We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Enraged is not a good way to end the year

So I will post this without comment:

The New York Times Helped a Vindictive Teen Destroy a Classmate Who Uttered a Racial Slur When She Was 15

May better times lie ahead for all reading this. It is a relief that Brexit is done. Boris’s deal is far from ideal, but there were times during the last four years when I would have counted us lucky to get the referendum vote honoured at all.

Happy New Year!

That’s Niall Ferguson, not Neil Ferguson

North American academia is in the grip of a hideous mania, a cross between the early-modern witch craze and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, in which implacable zealots conduct grotesque show trials, innocent individuals have their reputations, careers and sanity destroyed, and everyone else cowers, terrified that they will be next to be ‘canceled’. (Niall Ferguson, blurb from Quillette book, ‘Panics and Persecutions’).

Now let’s be accurate here. The millions of victims of Mao’s cultural revolution had a very high tendency to end up dead. In early-modern England, you were vastly less likely to be suspected of being a witch, and suspected witches had far better odds: 60% of English witch trials ended in acquittal, and in fully half of those that convicted, the penalty was not death (and those statistics include the notorious brief episode of Matthew Hopkins under the puritans during the civil war, without which they would be noticeable less lethal still). But even an English witch faced greater physical danger than the modern western ‘cancelled’. Who was more cancelled than Mark Judge, but he is still alive and even earning money – washing dishes.

In short, Niall Ferguson’s comparisons, like Neil Ferguson’s pandemic models, exaggerate. What Niall describes is a vile change from academia a few decades ago (politically one-sided though that already was), but it could yet be very much worse – and maybe one day will be if we neglect Edmund Burke’s wise warning:

The only thing necessary for the victory of evil men is that good men do nothing.

To truly protect freedom of speech, guess what it turns out we have to do?

“To truly protect freedom of speech – a fundamental necessity for meaningful democratic life – we must be alert to how it can become weaponised in ideologically coercive ways. Free speech can become a Trojan horse to gain space and attention for retrograde ideas that do not really merit debate. Pretending that all ideas must always be treated as equally valid and worthy of discussion in the idealised “marketplace of ideas” allows discredited ones – such as race science – to be covertly rehabilitated.”

– Priyamvada Gopal and Gavan Titley in a piece for the Guardian called “The free speech row at Cambridge will restrict, not expand, expression”.

Did you guess what was coming?

Ne laissez jamais une crise se perdre

As President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said in 2008, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. I mean, it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

The Daily Mail reports,

French parents are to be BANNED from home-schooling their kids as part of Emmanuel Macron’s fight back against Islamic extremism

Parents who home-school their children could face up to six months in prison under new measures to combat Islamic extremism in France.

The bill, which was unveiled on Wednesday, will make it a crime for children to be taught at home.

It is an attempt to stop children from being influenced by religious radicals, the Times reported.

It comes after the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded last month after showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his class during a lesson on free speech.

Samuel Paty was murdered by Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, an 18-year-old Muslim Russian refugee of Chechen ethnicity.

Not home schooled then. Certainly not home schooled in France. But what about the perpetrators of other Islamic terrorist attacks in France? The relevant Wikipedia article does not make it easy to tell, since someone has decided to remove the names of the terrorists. But so far as I know none of the perpetrators of the biggest terrorist outrages in France were homeschooled. Like their counterparts in the UK they were typically products of their country’s state education system who first turned to petty crime and then were “redeemed” by Islam.

Resign, then.

The Times reports,

Staying neutral impossible after Black Lives Matter, says National Gallery chief

The head of the National Gallery has said the Black Lives Matters movement meant it was no longer feasible to remain politically neutral with silence now viewed as complicity.

Gabriele Finaldi told his board of trustees that in the past the museums funded directly by the government such as the National Gallery, Tate and British Museum had “refrained from making political statements”. Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this year “a neutral stance was no longer feasible”, he said.

He added that in the past the state-funded institutions looking after national collections would try to “respond to events through its activities”. According to minutes of a board meeting in June, Mr Finaldi then said “that the climate had changed so that silence was now perceived as being complicit”.

Perceived by whom? Why doesn’t Mr Finaldi say who these people whose perceptions matter so much are? He talks about “the climate” as if it were something external and objective but I see nothing more than the opinions of his set.

Whatever “the climate” may mean, the National Gallery is not the only public institution living in this particular climate zone:

In June of this year most of the national museums, including the Victoria & Albert, the Science Museum and the Tate, released statements supporting the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement. Widespread demonstrations had taken place after the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States.

Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, wrote that “we are aligned with the spirit and soul of Black Lives Matter everywhere” while Sir Ian Blatchford, the director of the Science Museum, said it haunted him “that there have been too many false dawns, too many speeches and broken promises” in the battle for racial equality.

Times readers do not constitute a representative sample of the electorate, but I found it significant that out of the 194 reader comments so far I found precisely one that seemed to support Mr Finaldi, and that one might have been sarcasm.

Definitions of what is shameful differ

A human interest story from the Daily Record:

‘Kalashnikov councillor’ running for seat in Scottish Parliament after machine gun shame

A shamed politician – dubbed the Kalashnikov councillor after being captured on video coaching his young children how to use a machine gun – is campaigning for a seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Former SNP councillor Jahangir Hanif was forced to apologise after footage emerged of him training his young children to fire an AK-47 assault rifle during a visit to Pakistan.

The SNP condemned his “inappropriate conduct” and suspended him for two months while his his own daughter wrote to the party demanding his expulsion, claiming she had been terrified on the gun-toting trip.

On the ukpolitics subreddit, where I saw this story, a commenter called “ragnarspoonbrok” says,

No ear defenders isn’t a good start. Only one hand on the rifle as someone else is holding the fore grip. Rifle not shouldered correctly. No one has their eye anywhere near the sight meaning it’s not aimed correctly with their bugger hook on the bang switch.

It’s not a small caliber it’s a 7.62

Wouldn’t really class that as safe.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Two bad things have happened at once. The first is that the phrase itself has been captured. “Safe spaces” for students are used to justify the “no-platforming” of thinkers who warn against the oppressiveness of “woke” doctrines. The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is only the most famous of the victims: he was offered a visiting fellowship at Cambridge but then, in March last year, was denied it after protests that his views might upset students. The second is that British universities, craving cash and students from foreign countries, have become dangerously uncritical of the terms on which they accept them. This is particularly true in relation to some Arab countries and even more so in relation to China.”

Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph (£)

Why black graduates of the USC Marshall School of Business may start finding it hard to get international jobs

Back in January 2016 Victor Mair, professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, started an interesting discussion in the blog “Language Log” about a common Chinese word that sounds like a racial insult in English. Professor Mair wrote,

As soon as I read “a phrase that sounds uncannily like the N-word” in the first paragraph, I knew exactly what my colleague’s friend was talking about. The Chinese grad student was saying “nèige 那个 (that)”.

Grammatically, “nèige 那个” begins as a demonstrative, but it is frequently attenuated to become a pause particle or filler word. It is often uttered many times in succession, thus “nèige nèige nèige…”, and people who have a tendency to stutter may get stuck on it for an embarrassingly long time. Even individuals who are not actually stutterers may have an excessive addiction to such words.

That guy Mair must have a time machine. Scroll forward four years to 2020. Inside Higher Education reports,

Professor suspended for saying a Chinese word that sounds like a racial slur in English.

In a controversial decision, the University of Southern California replaced a professor of business communication with another instructor in one of his classes for saying a Chinese word that sounds like an English slur.

Late last month, Greg Patton, the professor, was teaching a lesson on “filler words” in other languages — think “err,” “um” or “like” in English — in his master’s-level course on communication for management.

“Taking a break between ideas can help bring the audience in,” Patton said, according to a recording of one of the Zoom course sections and a transcription that appeared next to him on screen. “In China,” for instance, he continued, “the common pause word is ‘that that that.’ So in China it might be ne ga, ne ga, ne ga.”

Patton, who has worked in China but is not a scholar of Chinese, did not warn students that 那个, or ne ga, (alternatively spelled nà ge and nèige) sounds something like the N-word — which it does. And some or all of the Black students across three sections of the course were offended by what they’d heard. So they wrote a letter to the dean of the Marshall School of Business, Geoffrey Garrett, among others, describing Patton as insensitive and incapable of teaching the three-week intensive communications course.

Whereupon one would expect to read that the University of Southern California told them that anyone above the age of ten should know that words which are harmless in one language but rude in another are ubiquitous, and that an intensive course on business communications that left out mention of such words would be a con. That’s the English meaning of “con”, not the French one.

“Whereupon one would expect…”, wrote I, sounding dead posh. Who was I kidding, this is 2020. What actually happened was this:

… Garrett, dean of the business school, sent students an email saying that Patton was being replaced as instructor of the course, effective immediately.

“It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” Garrett wrote. Patton “repeated several times a Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English. Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, and for that I am deeply sorry.”

If the students’ “psychological safety” is harmed by the knowledge that unfortunate cross-linguistic homophones exist, maybe “business communication” is not the best subject for them. Business often involves meeting foreigners, who at any moment might forget who they are talking to and speak their own language. Even in America one is not safe from people who speak other languages!

While the change was presumably applauded by those students who urged action against Patton, his effective suspension from teaching the course angered many other students and alumni.

One petition for Patton’s reinstatement with thousands of signatures says, “For him to be censored simply because a Chinese word sounds like an English pejorative term is a mistake and is not appropriate, especially given the educational setting. It also dismisses the fact that Chinese is a real language and has its own pronunciations that have no relation to English.”

Ninety-four Marshall alumni, many of whom are Chinese and now live in China, wrote their own letter to the dean and other administrators, expressing support for Patton.

“All of us have gained enormous benefit from the academic leadership of Prof. Patton. His caring, wisdom and inclusiveness were a hallmark of our educational experience and growth at USC and the foundation of our continued success in the years following,” the named alumni wrote.

Moreover, they said, “We unanimously recognize Prof. Patton’s use of ‘na ge’ as an accurate rendition of common Chinese use, and an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses. Prof. Patton used this example and hundreds of others in our classes over the years, providing richness, relevance and real world impact.”

After a gap of four years, Professor Mair wrote an update of his 2016 post in the context of Greg Patton’s dismissal: “That, that, that…”, part 2.

It is well worth a read. It quotes the full text of the grovelling letter to students written by Dean Geoff Garrett, a copy of which should be printed out and kept in your medicine cabinet should need arise for a quick-acting emetic.

This comment by “Twill” resonated with me:

I suppose it is “unacceptable to use words that marginalize”, but perfectly acceptable to marginalize every other language on this planet by insisting that any words that might arbritrarily offend English speakers should be stricken from the dictionary, no matter what they actually mean or are used. I fail to see how we can “engage respectfully with one another while fostering and exemplifying the knowledge and skills needed to lead and shape our diverse and global world” if we don’t extend the courtesy of letting other languages speak for themselves.

And what’s the betting that these people, who demand their delicate ears be protected from the sounds of the most spoken language in the world, call Trump voters “hicks” and mock their supposed provincialism?

This will have a predictable effect on the value of a USC Marshall MBA. Imagine you are the CEO of an international company. You seek to fill an executive position that requires the postholder to move confidently between Western and Chinese business environments. Are you going to go for the candidate from a school where students are taught honestly about the potential pitfalls of cross-cultural communication, or the one from the USC Marshall School of Business who has only been fed the Disney version? The issue is not limited to that one word 那个, or to the Chinese language. It is about whether a potential employee can cope outside the bubble of an “elite” US academic institution.

And of course the bad effect on a candidate’s chances will be reinforced if the candidate is black, whether or not they personally had anything to do with this affair. No need to assume the potential employer is racist. They simply will prefer not to hire someone who has been primed to freak out when a Chinese colleague says the equivalent of “like, er, you know” for a word on the tip of their tongue.

China’s Soweto

The Soweto riots were the beginning of the end for Apartheid in South Africa. This is how they began:

Black South African high school students in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as languages of instruction. The Regional Director of Bantu Education (Northern Transvaal Region), J.G. Erasmus, told Circuit Inspectors and Principals of Schools that from 1 January 1975, Afrikaans had to be used for mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies from standard five (7th grade), according to the Afrikaans Medium Decree; English would be the medium of instruction for general science and practical subjects (homecraft, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, art, agricultural science). Indigenous languages would only be used for religious instruction, music, and physical culture.

Forty-six years later, in Inner Mongolia, sorry, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China (not to be confused with the neighbouring sovereign state of Mongolia), children of another subjugated land are protesting against a decree that forces their schools to use the oppressor’s language as the medium of instruction:

Inner Mongolia protests at China’s plans to bring in Mandarin-only lessons

Thousands of ethnic Mongolians have protested across northern China in opposition to Beijing plans to replace the Mongolian language with Chinese in some school subjects.

Tuesday marked the first day of a policy revealed in June, to gradually transition the language of instruction in Inner Mongolian schools from Mongolian to Mandarin Chinese. The change affects three subjects over the next three years in the autonomous region. The education bureau said Mongolian and Korean language classes would remain.

The official explanation for the change to a bilingual education system was to ensure the curriculum and textbooks were of a high standard, and that government documents cited by analysts also referred to president Xi Jinping’s push for shared language as part of a common identity.

However mass protests in Inner Mongolia – referred to as Southern Mongolia by ethnic rights and independence groups – have revealed the depth of fear that Mongolian would be relegated to a foreign language as part of government plans to assimilate ethnic minorities into Chinese Han culture.

I called this China’s Soweto. But don’t expect any equivalent to UN Security Council Resolution 392.

Other links concerning this story:

Tightening the noose on Mongolian in Southern Mongolia

Rare rallies in China over Mongolian language curb

Samizdata quote of the day

Being nonwhite leaves one protected in this environment only to the extent that one toes the ideological line. An assistant professor of color who cannot quite get with the program writes, “At the moment, I’m more anxious about this problem than anything else in my career,” noting that “the truth is that over the last few years, this new norm of intolerance and cult of social justice has marginalized me more than all racism I have ever faced in my life.”

John McWhorter

The sad story of Scots Wikipedia

Hats off to the Guardian for the pun in this headline:

Shock an aw: US teenager wrote huge slice of Scots Wikipedia

Nineteen-year-old says he is ‘devastated’ after being accused of cultural vandalism

The Scots Wikipedia entry on the Canada goose – or “Canadae guiss” – was at first honest about its provenance. A tag warned: “The ‘Scots’ that wis uised in this airticle wis written bi a body that’s mither tongue isna Scots. Please impruive this airticle gin ye can.”

But, as the author grew in confidence, so he removed the caveat, and continued on his Scots-writing spree.

Now an American teenager – who does not speak Scots, the language of Robert Burns – has been revealed as responsible for almost half of the entries on the Scots language version of Wikipedia.

If you are wondering how a nineteen year old managed to be responsible for creating or editing tens of thousands of articles, the answer is simple:

He wrote: “I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can’t see that the habit you’ve developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older.”

Naming no names except my own, that sounds like a few of us here. Ten edits a day, most days, for two and a half thousand days. The work of half his life. The thing that made him special. And now they revile him for it. Believe me, I am not laughing when I call this a sad story.

Believe me, too, when I say I do not want to mock Scots. The Samizdata “Languages” category includes many other posts by me about endangered tongues. I want them to survive and grow. A world where everyone spoke only one language would be a grey place, and one more likely to fall to tyranny. For many a soul living under oppression their knowledge of something other than the majority language has been the one window to freer times or places that the censors could not brick up. Less portentously, I like the vigorous style of Scots. The fact that it is mostly mutually intelligible with English English has been the source of endless arguments about whether it is a dialect of English or a language in its own right. It is a pity that this question has been politicised. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that although Scots was a separate language in the Middle Ages, enough linguistic convergence has occurred to say that nowadays it is a dialect of English. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be equally valid to say Standard English and Scots are both dialects on the continuum of English (and that the group as a whole is called “English” is just a matter of historically familiar terminology, not an attribution of superiority. Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American.)

It is a sad reflection on the state of Scots that nobody stopped “AmaryllisGardner” for five seven years. Scarcely anyone seems to have questioned him. I cannot help thinking this fiasco would never have happened if linguists and the penumbra of people who are “into” languages had not been so down on prescriptivism. After all, if there truly is no correct or incorrect way to use language, our laddie’s version of Scots has as much claim to be right as the one they speak in Glasgow.

I am an anti-prescriptivist myself when it comes to daily life. It is wrong to sneer at anyone for their local mode of speech, and still worse to beat it out of them as was common in the past. The variety of any language that has become the standard did not do so because of any intrinsic superiority; it was mere chance. Nonetheless a command of standard English can unlock doors across the world for children in Barlanark, as it does for children in Brixton or Beijing. Fortunately children are good at picking up more than one language and code-switching between them.

Meanwhile, in debate I will continue to extol both languages and Wikipedia as splendid examples of spontaneous order. They still are. Most of the time.

Welcome to our horrible racist university

Heather Mac Donald has written an important essay for City Journal, Conformity to a Lie. (Hat tip to Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit.)

The essay contains much that saddens and enrages me, but in places it is funny. After quoting several examples of college presidents and deans craving pardon for the racism of their institutions, she writes,

All such institutional self-accusations by college presidents leave out the specifics. Which faculty members do not treat black students fairly? If that unjust treatment is so obvious, why weren’t those professors already removed? What is wrong with an admissions process that lets in thousands of student bigots? In other moments, college presidents brag about the quality of their student body and faculty. Are they lying? Shouldn’t they have disclosed to black applicants that they will face “racist acts” and “systems of inequality” should they attend?

Edit: Thinking about it, this is a smaller scale example of the rule that in time of revolution it is safer to be a Tsarist than an Old Bolshevik.