Social justice caught up to Sarah Silverman
Sarah Silverman has finally been cancelled (well, sort of). One of the riskiest and funniest comedians of the 90s and 2000s had recently pivoted to become a woke scold in a desperate attempt to save her career. Or maybe she really believed it. Either way, it seemed to be working, until it wasn’t.
This week it was revealed that Silverman was fired from a major movie project because of her previous work, namely, an anti-racist sketch that she performed in blackface. Of the sketch, she told GQ: “That was such liberal-bubble stuff, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism. I don’t get joy in that anymore. It makes me feel yucky.” It made her employers feel yucky, too.
Is Dr. Jordan Peterson a “gateway drug” to the alt-right? Heterodox Academy has published a research summary that attempts to answer that question. What’s weird is that these kinds of questions keep being asked of a mild-mannered psychology professor and author who has helped thousands upon thousands of young people straighten out their lives.
This study used machine learning tools in a similar way that Becca Lewis did in her infamous and debunked Data and Society report. (Lewis, by the way, was recently caught spreading misinformation about Peterson and his daughter on Twitter.) It also cites as evidence this panic-driven Cornell study that embarrassingly refers to moderate Conservative Canadian MP Michelle Rempel as “alt-lite” (whatever the hell that means).
Much of Peterson’s draw has been from the young, white, male community, and once he realized they were listening, he has reached out to this demographic. This is the same demographic that, in the spirit of righting old wrongs, has been so vilified. However, to say that he reached out to this demographic because of their identity would be a mistake.
Prior to the YouTube video on pronouns that sparked his international fame, Peterson was giving lectures on religion, mythology, and virtue. He was talking about the importance of personal responsibility and the lessons of western culture. The people who wanted to hear how they could change their lives for the better, without waiting for an organization, or government, or society to change it for them, listened. Once Peterson emerged onto the bigger stage, that message was amplified, and even more people were able to hear it.
Are those people hateful? Are these folks who go to YouTube to try and make themselves better, bad? How can this be quantified? The way that these people are organized into groups is pretty much arbitrary, as are the groups they are classified into. Studies like this look first at viewers because it is so hard to quantify what constitutes hate speech.
What this means is that instead of trying to identify the language that is hateful, those who are “hateful” are identified, their language analyzed and tracked across the platform. After users have been assigned to groups based on perceived identity, the language within the channels used by those groups is deconstructed to see where it overlaps.
This is the information that is used to determine whether or not Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a “bad guy” or whether he should “do better.” The conclusion is that he isn’t quite, but he should do better somehow, use different language. The idea is that he should not make himself attractive to those individuals who may otherwise tend toward disenfranchisement. We’ve got to a point where a person’s perceived proclivity is enough to make them untouchable.
But here’s the thing: Jordan Peterson’s entire project is not about identity, not even a little. It’s actually anti-identity. Identity politics is being grafted over him where it does not actually exist. The reason people feel comfortable doing that is because we live in an identity-based age, where it is assumed that everything boils down to identity eventually. It is probable, even likely, that for many people, identity factors are irrelevant to how they live their lives.
The authors claim that they do not want Peterson to “self-censor.” But then they go on to say, “Instead, we would encourage Peterson et al. to consider ways they may be able to make the same points, just as forcefully, while avoiding a particular set of tropes.”
What is “avoiding a particular set of tropes” if not self-censorship? You can use as much window dressing as you want on your authoritarianism but it doesn’t change the fact that you are an authoritarian.
Sometimes a problem requires a simpler explanation. Yes, there are bad actors in the world. And yes, the internet is full of them. The alt-right spreads hate and panic and their vile ideas must be combatted. But the notions of guilt-by-association or guilt-by-proximity that studies like this propagate are dangerous and counterproductive. We used to know this.
Peterson has been able to tap into the hated white cis male category of people, and for that he is vilified. It’s been determined that people who fall into that identity category are a problem, but they deserve compassion, too. How people are identified is not always how they identify, and either way, a person’s identity should never be used against them. We used to know that, too.
Peterson is as clear and concise as possible, and if his ideas reach people who are operating in the world in dangerous, destructive ways, there’s every reason to believe that they will rethink that behaviour. Not all audiences can hear the same message in the same way. If these angry young people can’t hear messages of inclusivity, anti-racism, and personal responsibility from the trending leftist sources, there must be voices, like Peterson’s, speaking in a way that they can hear.
Regardless of their mindset, these young people do not deserve to be lost, tossed aside, or dismissed. Their lives have meaning and Peterson tells them that. The truth of the matter is that Jordan Peterson has been a great force for deradicalization in ways that are not easily explained by elaborate data sets. There are countless examples people whose lives have been improved by his advice that will never be tracked by IP address or pixel.
It seems strange that of all platforms, Heterodox Academy, which purports to promote “open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning,” would run such a narrowly defined piece of research. It appears to be the kind of identity-obsessed scholarship that Heterodox Academy usually fights back against.
We live in an era that depends too heavily on machine learning. Peterson preaches the exact opposite of this: deeply personal, human, and humane learning. He is not easily quantified because his message based in neither identity nor algorithm, but in classical values. Concepts that can’t be instantly categorized as either left or right don’t have a place in the easily digestible, portion-controlled ideological landscape.
In No Nut November, the question “To fap or not to fap?” has become fraught with legal danger. This whimsical internet challenge has grown in popularity over the years alongside the scientific battle over whether or not pornography can become addictive.
By mid-November, those would-be abstainers who don’t take the challenge seriously likely already failed to remain the “masters of their domain” but the academic war will continue long after the end of the month.
Neuroscientist and sexual psychophysiologist Dr. Nicole Prause is currently facing two defamation lawsuits filed in US courts as a result of this battle. On Twitter, Prause has declared herself to be the victim of multiple SLAPP suits (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) after years of ongoing harassment. Prause has also claimed that her anti-porn adversaries have stalked her, threatened to rape her, and engaged in general misogyny including falsely accusing her of being paid by the porn industry.
The defamation suits accuse Prause of lying about being stalked, threatened, or harassed by them in any way. The statements of claim say that these are false accusations by Prause and that her public accusations are the only actual harassment taking place. In affidavits attached to the lawsuits, ten different people, including four women, claim to be personal victims of Dr. Prause.
This is not just a Twitter war.
Most people think anti-porn activists to be radical feminists like Catharine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who sought to censor pornography as a civil rights violation and form of human trafficking.
In a strange twist of events, over the last decade, it has been a growing number of young men who have turned against the near limitless fap machine of internet pornography. This quickly increasing demographic has flooded websites like NoFap.com, seeking help for what they have self-described as an addiction to porn.
For some experts, like Prause, the claim that people can become addicted to porn is not only scientifically unsound but, she says, potentially dangerous. Those who oppose porn are often painted as religious science deniers, causing damage to people by morally shaming natural human sexuality. But other experts disagree.
The question of whether or not excessive pornography use can lead to addiction, actually causing physical changes to the brain, has yet to be decided. In the meantime, thousands of mostly young men seeking help online are being demonized as misogynistic for identifying pornography as a cause of their distress.
The complaints from these men include, but are not limited to, erectile dysfunction in the presence of a real-life partner, difficulty achieving orgasm during intercourse, social anxiety and escalation in their viewing habits which causes them to seek out more and more extreme forms of pornography in order to maintain their physical and psychological arousal.
The variety of pornography available online certainly ranges into extremely concerning areas, like rectal prolapse, and most people clicking from one video to the next are bound to quickly come across something this shocking.
In an email exchange with The Post Millennial, Dr. Prause commented “We know it is a low-desire behaviour, people do not actually engage in rosebudding play very much at all. I wonder to what extent some videos on “porn” websites really are just clickbait not expecting a sexual response. That is, all the pornographers want is clicks. It’s how they make money. If you see ‘anus actually falls out’ I would be really horrified…and really curious.”
For those who are struggling with a pornography consumption habit they feel has taken over their enjoyment of life, their curiosity has led many of them to believe they have an addiction.
But, how did this academic dispute escalate into civil lawsuits? It depends on who you ask.
The battle between Nicole Prause and her adversaries seems to have kicked off in March 2013 when an article by Dr. David Ley, titled “Your Brain On Porn: It’s Not Addictive,” was published in Psychology Today promoting a Prause study that had not yet been published. After a critical blog response was published, both posts were removed pending the publication of the research. The author of the response blog, Gary Wilson, also happened to be the owner of a website called “Your Brain On Porn” which was mentioned by name in the original article.
Wilson has chronicled the six-year dispute on his website and, when put on a timeline, which includes Prause’s complaints to licensing boards and attempts to have people fired for sexual harassment or academic fraud, most of the events appear to be initiated by Prause herself.
For example, on January 29, 2019, Prause attempted to take trademark ownership of the website name and domain “Your Brain On Porn.” Gary Wilson, who has regularly been accused of stalking Prause, took this move as another attack upon his work.
When asked about this event, Wilson told The Post Millennial that he received an anonymous tip that Prause had filed an application for his domain, which he then opposed. Without this tip, he may have lost his website and body of research. Prause finally withdrew her application on October 18, 2019.
Meanwhile, in April 2019 a website called “Real Your Brain On Porn” and a matching Twitter account were created which were ultimately found to be connected to Nicole Prause, though registered under the name of someone else. Prause provided The Post Millennial with the final report from the intellectual property investigation by WIPO and confirmed that this is one of the actions against her which Prause is calling a “SLAPP suit.”
Prause explained her motivation to acquire Wilson’s website as an effort to eliminate what she believes are defamatory accusations about her and which she considers to be evidence of a cyber-stalking behaviour. The website currently hosts a lengthy compilation of events and documentation in which Wilson presents Prause as the harasser.
The first defamation suit was filed against Dr. Prause and her business, Liberos LLC, in May 2019 but it was not Gary Wilson who took this legal action. It was filed by neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Hilton Jr after Prause contacted the university where he teaches as an adjunct professor and made a complaint alleging, among other things, that Hilton had engaged in sexual harassment.
Hilton’s own research on behavioural addiction stands in stark contrast to Prause’s conclusions and they have frequently clashed over the pros and cons of pornography use. Hilton was one of the first to criticize Prause’s EEG study released in 2013.
In his lawsuit, Hilton vehemently denies having harassed Prause and claims that her accusations were designed to cause maximum damage to his reputation. Prause’s motion to dismiss appears to admit to the contents of the emails she sent but claims freedom of speech and “the right to petition” as her defence.
Hilton’s lawyer, Dan Packard, told The Post Millennial that “no person can falsely accuse an academic rival of sexual harassment in a deliberate attempt to silence that rival and then successfully hide behind the First Amendment. ‘Free speech’ can never be used as a sword to silence academic discussion and debate.”
An article published in Reason heavily questions the way Prause framed her claims of sexual harassment. Interviewed for that article, “UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment specialist, questions Prause’s ‘novel and pretty dangerous’ definition of sexual harassment.” In the context of her complaint, it reads as if all criticism of her scientific work has been reconstructed as an attack on her as “a female scientist.”
But the second lawsuit moves well beyond an academic dispute.
The founder of NoFap.com, Alexander Rhodes, states in his lawsuit that he was caught in the crosshairs after he was featured in a July 6, 2016, New York Times article called “Internet Porn Nearly Ruined His Life. Now He Wants To Help.” Two days after publication, Prause and a colleague, Dr. David Ley, appear to ridicule Rhodes on Twitter and, in a now-deleted tweet, Prause described Rhodes as a “neckbeard.”
Rhodes’ statement of claim says the harassment escalated two years after this event when he alleges Prause began publicly accusing him of stalking and threatening her – an allegation which he denies. In an affidavit Rhodes states “I would never willingly subject myself to unnecessary communication with Dr. Prause.”
Prause has also publicly alleged that she filed FBI complaints against both Rhodes and Gary Wilson but in both cases, an FOI filed by the accused failed to produce any evidence of the reports. On the other hand, Wilson has posted evidence on his website that he filed a complaint against Prause after speaking with an FBI agent in December 2018.
The legal system is still struggling to determine where free speech crosses the line into actionable defamation in online disputes. The question of who “started it” can lead to an endless rabbit hole in which all involved are accused of “sock puppetry” (creating multiple fake usernames) and online mobbing. Most certainly, things have gone too far when employers are being contacted, lawsuits are being filed in court, and it starts to involve the FBI.
Dr. Prause recently tweeted that she reported a fundraiser aimed at helping Rhodes raise money for his legal bills. Prause alleges, despite the existence of the lawsuit, that this fundraiser is fraudulent.
While Rhodes’ personal Twitter account has been set to private, the NoFap account tweeted their astonishment over these events saying “This is like the alcohol industry trying to take down Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Rhodes’ lawyer Andrew Stebbins provided The Post Millennial with the following statement:
“Mr. Rhodes is and always has been an eager and willing participant in the provocative debate surrounding pornography addiction, and is openly receptive of honest and fair criticism of his work, views, and opinions. He will not, however, tolerate malicious personal attacks from those who seek to discredit, disparage and otherwise injure him through false statements designed to assassinate his character and reputation. This case is brought solely in response, and properly limited in scope, to such attacks.”
In a recent Vice article, Prause is quoted saying “”Alexander Rhodes and NoFap’s lawsuit has no merit nor do his libelous and unfounded assertions regarding me, my character, or my business,” adding that Rhodes is “entitled to his opinions, however he is not entitled to spread complete falsehoods about me to profit himself and silence speech.”
The author of the same Vice article then goes on to call NoFap’s principles “slippery,” and attempts to link Rhodes to white supremacists by citing an April 2016 interview with Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, despite that group being founded many months later. Ironically, McInnes was a co-founder of Vice and thus has a much stronger connection to their own publication than to Alexander Rhodes or NoFap.
And, in a way, that leads us back to the original question: To fap or not to fap?
For the thousands of people, both men and women, who are asking themselves that very question, it is doubtful that mockery and insults from pornography supportive researchers will stop them from visiting the websites, like NoFap and Your Brain On Porn, who take their concerns more seriously.
The academic battle over whether or not their problem is technically an addiction is less important to them then getting help to change a habit they feel is destroying their lives.
The famed hockey player, Bobby Orr, has defended Don Cherry, saying that his firing by Sportsnet was disgraceful, according to The Score.
Speaking to WEEI, Orr stated that he knew Cherry better then anyone. “He’s not a bigot and he’s not a racist. This guy is the most generous, caring guy that I know.”
Orr’s comments come after a Remembrance Day rant on Coaches Corner, where Cherry said “You people that come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that.”
Some commentators believed that Cherry was referring to inner-city immigrants of colour, despite the fact that the hockey icon has often used the term “you people” to describe his viewers.
Cherry was fired on Remembrance Day, which Orr saw as being additionally insulting due to Cherry’s advocacy for Canadian veterans. “What they’ve done to him up there is disgraceful. It really is,” Orr continued.
Cherry coached Orr for two years when he played for the Boston Bruins. Cherry has called Orr his favourite player of all time.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs player Nazem Kadri told reporters Tuesday he also thinks Cherry’s statements were taken out of context.
“[Cherry] has been there for so long, it’s going to be hard to see [Coach’s Corner] without him, that’s definitely unfortunate. I know Grapes and I don’t think it came across like everyone is making it sound. I think with what he said, it was maybe just said incorrectly. People maybe took it out of context a little bit. I know Grapes is a great person and am sad to see him go.”
“Sometimes a scandal isn’t just a scandal, but a biopsy of a society,” said the British author Douglas Murray earlier this year. This apercu was coined in his reporting on the scandal that involved the indomitable philosopher, Roger Scruton, who was fired from his position in the British government for things he never said. This was the product of the crafty editing skills of George Eaton, who distorted Scruton’s responses to make him look like all kinds of politically incorrect bugaboos.
Though the context and character are different, Murray’s phrase can apply to the non-ceremonial ousting of Canada’s beloved curmudgeon, Don Cherry. His defenestration carries with it all the great features of the perfect cancelling. One of them is perhaps the most aggravating: false outrage over things that a few years ago might have disturbed the overly sensitive, but the effects would have been momentary. It would have blown over after a day or two. People would have quickly gained their composure and moved on and left the octogenarian to his work, which many Canadians enjoy. And yes, his cantankerous demeanour is among the many reasons why this has been the case for decades.
But, unfortunately, the culture we’re living in rewards outrage to the point that people will pursue it for the sake of social validation and to feed their own egomania; they’re supposed compassion for the “violated” comes off so contrived and convenient as to be nauseating. Particularly since the things upon which they train their sights are often as frivolous as a sports broadcaster expressing his concerns over people not wearing poppies. One can’t help but take notice of the façade being showcased by many, since if we were to suggest that they do something that would actually make their outrage worthwhile—such as donating property to an immigrant Cherry ostensibly violated—they’d likely disappear quickly from their podium of virtue. When Cherry was on his show earlier this week, Tucker Carlson said that these people are “fascists” with no feelings and are using their “outrage” to “exert power.”
We certainly can argue over the applicability of the word “fascist,” but the gist of what Carlson said is accurate. With the most cursory reading of the avalanche of denouncements, it’d not be far-fetched to assert that many deep down aren’t really that appalled by Don Cherry’s comments. For with the advent of social media, these people have developed even more of an addiction to attaining instant approval from their peers and, upon seeing where the wind is blowing, have shifted their focus to satisfying this addiction through the pursuit of superficial causes they likely weren’t interested in until an hour ago.
What this has created is a generation of moral narcissists who engage in performative outrage, treating takedowns of old-timers like Don Cherry as some great act of bravery and something for which they are owed adulation. They operate in a non-existent universe in which they have had no moments of indiscretion, and they arrogantly impose their new standards of perfection onto people for offences past and present. In a sober-minded world, they’d likely be left standing on a corner rambling like a crazed wing nut and attract only a few supporters. But social media provides them with an obsequious, like-minded tribe who will readily applaud their every utterance and provide them with a constant dose of self-satisfaction.
In a new article for the Atlantic with the fitting title, “The Dark Psychology of Social Networks,” Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell provide one of the most insightful analyses of this social malaise. They argue that people have become susceptible to this contagion of “fake outrage” as social media has transformed “communication into a public performance.” The lack of intimacy in the Twittersphere makes interaction with others entirely based upon outdoing the next person with their “grandstanding” and scrutinizing of others instead of actually making an attempt to connect with people by productive, two-way communication. “ Nuance and truth are casualties in this competition to gain the approval of an audience,” they observe. “Grandstanders scrutinize every word spoken by their opponents—and sometimes even their friends—for the potential to evoke public outrage. Context collapses. The intent of the speaker is ignored.”
With the immediate consumption of mass information, people have lost touch with ideas and principles that have long sustained civil society and have come to see little value in learning about them, while becoming obsessed with dim-witted fights. “Even though they have unprecedented access to all that has ever been written and digitized,” Haidt and Rose-Stockwell write, “members of Gen Z (those born after 1995 or so) may find themselves less familiar with the accumulated wisdom of humanity than any recent generation, and therefore more prone to embrace ideas that bring social prestige within their immediate network yet are ultimately misguided.”
These people deprive themselves of the timeless values that would restrain them—such as reason, curiosity, truth, giving others the benefit of the doubt, decency, pluralism, among others.
People, such as those on The Social, instead become dog whistle specialists, who are incredibly precise when it comes to reading minds and confirming one’s motives without any further questions. They then claim it as evidence of a much larger crisis, though the only ones really “taking offence” are the cultural elitists in the major metropolitans and their Twitter legion of moral narcissists desperate to profit off of outrage.
Don Cherry is only the latest casualty of this insidious enterprise.