Thursday, January 24, 2013

Orwellian Speech Codes & Cultural Marxism

I recently read an anti-harassment policy in place at an ivory tower institution across the pond. It is hardly unique - there are countless such policies in place at institutions on this side of the pond.

By its terms, the anti-harassment policy defines “harassment" as "unwanted conduct" touching upon to a "relevant protected characteristic, which has the . . . effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual." There is a laundry list of "protected characteristics," essentially anything to do with a favored victim class of the left. The list includes race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and gay marriage.

Amazingly, the standard for determining harassment is a subjective one: "It is not the intention of the harasser, but the conduct itself and the impact on the recipient(s) that determine what constitutes bullying and harassment." Thus it doesn't matter how a reasonable person would respond to certain speech or conduct, nor does it matter whether the speech was non-discriminatory and legitimate. Driving that point home, the policy does not contain an exemption for expressing facts nor opinions grounded on fact.

Because of the subjective standard and lack of any exemptions, this is not a policy designed to reasonably protect against harassment or actual discrimination. It is a wholly unreasonable weapon to be used by those pursuing a left wing agenda to stifle any speech they don't like. It is cultural marxism, where any criticism of a victim class or a person in a victim class, no matter how justified by fact, is in effect criminalized and subject to official sanction by the institution. There are countless examples of such policies being used to punish legitimate speech (see here, here and here)

To put it into perspective, what would happen if I said that FBI crime statistics show that half of all homicides in the U.S. where the criminal is identified have been committed by black men, even though blacks as a whole represent only 13% of the population. And what if I further inferred that this is evidence that the culture of lower socio-economic blacks is severely violent and dysfuntional. Or what if I pointed out that in the UK, most of the gang rapes are committed by Muslim men whose religion (or at least certain sects, such as Wahhabi and Deobandi) sanctions the rape of non-Muslim women and casts them as third class citizens. Thus there is a real problem with Islamic religion and "civilized society" as we in the Western World define that term.

Nothing that I have said in the paragraph above is in any way discriminatory. My merely stating those truths does not mean that I believe in the inherent inferiority of blacks or Muslim culture. And the fact that a black or a Muslim or a person of the left may not want to hear those truths does not mean that raising them is unreasonable (which should always be the baseline standard for harassment). Those truths are legitimate societal problems that at some point need to be faced. Yet I would probably be savaged and brought up on harassment charges were I employed by an institution with a pc speech code. Should I be?

Leaving aside the First Amendment which is peculiar to the U.S., in any institution where the standard for official sanction is "reasonable cause," the argument must be that there is an implied right to speak fact and opinion with an objective basis in fact as a complete defense to charges of harassment or discrimination. If that standard applies, then - and only then - will such anti-harassment policies as the ones I've described begin to come close to their purported purpose - to protect employees from actual harassment and discrimination. Otherwise, such codes, with their subjective standards, are merely a political and cultural weapon to force new left wing moral absolutes on employees.

Update: An interesting exchange on O'Reilly last night, where left of center Kirsten Powers that the left is less tolerant of any dissenting views. Another guest on the show, "Kate Obenshain, agreed with Powers, saying that when conservatives on college campuses openly disagree with liberal orthodoxy, they are charged with “violating the campus speech codes.”

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