responses aimed for an analysis of both sides in the debate, though not necessarily in a neutral manner, some saw the original letter as much ado about nothing, and several pointed out that the current voices accused of practicing cancel culture are also the voices which have traditionally been silenced (2), and that those who wrote the original piece as well as most of those who signed it are certainly not without a platform even if some of them have faced attempts of deplatforming (3).

So what is the overall conclusion from all this?  I don't think there is one, but that is partly because different writers chose to debate different issues.  It is, indeed, true that debates today are open to many groups which were previously silenced, and it is also true that most of the original signatories of the Harpers letter have no real risk of being pushed off their pedestals by the cancel culture or by deplatforming.  And having a wider arena for debates, with more participants, is something we should welcome.

At the same time, the form such interactions takes is of importance, and it matters that all relevant evidence can be discussed.   I believe that it is useful to keep our focus on that question and to try to keep it separate from the question who it is who today is mostly using the cancelling method and whether we like the political opinions of that group or not.  This is because the method itself has no political label and is 'inclusive' of all sides.



The second act to this post covered most of the extra influence anonymous online access has had on the cancellation phenomenon:  It has super-charged it.

But in this it has also been helped by many employers' greater willingness to fire workers whose online opinions, even private ones,  are seen as causing the firm awkward PR problems (4).  

The case of Emmanuel Cafferty might be one of the more extreme examples of what can go wrong when the accusers and the judge are essentially the same anonymous online presences:

What happened to Emmanuel Cafferty is an especially egregious example. At the end of a long shift mapping underground utility lines, he was on his way home, his left hand casually hanging out the window of the white pickup truck issued to him by the San Diego Gas & Electric company. When he came to a halt at a traffic light, another driver flipped him off.

Then, Cafferty told me a few days ago, the other driver began to act even more strangely. He flashed what looked to Cafferty like an “okay” hand gesture and started cussing him out. When the light turned green, Cafferty drove off, hoping to put an end to the disconcerting encounter.

But when Cafferty reached another red light, the man, now holding a cellphone camera, was there again. “Do it! Do it!” he shouted. Unsure what to do, Cafferty copied the gesture the other driver kept making. The man appeared to take a video, or perhaps a photo.

Two hours later, Cafferty got a call from his supervisor, who told him that somebody had seen Cafferty making a white-supremacist hand gesture, and had posted photographic evidence on Twitter. (Likely unbeknownst to most Americans, the alt-right has appropriated a version of the “okay” symbol for their own purposes because it looks like the initials for “white power”; this is the symbol the man accused Cafferty of making when his hand was dangling out of his truck.) Dozens of people were now calling the company to demand Cafferty’s dismissal.

By the end of the call, Cafferty had been suspended without pay. By the end of the day, his colleagues had come by his house to pick up the company truck. By the following Monday, he was out of a job.

Cafferty is a big, calm, muscular man in his 40s who was born and raised in a diverse working-class community on the south side of San Diego. On his father’s side, he has both Irish and Mexican ancestors. His mother is Latina. “If I was a white supremacist,” he told me, “I would literally have to hate 75 percent of myself.”

The point of that long excerpt is not to ask you to judge if the firm was correct in firing Cafferty (5), but to see why the most cost-effective alternative for any ordinary firm facing that same PR disaster just might  be to fire the possible culprit as fast as possible:  

The problem would go away (all those emails would stop), no customers would be lost to boycotts, and replacement workers willing to do the fired person's job are usually a dime a dozen in the labor market.  

This is especially the case when the presumed violation is one which almost everyone in the society deplores and when the trade union movement is weak or nonexistent.   

In these circumstances a firm stating that they are going to take their time studying the case would probably be accused of siding with the unpopular cause, and certainly so if the firm then declared the worker as most likely innocent of any wrong-doing.  In other words, all practical considerations would recommend speedy firing as the best way to sort out the PR nightmare the firm is facing (6).

But this, in turn, raises the costs of participating in online political debates and reduces the likelihood that debates will be open (7).  Thus, while one observer argued that the spinelessness of the institutional leaders is not the fault of those who have contacted them, the two phenomena (aggressive online pressure groups and leaders unwilling to take unpopular positions) work together to reduce the likelihood of truly open debates.



A fairly recent argument against speech which does not directly incite violence is that it can make individuals hearing it feel unsafe and should therefore be prevented as harmful.  

I saw this referenced in a few of the articles addressing the Harpers letter and its signatories.  The proposal that college campuses should be safe spaces to students (or at least to students from historically marginalized groups) is a familiar one to most of us (though I, for one, had not realized that it had migrated into the post-college world).  Thus, we might get a clearer picture on how safety concerns might operate in public debates by looking at the term inside its original home:  some progressive universities.

What does it mean to argue that speech is harmful because it makes those who hear it feel unsafe on campus?  Getting a precise answer to this question is tough for an outsider, as I found out, but some light might be cast by the following definition of a safe space:

A place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations … student volunteers put up posters advertising that a "safe space" would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting

Also, I found  these two different ideas about the concept of campus safe spaces thought-provoking:

What do we even mean when we talk about “safe spaces?” Today, it’s particularly difficult to have productive conversations <sic> safe spaces due to the term’s multiplicity of definitions. For example, a recent Slate article criticizing the UChicago letter explained that “‘safe spaces’ on campus typically describe extracurricular groups that are intended to be havens for historically marginalized students.”

That’s certainly one meaning of the term. Emotional refuges like OSAPR and Room 13 as well as cultural groups are often referred to as “safe spaces.” With this definition, “safe” denotes emotional protection. These groups provide students the opportunity to feel secure in times of distress and dysfunction, and they also provide a sense of community. Few would dispute the importance of these emotional spaces on campus. 


But there’s another different (but also beneficial) type of “safe space”: academic safe spaces. The idea of an academic safe space stresses the end goal of encouraging individuals to speak. In this type of space, people are still made to feel uncomfortable, yet it’s “safe” to take intellectual risks and explore any line of thought. Here, “safety” protects your right to make others uncomfortable with ideas and rational arguments. It’s important to note that in this setting, free speech is the end goal. This type of safety is commonly emphasized in in classrooms and discussion groups, where open dialogue is particularly valuable.

The author of the quoted piece suggests that the confusion over the term "safe" could result if these two definitions are fused together.  In other words, one type of safety seems to imply that debates should be limited while the other type of safety suggests the opposite.  Which of the two (if either) would better describe the concept of safety in current political debates, including the debate about having or not having debates in the first place?

My impression is that it is the first definition of safe spaces I gave above, having to do with emotional protection against potentially "threatening actions, ideas and conversations" (8), though other interpretations are possible.  For instance, what's called unsafe in some online debates could be a hybrid of these two concepts, mixing together the desire for emotional protection with the desire to have one's own framework of ideas centered or at least prominent within the debate (rather than ignored).

As I write in footnote (8), the idea of safety in open debates is well worth further exploring (9).  Nevertheless, as the concept is currently used it is likely to stifle debates.  

That's because there are no third party independent judges who would decide when a particular speech indeed is so harmful that it makes others unsafe well past some level of minor discomfort. Instead, the current setup gives the rights of defining what is harmful speech to one side of the debates (the one which declares that they feel unsafe).  This clearly offers opportunities for exploiting the concept in ways which can contribute to cancel culture and limit important speech, including in cases where rights clash and open debate about the necessary compromises is required.

My understanding of what the word "safe" might mean in this context is limited, because I am very much outside the sub-culture in which the term has flourished.  But it sounds to me a little like the way some right-wing religious people use their faith in political debates:  

Certain issues must remain outside any debate because bringing them into the debate would be close to blasphemy, in particular when an atheist addresses them.  One cannot criticize god or a believer's interpretations of what god wants, just as one cannot inquire what makes some speech so dangerous that hearing it makes someone feel fundamentally unsafe.

While it is possible to respect the reasons for such feelings, they nevertheless serve to close down debates.



This post has had such a long incubation period because it is about silences, and the more I tried to grapple with the topic the more quiet I turned.  I am not sure if the three parts of this post contain anything very useful for others, but they have clarified my own views about this topic.  

I believe in debates as a means of learning.  That learning is not limited to finding out what my ideological opponents are saying and what evidence they are marshalling in support of their arguments, but also extends to greater understanding of my own views about the topic under debate.  

I especially benefit from studying any information that the other side presents by going to investigate the original sources I am provided,  and also by going on my own hunting trips for evidence which the other side in the debate does not wish to be made available.

The process is not always pleasant.  In fact, the more threatening I find the topic the more uncomfortable the process is.  But then going to the dentist because of an infected tooth is not pleasant either, except in comparison to letting the infection continue unchecked.

But there is also always a certain kind of joy in learning more, even when the process is somewhat unpleasant, and at the end of all the work I do I get the rewards of knowing more about the issue being debated and having more trust in what I might be able to contribute about it in future debates.

It is for these reasons (which I believe have wider applicability) that I deplore the negative online influences on today's political debates.






(1)  As one might expect, the most enthusiastic agreement with the criticisms comes from the political right, both in the US and in the UK.  But if we were talking about the previous round of this culture the condemnation of it would have come from the left because that previous round was employed by the right.  Thus, purely politically motivated discussions of the issue are ultimately not very informative about the devices that cancellations use.  And let us not forget that Donald Trump is very much one of the major users of attempted cancellations against his perceived enemies.

I also think that what someone's opinions on this issue are is almost completely dependent on which particular examples that person has come across.  That subjectivity is something I noticed on my first reading of the materials and also something I pointed out in the first post of this series, because it is the way I approach the topic, too.  

It would be far better, of course, if we could discuss the cancel culture on the basis of some generally approved statistical surveys or studies which list frequencies, classify the cases in terms of relevant characteristics, and so on, and which also give us good general data on how common the most violent types of cancellations are.  But I know of no such study or survey.  Indeed, given the current ideology bubbles, I wonder if any such study would ever be accepted by all sides in the debates about debating.

(2)  This is an important criticism.  But I believe that the Internet offers those previously not allowed into the debating room other equally powerful tactics which also contribute their voices to the debates.  

This is not the case in all countries, particularly those where the government openly censors speech, but in the US, say, it is possible to create a platform for speech with very little money (if any) and it is also possible to vigorously comment and participate in existing online conversations and to create numerically large and therefore powerful online communities which can take political activism further.

(3)  The term "deplatforming" comes initially from universities or their student unions stopping  certain types of speakers to speak, thus denying them a platform. When universities do this they simply don't invite certain controversial speakers in the first place to speak on campus.  When students do this they lobby to get invitations cancelled, or if unsuccessful in that, try to disrupt the event.

The term is no longer limited to universities and other such organizations, but is now also extended to, say, the banning policies various social media sites use, including Twitter and Reddit.  (That Reddit has such banning policies is, of course, infinitely amusing from a different angle:  Its existence is very much based on misogyny and the objectification of the female body for porn purposes, and those two aspects are never ever banned away.)

Deplatforming, in my opinion, is not exactly the same as cancelling someone, though both tactics now use some of the same online methods such as doxxing.  

In its original form, when applied to campus speakers,  deplatforming meant preventing someone from speaking in a particular place when that speech itself was considered harmful by the group doing the preventing, while cancellations apply to the consequences of already delivered possibly harmful speech.  I doubt the distinction matters much in practice, though. 

 As an aside, I have always viewed deplatforming as one of those strategies which fall into the gray zone for me.  In my opinion most speakers should not be deplatformed, though some should probably only be offered a platform if an opposing voice is included in the same physical debate.  

But I do make a distinction about those whose speech has no other purpose than to incite violence (they should not be given a platform) and also about those "hate speakers" who bring no actual evidence to their arguments.   The former speech is actually harmful in a very real sense (check what happened in Rwanda) and the latter is a complete waste of everyone's time as well as being rather insulting to many in its audience.

I also believe that deplatforming can sometimes backfire on those who desire it: Trying to hide what someone says might make more people curious about learning what on earth that might be, and those people could then be led into sources where the criticisms that would have been presented in an open debate are not equally available.


(4)  The earlier examples of cancel culture which aimed at getting people fired appear to have focused on universities.  Often the targets of cancellation were professors who expressed far left opinions in a private capacity and the mobs hunting them consisted of right-wingers.  This is still the case, although both left and right wing views can make non-tenured professors vulnerable for being suspended and/or for not getting their contracts renewed.

What's different between that earlier case and the current events is that it is considerably harder to get, say,  a professor in a public sector university fired than it is to get a truck driver fired.  Professors there have First Amendment rights, tenure provides partial protection against attempts to fire them and  the American Association of University Professors serves in the capacity of a professorial trade union.


(5)  Cafferty's employer did state that they investigated the case against him but refuse to discuss the evidence which they decided was sufficient to result in his firing.


(6) Especially if the worker is an unimportant one.  The rules they are different for famous people, of course.

Ethics might direct the firm in a different direction in even the cases where an ordinary worker is accused of hate speech, and so does more daylight on the possible cases where innocents have been cancelled.


(7)  Imagine trying to learn all the banned hand gestures so that your fingers don't accidentally make them! Then imagine that you have to use the same kind of scrutiny in every tweet on all subject matters, trying to make sure that not a single person anywhere can misunderstand what you are trying to say.  Conversations become very porridge-like in their clarity.

(8)  Right-wing articles have used that to label progressive college students as fragile snowflakes who cannot take any kind of vigorous debate without melting.  That is a silly interpretation.  

To see why, consider this imaginary example:

A college invites a guest speaker to give a lecture on the topic of the intelligence of conservative students, and it is known that the speaker has argued elsewhere that conservatives are less intelligent than liberals.

Which group of students on that campus might now be made uncomfortable by that lecture?  Which group of students might find that (made-up and untrue) topic threatening?

The point of that example is that speech of the kind which would make any student feel uncomfortable does not fall out of the sky like snow, covering everyone equally.  

In particular, those most likely to call others names such as "fragile snowflakes" are also least likely to have, say,  their own basic worth questioned in such speech because they stand on higher rungs of the societal power ladders and controversial speech tends to be aimed at the lower rungs.

The above does not mean that we should never debate controversial topics.  But it is important to consider the differential impact such speech has on different sub-populations and to keep in mind that the two sides in a debate of this kind have very very different stakes in the game.

(9) And that exploration should also focus on all the other safety risks the cancelling of online speech can create:  That innocent people might be accidentally doxxed and then harassed, that misogyny, racism and other similar -isms can be used to cancel speech and that the chaotic online processes created by avenging angels sometimes overshoot their goals and end up punishing a person for a fairly minor infraction in ways which can destroy that person's life for years.








Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Harpers Letter on Justice And Open Debate And What Followed. Act II. The Online Cancel Culture.

For part 1 go here and for part 3 go here.


What does canceling mean in the context of political speech

It does not mean making fierce, critical, or even rude comments about something someone has written or spoken when the intention of those is to debate the issue at hand (1).  That,  my friends, is joining the debate, though any moderator certainly has the right to mute that rudeness and should censor any ad hominem attacks. 

Some have said that it is like cancelling the snail mail when you go on that beach vacation or like canceling your subscription to the New York Times because they front-paged an article written by mentally disordered weirdo, wouldn't let anyone comment on it and you can spot three factual errors in it and that gives you dyspepsia on the beach. (2)

Others have compared it to boycotting a store for its policies, refusing to buy its products and refusing to frequent its premises.  From this angle the canceling of an idea or a person or an organization is similar to a commercial boycott:  You refuse to buy it and enlist others to join your boycott.  

That gentle definition doesn't fit most of the online cancellations I have observed in real time.  They are more like first boycotting a store, then standing outside its windows equipped not only with protest signs and megaphones but also with rotten eggs and perhaps even projectiles for breaking the windows, and when the store finally closes (because the protests never end), making certain-sure that it can never ever open for business again, not even in a busy commercial area where competing stores sell products which directly counteract the messages of the store which is considered harmful. (3)

It is possible to cancel an idea or a person, the above rough definition states, but in practice the way to cancel an idea is to cancel everyone who  tries to express it.  Thus, in the rest of this post cancellation refers to people getting cancelled though of course the real goal is to get ideas cancelled by turning them into something so costly  to utter that nobody will.

Cancelling people for political speech has a long history.  It has been practiced by governments (4), by political parties from both sides of the aisle, and by powerful business interests.  Although the current cycle is one where the cancel culture (5) has support on the left or far left (6), it was fairly recently thriving on the right or the far right and is likely to do so again in the future.  

Thus, the explanation for the existence of a cancel culture cannot be derived from the political leanings of those who are currently pushing it or even from the seismic changes that the Internet has created by providing almost everyone with instant anonymous access to individuals someone, somewhere,  might like to cancel.

But the Internet, and especially the rise of social media do affect the special flavor of today's cancel culture:  

1.  Anonymity means that joining in the cancelling of someone comes now with minimal personal consequences.   It's an almost no-risk romp for those who like to express their anger and to feel their power by joining in a faceless mob of avenging angels.   And it is far, far easier to cancel someone when one can stay a long distance away from watching the real-world effects of that cancellation on, say, the cancelled person's family. 

2.  Even numerically very small ideological groups can create viable online coalitions powerful enough to cancel a person for wrong-speak because the costs of coalition building are minimized, and, perhaps for the first time in history, disadvantaged groups can get together online and so join in the historical trend of wielding the shining sword of those who cancel (7).

3.  The Internet makes cancelling a person so easy.  It provides instant access to much juicy information, ranging from the person's family and employer to the person's professional affiliations, religious ties and even any recreational group he or she might belong to.  

Many of those can be almost instantly contacted by email to increase the chances that something very unpleasant or at least inconvenient will happen to the wrong-speaker, and this can be done at the same time by several avenging angels!   

This saturation tactic is probably the most vicious aspect of mob-led social media cancellations (a death by thousand paper cuts) because it is executing a sentence given by no judge or jury and because the person so sentenced might, in fact, be innocent of any wrong-doing (8).  But even if wrong-speak can be "proven", turning this process on can magnify any intended punishment out of all fair proportions.

All these reasons explain why a cancel culture is particularly likely to thrive in the cyber era.  That is a poignant and bittersweet thought about the Internet once thought to herald in the era of truly open and free democratic debates, accessible to all and not just the most privileged few.


Act III, the last part of this post, will focus on some additional characteristics of the current round of the cancel culture and on the responses of those who disagreed with the Harpers Letter.  I hope it won't take quite as long to write as this one did...

(1)  If the intention of an arranged online pile-on of such comments is to silence the person rather than to  add to the debate on the topic, then we might be talking about an attempt to cancel someone.  
You can usually tell when that is the case because the behavior of the attacking mob looks like heckling (nananaIcannothearyou) and  because no answer to the criticisms thrown at the accused will be accepted for further debate.  Rather, the same initial accusations are repeated without end.

Two  articles giving more detailed definitions of what cancel culture might mean are by Emily Yoffe and Jonathan Rauch.
(2)  No, that person was not Donald Trump but of course Donald Trump would also qualify.
(3)  After much thought I have decided to keep the actual harmfulness of the message largely out of how to evaluate the cancel culture. 
There are messages which can be extremely harmful, even lethal (think of Nazi propaganda about the Jews in the 1930s or the radio propaganda in Rwanda before the Rwandan genocide), because they incite violence, either directly or indirectly. Those should be "canceled" by the government or whoever is in charge of a particular private speech platform. 
Things can get very hairy when it is the government itself which promotes lethal propaganda against some of its own citizens.  Ideally, though, the question what constitutes harmful speech in the legal sense should be defined and debated in a democratic process open to all the citizens.
But this is not what the current debate is about.  Rather, it is about the use of cancellation (to stop all debate on certain issues) by much more informal coalitions of individuals or even online mobs where the identities of the participants are unknown or known only as pseudonyms.   
It is these entities which then decide which messages are harmful and which are not.  That decision process is neither transparent nor democratic.  It cannot be questioned by outsiders and its decisions cannot be appealed.  
And that is the problem.  Some of the messages which have been cancelled in this manner through social media activism I also see as harmful or potentially harmful.  
But that doesn't turn those who cancelled the individuals spouting such ideas into avenging angels (think long shining swords, white wing-feathers) worth praising.  The process of cancellation is still opaque, undemocratic and liable to result in excessive sentences for minor thought crimes.  
Besides, in the next decade those in charge of the cancel culture might be the top demons from hell (think red horns, long shining swords, black hooves and tails).  So no, the ends cannot justify the means.

(4)  Including government departments which go feral.

(5)  I assume that the term "cancel culture" is used to refer to a Zeitgeist where canceling people to cancel ideas is either approved of by many or at least not disapproved of by many.  Today the term would mean that individuals on the far left are likely to use and approve of the use of cancellations.

(6) It would be interesting to study if the use of cancelling people for bad speech is linked to  authoritarianism which is a character trait that those on the far right and on the far left have been argued to share.  
Another interesting question concerns the possibility that the so-called Dark Triad (DT) traits which one recent study argues to be more common on what roughly equals the far left and the far right might be the reason why the cancel culture has at different times appealed to these particular political sections.  I quote from the study:
It is possible therefore that DT traits do not influence left vs right political orientation in the same manner as the Big Five (i.e. openness to experience and conscientiousness predict political left and political right political orientation respectively), but rather influence the strategies that that people use to achieve their ideological goals. For example, right and left oriented individuals high in trait psychopathy might use similar aggressive means to achieve their goals, despite such methods being inconsistent with traditional, compassionate, left-oriented values. 
A safety warning:  I have read the study but have not scrutinized its methodology.

(7)  The benefits to disadvantaged groups from that inclusion are enormous, overall,  and so are the resulting benefits to the whole society.  
My point, not intended to be flippant, is that with that deserved increased access to political debates comes increased access to practices which close down debates.  The former is fantastic and should very much be exploited by all who have an interest in an issue.  The latter?   Well, not so fantastic.

(8)  Both in the sense that the insulting speech may have been misinterpreted and in the sense that a surprisingly large number of people share identical first and last names and even professions which increases the odds of cancelling someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the original argument.  And, of course, in the sense of the three examples in this Atlantic article.


Friday, July 31, 2020

The Harpers Letter On Justice And Open Debate And What Followed. Prologue And Act I.

For part 2 go to here and for part 3 here.


You are going to lurve this story

It is about pizzas (and who doesn't like pizza (1)) and it is about Domino's Pizza in far-away and exotic places.  That would be in New Zealand and Australia.(2)  There the advertising people had a brilliant idea to spread a little warmth and human kindness around (and, ultimately to sell more pizzas) by offering a free pizza to all women whose first name is Karen.  Their actual, real first name, that is.

The backstory, for those who have not spent much time in social media recently is this:

A giveaway, titled "Calling all (nice) Karens" was posted on the pizza chain's Australian and New Zealand pages.
It asked those named Karen to tell Domino's in 250 words how they were one of the "nice ones".
"The name 'Karen' has become synonymous with anyone who is entitled, selfish and likes to complain," Domino's chief marketing officer in the region, Allan Collins, said while introducing the offer.
"What used to be a light-hearted meme has become quite the insult to anyone actually named Karen.
"Well, today we're taking the name Karen back.

You get their intention, right?  It's a little ham-fisted and I would have written it differently, but their point was to try to be nice to people who might have been suffering a little from watching their first names being rolled in human excrement and then used as pissoirs.

Well, what happened, you might ask.  The promotion in Australia is going on as planned while the New Zealand promotion had to be canceled.  This was because of a social media backlash:

The offer was immediately criticised, with many arguing "Karen negativity" was an issue that affected mostly "privileged white women".
"Most of the time Karens are entitled privileged white women. If a few people actually called Karen can't handle the meme they should try handling 400 years of oppression," said one user on Twitter.
"When you wanna reward more privilege to the most privileged in our society," another said.
Some brought up recent incidents where women were accused of acting like "Karens".
"Please Dominos, stop. Karens ask to speak to the manager and actively try to get low wage workers fired. Karens put people at risk by refusing to wear a mask. Karens don't need your defense," said another Twitter user.

Now that is some hilarious shit. 

After I stopped laughing (howling) at those quotes I wondered where the education system of such an advanced country as New Zealand could have gone so wrong (3) that many cannot tell the difference between Karen-in-the-meme and Karen-as-the-actual-real-name of actual real people who may have nothing (4) in common with the demographic group Karen-in-the-meme demonizes or with those nasty, entitled and racist white women whose antics are portrayed in many popular videos circulating in social media.

Act I

The above made me think about the famous Harpers Letter On Justice And Open Debate, signed by over 150 fairly famous journalists, writers and academics from both sides of the American political aisle and with many different specializations. 

I had just finished digesting not only that letter and the letter (with 180+ signatories) which was written in response to it,  but also a respectably large number of additional pieces of prose on the topic. 

Some of those agreed with the contents of the letter, some disagreed with those contents, while yet others demanded to know why certain named individuals had signed the letter even though other, quite nasty individuals also signed the letter. 

Were the former aware of the presence of the latter in the list of signatories?  And if so, why didn't they refuse to sign the letter?  And if they were not aware of the presence of wrong-thinkers, why didn't they ask their own signatures to be withdrawn later? (5)

Some signers did withdraw their signatures later, though not because others had demanded it.  Some who had not signed the letter (and perhaps not even asked to sign the letter) wrote in great detail about what someone else signing the letter meant for them. 

Almost everyone, however, reacted to the letter from their own standpoint.  In other words, they interpreted the vague words of the letter as code which actually referred to episode x in their own political career or political issue z which they had worked with. And so on.

Although I write about all the reading I did in a flippant tone (my hazmat suit today), I have no intention to belittle the issues the articles raised.  Indeed, while I was reading the various takes on the possible meaning of the letter, on the timing of the letter, on the signatories on the letter etc., I found myself agreeing at least a little with some parts of each article I finished.

And hence the need to take time to digest everything.  What did I/me/myself think about these issues?  The "eureka" moment then happened: 

I realized that I, too, was unable to approach the entirety of the arguments in the initial letter from any other starting point than my own personal online reading and writing experiences!

Was this, then, one of the beneficial outcomes of open debate?  For though the debate I carried on took place only inside my own head it certainly was quite open, because it was fed with a vast amount of arguments, facts and opinions.

This realization pleased me, and it looked like a fairly good reason to have more open debates:  They might make us learn more.

But if I hadn't come across that pizza debacle I might not have written on the Harpers letter, and the reason is that parts of it rang very true to me: 

The rules of debate have changed on us, without any particular group or individual having done that changing (though some boo at the changes while others applaud them), and the costs of being misunderstood or, perhaps, and more to the point, of being accurately understood can be far higher now than they ever were in the past.  Though this is not true for everyone in all contexts, it is probably true for almost everyone in some contexts.

This is because the online world creates a new kind of debating environment.  I wish to expand on that topic later in this post, but as a gross simplification every single online communication, however private it might feel,  should be viewed as the communicators yelling in extremely loud voices while the whole world listens to them.  And judges them.  And just might decide to punish them in some ways for that communication. 

The world, as we all know, is full of both wonderful and horrible things, and the horrible ones tend to be drawn to certain types of speech by certain types of people, like ants to honey. 

I have no desire to be the honey and I have real ants in the kitchen. 

Besides, I have been a most polite online arguer for such a long time that I have worn through all my hazmat suits and my thick turtle shield lets light through.  The negative consequences which might come from discussing challenging ideas now outweigh all the pleasures of the search for answers, the pleasure of getting good feedback and good respectful push-back and the pleasures of learning. 

And I do sometimes feel that many more Twitter debates now turn from mere bickering to something quite nasty and even frightening than was the case even five years ago.  Though most of that is, I believe, due to the characteristics of Twitter itself and not due to the people using it, the risks simply seemed too high for me to assume in my current condition.  Besides, I don't really have anything truly new to contribute. 

That was how I at first talked myself out of writing on this issue.  But then the pizza came, and I saw that I was avoiding the "open debate or not" (6) debate because I subconsciously expected it to turn into a clone of the pizza debacle. 

The people who "won" that particular debate didn't actually debate better!  They didn't even debate on the actual topic of the debate!   But  Domino's Pizza allowed them to win because it feared the power of a bunch of anonymous social media commentators to affect its ethical reputation and its revenue stream.  The anonymous commentators, on the other hand, had nothing to lose from playing this game.

And to the extent that pizza example resembles the state of today's debates, or at least their worst state, perhaps staying silent and demure isn't an acceptable ethical choice for me.

So whatever it is worth, the rest of the post will go on and on and on about various aspects of today's debating climate, as seen by me.  I will begin by looking at why having instant access to millions of strangers might create problems for those who are trying to control the contents and the scope of any particular debate topic.


(1)  I love a white pizza.  I would love other colors on pizzas, too, but, alas,  I get migraines from tomato sauce and tomatoes.  The world of food is not a place of justice.

(2) They are exotic places because I have never been there.  I so want to see the cassowary before I change planets but, alas, this doesn't look likely now.  They are also exotic places for having accepted Domino's pizza there as if it was a valid food product.

(3)  Not enough cassowary time between lessons?  Or would that be in Australia?  I refuse to learn geography because it is too late. In any case the social media denizens were probably Americans pretending to be Kiwis.

(4)  And by that I mean that all sorts people might have that name.  Not all are white, not all are middle-aged, not all are middle class, and most are probably ordinary nice people, just like the rest of us.

(5)  This is "guilt by association" and has to do with a particular authoritarian mindset which is not terribly uncommon on the far right or on the far left, one which sees the world in all-or-nothing, black-or-white terms and has great trouble with nuances. 

People with that mindset are not necessarily wrong (or at least not always wrong), but debating them feels like rowing a water-logged boat against the stream and every step one takes is a misstep.  That should explain why I feel grumpy about them.  

I am aware of the alternative interpretations for the guilt by association.  For instance, if you frequently  eat free finger food at the cocktail parties capitalists organize in Washington DC,  you might not then be the most objective of labor reporters.  Achtung:  That was a made-up example.  I don't know a single labor reporter and I made the whole story up.

But if it upsets you I shall obviously cancel it! 

(6) The adjective can be contested, although it is not completely untrue.  Debates in the past were open in one sense but very closed in another also important sense. 

There were always people not invited to participate in the debates or even allowed to sit in the audience.  That specific aspect of closing the debate from some disadvantaged groups, say, is gone thanks to the online environment.  Well, mostly gone.   

Friday, July 24, 2020

Roy Den Hollander. On Murders And Online Misogyny.

 The Online Incel Movement As Domestic Terrorism

  While lounging in my sick bed I bookmarked lots of stuff for potential blog posts, because I always hoped I would feel better the following day and wanted to be ready (1).  Many of those sources will now never be used as the world of news now moves so fast that even a week-old scandal provokes little interest.

Still, I did make a note of the fact that Canada is now treating a murder based on the online incel theories as an act of domestic terrorism (2):

Police in Canada are treating a machete attack in which a woman was murdered and two others injured as an act of terrorism, after discovering evidence suggesting that it was motivated by violent misogyny.
The move is thought to be the first time that terrorism charges have been brought in a case connected to the so-called “incel” ideology.

The case involves a seventeen-year-old boy who entered a massage parlor in Toronto last February, killed one woman and attempted to kill (at least) another woman.  He was already facing first degree murder and attempted murder charges which have now been raised to the terrorism charge because:

In a joint statement, the RCMP and Toronto Police Service said their investigation had determined the attack “was inspired by the Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremist (IMVE) movement commonly known as INCEL.”

This case joins several earlier cases of murders and mass murders which can be at least partly attributed to various online misogyny sites (3), and at least two other attempts at violence in the US also have incel motivations at their root (4).

When I read about this most recent incel murder case I planned to use it to focus on the dangerous role online hate sites have because of their bubble nature: 

It is not that such sites exist which is the biggest problem (though it is very unpleasant and sad to realize how many people hate perfect strangers they have never met), but their insular nature, the way anyone proposing a more nuanced view is instantly banned, thus maintaining the "purity" of the world inside the bubble,  and the way they distort data, theories and interpretations so that only the most deranged arguments are allowed to prevail.  As at least some of those who frequent such sites are mentally vulnerable individuals (who will also be victimized by the false information they receive concerning their pain), the resulting combination is flammable.

I wrote about my worries about these sites many years ago.  I even contacted some authorities and people expert in the relevant fields.  I don't remember all the responses I received, but I do remember that a common advice was to ignore the incel sites, because they represented an extremely tiny minority, and giving them attention was going  to make them grow.  Besides, what could anyone do about them?

Now that particular advice, about ignoring the sites,  seems extremely misplaced.  But it's the advice many of us follow when we come across a concentrated form of extremist hatred.  It is certainly a common strategy in how many learn to live with the existence of violent misogyny and the easy online access to it. 

Misogyny is sometimes seen as just one of the unavoidable flavorings in our cultural stew and trying to fight it is seen as both pointless and unproductive, like trying to hold back the tide with your hands. I think this is a common form of mental coping:  One minimizes and isolates the risk, tries to avoid it as much as possible while also avoiding thinking about it.

Roy Den Hollander

This is the background against which I read the recent news about the murders Roy Den Hollander committed.  Hollander was a lawyer and a well-known Men's Rights Activist (MRA) who firmly believed that the world was governed by feminazis. He spent much of his career suing institutions for what he viewed as discrimination against men (5). 

Those suits were well known to some of us.  I wrote about one of them in 2009 and the New Yorker wrote a long profile of Hollander in 2007 when he sued nightclubs for charging men more than women at the door. 

Re-reading those now makes me shocked with the rather sarcastic tone of both, including mine.  But then sarcasm and ridicule are also among the few tools that ordinary citizens can use to cope with misogyny or with any other similar hate.  Indeed, it seems to me that Hollander was largely tolerated by many, though that tolerance might have been laced with sarcasm.

Two years ago Hollander received a terminal cancer diagnosis.  It seems  that he decided to go out with a bang by taking some of his favorite enemies with him.  Thus, earlier this July he traveled from New York to California where he killed another Men's Rights lawyer, Marc Angelucci with whom he had had a disagreement.  He then returned to New York and attempted to kill Judge Esther Salas, but succeeded in only murdering her young adult son, Daniel Anderl, and in wounding her husband, Mark Anderl:

Roy Den Hollander gunned down Judge Esther Salas' son in New Jersey on Sunday and badly wounded her husband.

The gunman dressed as a FedEx delivery man before opening fire at their North Brunswick home, police said.

Den Hollander wrote on his website that the jurist was "a lazy and incompetent Latina judge appointed by Obama".

A package addressed to Judge Salas was found inside his car, sources said.

After this second murder and attempted murder, Hollander apparently took his own life.  It is at this time unclear whether the list of names found among his belongings was a longer planned hit list or not.

What Turned Hollander Into A Murderer?

Time, now, to try to understand what motivates men like Hollander to go on a killing spree.  Is it purely a mental health condition, akin to being utterly obsessed with an inaccurate explanation for his rage and unhappiness?

Is it misogyny?  Or is it something similar to the way some ancient rulers had their favorite concubines, horses and slaves killed to accompany in the afterlife? Or was it his badly failed marriage to a Russian woman and some generalized anger he felt at and about her that was the beginning of all things going wrong?

I am not sure that we need to select only one of those explanations, because the next-to-last one is based on the same feeling of entitlement which caused Hollander to rage at feminists and women in general.  His mental health appears to me to have been broken a long time ago, too, and he clearly was closely involved with online misogynist sites, in particular the MGTOW, a movement advocating that men should try to live their lives without any contact with women, but also pretty much based on pure misogyny as the justification for that choice.

Then the truly difficult questions:  Could Hollander have been turned away from the violent path he chose to pursue, and if so, how?  Is it possible that the society at large, and many of us, chose to ignore his clear misogyny and rage at uppity women, and that it is this particular path we are too often taking, as a society?

Could the court system itself have somehow intervened when it became crystal-clear that he was suing all possible entities as a private vendetta?  And what are the responsibilities of all those online misogyny sites which actually may have been able to reach him? 

I don't have the answers that we need, but I do wish to finish with a quote from one of the newspaper articles I quoted, because it reflects something which deserves more attention (6):

“Misogyny is probably the most overlooked ideology that fuels men’s violence, '' Horgan said. “This ideology is out there, it's pervasive, and we are barely paying attention to it outside dramatic acts of violence like this."



(1)  It was not possible to write in the state I was in then.  Whenever I tried, I made more spelling mistakes than words and every chain of thoughts ended up in a knot.  Even writing a shopping list was hard work, like trying to swim across a pond full of oatmeal porridge. 

At the same time, my creative thought processes worked just fine (well, at least fast) and produced the most outlandish and hilarious models of the world and people in it!

(2)  The state of Texas in the US also regards the incel movement as part of domestic terrorism.  Though it is not that important how the threat is named, it is important to take it seriously, and if naming it a form of terrorism helps in that I am all for it. 

(3)  Elliot Rodger was a well-known mass murderer motivated by his feelings of entitlement to sex and by his beliefs in the theories of the online incel movement.  In 2014 he killed six people and injured fourteen others in Isla Vista, California.

Chris Harper-Mercer murdered nine people at an Oregon community college in 2017, citing Rodger as an influence. Scott Beierle shot up a yoga studio in Florida in 2018, killing two women and injuring four other people. Alek Minassian ran his van into a crowd in Toronto in 2018, killing 10 people and injuring 16, and also cited Rodger as an influence.

(4)  Some more recent cases of violence based on the incel movement are these:

Emmanuel Deshawn Aranda threw a 5-year-old boy over a railing at the Mall of America in a fit of outrage that women wouldn't have sex with him.
In May, 20-year-old "incel" Armando Hernandez live-streamed his shooting spree at an Arizona shopping mall, apparently targeting heterosexual couples. Just last month, another "incel" blew his hand off trying to make a bomb designed to kill "hot cheerleaders".

The total number of killings so far attributable to the movement in the US and Canada is around fifty.

(5)  Some of his suits, such as the one against the male-only military draft, can be defended, or at least understood, on feminist grounds, too, though of course the draft is not currently in use.

Others, however, were considerably more frivolous.  I wrote about his 2009 suit which argued that having women's studies in colleges without men's studies is discriminatory.  The problem with that suit was that the women's studies were created because much of the rest of all universities were all men's studies at the time.  (How weird to think that women's studies are a vanishing breed today!  Hollander got his way, I guess, even when not winning the suit.  Or others got his way for him.)

But it is crucial to realize that Hollander did not base his suits on the idea that men and women might have some inherent kind of equality and that this has been violated by what he weirdly saw as an anti-male bias in a world run by feminazis. (Isn't that hilarious?  Feminazis are a dying breed, too, now, and only a few years ago all sorts of weird people saw them running the world).

His views about women seem bifurcated:  On the one hand he was one of those nudge-dudge-did-you-see-that-rack-walk-past guys (with strong feelings of entitlement to those bodies) and on the other hand he venomously hated both feminists and professional women.  He also criticized one men's rights movement part in a way which tells us about how he defined masculinity and femininity:

“I don’t belong to that group of wimps and whiners,” he wrote. “They’re trying to win back their rights by acting like girls instead of men.”

Hollander certainly detested feminism, in general, and wanted to toss as many hammers as he could find its works.  But his grievance lists were odd.  From 2007:

He reached into his pocket and produced a typed forty-one-point list headed “Discrimination against men in America.” (Sample gripes: child-custody laws, circumcision, “5% of females have borderline personality disorder.”) “What I’m trying to do now in my later years is fight everybody who violates my rights,” he continued, bringing to mind a combination of Leon Phelps, Che Guevara, and Travis Bickle.

I call his grievance lists odd because they are actually mostly not grievances against something women have created. 

The draft, for one example, was made men-only because the military in the US (and in all other countries I know about) earlier explicitly excluded women from serving in the military.  Even today those who fight against women's presence in the military are often men who share the other anti-feminist values with Hollander.

Likewise, the cheaper door charges for women in nightclubs is something the clubs created for business reasons:  Lower door charges for women will attract more female customers, more female customers will attract more male customers looking for a date.  Thus, the reason why women "enjoyed" this perk is not because feminists demanded it.  In fact, the underlying reasoning is pretty sexist and objectifying, because women are used as bait for the fatter wallets of the men they attract.

(6)  I have never heard of a mass killing which would have been motivated by misandry.  Indeed, none of those supposed feminazi-rulers-of-us-all that Hollander so hated ever engaged in acts of murder on misandric grounds (and most likely on no other grounds, either).  I think it's worth thinking about this difference.