UGA “Vigorously Exploring All Available Legal Options” It Can Take Against Philosophy Grad Student
A University of Georgia (UGA) alumnus’s expression of bafflement at his alma mater’s failure to condemn remarks made by a philosophy graduate student at the school and his call for other alumni to withhold donations has apparently prompted the university to consider action against the graduate student.
UGA philosophy graduate student and teaching assistant Irami Osei-Frimpong, who some readers may know as the creator of The Funky Academic YouTube series, often discusses racism, politics, and related issues on social media (Twitter, Medium). Some of his remarks caught the attention of Campus Reform correspondent and recently graduated UGA political science major Andrew Lawrence, who decided to attend one of Osei-Frimpong lectures at a meeting of the Young Democrats of UGA club and ask him about them (a brief video taken at the lecture is here, though see this interview with Osei-Frimpong in which he disputes the accuracy of what Lawrence says in the video).
Following this, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Lawrence “wrote a series of articles for Campus Reform concerning Osei-Frimpong’s personal views” and “met repeatedly with UGA officials, who were provided with the video and social media posts in September.”
Unsatisfied with the university’s initial responses, which were, first, to note Osei-Frimpong’s free speech rights as a private citizen and state that he does not speak for the University of Georgia, and second, to condemn, in a statement on Twitter, “the advocacy or suggestion of violence” and views “espousing racism and hatred”, Lawrence wrote and disseminated a letter last week voicing his complaints. Among them were that UGA “failed to properly address” Osei-Frimpong’s comments.
What did Osei-Frimpong say? Apparently one of the remarks that set Lawrence off was the following (according to Online Athens): “some white people may have to die for black communities to be whole in this struggle to advance freedom.”
Osei-Frimpong clarified this in a follow-up post on Facebook that led to his account being suspended by Facebook for 30 days. Here’s that post:
Once Lawrence called for alumni to withhold donations to the school, the school issued the following statement:
“The University is aware of statements made by a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant. The University has been vigorously exploring all available legal options. Racism has no place on our campus, and we condemn the advocacy or suggestion of violence in any form. We are seeking guidance from the Office of the Attorney General as to what actions we can legally consider in accordance with the First Amendment.”
In response, FIRE sent a lengthy and detailed letter to UGA president Jere Morehead, stating, among other things, “The First Amendment does not permit UGA to subject the expressive rights of faculty members or students to the whims of donors, students, or members of the public who find those views uncomfortable, objectionable, or deeply offensive. UGA has condemned the teaching assistant’s expression; the First Amendment prevents the institution from taking any further steps. Instead, UGA must immediately abandon its investigation into protected expression.” The letter also noted that there was no evidence that Osei-Frimpong engaged in any discriminatory or harassing manner in his capacity as a student and teaching assistant at UGA.
In an email, Osei-Frimpong said that the Department of Philosophy at UGA has been supportive of him during these events. He also said that the controversy has shown a few things worth noting.
The first is “how important normalizing ethical courage in the discipline is.” That we are “rigorous and dedicated… when we write for each other” is fine, but it is of limited value “if we are scared to bring the general public along with us.”
Second, he says, “The industry around fake news is enormous, funded, and growing, and they are plotting a conservative takeover of higher education. Campus Reform is just one group, but they have paid stringers at multiple universities whose entire purpose is to shape scholarly inquiry in line with conservative comfort. If the opposition to them is confused or dithering, the regressive faction will win. The notion that courage is something you save for your second book is deep in young scholars.”
His last point speaks directly to the substantive matter of racism in the United States. Osei-Frimpong notes that “we have such an impoverished notion of racism that talking about White people as an ethnic determination is seen as racism—as if the cotton economy, the Klan, and the FHA didn’t attach substantive and relevant inducements to skin color in America.” He adds: “I’m only seen as radical because people have not read Fanon and psychology departments don’t teach Dr. Bobby Wright or Amos Wilson, or even contemporaries like Tommy J. Curry.”
You can read more about this story at FIRE, Online Athens, Flagpole, as well as watch an interview about it with Osei-Frimpong here. Osei-Frimpong has created a video sharing his take on the events and issues here (note that the sound appears to be out for the first minute).
I have to say that the discourse in which Osei-frimpong frames his ideas is somewhat unintelligible to me, as is often the case with ideas coming from the literature on diversity, race, feminism… I think the reason for that is the fact that that literature is influenced by continental philosophy more than I find comfortable. But maybe that’s just me.
What I don’t think is just me, or what I don’t find a particularly difficult idea to grasp or a hard rule to follow is this: it is almost always and almost everywhere a bad idea to suggest that members of some group of people should die, or might have to die for some good thing to happen.Report
“it is almost always and almost everywhere a bad idea to suggest that members of some group of people should die, or might have to die for some good thing to happen.”
Nonsense. I just drove home from Houston. This is only possible due to the state highway system. It is a tragic but well-acknowledged fact that several hundred Texans need to die every year for this state highway system to continue functioning as it does. No one will deny that, and anyone will get extremely angry at you if you try to tell the state to take the actions that would be needed to stop killing Texans every year.
If you consider any other major not-purely-service industry, whether it’s construction, manufacturing, mining, medicine, or the like, each of those industries causes many deaths every year. Many people have to die all the time for our world to continue functioning. It seems to me like an extremely radical view to deny this.Report
This is only possible due to the state highway system. It is a tragic but well-acknowledged fact that several hundred Texans need to die every year for this state highway system to continue functioning as it does…..Many people have to die all the time for our world to continue functioning. It seems to me like an extremely radical view to deny this.
Be glad you don’t live in Australia (or maybe just Victoria? I’m not sure), Kenny, or you’d be thought a dangerous thinker on this topic. The people in charge of traffic here have adopted a goal of “zero” traffic deaths, and the slogan that “zero traffic fatalities is the only acceptable number.” They even have some indication of thinking that, with all sorts of traffic rules that couldn’t possibly pass a cost-benefit analysis. So, while I agree with you, clearly not everyone does!Report
Is it really true “that several hundred Texans ***need*** to die every year for the state highway system to continue functioning as it does”? [Emph. added.] What if all Texas buy safe, self-driving cars that never cause any accidents? And couldn’t we make the same point about the original question: It seems that it is possible to make the world a better place without assuming that “members of some group of people should die, or might have to die for some good thing to happen.”Report
It looks like he didn’t even say that he *wants* white people to die, only that some casualties would happen in the struggle he thinks will ensue. Look, the idea that progress might require a certain amount of violence is hardly unknown in either the left or the right. It doesn’t look like I would agree with him very much, but I hope no further administrative action is taken against him on account of this.Report
From a legal standpoint, my sense is that this is not a hard case: Osei-Frimpong’s statements are political speech not direct incitements to violence, and the Univ of Georgia is a “state actor,” so they can’t punish him for these statements without violating the First Amendment.
Whether his statements are well-considered etc. is a separate question.Report
I don’t know what else Osei-Frimpong might have said to get this kind of response, but the claim that (1) “some white people may have to die for black communities to be whole in this struggle to advance freedom” strikes me as obviously true. Because if it’s just black people doing the dying, not enough people with political power will give enough of a damn for things to change. Here are some other perfectly anondyne claims about what bad things may have to happen before a good thing can be had:
(2) Some US troops may have to die in combat before Imperial Japanese aggression in the Pacific can be defeated.
(3) Some black people may have to die along the Underground Railroad before the scourge of slavery can be extinguished from the land.
(4) Some motorists may have to die in accidents if a nationwide system of road transportation is to be maintained.
(5) Some wealthy Westerners may have to die before the international community will take serious action against Boko Haram.
(1) very clearly does not imply either (6) “we ought to start killing white people so that black communities can achieve freedom” or even (7) “it’s a good thing that white people have to die for black communities to achieve freedom.” Maybe Osei-Frimpong does mean to assert (6) or (7) — I’m not going to bother spending time finding out — but (1) by itself is really quite unremarkable.
Of course, you might think that we already live in a world where every person can live in freedom and equality without anybody getting killed. That’s a very sweet thought. You’re probably a little confused by the whole “black lives matter” thing.Report
4 and on my darker days 5.
We just have to look at the fact of Heather Heyer and Viola Liuzzo. Furthermore, we have to understand that after Heyer’s death, people are induced not to go to anti-White supremacist rallies. This kind of racial terrorism is effective in chilling worthwhile political speech. So unless we understand death as a predictable part of the struggle, not unlike the way King and Gandhi understood jail as a predictable part of the struggle, I think Black communities will remain degraded and falling.
The idea that Osei-Frimpong should be sanctioned for his comments, as they are presented here, is ridiculous. And it is encouraging that FIRE took a stand, given that the speech positions they more typically defend are of a different ideological bent. But I don’t understand your, or Osei-Frimpong’s comments here.
The Facebook post makes clear that the white folks that may have to die are not white folks on the front lines of the good fight (2 and 3). Neither is it that the deaths of these white folk fighting the good fight will motivate the rest of white America (5 – as with white civil rights worker murders in Mississippi). Neither is it (4), that somehow granting blacks greater material or power equality requires that whites die (how does increasing black liberty have this as an unintended consequence?)
The Facebook posts says its the whites unwilling to give up their power, material wealth, etc. that may have to die – one supposes, because they will defend that power to the death, and such power must be wrested from them. That’s more like (8), “Some Japanese may have to die before Japanese aggression can be defeated in the Pacific”. And, as with the historical case, whether the method is objectionable or not will depend on whether the deaths are truly necessary to achieve the goal, and don’t involve yet more injustice. I doubt, for instance, Zuckerberg’s death would be required.Report
In my opinion the attempt to have the UGA censure Osei-Frimpong for this speech is both wrong and hypocritical (given the stand that those demanding the censure take when it is people from their side being threatened with censure).
Nonetheless, I’m not fully satisfied with the attempts above to explain and justify what was actually said.
Ajkreider suggest that what was being said was:
“Whites unwilling to give up their power, material wealth, etc. may have to die (probably because they will defend that power to the death, and such power must be wrested from them).”
That seems to be a reasonable position to take in the debate about what will have to happen to move things forward. However it does seem odd to have this specific idea in mind and then express it in the more general form:
“Some white people may have to die”
Compare: I might think that to make progress in the fight against organized crime some of the major Mafia bosses (who all happen to be Italian) will need to be killed. It would be odd for me to express this thought by saying “Some Italians may have to die”. If what I have in mind are Mafia bosses why not just say “Some Mafia bosses may have to die”, or even “Some Italian Mafia bosses may have to die”. It may be literally true that some Italians have to die. However, phrasing it that way will probably result in regular Italians who are not members of the Mafia being worried that I think some of them should and can be killed in the fight against organized crime. Furthermore, it will probably be counterproductive to my cause as the Mafia will jump on my statement to exploit the fear of these regular Italians and get them into the camp of the Mafia rather than the anti-Mafia forces. Finally, what I say may also be misinterpreted by some of my followers who take me to be condoning their killing of Italians (including those not in the Mafia) whenever they think it can serve the purpose of defeating the Mafia.
Now perhaps the quoted statement from Osei-Frimpong was taken out of context in such a way that he cannot be accused of linguistic carelessness in any of the ways I review above. For example, perhaps he qualified who he was talking about in the preceding sentence. However, even then I suggest always being very careful to never in a part of your speech apply an undesirable attribute to some members of a general class when there is a more specific class you are targeting. The threat that an opponent may jump on such a statement and take it out of context is always there.Report
It’s true that he shouldn’t be sanctioned. But your examples differ from his statement in important ways. They either involve cases where people put themselves in danger for a good cause, or cases where the deaths inspire people to fight the bad thing that caused the deaths. I’d like to see you talk about examples that are closer to what Osei-Frimpong said.Report
I’m impressed by what appears to be FIRE’s impartial – and therefore authentic – support for freedom of academic speech. I’m also impressed by Osei-Frimpong’s intellectual integrity and bravery. It seems that some of his views have been deliberately misrepresented for political purposes (which seems to be happening a lot these days as part of the social media outrage and mobbing cycle).
Thanks for publicising this story Justin.Report
The Good Samaritan paradox dates back to 1958 at least:
1. I should see to it that Sam is brought to the hospital to have his broken arm treated.
2. For that to happen, Sam’s arm must be broken.
3. And yet, I ought not see to it that Sam’s arm is broken.
Sometimes the morally best possibility that remains open to us is far from ideal.Report
I know you provide links and a quote that make this point, but just to state it directly: Campus Reform is a blatantly dishonest political group with a clear agenda of attacking any academics with liberal politics and they have no concern for whether the claims they push in their attacks are accurate or not. Neither the information they present nor their stated reasons for presenting it should ever be taken at face value.
In this case, it’s quite clear that Osei-Frimpong is not calling for extra-judicial violence against white people. And Andrew Lawrence’s suggestion (in his letter) that his decision to release the video was unrelated to Campus Reform is laughable.Report
Osei-Frimpong must have his rights to free speech protected. Having said that, I think people should be more disturbed by what he’s saying.
Here’s what I think would be a useful exercise. Come up with examples of similar statements for political positions you don’t agree with and see what they seem to imply to you about violence. The statemen’t won’t be a similar, in my view, if it involves the death of people fighting for a good cause, or if it involves the death of people leading to opposition againt the terrible thing that killed them.Report
I sincerely encourage Hey Nonny Mouse, JTD, and others who are concerned about Osei-Frimpong’s rhetoric to watch this video. It’s a useful and informative presentation of his views that might lead you to find his speech less objectionable. (Note: the audio is missing from the first 53 seconds.)Report
In the passage above Mr. Irami Osei-Frimpong is simply saying what his (ersatz Marxist critical race theory) theory requires. There is no empirical grounding in social science of race or in history (White men, along with black men, died for the freedom of black men, women, and children in our Civil War. Black men died to defend an apartheid USA during WWI and WWII.). This is a jazz riff substituting for serious philosophical discourse. Mr. Irami Osei-Frimpong has been badly (typically, these days?) taught. His professors should issue a public apology for their pedagogical malpractice.
If a university looked into all such jazz riffs by graduate students (not to mention faculty), that university would soon be doing little else and to no avail, inasmuch as ideologies do not allow for correction. They can, however, be labeled for what they are and then ignored.Report
Call me crazy, but the fact that someone would unironically refer to the speech of a black philosopher as a “jazz riff” indicates that our intellectual diet might benefit from a little more ersatz Marxist critical race theory.Report
It seems to me that this whole kerfuffle is based around a misunderstanding that some basic philosophy can help to straighten out.
Sometimes modal claims are ambiguous between deontic and predictive readings. We are doing something very different when saying ‘you ought to pick up after your mess!’ (e.g., when someone leaves a big mess) vs.”Your father ought to return by about five thirty’ (e.g., when your basis for saying this is that he gets off work at 5 and so usually returns by 5:30) The latter claim is *merely* predictive and makes no judgment about whether it would be wrong or blameworthy for your father to not return at 5:30.
What goes for ‘ought’ goes for ‘should’: there are deontic and predictive readings for should.
From the context, it’s obvious that Osei-Frimpong is making a predictive claim. And the predictive claim might very well be true. It is obviously unobjectionable in an academic context to make such a predictive claim.
The predictive claim in this case, unluckily, has the same surface grammar as what would be an outrageous deontic claim, one that is an incitement to violence.
But it would be totally unreasonable to interpret him as making the latter claim, given the context.Report
It may be unreasonable to interpret him as making the deontic claim, but there are unreasonable people around. Given the potential dangers of such misinterpretations it’s careless to phrase things the way he did.Report
Why is it his fault that others misinterpret his comments? Are those who misinterpret him not at fault for being unreasonable and not interpreting his comments charitably?Report
I agree entirely with the semantic claim, but it’s odd to overlook the pragmatics here. Normally when we predict that people will die we add some qualifier – ‘unfortunately, your cancer can’t be cured’ or ‘sadly, your death is unavoidable’ etc. When we don’t do so, then we imply that maybe the death is, in some sense, ‘deserved’ or ‘proper’. So, the lack of qualifier is interesting here – even if it doesn’t signal a normative claim, it may seem to signal an axiological claim. Now, that axiological claim – something like ‘white people’s death is proper, given their complicity, as a group, in racism’ – might well be true. It can be true without deaths being an all-things-considered, a good outcome. It may also not be an intended implicature. It may be false, but still permissible given freedom of expression. But it’s a natural implicature, given how we normally frame predictions of (putatively) bad outcomes. To claim otherwise is just to ignore the very useful ways in which philosophy of language can help us think about political speech.Report
This analysis ignore the presence of ‘have’ after ‘may’. Compare:
(1) In the struggle to achieve goal G some people may die.
(2) In the struggle to achieve goal G some people may have to die.
I agree with you that in most contexts of utterance the modal in (1) is predictive. However (2) feels very different and the presence of ‘have’ seems to shift the default reading from predictive to deontic. Compare: “You might give me that book” with “You may have to give me that book”. The former is predictive. The latter appears to be saying that there is a reason that may require you to give me the book.Report
Descriptively-framed claims, including predictive ones, can convey a normative message though. In fact this is a common rhetorical strategy that people use.
I’m not taking a position on the issue of the post, just making a general remark.Report
I think it’s important to keep two very different matters separate:
1) Was Osei-Frimpong correct, or even justified, in making his assertions? And
2) Should Osei-Frimpong be punished, or even be personally or professionally derided, for having asserted what he asserted?
I’m somewhat, but not entirely, inclined to say no to the first one. But even if he was not justified in saying what he said, it would be a terrible thing to move from a no answer to the first question to a yes answer to the second. The answer to the second question must be no, and we _as philosophers_ (and not as philosophers committed to a certain social cause) should defend him from any actions that might harm his professional life. And — this part is most important — we should do the same for any academic who says something controversial, except in the most extreme cases. Yes, there are ways to interpret ‘hate speech’ such that most forms of dissent from views we like are ‘hateful’ and hence require exclusion (with the dissenters ritually stomped on as a lesson against other would-be dissenters). But that can never be the way of any thinking person, and it should be tolerated least of all by the philosophical community. We need to stand, if anything, as role models of a community of patient, sincere listeners and inquirers.
I’ve watched some of Osei-Frimpong’s talk, linked to by Justin W. above. It’s not my cup of tea, and I have many disagreements. But I plan to watch the rest of it at some point, and I’ve already put a book Osei-Frimpong recommended, _Behind the Mask of Chivalry_, on my reading list. There is no doubt that Osei-Frimpong is contributing something to the discussion and not just screaming invective. It would therefore be bad for philosophy if his voice were silenced.
As individual philosophers, we can stand for all sorts of things that might seem desperately important, but I don’t think any of our philosophical views can be bad enough to prevent us from belonging in the discipline. What’s much more important is a commitment to a _metaphilosophical_ view we can’t be philosophers without: that our discipline loses its value and becomes a sham enterprise when we bully our interlocutors into accepting our philosophical views and social ideals, and seek to marginalize or destroy those who won’t be bullied.
Good on FIRE for standing up for Osei-Frimpong. I hope those who are now coming to Osei-Frimpong’s defense, as they should, are being principled rather than crudely partisan. The test will come when we see whether they also defend the target of the next mobbing who happens to be on the _other_ side sociopolitically, and whether they denounce whatever publication drums up the next round of hatred as fiercely as they denounce _Campus Reform_ now, or whether they instead come up with the familiar sophistries to paper over their moral inconsistencies.Report
Well put Justin. Philosophers ought to be presenting a unified, articulate, and principled stance on this kind of thing. It does not take very much work at all to defend principles of free inquiry and private expression for social and political views we may ourselves find jejune or ideologically repugnant. To let our views on the latter dictate actions that contravene the former is to make evident that our professed commitment to the former was never sincere to begin with. Good on organizations like FIRE for taking the lead.Report
If only there had been “stakeholder referees” for these comments, we might have avoided all the pain they’ve caused. Wouldn’t that have been a great outcome?Report
I take it this is intended as a reductio of my suggestion that the Journal of Controversial Ideas consider what I called “stakeholder refereeing” in its editorial decision-making process—because it is quite normal to assess the editorial policies of academic journals by applying them to wildly different contexts.
Up next: figuring out whether double-anonymous review is a good idea by trying it out in a chat with a friend over coffee.Report
Well, we could easily make the context identical by considering a hypothetical case where these comments appear in an article to be reviewed in a journal that made use of the stakeholder system.Report
But that isn’t the case at hand, is it?Report
So there’s no objection to the stakeholder proposal because the problematic case for that position isn’t “the case at hand”?Report
Osei-Frimpong’s comments are not a problematic case because they are public social media comments, and not ideas submitted to an academic journal for peer-review, double-blind, stakeholder, or otherwise.Report
The subject shifted to Justin’s proposal.Report
The case at hand itself is not an objection to the proposal. That’s all.Report
I actually think it’s important for the comments to come in. I mention Heather Heyer. I mention Viola Liuzzo. I mention the chilling effect their deaths have on political speech and action, and the steady state we’ve had in steering policies towards making Black communities whole, and people are still denying the connection. I think we ended Reconstruction because influential parts of the nation lost the taste for killing White people, relative to securing the conditions of freedom for Black communities.Report
Hi Irami. Sorry for being unclear. As Justin notes above, I’m just making fun of him for a suggestion he made a few months earlier. By “comments” I meant yours, but to be clear, I support your right to make these and whatever other comments, and deplore the actions of your University in this case.Report
If you’re going to make statements about inevitable violence, surely you should make it crystal clear whether you’re predicting or urging, who you have in mind as perpetrators and victims, etc. I don’t think O-F’s Facebook post has the requisite clarity, and his comment above just makes it worse. In the post he says “some White people may have to die for freedom” and clarifies: “I simply wouldn’t be surprised if it ended with some White people dead, rather than giving up their ill-formed entitlements.” But then in the comment (Jan 30, 4:46) he brings up Heather Heyer, of all people! A white woman who was killed by a white supremacist for marching against white supremacy–someone who was presumably very willing to give up “ill-formed entitlements”. No doubt he would condemn the murder of Heather Heyer, but this doesn’t seem to be the kind of violence he had in mind when he wrote the facebook post. She’s not an instance of someone winding up “dead, rather than giving up their ill-formed entitlements.” So bringing her up is a dodge. Why not say, in the post and in subsequent comments, what he thinks of violence against white people who refuse to give up “ill-formed entitlements”? Why leave it so vague that it takes highly trained interpreters to figure it out?Report
I don’t think White supremacist violence is a precise instrument. That’s one reason we are so susceptible to White supremacist terror. It’s easier to give in than suffer the backlash because the backlash includes anti-White supremacists like Heather Heyer or triggered White surpemacists like Dylann Roof.Report
Assuming the commentator going under the name “Irami Osei-Frimpong” is the same graduate student this post is about, it’s strange that he seemed to ignore Jean’s lead: “If you’re going to make statements about inevitable violence, surely you should make it crystal clear whether you’re predicting or urging, who you have in mind as perpetrators and victims, etc. … his comment above just makes it worse.”)
The same could be said of the response: ignoring an appeal for clarity on whether you are urging or predicting, etc. and more aptly, ignoring the obvious good opportunity to condemn racist violence, only makes it worse.Report
I ignored the statement:
“If you’re going to make statements about inevitable violence”
because I’m not convinced economic progress will ever happen.
That’s why the relevant statements have been conditions.Report
Why not come out clearly with something like this?
“If economic progress ever happens—though I am skeptical that it will—I think it is inevitable that some white people will be killed. I am univocally opposed to such killing, of course, as violence against another motivated centrally because of their race is inherently wrong. But people have a hard time acting rationally and justifiably when they are angry, hence my lamentable and tragic prediction.”
Clarity is usually only difficult when you want it to be. The more you dissimulate, the more it seems that you are speaking with winks and nods in favor of racist violence. If you are doing the latter, I have every hope that UGA is able to find some plausible legal options.Report
Irami (if I may): are you predicting or urging the death of some white people?Report
No. I’m not predicting it because I suspect America is calcifying Black communities into caste system. And I’m not urging the death of some White people any more than a General urges collateral damage when she sends troops off to war.Report
What is it then, a conditional prediction? (“If it snows tomorrow [though I don’t think it will], schools will open late.”)Report
What I am arguing is that the notion that Black communities will be made whole as participants in America’s institutions of self-determination in a way that doesn’t include some White people dying is a dubious notion. And a fair entailment of that statement is that our aversion to face the possibility of some White people dying for Black self-determination is one prong that calcifies contemporary politics of racial hierarchy.Report
So a necessary condition of making Black communities whole is that some white people die. Do you think it is good to make them whole? Presumably yes. It is a bit hard to see how you could think that without also thinking that the necessary condition of that good thing is also (instrumentally) good. So do you also think that?Report
Generals would be perfectly willing to condemn in advance the deliberate killing of civilians. So if you like that metaphor, why do you seem so hesitant?Report
“Generals would be perfectly willing to condemn in advance the deliberate killing of civilians. So if you like that metaphor, why do you seem so hesitant?”
I don’t have a problem condemning people who kill White people indiscriminately. I suspect I only seem hesitant because of whatever is going on in your head.
“It is a bit hard to see how you could think that without also thinking that the necessary condition of that good thing is also (instrumentally) good.”
It’s not so hard for me. I suspect the reason you think this has more to do with your commitments concerning the subject. I think you are committing the fallacy of composition.Report
Which subject is that? Instrumental goodness? Yes. I don’t see how you can think that a necessary condition of a good thing is not itself instrumentally good. I can see how you could think x is instrumentally good while also thinking that, on the whole, it is better for x not to happen, and maybe that’s what you think. But what I’m really interested in is whether you think it is instrumentally good for some white people to die.
As for the fallacy of composition, I don’t see what that has to do with what we’re talking about. Would you elaborate?Report
If I may, sahpa, if violence is a constitutive part of Black liberation, since the goodness of a whole doesn’t entail the goodness of all of its parts, it may very well that violence is bad and yet (noninstrumentally) necessary for a good state of affairs of liberation to obtain.Report
“It is a bit hard to see how you could think that without also thinking that the necessary condition of that good thing is also (instrumentally) good.”
There is a distinction between doing X as a means to the end of Y, and doing Z as a means to the end of Y, where Z has the unintended but foreseen consequence of X. It’s the distinction that the Doctrine of the Double Effect depends upon.
Irami Osei-Frimpong is saying that the death of some white people is the unintended but foreseen consequence of certain liberatory social changes. So it’s not instrumentally good, or good in any way, only the unintended but foreseen consequence of something that is instrumentally good (armed struggle?).Report
I think there is a segment of the political right that has become a part of the very free speech problem they decry. Here is what’s happened, in my opinion. Conservatives accurately perceive that there’s a political imbalance in academia. I think they are right that this is a problem. They have been fed a steady diet of examples of professors and administrators saying and doing foolish things, and this tends to stir up the base. So there are commentary/journalism outfits like Minding the Campus and Campus Reform that exist basically to find more examples of this to meet the demand. I think it’s a good thing that such watchdog organizations exist, but they are subject to confirmation bias and insufficiently nuanced. And I suspect, perversely, that their readers will actually be disappointed if two weeks go by where nobody says anything OUTRAGEOUS. You can see how this sort of arrangement would create oversensitivity and a tendency to exaggerate and produce false positives.Now combined this with administrators who are extremely averse to negative publicity and here we are.
Two general lessons:
1. Thinking that political correctness and leftwing bias in academia are problems is entirely consistent with thinking that the reaction against these things is also problematic. Sometimes foolish responses to problems actually worsen the problems they are supposed to solve (compare conservative criticisms of liberal attempts to combat poverty and racism).
2. People who are very emotionally invested in politics often end up emulating their political opponents in the worst respects. In this case, some conservatives are acting like snowflakes. But the phenomenon is very general.Report
I agree that the conservative responses may have become too much; that conservatives end up being exactly like the ones they fought in the beginning. Nevertheless, how would you respond to those, that accuse continental philosophy of being nothing else than politics in disguise? I would claim after attending a continental university, for my bachelors on mainland Europe, that aforementioned is a quite accurate description. And that is a problem! That somebody can use the good name of philosophy for political propaganda. That hurts the credibility of philosophy in general, and as a discipline. Furthermore, this is exactly the reason why most analytic philosophers don’t want to be grouped under the same label.Report
I agree with the general thrust of your post. And I agree that Irami’s speech and work should be protected, both in this case and in general.
Even so, I think of us who support robust free speech protections and a generous understanding of what academic freedom entails (call us “the old consensus”) face a challenge: to what degree can we/should we mobilize in support of (or otherwise sympathize with) left academics who would not extend the same charity to us?
Indeed, from what I can tell (though it may not be applicable in this soecfic instance), many of the left academics who run afoul of the conservative outrage machine reject, often explicitly, the kinds of framework principles adopted by organizations like FIRE and the AAUP. Such principles are often said to be inherently biased and oppressive…a bit too stale, male, and pale.
Thus, I can understand, though I ultimately reject, the urge to respond in kind; i.e., to rejoice when those who reject the framework rules are hoisted by their own petard.
At the very least, it seems to me that the conservative snow flakes may inadvertently be doing God’s work by reminding those on the academic left that there may yet be some value in our antediluvian principles.Report
Will they be reminded of principles though, or just the badness of conservatives?Report
Or maybe the problem has never been one for conservatives more than liberals in the first place. Are Conservatives finally coming to terms with their equal, if not privileged, protection against violations of academic freedom?Report
This certainly sounds like pro-violence innuendo, akin to saying that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Subsequent lack of clear and univocal condemnation of race-motivated violence reinforces that impression: there is a veil of plausible deniability, but no more. Whatever one thinks of the Campus Reform organization in general, I’m happy they brought this into the light of public scrutiny.Report
Is it opposites day? Are white people’s egos so fragile that they’re actually worried that they’ll be victims of racialized violence? White people control the military-industrial complex. White men are America’s largest domestic terror threat. The POTUS is a thinly veiled white supremacist who literally defended neoNazis. White people’s fear of being targets of racialized violence is a charade, surely.
I for one am not jumping on the #AllLivesMatter bandwagon.
“Are white people’s egos so fragile that they’re actually worried that they’ll be victims of racialized violence?”
First, why assume that everyone here who has expressed concern with the content of Osei-Frimpong’s statement is ‘white’? And why make this a ‘white’ vs. ‘non-white thing’? Among the handful of people I have discussed this with I have found some ‘white’ people think the statement is unproblematic and some ‘non-white’ people think it is problematic. Perhaps there is a tendency to think one way or the other among people from each racial category. However, taking this tendency and making it into an absolute is dangerous rhetoric that attempts to divide people along racial lines. I don’t think this is at all helpful to the long term goal of a racially just society.
Second, it is uncharitable to assume that those concerned with Osei-Frimpong’s statement are concerned because they think there is a significant risk in the US of racialized violence directed at white people. If someone said “To address gender problems we need to take away the right to vote from some women” I would strongly object to this statement even though I think there is no significant risk of some women, qua women, having their right to vote removed.Report
The scrutiny here at DN isn’t obviously about white fragility. On the surface at any rate, it’s about what IOF meant.Report
When Thomas Jefferson says, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” is he exhorting his brethren to kill patriots and tyrants, or is he thinking through the conditions of liberty in a land shot through with violence?Report
The right interpretation of Mr. Osei-Frimpong’s remarks is as an observation that members of the extended genealogical family of Byron “Whizzer” White will die.
There is no need for and reason not to engage in the sort of parsing going on in comments above. Mr. Osei-Frimpong has said nothing remotely close to the limits of protected speech in the US. The University has no business engaging in an investigation of obviously protected speech. Suggesting that protection depends on expressions that cannot be misinterpreted is counterproductive — it weakens protection.Report
“Suggesting that protection depends on expressions that cannot be misinterpreted is counterproductive — it weakens protection.”
I think this is one of the most disturbing issues for me; it assumes a good faith interpretation among a general populace that has an interest in exploiting fear to sustain a racial hierarchy in America.
This is like saying that obviously Socrates made a mistake, or else Aristophanes would not have written The Clouds lampooning him. Or since Meletus or Anytus felt personally implicated, Socrates shouldn’t have said anything about the poets, politicians or craftsmen.Report
The only commentator here who has challenged whether IOF’s speech ought to be protected is Brian. Nobody else has explicitly done so, and most commentators have explicitly affirmed that his speech ought to be protected. But if you want to make tenuous accusations of “suggesting” otherwise, be my guest. Just don’t be surprised when the people here don’t take them very seriously.Report
You haven’t explicitly affirmed that his speech right ought to be protected. From which we are to infer? 10 out of 56 comments affirm, which is not most. But the main point is that the insisting Mr. Osei-Frimpong ought to revise his statements is to suggest that inclusion within the protections of academic freedom and First Amendment rights is grudging.Report
Yes, a university is threatening a grad student over clearly protected speech, and most of the discussion is devoted to bashing the grad student (or defending him from those bashes) with maybe a passing reference to the badness of what the university has done. Maybe we should be thinking a bit more about the implications of the fact that a bad-faith attack by a group dedicated to attacking its political opponents has managed to bring the official weight of the university down on this grad student? Does this tell us anything about where the threats to academic freedom and free speech on campus are coming from, and who they’re directed at?
Sometimes it happens that someone says something they shouldn’t have said, and then someone does something to them that shouldn’t be done to them. (I don’t think that’s true here–I don’t think what Osei-Frimpong said is any more objectionable than observing that a lot of white people died attempting to preserve slavery–but suppose it is for the sake of argument.) There are going to be some times when it makes sense to focus on how bad the thing they said was, and some times when it makes sense to focus on the thing done to them. I think it’s bad that the DN community seems to think this is the former kind of case. Jason Jorjani got a more balanced discussion just because the Stony Brook department discussed releasing a statement about him!Report
Well, at another university a professor was recently suspended for believing in the use-mention distinction. So perhaps people can use their own judgment when it comes to questions about who is acting in “bad faith” and who is “dedicated to attacking” people. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/02/01/professor-suspended-using-n-word-class-discussion-language-james-baldwin-essayReport
Perhaps you can infer from my statements about being interested in understanding what he meant that…I’m interested in understanding what he meant. And it’d be a bit weird of me to think what he said ought not be protected before I even had a good idea of what it is he said. But, sure, if you want to take that as good evidence for me thinking his statements ought not be protected, go wild, my dude.
And now you’re moving the goalposts. First we were all guilty of suggesting that only speech that couldn’t possibly be misinterpreted ought to be protested. Now we’re guilty of thinking he ought to revise his statements, and this is somehow to suggest that his original statement ought not be protected. Of course those are two different things.
And even if we *did* think he ought to revise (which itself doesn’t follow simply from seeking clarification, as I have done with him in the subthread above), I don’t see how that in itself suggests his original statement ought not be protected. If he can (should?) suffer censorship for the original statement anyway, what would be the point of revising it?
Let me guess the next move: all my pedantry is just one more iteration of White supremacy? Awesome. Love these chats of ours.Report
Oh and just for the record: he apparently thinks that it is necessary for making whole black communities (itself a good) that some white people die, but not that it is thereby instrumentally good that some white people die. I myself can’t comprehend having this opinion, but that might just be a limitation of mine. I do, however, think that all speech should be protected unless there’s a decisive reason to banish it from protection, and not knowing what someone meant is not such a reason. So I presently think it ought to be protected.Report
What is perhaps most infuriating in all this is that UGa is getting away with claiming that it condemns any endorsement over violence. This is patently and obviously false. Do they condemn all endorsements of all wars ever? No, of course they don’t. Hell, I’m just betting that they actually employ campus police and train them to use violence in certain circumstances. What they condemn is the suggestion, hint, whiff of an acceptance of violence by those not in power.
Second most infuriating is quibbling over interpretation when the issue is a major state institution attacking someone in our profession for private political speech. Suppose he had said “I hereby endorse killing a certain number of white people as the best tactic to liberate blacks from racist institutions.” That’s not ambiguous. And that is obviously a claim that one has every legal and moral right to make, and which deserves to be taken seriously as a position in the debate around racism.
The only question anyone should be asking here is “how can I help?”
So, how can I help? Is there an open letter being drafted? A petition?Report
This comment by Mark Lance is absurd for a number of reasons, but I’ll respond only to his claim about US speech law. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government may regulate speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969)
For someone to say “I hereby endorse killing a certain number of white people as the best tactic to liberate blacks from racist institutions” likely falls under that category in most contexts. (There may be question about whether it meets the “imminent action” standard established by Brandenburg v Ohio, but answering that would require more information about the context of the claim.) It’s far from obvious that one has every legal right to say it!
(IANAL and no one should take legal advice from a blog comment thread.)Report
Hi Joshua. Brandenburg is very often cited in these online discussions, but probably shouldn’t be. Keep in mind that Brandenburg was a decision in which a Ku Klux Klan leader at a rally advocated “revengeance” against those who were “suppress[ing] the white, Caucasian race”. The Supreme Court found that this was *not* the sort of speech it could regulate. It’s very difficult to see how the graduate student’s comments in question here would be more closely directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action, or more likely to incite or produce such action. In fact, they seem incredibly unlikely to produce or incite any action at all.Report
I quoted the from text of the decision, and referenced the original decision so people can read more if they like, so that people can decide for themselves whether it applies. (Lance’s example comment is significantly stronger than the one that was found to be protected by that case.)
I also specifically noted that context is relevant for determining whether the imminent action standard is met. So I’m not sure why you think I should be more cautious in having brought up Brandenburg — my having cited it strikes me as far more prudent and sensible than Mark Lance’s irresponsible legal claim!Report
I’d be far more interested to hear what you (and others) think about this aspect of Professor Lance’s comment:
” ‘I hereby endorse killing a certain number of white people as the best tactic to liberate blacks from racist institutions’ . . . deserves to be taken seriously as a position in the debate around racism.”Report
I don’t think the claim merits a thought response.Report
What’s fascinating is I really don’t think my argument is any more complicated than:
1) Black communities need a serious political intervention in order to enable self-determination.
2) I don’t think that Matt Bivens is bluffing, and I suspect at least some people in his audience are serious.