What a Cancellation Looks Like (guest post)
“Most readers will find what happened to this professor horrifying and wrong…”
The following is guest post* by Nathan Jun, formerly a tenured professor of philosophy at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. You can read more about his story here and here.
What a Cancellation Looks Like
by Nathan Jun
Imagine, if you will, a philosopher who has served on the faculty of a regional public university in the South for twelve years. During this time he has established himself as a popular and highly-regarded instructor who has consistently received among the best teaching evaluations in his college. He has also proven a productive scholar with an international reputation for excellence among his peers. Although his particular brand of left-wing politics has occasionally raised eyebrows among students and colleagues—a fact that comes as no surprise given the entrenched conservatism of both the campus and the surrounding region—he is generally respected by colleagues and superiors who view him as a dutiful and hard-working academic citizen. The university has never attempted to curtail his political expression let alone discipline him for it. On the contrary, it has unfailingly recognized and rewarded his work, most importantly by granting him tenure and promoting him to the rank of full professor.
Although our hypothetical professor has had a limited social media presence for most of his career, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 impels him—as it does so many others—to express his grief, horror, and outrage on Facebook. In so doing, he immediately invites the rage of the local right wing, including many individuals who openly identify as white nationalists and neo-Confederates. Labelling him a “terrorist” and a “member of antifa” [sic], the individuals in question begin inundating him with death threats via phone, text, private message, and email, many of which contained anti-Semitic slurs. They also disseminate his private information, as well as that of various family members, and flood his employer with hysterical demands for his termination. In response, the university accuses him of violating its “academic freedom and responsibility” policy and threatens him with discipline should he fail to “exercise appropriate restraint” going forward. When he brings this response to public attention it is unequivocally condemned in a statement from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as well as two open letters signed by hundreds of students and academic colleagues from around the world.
These gestures are ignored by the university even as the harassment and threats continue to escalate even. Between June and August the professor receives hundreds of additional death threats and his home is vandalized on four separate occasions, once with anti-Semitic graffiti.The situation begins to spiral out of control in late September following a speech he gives at a campus rally protesting the exoneration of Breonna Taylor’s killers. Becoming aware of his remarks on a televised live-stream, the same individuals who had been harassing him since June immediately redouble their efforts to threaten and intimidate. The following evening he is informed that a comment he had written in response to a friend’s private Facebook post has been screenshotted and disseminated online. Though the comment is inflamatory, it is intended as nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase of a famous philosopher and is clearly interpreted as such by the professor’s friend, with whom he frequently exchanges over-the-top banter and inside jokes of this sort. Nevertheless local media reports on the ensuing controversy go viral and quickly draw the attention of The Blaze, College Fix, Campus Reform, and various other cogs in the right-wing outrage machine. Over the course of the next twenty-four hours the professor is subjected to a second round of anti-Semitic vandalism and receives more death threats than he had in the previous two months combined.
Although the university initially defends the professor’s right to free speech, the president quickly turns around and condemns the professor in a strongly-worded public statement which assures the ravenous mob that the university is “consulting with the Office of the Attorney General to determine whether a line [has been] crossed beyond that of speech protected by the First Amendment.” Whatever the intended effect, the president’s response ends up making the situation far worse. The university continues to be inundated with calls for the professor’s removal (and, increasingly, for the president’s) even as he himself remains subject to near-constant harassment for the remainder of the semester. In addition to receiving several hundred additional death threats and being repeatedly and publicly defamed online, he cannot even show his face in public without being heckled and harassed by strangers, one of whom throws a garbage can at him. Unrecognized individuals drive by his residence day and night, snapping pictures with their phones or shouting obscenities; some park outside for hours at a time. Local businesses deny him service on at least a dozen occasions. Campus and local police are uncooperative. Faculty colleagues shun him and even former allies among the student body treat him like a pariah.
The president and other university administrators who had approved the professor’s promotion to full professor only a few months earlier are well-aware that his comment was deliberately taken out of context and purposefully disseminated by the very same anti-Semitic extremists who had been harassing, threatening, and doxxing him since June. Though they find this comment distasteful, they know that it wasn’t threatening or expressing hatred toward anyone, just as they know that the professor is not a violent, hateful, or dangerous person and that he has never used the classroom as a platform for political agitation. Despite knowing all these things, the university makes no effort to defend his personal or professional reputation, to protect his safety, or even to express concern for his well-being privately. It does not see fit to publicly condemn the heinous violence and harassment to which he has been subject, let alone the white supremacist and fascist ideologies that fueled them. Instead it elects to publicly denounce him.
The trauma that results from this sustained campaign of terror, to say nothing of the university’s betrayal in the face of it, takes a tremendous toll on the professor’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being that ultimately culminates in an episode of suicidal ideation and comprehensive nervous breakdown in December. Following this episode, he applies for and receives medical leave during which time he undertakes intensive psychiatric treatment for debilitating panic attacks, night terrors, and other PTSD-related symptoms. In response to the university’s refusal to fire him—a legally unavailable course—everyone from the aforementioned Nazis to garden-variety conservative donors and politicians place enormous pressure on the university to oust him by others means. The opportunity to do so presents itself a few months later when he requests a remote teaching accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act for the fall semester. After refusing to engage in the interactive process for most of the spring, the university ultimately denies this request alongside several alternative proposals. It does so precisely because it knows he will be unable to fulfill his contractual obligations in lieu of accommodation and so will have no choice but to resign or be terminated. In this way it appeases the bigots and anti-Semites that had been terrorizing him for more than a year.
This forced resignation—which is essentially a constructive discharge—destroys the professor’s mental health, wrecks his personal and professional reputation, drives him into unemployment, and plunges him into financial insolvency. It also virtually ensures that he will never find work in higher education again. In comparison with the resignations of Peter Boghossian and Kathleen Stock it is given no attention by mainstream media outlets, and an open letter protesting the university’s actions barely attracts five hundred signatures.
I take it for granted that most readers will find what happened to this professor horrifying and wrong. I further assume that many (if not most) would condemn the university’s actions in respect of his case. The question I want to raise is why these actions are worthy of condemnation? It is an important question for me personally, since, as it turns out, I am the professor.
Although my situation may appear to be a paradigmatic instance of what has been called “cancel culture”—a deeply problematic term, and one that I generally dislike—it strikes me as unique in several respects. To name one: while it is an open question whether efforts to cancel are more commonly directed by the left against the right, or vice versa, most right-wing campaigns are spearheaded by “mainstream” conservative organizations like Turning Point USA and Campus Reform, all of which are chiefly interested in targeting “leftists.” It is comparatively unusual for such campaigns to be led by avowed fascists who deliberately focus on professors’ racial, ethnic, and religious identities, as in my case. Whatever our thoughts on how universities should respond to cancel culture in general—whether from a moral or narrowly legal standpoint—shouldn’t the calculus should be different when literal Nazis are involved? If so, how?
While public universities are legally obligated to protect the free speech of tenured faculty members in most instances, they do not have any obligation to defend their employees’ reputations or to vouchsafe their safety and well-being outside of the workplace. Nor do they have a legal obligation to publicly condemn speech that others find disagreeable, even when the speech in question is uttered by a faculty member. Indeed, they are not obligated to condemn any speech—including anti-Semitic or white supremacist speech—even when the underlying ideas of said speech fuel campaigns of racist terror directed against their own employees.
If Midwestern State University’s actions are indeed worthy of criticism in this case, it is not (or nor just) because it violated the law. It is because universities in general have certain moral or ethical obligations (or duties) to their employees, and to the wider public, that become salient in certain extreme circumstances—for example, when literal Nazis are involved. At minimum this would seem to include an obligation to publicly condemn anti-Semitism and racism, to say nothing of violent racist and anti-Semitic attacks against faculty members. I fail to see why the existence of such an obligation should be a matter of controversy but, assuming it does exist, there is no question that Midwestern State University failed to honor it. It should be a cause for concern when even one university does this, as it gives others cover to follow suit.
Even if I were not at the center of this particular episode I would still find the near-total indifference toward it deeply troubling. While I am enough of a civil libertarian to concede that, in the vast majority of cases, no professor should be terminated or forced to resign for expressing controversial opinions, few such cases are quite as extreme as mine—not just because of the severity of what happened to me nor the short- and long-term personal consequences issuing therefrom, but because of the racist motivations of the perpetrators. I wasn’t forced to resign because I wrote something “offensive”; I was driven out by a sustained campaign of terror that was orchestrated by fascists and abetted by a craven university administration. If that is not an instance of “cancellation” worthy of sustained attention and discussion, I do not know what is.
That truly is appalling. Professor Jun, I wish you the best with your healing in the future.Report
MSU’s president, Suzanne Shipley, is utterly beneath contempt. What an embarrassment for the University. It’s hard to imagine how she can keep her job. Is the faculty at MSU that cowardly that they are willing to put up with how you were treated?Report
She appears to have retired. I hope she was forced out by the faculty. https://news.msutexas.edu/2021/06/a-message-from-the-president.phpReport
She wasn’t forced out, but denying Jun’s request for accommodation under the ADA was *literally* the last thing she did before stepping down.Report
Also, btw, she began her academic career as a scholar of Holocaust memoirs. Let the tragic irony of that sink in for a moment…Report
So many things about this situation are outrageous and terrible that it seems pointless to me to try to decide which is the most bad, but something about this part really sticks with me:
It also virtually ensures that he will never find work in higher education again.
Sadly, there’s good reason to think this is the case. But – why should it be the case? Nathan Jun was, as he notes, a respected teacher with a strong publication history. Why shouldn’t some other institution be eager to hire him? Of course, a big part of the answer is the inherent conservativeism and risk-aversion of much of academia. But there is also a strange and depressing view taken of many people who are not in continuous academic employment that makes these situations even harder. Unlike the behavior of villains and fools who are responsible for most of the bad behavior in the store, this seems like something academics could and should at least try to do something about. I hope that some will, and that Nathan will get a well deserved second chance.Report
I know Nathan a bit. We’ve met at conferences and communicated – around both political work and philosophy. Then 2 years ago, we wrote a paper together on grassroots responses to the pandemic. I also served as an outside reviewer of his tenure case. So I have read the vast majority of his published work.
Nathan is a wonderful philosopher – certainly the most accomplished philosopher working in the history of anarchist political thought. (Yes, there are not a lot of those, but he has defined the area within philosophy, carefully and rigorously recovering a tradition that is largely absent from political philosophy.) He absolutely deserves a permanent position. And hiring him, in the context of the vile and criminal behavior outlined in the OP, would *also* – ie in addition to making a great hire “on its merits” – be an important stand against the power of fascism and it’s administrative enablers.Report
Seems like Georgetown is making a case for the hir already?Report
Did the APA do anything? (Couldn’t find anything in Google searches or via their website’s search bar.)Report
No, despite efforts made by the Justice for Nathan Jun campaign.Report
One would really think that the two main functions of the APA should be
1. The promotion of philosophy, and
2. The defense of the academic freedom of all members of the profession in cases like this.
A cancellation of any philosopher is an attack on every member of the profession who has integrity. Meanwhile, those with no integrity can largely avoid these risks by tailoring their opinions to the fashion and joining the dogpiles on others, and the easily-silenced just whisper their protests into their sleeves while keeping their heads down.
Especially with the surfeit of available labor, we need a professional organization that helps us solve these sorts of collective action problems.
Why don’t we hold the APA leadership accountable for doing this?Report
The APA told us that it “doesn’t get involved in personnel matters.”Report
The APA has a Committee on the Defense of the Professional Rights of Philosophers. That committee does sometimes get involved in personnel matters, although I think it is pretty typical that they find they have no power to do anything about the problems.
Did anyone contact that committee? It is staffed by philosophers who are interested in issues of professional rights, and they are people of good will.
(Also, philosophers who are particularly interested in the professional rights of philosophers should volunteer to be on the committee!)Report
We didn’t contact that committee specifically. Thank you for the tip!Report
Thanks, Jamie. Geez, they sure don’t make that easy to find! For the curious, here’s the shortcut: https://www.apaonline.org/members/group.aspx?id=110428
I’ve written to the chair to volunteer to be on the committee, as you suggested. I hope my doing so doesn’t require me to go back to shelling out hundreds of dollars per year to ‘the Ape’. We’ll see.Report
Justin Kalef, you are perfect for that committee, and I’m glad you offered to volunteer for it. Thank you, and thank you, as always, for your insights on this blog. I’m grateful to have you as a colleague.Report
Wow, Molly: that’s really high praise! Thank you very much indeed, though you’re far too kind. We’ll see whether I even end up on the committee, but I’ll try to make it work. This *is* something I’m quite keen on.Report
You have to be a member of the APA to be a committee member. It’s a membership association. All of its committees are composed of members. Wanting the APA to do something is eminently understandable, but not wanting to pay a membership association the fees that are the source of their revenue will work against the goal of having an organization that does things.Report
I recommend looking through the minutes of APA board meetings from recent years to see reports from that committee to see how limited their ability to help philosophers whose professional rights have been stymied are; the committee is an admirable idea, but it is not a useful vehicle to direct anyone to who has had their rights violated.Report
That is shameful.Report
Full disclosure: I am a former student of Dr. Jun’s and a co-organizer of the Justice for Nathan Jun campaign. I was a first-generation, non-white college student. Dr. Jun was literally the only professor who ever believed in me. For three years he took time from his already ridiculous schedule to ease me through difficult passages from Kant and hone my skills in writing and philosophical argumentation. When I decided to enroll in graduate school for philosophy he devoted countless hours to helping me prepare for the GRE and finesse my personal statement and writing sample. Thanks to him I was accepted into a top program from which I hope to graduate next year. Dr. Jun was pretty much the only faculty member who cared about non-white / immigrant / queer students; whenever a black person was murdered by the cops, he was the only one who had the balls to speak out publicly. I am not alone in feeling this way; he is deeply revered by 12 years’ worth of MSU graduates, many of whom are ashamed of our alma mater for throwing him under the bus like this.
Anyway, I really appreciate the support you have shown him. He is in and out of the hospital and has wracked up tends of thousands of dollars in legal and medical expenses. Please consider donating a few bucks to his Go Fund Me https://www.gofundme.com/f/please-help-me-defray-my-legal-costs) and/or signing and sharing the open letter of support (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/12gajKuPnD64bXxkOkcu9UZjX7zqfkwINvDaYLVnJ6_U/).Report
And by the way: to the idiots on Twitter who are faulting Dr. Jun for failing to cite (for the umpteenth time) what he wrote on Facebook, here you go: ““I want the entire world to burn until the last cop is strangled with the intestines of the last capitalist, who is strangled in turn with the intestines of the last politician.” Go ahead and clutch your pearls about how “awful” this is, but are you really prepared to suggest that he deserved to be hounded out of his job and driven into a psychiatric hospital by Nazis because of it? If so you’re part of the problem.Report
You can think two things, as I do.
(1) The intimidation and abuse Jun received is terrible and unjustified and obviously so. No one should be treated like that, especially because of their ethnicity. And not even for inflammatory words they wrote to a friend on fb when they’re not an especially influential person (maybe would be bad if president wrote it).
(2) Jun definitely should not have written that publicly. (If you’re enemies could screenshot it, it wasn’t private enough.) What he said was obviously hyperbole, but also reasonably interpreted as a call to kill cops (regardless of whether they’ve ever harmed a black person), capitalists (I’m one of those–if it means “defender of capitalism”–but bc it’s the best poverty eliminator this planet has ever seen!), and politicians. You can’t be saying stuff on FB that many people can read that can reasonably interpreted as a call for killing innocent people. Should you lose your job over it? If it’s *obviously* a call to kill people, then yes. In this case, I genuinely don’t know. Was it really a call to kill people? I don’t think for a second that anyone would have gone out and killed a cop after reading that post. Jun just ain’t that influential. And yet, this seems like a reasonable policy: “Anyone who publicly calls for violence against innocent people will be fired.” Tough call in this case.
But these two attitudes are compatible.Report
This is so wrongheaded and problematic I don’t even know where to begin…Report
“Reasonably interpreted”? Are you for real, or just trolling?Report
Imagine I genuinely want to encourage people to kill cops. I’m obviously not going to say “Hey everyone, go kill cops!” I’m not stupid. I know I’ll be fired and my post will be taken down. What to do? This seems like a reasonable solution: I’ll say something obviously hyperbolic so that, if pressed, I can retreat to “Oh come on I wasn’t *really* calling for violence! Be reasonable!” Something like “I want the entire world to burn until the last cop is strangled with the intestines of the last capitalist, who is strangled in turn with the intestines of the last politician.” Doesn’t that seem somewhere close to the optimal way to call for violence without being censured? At any rate, wouldn’t it be reasonable for someone to think “Hmm sounds like this guy would like people to kill cops”? Or am I just a totally stupid person?Report
Yes, you are, and I’m done with you.Report
Sorry for wasting your time! Dummies like me will just never get it. Glad we have people like you with direct access to the good, the true, and the beautiful!Report
So, ‘Omnivore’, I’ll bite: I would submit that part of the problem with your hypothetical is that you appear to begin from a position without intellectual charity.
In other words, it’s a very cynical position that assumes anyone who makes an inflammatory statement ought to be reasonably assumed to be making that statement either 1) literally or 2) a hyperbolic statement only as a cover for the literal statement.
Perhaps you think such cynicism is warranted. I’m pretty cynical but that’s too far for me. I think the much more reasonable position is to assume that most people who say inflammatory things are relatively sane people who are acting very foolishly in the moment. To think otherwise seems to risk turning nearly the entire world into a seething mass of psychotics.
This cynical attitude appears to be one that reveals itself online quite often, but I would reject it as both unreasonable and uncharitable.Report
Right. I would add: considering that the offending quote was a paraphrase of Diderot, wouldn’t Omnivore’s view warrant the assumption t hat he (Diderot) was literally urging people to kill priests and kings? That’s just one of many, many reasons why this position is incredibly dumb. Also Omnivore very clearly doesn’t know how to read.Report
Also: the principal figure of speech that is used in both Jun’s comment as well as the quote it paraphrased is not even hyperbole but synecdoche, wherein an individual instance of something symbolically represents a whole. Jun, no less than Diderot, were very clearly referring to *institutions*–and the interconnectedness that exists among them–not individual people. That just seems bloody obvious to me.Report
That an interpretation is a reasonable interpretation does not entail that it’s a *uniquely* reasonable one. As our history of philosophy friends can attest, many texts admit of many reasonable interpretations.Report
That is breath-takingly pedantic.Report
That was just to say that, while I think *one* reasonable interpretation of Jun’s comment was as a call for violence, it’s not as though I think there are no other reasonable interpretations (as you and Geoff seem to think I think). That’s why I think Jun’s case is a hard case–neither an obviously fire-able offense nor “unambiguously protected speech”, as David Wallace says. I think it’s a tough call because it’s a tough call whether he was calling for violence.
We’re talking about strangling people with entrails here. And remember, emotions are running high in the wake of Floyd’s killing. Is it really *totally unreasonable* to interpret this utterance, from a self-avowed radical leftist, as something other than a joke? “Strangle cops with the entrails of capitalists! HAHA everyone!” Nothing wrong with being a radical leftist, but let’s not pretend they have no history of violence against those they regard as perpetrators of injustice.Report
1. It’s not a reasonable interpretation by any metric, nor is a “hard case,” as has been convincingly demonstrated by PEN America and the FIRE in their respective statements. 2. In typical scumbag philosopher fashion you’re just muddying the waters and treating a man’s life and career as a thought experiment to sound clever and score debating points. Utterly gross.Report
Also it’s pretty clear that you either didn’t read the OP or, if you did, that you completely missed the point. At this point you’re just engaging in victim-blaming and giving cover to Nazis and their collaborators in university admin.Report
I’m not seeing FIRE’s defense of the entrails comments. Just other much milder stuff he said on fb. And I’m in total agreement with FIRE about that:
Am I missing a more thorough defense of Jun by FIRE?Report
This whole sub-thread reminds me of a bunch of bros who witness a woman getting beaten to death by her husband standing around and debating whether she was an asshole for criticizing her MIL. It is fucking shameful.Report
Hi Omnivore. I think I see where you’re coming from, in the sense that I could imagine myself wondering whether Jun was promoting violence (whatever we mean by that). But then I reflect on the fact that Jun is an American citizen expressing a political sentiment in a public forum, and that he’s riffing on Diderot’s quip about the need for a separation of church from state. The fact that he was an employee at a public school in the U.S., one which bills itself as offering an education in the liberal arts, makes the whole thing look farcical.
Together these facts sufficiently establish, to my mind, that there is no support for questioning whether Jun was, as you put it, “calling for violence”. Indeed, the presumption that a genuine call for violence was on the table, or that any violence that might occur subsequent to his Facebook comment (a Facebook comment!) could be said to be his fault, strikes me as grossly distorting of the facts of the situation. We have no evidence that Jun was the ringleader in some anarchist cabal poised to commit violence at the drop of a comment on Facebook, and absent that kind of evidence there’s no reason to give more than a moment’s thought about “what ifs” and violence.
Given what Jun said, and in the context in which it was made, his remark was obviously an instance of protected speech in the United States. We should be full-throatedly explaining that fact to anybody who says otherwise. Our failure to do so, and the failure of our institutions to do so, speaks to a real problem on the part of the U.S. academy today, and on its participation in the American experiment.Report
“We’re talking about strangling people with entrails here.”
This is why it’s obviously unreasonable to interpret his statement as a call to violence. Were I to say that all cops should be put in one of Elon Musk’s penis-ships and sent on a one way ticket to Uranus, it would likewise be unreasonable, and on the same grounds, to interpret me as even POSSIBLY meaning it literally and calling for violence.Report
I find this thread hard to follow. Like David Wallace, I think it’s unambiguously protected speech and Nun should be able to say whatever the hell he likes. But to claim that that there’s no reasonable interpretation where what he said was a call to violence (whatever that is, exactly) seems strange to me, especially on the basis that Diderot clearly wasn’t calling for violence against priests and kings. Like, Diderot’s friends famously went on to kill priests and kings, so…Report
Was Diderot himself calling for the literal death of priests and kings? Was he literally urging other people to do so? For such an interpretation to be minimally reasonable there would need to be sufficient (and sufficiently significant) contextual evidence counting in its favor. There is no such evidence with respect to either of the quotes at issue. Again, this should be painfully obvious to everyone who reads this blog.Report
Also, all of this is fucking irrelevant. This is not a seminar room; it’s real life.Report
Exactly, at least someone has a sense of moral clarity on this issue.Report
“to claim that that there’s no reasonable interpretation where what he said was a call to violence (whatever that is, exactly) seems strange to me, especially on the basis that Diderot clearly wasn’t calling for violence against priests and kings.”
Wherein did I imply that was the basis?
I occasionally say “thanks Judas” when someone identifies me as the person for whom someone is looking. “Which of you is using the photocopier?” “JDF.” “Thanks Judas.” That sort of thing. It would be unreasonable to interpret me as recommending that this person hang themselves in shame even though that is what Judas did. Similarly, it is unreasonable to interpret someone making an outlandish and hyperbolic claim to a friend on a Facebook post as calling for the strangulation of a group by the entrails of their comrades or even for the murder of these individuals by less comic means.
This is not only because the reasonableness of an interpretation depends on the context of utterance but also because people constantly allude to or riff on famous quotations in ways which differ in meaning from the meaning of the original utterance. Language is interesting like that.Report
As Diderot was dead (1784) a couple of years before the French Revolution(1789) , and the quote was not even original to him, the causal connection you suggest is more than a little dubious. I don’t see how you get to a reasonable interpretation if you pay no attention to context. Or do you think Wittgenstein spent time talking to flies?Report
The phrase, which gleefully imagines strangling kings with the entrails of priests, or variations on it were increasingly popular towards the end of the 18th c. in France. Coincidentally, a few years later, people went crazy killing kings and priests. Anyone who thinks these two things are related clearly isn’t paying attention to the historical context …
This is pretty silly—of course promotion of the phrase by famous intellectuals may have contributed to the excesses of the FR.
But I see JDRox already clarified and responded below …Report
I think, yeah, that’s plausibly interpreted as a call for violence, but the point is this is speech protected by the First Amendment, so long as it’s not being said to a riled-up mob or something like that. And I think academics should be able to say anything protected by 1A without being subject to this kind of attack. Indeed, they should be able to say anything, period, without being subjected to this. Even cases of incitement or slander should be handled by courts, not mobs.Report
Okay, but as has been clearly stated below, simply because one can postulate many ‘reasonable interpretations’ in no way implies that all of those interpretations are in fact equally reasonable. Context matters, as do hermeneutical principles.Report
I shouldn’t pretend to be an expert on the French Revolution, but I would think that the fact that Diderot preceded it is better for my causal claim than any of the other options! Sorry JDF, my comment wasn’t directed at you (and this one isn’t directed at Geoff), I am just responding to the last comment on the thread, which I guess isn’t the best idea now that I think about it. Anyhow, my fundamental point regarding Diderot was that it seems pretty plausible that he was “calling for violence”, even while speaking hyperbolically, since, in fact, “his audience” went on to murder priests and kings in rather spectacular fashion. (But again, if there’s some compelling historical reason to question Diderot’s influence on the French Revolution, I will retract my claim.) I also want to reiterate that Nun should be able to say whatever he wants, and so debating about whether what he said could reasonably be interpreted as a call for violence is beside the point. Like, I definitely believe that the violently oppressed people should use whatever effective means they can, up to and including violence if necessary, to liberate themselves. I guess that’s a call for violence if anything is. Do I now merit cancellation?Report
“Do I now merit cancellation?”
I don’t know. Are you Jewish?
Seriously, thanks for clarifying your point.Report
Alternative view: it’s unambiguously protected speech and he should be able to say it wherever the hell he likes.Report
For real. Also, at this point playing the whole “I’m a reasonable liberal who always sees both sides” game is just gross victim-blaming. People need to give that crap up.Report
As always, that’s a game both sides can play. The result has never been good.Report
If he had been calling for cops, capitalists and politicians to be killed, I wouldn’t care too much if he lost his job even if what he said was protected speech. But obviously he wasn’t calling for that. And that makes a huge difference. Shifting the focus here to protected speech alone and ignoring the innocence of the victim and the horrific injustice of the attacks against him seems to me to be absolutely the wrong response.Report
Thanks to you, Preston, and others above and below for saying what I lacked the patience to say. I think it is worth reiterating that the content of Dr. Jun’s speech appears to have been a secondary motivation for those who orchestrated and carried out the worst of the harassment he suffered. What seemed to drive those individuals more than anything was *anti-Semitism”–a point that has been ignored or altogether lost in much of the discussion of his case. This fact–coupled with the overall egregiousness of what Dr. Jun suffered and continues to suffer in consequence–makes the lack of attention that has been paid to his case all the more confounding. (Yeah, I know I’m a less-than-objective party in this discussion but still…)Report
Do you live in some fantasy world where no one blows off steam by saying over the top things like this? It is not reasonable to interpret what he said as a call to kill cops, capitalists and politicians. That is painfully obvious.Report
Jun’s statement is not remotely close to incitement to violence. Omnivore is a troll.Report
I’m assuming you’ve heard of a type of book called an “encyclopedia”, right? The inventor of this type of book, Denis Diderot, has a very famous quote that is often included on heartwarming quotation pages:
“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
It’s not out of the question that Diderot was actually making a call to violence, since he was speaking during the time period of the French Revolution, when kings and priests were literally being killed. But to anyone who has studied the French Revolution, it is absolutely clear that the statement by Jun is intended as a paraphrase of this statement, rather than as an actual call to violence. This statement is often paraphrased in ordinary people’s political speech. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it paraphrased by Mao or Stalin or other people who actually went out and killed people.Report
It is not clear that Diderot did in fact say this, the quote often attributed to him made by others. In any case, an earlier version appears in the work of Jean Meslier. And of course we need not take it literally, a metaphorical interpretation may do just as well, given what we know about Diderot, who was, to put it mildly, no Marat or Robespierre and did not advocate anything like Sorelian violence. Diderot did of course believe that revolutions involved violence, and his Radical Enlightenment (Jonathan Israel) views led to the conclusion that the Ancien Régime was not amenable to reform and required revolutionary overthrow. Yet he took the trouble to warn of revolutionary “excesses” of the sort that eventually did occur with the Terror. In brief, he appears to have given some consideration to the means and ends of revolutionary change even if he was but an ideologue that accorded philosophical legitimacy or sanction to the Revolution.Report
A bit more research and I discovered, in Andrew S. Curran’s delightful and incisive book, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely (Other Press, 2019), that the phrase “And with the guts of the last priest let us wring the neck of the last king,” was published long after “The Terror,” indeed, two years after the Revolution turned on Robespierre himself. It was found in a poem, “Les éleuthéromanes” (‘The Maniacs for Liberty’), described by Curran as a “ceremonious Pindaric ode” composed as “flippant entertainment for a small audience,” never having been circulated before the Revolution. Two notes further clarify the relevant circumstances and consequences: “Louis-Sébastien Mercier had actually attributed it to Diderot as early as 1791, claiming he heard Diderot say it in the café Procope. The quote is actually a paraphrase from Voltaire’s version of Meslier’s famous Testament, which Diderot knew well.” The image of Diderot as, among other things, a “bloodthirsty proto-sansculottist” was disseminated, for example, by abbé Barruel in his Mémoires pour server à l’histoire du Jacobinisme, which treated Diderot as an extremist involved in anti-Christian conspiracy.”Report
Diderot was responsible for a famous and influential encyclopedia, but did not invent this type of book (indeed, the one he was responsible for seems to have been inspired by his translating another one). Encyclopedias as we understand date back to antiquity. Here is an example from centuries before Diderot:
Responsibility for conceiving the Encyclopédie project proper in its eventual format and motivating purpose belongs to Diderot (the ‘original idea,’ however, came from ‘a hapless immigrant’ academic from Danzig [Gdańsk] named Gottfried Sellius; the full story is found in the Curran book I earlier cited) but the actual production involved of course the “brilliant mathematician” Jean-Baptiste d’Alembert, its early co-editor, although he resigned after the 7th volume (some contributing authors withdrew from the project at the same time). The Encyclopédie altogether was a collaborative project, with over 150 contributors providing articles/entries. After all, the first volume was published in 1751 and the work was not finished until 1772, by which time “it had grown to become the most massive single reference work in Europe. It comprised seventeen folio volumes containing 71,818 articles, eleven folio volumes of 2,885 plates, and five supplemental volumes.” (Daniel Brewer) I leave the most of the final words to Philipp Blom:
“The ‘great’ Encyclopédie by Diderot and d’Alembert is not the largest encyclopedia ever published, neither is it the first, the most authoritative, or the most popular. What makes it the most significant event in the entire intellectual history of the Enlightenment is the particular constellation of politics, economics, stubbornness, heroism, and religious ideas that prevailed, for the first time ever, against the accumulated determination of Church and Crown, of all established forces in France taken together, to become a triumph of free thought, secular principal, and private enterprise. The victory of the Encyclopédie presaged not only the Revolution, but the values of the two centuries to come.”
That somewhat breathless and perhaps hyperbolic synoptic assessment should be tempered by the relevant material on this and related subjects from a couple of remarkable volumes by Jonathan Israel on the Enlightenment, especially the one on the “Democratic Enlightenment,” which gives due credit to other works that played prominent and supporting parts in this “triumph” of “free thought and secular principle,” among other things, such as the overall “revolution of the mind” which was at least a necessary condition for the French Revolution.
I’m not sure whether you intended this as a reply to me. I didn’t say Diderot wasn’t responsible for the Encyclopédie, I said he wasn’t the inventor of the type of book called the encyclopedia, which is what Kenny had said. I assumed Kenny would wish to know this. It’s irrelevant to the topic of the larger thread, but I certainly like to be corrected when I’m misinformed about something, even if it’s a rather minor matter of fact.Report
Your comment suggested to me that the notion of responsibility in this instance needed to be clarified and filled out (e.g., he was not alone responsible even if his role, in the end and rightly, indissolubly links his name to the completed project).Report
Thanks! I’m really quite remarkably pleased at the high quality of comments correcting and refining my off-the-cuff remark that I actually regretted a few minutes later when I finally read the other big thread in this comment section (since it already covered most of what I wanted to say, and I was a bit overly snarky in how I phrased it).Report
Thank you for sharing these resources, Mary.Report
You’re welcome. At his family’s request, you are also invited to donate to the PTSD Foundation of America (https://ptsdusa.org/give-help/) and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/donate/).Report
From what I can tell, Jun’s treatment from every quarter has ranged from negligent to abusive. I hope he finds employment elsewhere in academia. And I hope his case helps open the eyes of some of those who poo-poo the problem of what we’re calling “cancel culture”.
We’re facing a crisis of public discourse today, and while that’s exacerbated by new media technologies and their impact on the way we communicate (and produce and consume information), the university system also bears some responsibility for how things have developed. As educators, we have a duty help the public understand the importance of the very right Jun was exercising. That applies no matter what one thinks of the sentiment he was expressing.
There was a missed opportunity here to make a careful, reasoned point about media literacy, political discourse, the virtues of separation between church and state, or capital and state, and the rights of others to hold diametrically opposed views on these issues. Had that point been made with sufficient attention to detail, and supported by a quorum of educators and administrators, things might have turned out differently. Instead, we have more calcification of infantile outrage and the herd mentalities that give into it.Report
Agreed on all fronts. I would reiterate that all of us should be gravely concerned when white supremacists have the operational ability to exert this level of pressure on university administrators and with such little resistance. Kowtowing to donors and politicians is bad enough, but not putting up the slightest fight when Nazis are involved is fucking unconscionable.Report
The lessons of the Maginot Line, perhaps: if you set up your whole defensive system expecting them to attack from one side, you’re awfully vulnerable when they come at you from the other. Left wing, right wing, it’s irrelevant. The big news here is that a philosopher is being attacked for what it seems should be in the realm of protected speech. Those who only care about these things when it’s one side rather than another are fairweather friends. What we need here is some principle.Report
Also a Jewish philosopher being attacked by Nazis…Report
I, too, am a Jewish philosopher. But I’m not sure what you mean by ‘Nazis’ here. As far as I know, the Nazi party has not existed since the 1940s. Do you mean neo-Nazis? Are you saying that the only basis people had for attacking Jun was that they were members of some neo-Nazi organization? That seems far-fetched.
It really seems that the problem here is that a professor is in trouble for what appears to be protected speech. And that is enough.Report
No, that’s not what I’m saying, and that’s not what Dr. Jun said. You might want to re-read the post as well as my previous comments. The individuals responsible for the most egregious harassment were avowed white supremacists who SPECIFICALLY TARGETED HIM FOR BEING JEWISH. You should recognize that as a seriously problem, especially if you are a Jew.Report
“…the Nazi party hasn’t existed…” Talk about uncharitable interpretation!Report
“Are you saying that the only basis people had for attacking Jun was that they were members of some neo-Nazi organization? That seems far-fetched.”
Stuff like this doesn’t improve the conversation at Daily Nous. Obviously, she didn’t say that that was the only basis for attacking Jun. She said that Nazis were involved. At least this time you didn’t surround a remark someone didn’t make in quotation marks, like you did in responding to me in another post.Report
The man’s home was spray-painted with swastikas twice: first alongside “get out k*ke* and second with “antifa die.” People drove by his house and shouted “go home Jew.” I could go on.Report
Also, yes–many if not most of the individuals I mentioned above were openly affiliated with hate groups. No one is saying that everyone who found Jun’s post offensive are Nazis–just the prime movers of the campaign against him.Report
Now, hang on. There seem to be two things going on here.
Some people on the right wing became outraged by things he had said and spread a screenshot (possibly taken out of context) and a report, possibly skewed and inaccurate, which got a number of people angry with him. Some of them, you say, went as far as to throw a garbage can on him, threaten him, and spraypaint a swastika on his house. All those reactions are wrong, and many of them sound criminal. I hope he is pursuing all that with the police. I don’t see how it follows from that that the main people who generated the outrage against him were ‘Nazis’, i.e. members of white supremacist organizations, even if some of the people who got involved were. Or perhaps you have evidence that the people who started this whole thing against him were members of a self-described white supremacist group? I don’t know. But that still belongs to the criminal side of things. I don’t think that most people would have a hard time seeing that those sorts of actions are wrong, and that they are rightly illegal.
Then, there’s the question of the university’s reaction to it all. And that’s the part that seems relevant here. The university, and the academic community, cannot be responsible for safeguarding his home and person: that responsibility falls to others. But I agree with you that it is despicable for a university to cave in to a mob and blame a victim of this sort of widespread mobbing for what has happened. It is just when such things happen and academics or other intellectuals are dragged through the mud that the university, and the academic community, must stand with them in support for their academic freedom. In his case, if his physical safety was threatened on campus, I agree that the university should also have taken extra steps to protect him.
But was the university motivated to act against him because self-described white nationalist groups (which I take it you are using the word ‘Nazis’ to refer to) put pressure on them to? Perhaps I’m missing something, but I haven’t yet seen that that is so. There are angry far-right people who are not members of white nationalist groups, just as there are angry far-left people who are not members of Antifa and the like.
And I think we all know that the word ‘Nazi’ is at this point a very unclear term of abuse. If you mean ‘neo-Nazi’ or ‘white nationalist’ here, well, that’s a somewhat close approximation; but it’s all too easy for a fallacy of equivocation to follow by further descriptions of people who were merely on the right wing as ‘Nazis’, leading to the whole issue becoming confused.
And no, the fact that I am personally Jewish does not make me more prone to care about this. I choose, as I have always chosen, to object to racism and other forms of bigotry without any reference to the races involved. Morality is not, to me, an ofshoot of personal or ethnic prudence.
Once again, I’m fully in support of protecting Jun’s rights, and it sounds as though the university acted shamefully. And, of course, anyone who is attacked or subject to vandalism, especially racist vandalism, deserves our sympathy and society’s protection. I simply see the tying of the moral principle here to political allegiance to be less than helpful.Report
You’re wrong and misinformed about a whole host of things but I’m super tired of arguing about this. Support him (for whatever reasons you want) or don’t. Can we at least agree that this case deserves far greater attention outside of the philosophy blogosphere? If so, it would be extremely helpful if people could try to rectify that situation in whatever means are at their disposal.Report
Ah, I’m wrong and misinformed, and you’re right and informed, and you not only have special access to the truth but are aware of that remarkable and entirely non-opinionated intellectual superiority over all the rest of us who disagree with you, and you’re tired of trying to get your message across to us benighted peons who huddle in the shadow of your brilliance. Aww.
This whole thing is the story of a man who has been attacked by outsiders, and betrayed by his university at the behest of a mob, Among philosophers like us, it’s a story that pretty well sells itself. Getting people to commit to helping out, especially after Justin W.’s very sympathetic introduction, is a piece of cake. That you have managed to alienate many in your audience from doing something you want them to do that they would almost all have been inclined to do without your saying so is quite something.Report
You seemed to think upthread that your interlocutor was somehow unaware that the OG Nazi Party no longer exists, such that you were willing to entertain assigning bizarre discourse referents to Mary’s use of ‘Nazi’. It’s really not Mary here who comes across as having (or taking themselves to have) special epistemic access.
I suspect many readers take Mary to have made a strong case for her worthy cause, and to have contributed more than anyone else to an important conversation in this post. I also suspect (and Mary correct me if I’m wrong) that they’ve decided their time is spent in better ways than drawing distinctions in the sand and addressing every alternate hypothesis you can come up with. Mary doesn’t owe you that and your presumption that they do only makes you look entitled.Report
You are 100% right. Thank you (fellow) grad.Report
No, it’s exactly the opposite of what you say. Having special epistemic access is not what one needs to question the use of the word ‘Nazi’. It is easy to see that that term is used very ambiguously and whimsically. What I said was that there has not been any Nazi party since the 1940s, as far as I am aware. That is not a piece of information that only a few people know: exactly the opposite. And my point is that any use of the term to refer to people today will be non-literal. But there is no fixed non-literal meaning of the word in these contexts. One brings the word in the back door, and more often than not it quickly gets used in a variety of equivocations. So it would be better to just say what you mean without the unclear ‘Nazi’ epithet. Seems fairly simple.Report
Also, I never ‘presumed’ that Mary owes me anything at all. You’re the one who’s presuming.
All I can say, again, is that this nicely illustrates what little good it tends to do to needlessly bring a whole bunch of outside baggage to bear on a previously clear issue. All you achieve thereby is the alienation of many people who would otherwise have unequivocally supported the cause.
If your aim is to rally as much support as you can for Jun, then this is counterproductive.
Enough. Take care.Report
Justin: on behalf of myself and my colleagues in Justice for Nathan Jun I want to apologize for the belligerence with which I have responded to your comments. Although I disagree with your position, I recognize that I have not expressed that disagreement in a respectful manner. (My personal closeness to the situation is not an excuse for being a jerk.) I also recognize that your remarks have been made in good faith and assure you that I understand where you’re coming from even if I disagree. I hope you won’t hold any of this against Dr. Jun who, for what it’s worth, has made it clear to me that he greatly appreciates your (and others’) support and doesn’t much care what’s motivating it as long as folks are willing to do something, however seemingly small and insignificant, on his behalf. Peace.Report
Get over yourself.Report
Hi Mary. Thanks for the context you’ve added to the conversation, and please let me know if I’m misinformed about anything. I share your concern about Nazis. And like Justin, I think it’s important not to lose sight of the structural issues underlying what the Nazis were finally able to accomplish here. The way the debacle unfolded reflects a failure of literacy on the part of the public, a failure of leadership on the part of the University, and a lost opportunity for the professoriate to help people see what’s going on. If some of the worst agitators were Antifa anarchists, rather than Nazis, that structural explanation would still hold up.
So let’s keep the pressure on National Socialism, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s a structural problem here that’s more general than National Socialism, and which, if it were cured, would prevent the National Socialists from having the kind of power you and Jun are talking about.
Also, it’s important to keep that structural issue in mind so as to avoid supposing that all of the pressure Jun was under was coming from National Socialists. After all, while cities are undergoing social and political upheaval across the country, he made a remark affirming the burning of the world until cops, capitalists, and politicians are strangled with one another’s intestines.
It’s a good riff on Diderot, and it was made among friends on Facebook. There’s no question it’s protected speech, and it’s certainly the kind of sentiment many people in the U.S. were thinking at the time. But on its face, it calls for violence against public and private entities. The fact that cops were targeted, in particular, did not sit well with many people, and as a public institution in Texas the University was no doubt under enormous pressure as a result (hence Shipley’s craven about-face in her stance on the issue a week after affirming Jun’s first-amendment rights).
There’s a substantial structural SNAFU tied up in the lines of information and communication at the center of this debacle. This remains an opportunity for the academy to engage in a little public outreach by way of encouraging both old and new media literacy, and an appreciation for the principles enshrined in the First Amendment as a basis for our self-government. So far, that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Have you or Jun thought about trying to host some kind of public debate or discussion panel over what’s occurred? I’ve seen pieces of commentary that he’s given, but I’m not aware of whether he tried to lay the case out systematically anywhere. How about reaching out to institutions that foster political discussion groups in the U.S. today, like Constituting America, the Better Angels Society, or the Getting Better Foundation? Maybe FIRE or the Heterodox Academy could host something at the University of Austin.
I would think that if you put together a panel with a handful of representative views, it would be pretty clear pretty quick that there’s a convergent position most people can appreciate. It would do a monumental service to the community if that was picked up in the news cycle to any significant extent.Report
The faint stink of victim-blaming remains.Report
Actually, on subsequent reading this is probably unfair. Thanks for the suggestions; unfortunately Dr. Jun is in a very bad way (the OP was dictated and transcribed, incidentally) and most certainly not in a position to take anything like this on at the moment. Myself and two other graduate students have been trying for months to get something going on his behalf but evidently no one is interested.Report
Thanks Mary, and I’m sorry to hear that. For what it’s worth, after the University of Austin was founded I reached out to them and encouraged their hiring Jun and Steve Salaita, as I figured it would go some way toward illustrating a good-faith effort to foster viewpoint diversity. I never heard back from anyone, I’m afraid. Feel free to email me if you want to talk about tactics on a public or semi-public discussion; I’d be happy to try to help put something together if I could.Report
Honestly Mary, that was said in good faith. Whatever Jun went through at the hands of the Nazis, the people upset at his remarks about killing cops, and who then put pressure on the public institution employing him, are not accurately characterized as Nazis. I say that with the full conviction that it doesn’t matter a nit whether those people were upset. Jun had every right to say what he did. But presenting this as a problem of National Socialism doesn’t strike me as all that revelatory of the underlying issue. You’ll also note that I opened with a hedge and a request to be told if I’m misinformed, so I hope you reread my remarks in the spirit in which I intended them.
I’m cautiously optimistic that a well-advertised and properly constituted panel discussion, if it were picked up in the national media, might do a world of good for the underlying problem.Report
“Whatever Jun went through at the hands of the Nazis, the people upset at his remarks about killing cops, and who then put pressure on the public institution employing him, are not accurately characterized as Nazis.”
I never characterized those people as Nazis. What I said, again, is that the WORST harassment–directed both toward him and the institution–came from avowed white supremacists who were specifically targeting him for being Jewish. I’m sorry, but that is a hugely significant aspect of this story and absolutely should not be swept under the rug.Report
To be clear, I’m not suggesting we ignore the threat of National Socialism. The point is that this threat doesn’t represent a target that, even if it was hit on the bull’s eye, would fix the underlying problem. And I am claiming that because, as we both agree, the vast majority of Jun’s critics are not National Socialists, this illustrates that the bull’s eye is to be found elsewhere.
Anyway, I know you and Jun are pretty close to this right now, so I don’t want you to think I’m not standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you on the wall against National Socialism. But I do hope that you can see there may be other ways of sensibly responding to what has happened.Report
Could it be that there is more than one underlying problem in this case?Report
Of course. I was making the case that the structural problem is more substantial, given that 1) we all agree that the majority of the critics weren’t National Socialists, 2) the situation could have been brought about if Antifa Anarchists rather than National Socialists were the efficient cause, and 3) if the structural problem was solved then the National Socialists wouldn’t even have been able to use public pressure in the way that they did.Report
Okay, well, thanks for your input though. Please sign the open letter if you haven’t already.Report
I think defending Jun on the grounds that calling for the murder of all cops, capitalists, and politicians is protected speech is pretty much doomed to fail. Emphasizing that he made no such call is crucial to any effective campaign on his behalf.Report
I don’t think the two are as separated as it might seem. There just aren’t very strong protections for employee speech in the US outside the academic/public sectors. Yes, in context it’s ridiculous to read Jun’s comment as a call for violence, but I can imagine a great many employers deciding that the embarrassment of having to explain the context to idiots exceeds the inconvenience of letting an employer go. In a few cases I even think that might be the right call (if Jun was employed by the Biden campaign last year, say). To me the right line seems to be “This is a ridiculous interpretation of Jun’s comment, but in any case a university shouldn’t be in the business of trying to decide whether a professor’s extramural speech should be interpreted one way or another”.
I think it’s worth adding (since we’ve also been discussing the more general issue, not just Jun’s specific case) that there have been cases quite like Jun’s but where the professor has got a *lot* closer to the line of endorsing violence – Tommy Curry and Ward Churchill in particular. (The case that Curry was endorsing the killing of whites looks pretty weak to me, but it’s not transparently ridiculous as with Jun.) I am more optimistic about a general principle of solidarity changing the culture than I am on having to make distinctions between cases, not least because the general free-speech argument crosses left/right lines and has less chance of just getting lost in general polarization.Report
Can you explain why you don’t think it is significant or noteworthy in itself that Jun was (very clearly) targeted for being Jewish by the most committed and ardent perpetrators of the campaign against him? Whether or not universities should publicly condemn such campaigns whenever they occur (and regardless of why), it just seems obvious to me that they should at least do so when faculty members (or staff members, or students) are being viciously attacked on account of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. In this case, MSU could have distanced itself from Jun’s speech (if it so chose) while simultaneously (a) affirming his right to free speech and (b) condemning the racism and bigotry that motivated large swathes of his attackers, to say nothing of violent attacks in general.Report
I do think it’s significant and noteworthy. (But my posts are long enough even when I try to keep them on a specific focus, and it wasn’t salient to my reply to Kaila Draper, so I didn’t note it myself.)
I absolutely agree that MSU should have done both (a) and (b). (As should Texas A&M in the Tommy Curry case.)Report
DW: “To me the right line seems to be “This is a ridiculous interpretation of Jun’s comment, but in any case a university shouldn’t be in the business of trying to decide whether a professor’s extramural speech should be interpreted one way or another”.”
That seems reasonable to me. But I don’t think all of these cases of protected speech should be defended in a content-neutral way. The content makes all the difference in some cases because most people don’t really care about protected speech as much as you do. Many are even appalled when they learn that calls to murder are protected except in a limited range of cases. I will defend the right of Nazis to march in Skokie (sp?), but I’d rather defend the rights of a victim of Nazis and other fools in a case like Jun’s. Granted, defending the one can help to defend the other, but now we are talking about long-term and very speculative political projects rather than helping a particular victim right now given the circumstances of the moment.Report
There is a tendency in situations like this for people to talk a lot but do very little. I know for a fact that it is very difficult for victims to observe their cases being relentlessly parsed and ruminated over ad nauseam for a week or two by a small handful of people only to be forgotten once another shiny object comes along. Public expressions of solidarity are a bit more helpful, perhaps, but not much–especially when a case isn’t being discussed much or at all outside of hermetically sealed discursive bubbles.Report
This is the bottom line. Remember human beings who have been gravely harmed read these discussions. And at least please donate some $ to a fellow philosopher desperately in need. BTW if ever there was a thread where people should use their real names, this is it.Report
Thank you so much for being human, Aaron.Report
Yes, I wholly agree. That’s why I have been focused more on the question of what an effective defense of Jun would look like. In my opinion, it would not be based only on the fact that his speech was protected. So, if I were you, I would ignore some of the advice you have been given here.
Personally, I signed the letter some time ago and I have condemned Shipley’s craven statement on the MSU Facebook page, but what my own next step should be is unclear to me. I have no connection to major news outlets. I am not even a citizen of Texas, let alone someone with influence in Texas politics or MSU policy. What should someone like me do?Report
You’ve done more than enough, Kaila. Thank you so much!Report
I agree, although–having read through some of the previous discussions on this blog–I suspect there are underlying ideological motivations on the part of those who are most vociferously defending the contrary position.Report
While there is nothing I might add to the specific case here, which is indeed horrific, and suggestive if not emblematic of what is occurring in varying degrees throughout our country: at local school boards, with health care workers and public health officials, with local, state, and national politicians, indeed with anyone who dares publicly to disturb the (proto-fascist, fascist, or neo-fascist) political worldviews or fragile psyches of those on the extreme Right which have made mincemeat of whatever is or was worth salvaging from the tradition of Conservatism. I tend to view what happened to Professor Jun as, in short, “symptomatic of what ails us,” socially, culturally, politically, and psychologically (and of course with historic roots and precedent related to incipient, direct and indirect causation), and we should be concerned enough to endeavor to identify the forces and mechanisms at work, in particular, those of a psychological nature at both individual and group levels. It should go without saying that these forces, mechanisms and motivations do not arise in a vacuum, hence the need to appreciate Marxist or “critical” conceptions or of ideology (i.e., wherein ‘ideology’ is not used in merely a descriptive sense to identify a political worldview or lifeworld, the latter the individual’s understanding or former), modified and enhanced by our knowledge of psychology culled from the arts, especially literature (e.g., novelists and playwrights), the French moralists, cognitive and psychoanalytic psychology, and philosophical work on the emotions, for example (I am skeptical of the value of behaviorist, experimental, and evolutionary psychology, although others will no doubt disagree with that judgment). Toward that end, and leaving aside for now relevant works on democratic theory and practice and political economy, I have put together beginnings of a list which, I believe, will help us make begin to make some sense of extremist politics on the Right.
The symbiotic psychoses of the leaders and the led in the messianic nationalist cult of Trump and the current Republican Party are at once an immanent and imminent threat to our Liberal democracy and its constitutionally-mandated welfare state,* or so I would argue. In my lifetime at least, I cannot recall a time when it appeared so many people (tens of millions?) in this country were dispositionally or habitually afflicted with debilitating psychological phenomena and mental states: denial, self-deception, wishful thinking, illusions, delusions, and phantasies. Being human, we are all in varying degrees and at different times vulnerable to these phenomena and states, but ours is a time and place in which they’ve become ubiquitous at the level of both individual and group psychology. There is of course historical precedence, hence the familiar locution from Erich Fromm: the “pathology of normalcy.” As Daniel Burston informs us, this phrase, while used in reference to the “pervasive alienation of postwar industrial society,” and “[l]ike the very idea of a sane society,” in fact “derives from a broader anthropological and historical outlook Fromm termed ‘normative humanism.’ Its controversial premise [one shared by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj] is that society as whole can be sick or ‘insane,’ inasmuch as it fails to address existential needs that are vital to the growth and development of the human individual.” We can, like Fromm himself on occasion (and like Marx before him), view this in reference to the denial or distortion of more basic human or material and psychological needs as well. In any case, these debilitating psychological mechanisms go hand-in-hand with inexcusable and willful ignorance, cognitive biases, and moral psychological vices (e.g., the ‘deadly sins’) as well epistemic vices that make for a noxious social psychology and mental outlook that has motley nefarious consequences for the political realm as well as our everyday lives.
* On this, see Sotirios A. Barber, Welfare and the Constitution (Princeton University Press, 2003). On the regnant types of welfare states in North America and Europe, see Robert E. Goodin, et al., The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
This list is a beginning, and it needs to be rounded out in several ways, but perhaps we can make that a joint endeavor.
While there is nothing I might add to the specific case here, which is indeed horrific, and suggestive if not emblematic to what is occurring in varying degrees throughout our country: at local school boards, with health care workers and public health officials, with local, state, and national politicians, indeed with anyone who dares publicly to disturb the (proto-fascist, fascist, or neo-fascist) political worldviews or fragile psyches of those on the extreme Right which have made mincemeat of whatever is or was worth salvaging from the tradition of Conservatism. I tend to view what happened to Professor Jun as, in short, “symptomatic of what ails us,” socially, culturally, politically, and psychologically (and of course with historic roots and precedent related to incipient, direct and indirect causation), and we should be concerned enough to endeavor to identify the forces and mechanisms at work, in particular, those of a psychological nature at both individual and group levels. It should go without saying that these forces, mechanisms and motivations do not arise in a vacuum, hence the need to appreciate Marxist or “critical” conceptions or of ideology (i.e., wherein ‘ideology’ is not used in merely a descriptive sense to identify a political worldview or lifeworld, the latter the individual’s understanding or former), modified and enhanced by our knowledge of psychology culled from the arts, especially literature (e.g., novelists and playwrights), the French moralists, cognitive and psychoanalytic psychology, and philosophical work on the emotions, for example (I am skeptical of the value of behaviorist, experimental, and evolutionary psychology, although others will no doubt disagree with that judgment). Toward that end, and leaving aside for now relevant works on democratic theory and practice and political economy, I have put together beginnings of a list which, I believe, will help us make begin to make some sense of extremist politics on the Right.
The symbiotic psychoses of the leaders and the led in the messianic nationalist cult of Trump and the current Republican Party are at once an immanent and imminent threat to our Liberal democracy and its constitutionally-mandated welfare state,* or so I would argue. In my lifetime at least, I cannot recall a time when it appeared so many people (tens of millions?) in this country were dispositionally or habitually afflicted with debilitating psychological phenomena and mental states: denial, self-deception, wishful thinking, illusions, delusions, and phantasies. Being human, we are all in varying degrees and at different times vulnerable to these phenomena and states, but ours is a time and place in which they’ve become ubiquitous at the level of both individual and group psychology. There is of course historical precedence, hence the familiar locution from Erich Fromm: the “pathology of normalcy.” As Daniel Burston1 informs us, this phrase, while used in reference to the “pervasive alienation of postwar industrial society,” and “[l]ike the very idea of a sane society,” in fact “derives from a broader anthropological and historical outlook Fromm termed ‘normative humanism.’ Its controversial premise [one shared by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj] is that society as whole can be sick or ‘insane,’ inasmuch as it fails to address existential needs that are vital to the growth and development of the human individual.” We can, like Fromm himself on occasion (and like Marx before him), view this in reference to the denial or distortion of more basic human or material and psychological needs as well. In any case, these debilitating psychological mechanisms go hand-in-hand with inexcusable and willful ignorance, cognitive biases, and moral psychological vices (e.g., the ‘deadly sins’) as well epistemic vices that make for a noxious social psychology and mental outlook that has motley nefarious consequences for the political realm as well as our everyday lives.
*On this, see Sotirios A. Barber, Welfare and the Constitution (Princeton University Press, 2003). On the regnant types of welfare states in North America and Europe, see Robert E. Goodin, et al., The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
This list is a beginning, and it needs to be rounded out in several ways, but perhaps we can make that a joint endeavor.
I have no glib response to what I make of all that, but thanks some interesting thoughts and reading suggestions ahead of the Christmas period. Take care allReport
Since you’re listing some general works on nationalism (as opposed to works specifically on contemporary right-wing nationalism), I’d add:
Anthony W. Marx, _Faith in Nation: Exclusionary Origins of Nationalism_ (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003).Report
Right-wing nationalism is to some extent addressed in the volumes by Auestad, Seidel, Stewart, and Tismaneanu, although I appreciate learning of this title: thank you!Report
I apologize for flooding y’all with comments but this is obviously very important to me on a personal level. I just wanted to make a few additional points that strike me as relevant.
First, it is worth reiterating that MSU was well aware of Dr. Jun’s political convictions and the nature of his work when it hired him in 2008. (Ironically, this is a rare example of a genuinely meritocratic hiring decision in academia.) While he did not hide his politics or refrain from expressing controversial opinions publicly over the course of the next 12 years, doing so never had a deleterious impact on his career. (Again, he was granted tenure and promoted in rank twice.) To the extent that the surrounding community was aware of his existence at all it mostly just wrote him off as a typical “Marxist” [sic] professor. He is not a bombthrower and had no reputation for being one until he appeared on the far right’s radar in the summer of 2021.
Second, this was not the first time that Dr. Jun had been on the receiving end of anti-Semitic and racist attacks (see, for example, https://www.timesrecordnews.com/story/news/local/2018/11/03/msu-texas-responds-poster-marked-racially-charged-vandalism/1862504002/) , nor was it the first time that the university responded to such attacks in a grossly incompetent and negligent manner (see https://www.chronicle.com/article/these-scholars-denounced-the-police-do-their-universities-have-their-backs). In one notorious instance, the university even gave cover to a graduate student who had been outed as an avowed white supremacist and a sympathizer with (or possible member of) the terrorist group Atomwaffen (https://thewichitan.com/64779/news/administration-offers-follow-up/). There are countless other examples alongside this one:
Third, and finally, all of this is emblematic of a more general pattern of negligence and indifference on the part of the university administration in response to issues effecting women, LGBTQ students, and ethnic/racial minorities on campus. Consider, for example, the administrator who made a rape joke at a campus forum on sexual assault and was allowed to keep *his* job: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/23/midwestern-states-handling-sexual-assault-cases-under-fire
Perhaps the bitterest pill to swallow is knowing that MSU has done all of these things–and will presumably continue to do so–with next to no consequences. The forced resignation of Dr. Jun was orchestrated less than a month before the university’s much-publicized admission into the Texas Tech University system. This could, and should, have been a huge embarrassment to them; unfortunately none of the 4 dozen (plus) media outlets we contacted (apart from Daily Nous and Leiter Reports) were interested in covering the story. The more time passes, the more difficult it is to even try to hold MSU accountable. Forget about media coverage: a lot of otherwise sympathetic people can’t even be bothered to sign an open letter, express their outrage on social media, or contact the university administration directly. All of this is profoundly disappointing and upsetting to me. MSU shouldn’t be able to get away with this with virtual impunity.Report
Thank you for bringing all this to our attention.Report
This is outrageous. At this point, what can people do to hold the cowards and Nazi enablers at MSU accountable?Report
We’ve been thinking a lot about this. Some small things folks can do right now: contact the administrations of Midwestern State University and Texas Tech University, Tweet at MSU and/or the TTU System, comment on their Facebook pages, post and share this story as widely as possible on social media, sign the open letter… Beyond this, we really need people to lobby media outlets big and small for coverage. (Dr. Jun also could really use some financial help but I’ll leave that to one side ftm.)Report
Thanks, Mary. I’ll take some of these suggestions.Report
Has the AAUP shown any interest or given any help?Report
Alas, no. They’ve stonewalled us too.Report
Another Wichitan link for context: https://thewichitan.com/67966/news/bsu-responds-to-professors-accusation-of-anti-semitism/Report
Yeah, some students in the BSU made anti-Semitic remarks about Jun on Twitter. They also accused him of white saviorism and a bunch of other BS.Report
(I should add that this isn’t really relevant to the OP. Yes, this was the rally that pissed off the local right-wingers, but Jun’s dispute with the BSU was resolved privately not long thereafter.)Report
Best not to put too much of one’s faith in “liberals” to defend one’s right to speak truth to power, as the terrible events surrounding Harsha Walia, the former executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Assoc. (BCCLA), earlier this year demonstrate. Walia, who is a celebrated author and long-time community organizer and activist around (among other things) Indigenous rights, refugees and immigration, poverty, and racism in Canada, was forced to resign their position as ED of the BCCLA (allegedly) due to a comment that they made on Twitter after the gravesites of thousands of Indigenous children were discovered on the grounds of churches in B.C. and other parts of Canada.
Yes, that’s right: the board of an influential civil liberties association in Canada compelled the resignation of a renowned and committed leader for social change because of complaints to its board from (liberal) funders. If you want to know more about Walia’s work and/or the circumstances surrounding their resignation, please do a quick google search
For another example of liberals undermining academic freedom, that is, another example from philosophy, go here to read about how my work at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY has been targetted:
Sadly, I suspect you’re right, Shelley. (Incidentally, the fact that MSU constructively discharged Jun by denying a fully-substantiated and extremely reasonable request for disability accommodation is another important aspect of this story that has been largely ignored…)Report
Harsha Walia shared a link to a story about Catholic churches being destroyed in acts of arson and said, “Burn it all down.” I’m not a little bit surprised — and my faith in liberals is not even a little shaken — by the fact that a civil rights organization had second thoughts about retaining an executive director who broadcast comments like that.Report
Yes, because she was obviously urging people to light literal fires to every flammable thing on the planet.Report
the remark was made figuratively, which was evident to everyone in the conversation. Harsha had the full support of the employees of the organization, who wrote to the board on their behalf, as well as the support of Indigenous leaders who value their commitment, and many others across Canada.Report
It’s certainly a lot easier for people to feel sympathy for “cancellation” victims when they feel that the victims are members of the same political team. Surely if anything like this happened to a conservative, Minding the Campus and places like that would be shouting it from the rooftops at top volume. We’ve got to do our best to take principled stances against this kind of treatment. Collective security seems like the best strategy. Whenever something like this happens to a philosopher, whatever his or her politics, all philosophers rally together to defend the person who is being forced out. In fact, I’d prefer this would be the case for all academics. The thing is that we have to know about every episode in order to do this, and this is the first I heard of this one, probably on account of the bias I mentioned earlier. I don’t know if FIRE has an email alert system or something like that, but someone should create a philosophy specific one.Report
Thank you, Spencer.Report
Pro-tip: Posts like this need to be inundated with comments reminding these scumbags and the wider world of what they did.
It strikes me that a relatively easy thing that some of us (with research accounts that we can’t easily spend during a pandemic with no travel anyway) might do is to invite Professor Jun to speak via Zoom and provide a reasonable honorarium for that work.
I found it non-trivial to find an email for Professor Jun (no surprise, given the recent history), but I would like to invite him to give a lecture at Rutgers Philosophy via Zoom on his work on anarchism. Mary, do you or anyone in touch with Professor Jun know whether the contact form on his website will reach him?Report
This is a terrific idea, Alex. Thank you so much! Anyone who would like to reach Dr. Jun is welcome to contact me at justice4nathanjun [at] gmail; I’ll happily put you in touch with him. 🙂Report
Wow, something like this happened to me, too, sadly (I resigned in June of 2021). I also don’t like the term “cancellation,” but it is happening a lot at universities right now. I also had tenure and had been teaching (film studies/English department) at this university for 12. years, North Carolina State University, with a strong teaching and publication record. In my case, it wasn’t anything I posted on FB. It was that I tried to challenge , in pretty non-confrontational ways, my department’s rampant sexism and especially its enabling of two professors in particular, who were widely known to be serial sexual harassers and allegedly far worse than that , (i.e., there was a highly credible accustion of sexual assault that i am virtually certain happened). I did not report what was happening, as I was told i would not get tenure or b promoted if i did. However, simply by discussing the matter with my chair I was vicously harassed and forced out in a manner very similar to Nathn Jun. He is right, i mean in my case I fear that my academic career is over. Other people were also fired during this process, which took about 4 years for them to complete (pushing me out of my tenured position), one was the vice provost in the office of institutional diversity and equity. It is extremely depressing. I have been unemployed, effectively, for almost two years now.Report