In a really terrific post during my vacation, Freddie DeBoer nailed something to the cross:
It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them.
Freddie’s concern was with online hazing of the politically incorrect. Writers are not just condemned any more for being wrong or dumb or rigid. They are condemned as sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, blah blah blah – almost as a reflex in trying to discredit their work. That’s particularly true when it comes to fascinating issues like race or gender or sexual orientation, where liberalism today seems to insist that there are absolutely no aggregate differences between genders, races, ethnicities, or sexual orientations, except those created by oppression and discrimination and bigotry. Anyone even daring to bring up these topics is subjected to intense pressure, profound disapproval and ostracism. This illiberal liberalism is not new, of course. But it’s still depressingly common.
Sam Harris is one of its latest victims. There sure is plenty to disagree with Sam about – and we have had several such arguments and debates. But the idea that he is a sexist – and now forced to defend himself at length from the charge after a book-signing discussion – is really pathetic. His account of the episode is well worth-reading for the insight it gives into the Puritanical wing of the left. Michelle Boornstein decided to play the sexist card after a contentious interview, and then tweet it out thus:
— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) September 12, 2014
Here’s what she was referring to (in her words):
I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists—and many of those who buy his books—are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative. It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.
“I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”
This is impermissibly sexist because it assumes that there are some essential biological and psychological differences between men and women, and for a certain kind of leftist, this is an intolerable heresy. If that truth cannot be suppressed or rebutted in a free society, its adherents must be stigmatized as bigots. It’s a lazy form of non-argument – and may have been payback from Boorstein after Harris and she differed quite strongly on the power of fundamentalism in American culture.
But Boorstein’s premise – that because many more men than women seem to buy and read his books, there must be some sexism at work – is preposterous.