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Weekend reads: Shelter in the storm
A roundup of reassuring free speech and open debate updates from Lean Out guests
It is a rainy Sunday in Toronto, reader, and I’ve been out all week with the flu. I’ll be back in action next week — stay tuned for a podcast interview with Good Girls author Hadley Freeman, who recently left The Guardian after two decades at the paper.
In the meantime, for your weekend reading (and viewing! and listening!) pleasure, here are some updates from Lean Out guests, who continue to take bold stances for free speech and open debate.
Friend of the Lean Out podcast Meghan Daum pulled off a rare feat this past week on her podcast with Sarah Haider, A Special Place in Hell, managing to have an actual, genuine debate with so-called “woke” activists, who often eschew discussion with anyone who disagrees with them.
It appears that Saira Rao and Regina Jackson — founders of Race2Dinner, a supper series in which, as The Guardian put it, “Liberal white women pay a lot of money to learn over dinner how they’re racist” — did not Google their hosts before appearing on the program, and were taken aback by their challenging questions.
This is what real debate looks like: Unfiltered, messy, surprising, sometimes uncomfortable, and deeply productive.
Turning to news on the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression — FIRE president Greg Lukianoff and director of campus rights advocacy, First Amendment attorney Alex Morey, have both been on the podcast — the organization has posted rapper Killer Mike’s invigorating defence of free speech, from the recent FIRE gala. I interviewed Killer Mike back in my hip-hop days, and have much respect for him. His speech is well worth a watch.
Speaking of FIRE’s Alex Morey, she was quoted in The New York Times coverage of Cornell’s principled rejection of trigger warnings, along with two-time Lean Out guest, Amna Khalid. Here’s what Khalid had to say:
“Life happens to you while you are driving, while you are walking, while you are in the supermarket,” she said. “The most challenging moments in life rarely come with warning.”
Professor Khalid called trigger-warning mandates an infringement on the academic freedom of professors whose role is to help students develop critical thinking skills.
“Sometimes that requires surprising them and challenging them in ways that are uncomfortable,” she said. “It diminishes the learning experience for students if professors hedge themselves.”
Meanwhile, Lean Out guests Jacob Mchangama and Nadine Strossen have penned an important piece for The Daily Beast, “The First Amendment Is the Greatest Defense for the Powerless and Marginalized.” Here’s a key quote:
While it’s true that the First Amendment permits speech that many progressives find abhorrent and discriminatory, that’s a feature not a bug of robust and principled free speech doctrine. And it’s not based on “white supremacist” or “right-wing” ideology. Rather, this doctrine is informed by a potent mix of universalist ideals and the lived experience of a nation, including groups and individuals who have felt the oppressive consequences when these ideals have been violated or selectively applied.
In other Lean Out news: Two-time podcast guest Jamil Jivani is running for office; Compact magazine co-founder Sohrab Ahmari has a new book coming, as does Freddie deBoer; feminist Mary Harrington, whose book launch party was recently censored, celebrated the release anyway.
Steve Krakauer has an interesting Fourth Watch podcast episode out with Mary Katharine Ham on her exit from CNN; Shamik Dasgupta is quoted in the latest NYT article in the ongoing reckoning over pandemic school closures; and Wilfred Reilly has penned an evocative new piece for Newsweek on the state of race relations.
I, too, have some news: I’ll be appearing at the Plebity virtual conference on free speech and the left this June. I’m honoured to participate.
Finally, let me leave you with an incredibly thoughtful conversation with a writer that Lean Out has been following. Substacker N.S. Lyons was recently interviewed by Substacker Francis X. Maier, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, on how “our civilization’s crisis is first and foremost a spiritual crisis.” I’ve been thinking about their conversation all week:
My impression is that people today, and especially young people, are looking above all else for solid ground; for shelter in the storm. They are looking for the real and the eternal, for that which will not melt into air. They are looking for authority they can trust, when authority has everywhere else dissolved. And they’re looking for loyalty, community, and love that does not falter. Unfortunately they often mistakenly turn to the worst possible places for these things — like extremist ideological movements — because they see no other alternative presenting itself. Meanwhile they are increasingly unsure of what is true, of what reality even is, or what even the most basic aspects of what it means to be human are, because there is no one there to give them an answer with conviction.
I think the best rebuttal is simply that there is a real alternative available to the core conceit of liquid post-modernity’s subjectivism: that there is an objective, authoritative reality out there beyond the self (i.e. Lewis’ Tao), consisting of objective truth and objective value, that is not of our own construction; and that this reality is good, and that we as humans are a part of it. And that if willing to submit to this reality one can easily reach out and touch it, live in it, experience love in it. This is a sort of re-enchantment of reality, of creation as a good thing worth being a part of, and is I think the first step in presenting a compelling alternative worldview, whether as a gateway to an explicitly Christian one or not, that is capable of standing against nihilism and preserving our humanity.
Here’s to finding a little shelter in the storm this weekend. See you all next week!
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