Fight or Flight

Donald Trump is my President.

Last Friday, we went to Burlington, Vermont.

As we entered City Hall Park we found ourselves standing (rather accidentally) amongst a growing crowd of individuals. They began to gather around the steps of City Hall. Three young women started speaking through a megaphone.

We quickly realized we had found ourselves within an anti-Trump rally.

People took turns speaking to the crowd. They varied in age and gender, and their messages, though about the same topic, were diverse.

People held up signs, pieces of cardboard with pithy statements in black marker.

Some women chanted, “pussy grabs back!”

When a young woman began her story with the declaration, “Trump is not my President,” the crowd cheered.

After that, most of the stories began the same way.

While we stood there, listening, I began to think about what I would say.

Of course, there’s no way I’d climb the steps and share. It’s not in my nature. Rather listen than participate.

And after all, we had discovered this peaceful gathering by accident. We were there to buy a sandwich.

But I couldn’t shake the thought. The crowd had succeeded in forcing my curiosity, and not just in empathizing with their fear and worry and anger. They got me thinking about what my story would be.

Whatever it might be, I know one thing is for sure.

I’d begin with the declaration: “Donald Trump is my President.”

No, I did not vote for the man.

I never had any intention to. Nor would I had, even if his central aim was to forgive all student debt (I didn’t support Jill Stein, either).

Donald Trump is an abhorrent, sexual assaulting, racist, misogynistic, asshole.

He is the epitome of contemporary evil.

A demagogue. A hate-filled child. An insecure, chauvinist, elitist, piece of human shit.

Donald Trump is my President.

One thing I love about America is the democratic process. The peaceful transition of power. The fact that we have checks and balances. We have a constitution. We have freedom. We welcome all colors and creeds. We disagree, and find value in our differences. We support one another, and fight for each other, because we are all congregants of the same civil religion.

Last Tuesday we held a free and peaceful election and the American people (via the Electoral College) elected a new President. Regardless of who that person is, or what they stand for, the democratic process worked. It did what it did.

To deny that, to reject it, is an affront to that process.

Merely arguing that the man elected is not my President, because I didn’t vote for him, is the opposite of a democracy. And while it might be cathartic, it’s mere denial.

Best to accept it.

Not blindly, of course.

Not quietly.

The other thing I love about America is my right to free speech.

My right to speak my mind when I feel the circumstance requires it.

Sure, salute the rank, not the man. But sometimes, you need to admonish the man, in order to protect the rank.

This, as much as the election last week, is democracy in action.

Why are People Mourning?

Over the weekend I thought about my story, and how I might write it, and I realized that perhaps my story is not the point. Or, at least, maybe it shouldn’t just be about me.

Sure, stories have a central character, but it’s those who surround that character that make it a story. As we know, a narrative can’t just be one sided.

My story, then, should begin with a question I’ve seen asked less with an inflection of curiosity, and more as a statement of reproach: why are people mourning?

This is often followed by an argument in support of one’s opinion that ‘mourning’ is an odd reaction. Something like, “the world didn’t end,” or “it’s not that big of a deal.”

Some have even adopted the sort of tone we’d expect from an adolescent: “Get over it, you lost.”

Regardless of the judgment in these follow-up statements, there’s a puzzlement there.

A curiosity from one perspective about how, or why, the opposition is acting so strangely. After all, this is good for us, isn’t it? America will be great again. Finally.

There’s a lack of empathy here.

And let’s be fair, it’s a similar lack of empathy as the declaration “Trump is not my President.”

Opinions have two sides, usually. An alterity, as the French might call it. A mirrored reflection of myself that helps me come to define who I am.

But good alterity needs empathy to succeed.

Without empathy we aren’t human.

Without empathy we can accomplish great horror.

We can fly planes into buildings, or be complicit in genocide.

Empathy is what gives us compassion. It makes us fair and loving people. It’s what drives us to comfort someone else’s crying child.

And it’s what I’ve seen missing the last few days.

Mostly from one side.

So allow me this divagation of sorts, with the caveat that I do indeed empathize with those who voted for Donald Trump. I’ll get to that later.

Besides, this is my story, and all stories need a narrator.

And, as we know, narrator’s tend to have their own opinions, even if they’re made up.

Laziness

Watching the election results was difficult.

Waking up the next day was difficult.

Going to the library at Dartmouth, working, avoiding the internet.

Difficult.

The people I know who are in mourning feel this way because the man we elected President is a representation of irresponsibility. Of bullying. Of racist profiling. Of raising the fears and hatred and anger of ignorant Americans toward an entire religion.

He is lazy.

He represents the normalization of sexual assault. Of empty threats. Of arrogance, built on the sand of insecurity.

The man we have elected President will set us back socially a hundred years.

He is lazy.

Lazy is a curious word.

Here’s what I mean: tolerance takes work. It’s difficult. Understanding someone else, and acknowledging them their right to express themselves, even when that expression might upset or offend me, isn’t easy.

Being a straight Christian and seeing a gay couple is difficult.

Growing up in a white, middle-class community, and seeing aspects of black culture is difficult.

Being lazy is seeing these things and hating them. Being lazy is never changing your mind. Being lazy is not empathizing.

Being lazy is the instinct to start a fight, rather than listen to the other side.

Being lazy is the opposite of being the bigger man.

We elected an individual who isn’t just lazy, he promotes laziness. He inspires it in others.

His central issues were lazy.

How, we might ask, does one actually stop an entire religion from entering the country?

It’s an asinine question.

Think about what’s required, simply in the context of international travel:

  • Do we close all international airports?
  • Do we require international airlines to put a litmus test on their websites for people buying tickets?
  • Do we click a special button that only non-Muslims can see when we purchase a ticket?
  • Do we have to somehow prove we’re not Muslims?
  • What if we’ve read or are familiar with Muslim texts? Where’s Joseph McCarthy? He had this whole thing figured out.

Or, do we instigate this ‘extreme vetting’ he was talking about?

  • What does that demand?
  • Is it nothing more than just denying entry into the United States to an individual who ‘looks’ Muslim?
  • Who polices this?
  • Who oversees it?
  • Who pays for it?
  • Who trains these people to ‘sniff’ out the Muslims?
  • Can’t Muslim people simply pretend they aren’t Muslim?
  • Can’t they just lie?
  • Should we just ban all people from entering the country who might, according to some expert, look ‘suspiciously Muslim?’
  • What about American Muslims, born here, two to three generation Americans, what happens to them if they fly to another country and come back? Do they get a free pass?
  • But wait, what about those who’ve been radicalized in America?
  • Do we extend our extreme vetting beyond the borders?
  • Do we register them?
  • Make them carry a special ID card?

This is lazy thinking, beloved by the ignorant proud.

How about the next one:

  • How does one actually build a wall that separates the border between the US and Mexico?
  • Doesn’t that require a lot of material? Perhaps the same amount of material as every interstate in the entire United States combined?
  • Who builds it?
  • Do we hire laborers?
  • What do we do about Big Bend National Park? I’ve stood there. I’ve looked out across that desert. Only an idiot would think we could build a wall there. It’s a horrific desert. There’s nothing there. That’s why it’s so beautiful.
  • How do we get a foreign nation to pay for something they don’t want? Sanctions? Threats?
  • What about the Gulf of Mexico? Do we just ignore the fact that people who are fleeing from rape and murder probably don’t mind getting their clothes wet? What about boats? Do we reposition the Navy in the Gulf of Mexico? Who pays for that?
  • What about other borders? Do we build walls on the shorelines of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, etc.? What about California, and Oregon, and Washington? What if people fly to Canada and then come down? So, two walls?

When you actually think about them, these are dumb ideas.

They’re not actionable.

And even if they were, for the sake of argument, the larger question still persists: who pays for all this? These things cost money, especially the second one. And let’s be honest, no amount of ‘deal making’ will force a foreign nation, already choking on its own debt, to pay for a billion dollar wall with money they don’t have.

We will pay for it. Just like we’ve paid for everything else.

With taxes.

These are lazy ideas, but they’re accepted and loved by lazy people who don’t think beyond the sound bite.

And it’s these ideas that make us mourn for our country.

They make us sad because they represent a national narrative that promotes lazy, hateful thinking.

When we elect a President, or any political representative, we’ve made an agreement. We’ve hired someone. We’ve asked that person to represent us to the rest of our country. To the world.

Donald Trump now represents America.

His lazy ideas are now ours.

I did not vote for him, but my country hired him, and just like how an employee represents the company at which he works, Donald Trump is the American who represents the American people.

His discourse of racism, of hatred and fear, is what will shape the civil religion of his Presidency. And as a member of that religion, I must answer for him.

When he assaults a woman and brags about it, I have to answer for it.

When he makes a racist comment, he makes it on behalf of the American people.

When he supports killing the families of our enemies, or disregards the collateral damage of innocent people killed in the name of ‘bombing the shit out of them,’ I have to defend myself.

When he shows prejudice against an entire religion because his fear of terrorism blinds his ability to see the actions of insecure assholes, rather than an entire faith, I have to say that these are not my ideas, even though they are now American.

An endorsement by proxy.

We are in mourning because we realize that the American church sits before the pulpit of the priesthood of the Presidency.

We are in mourning because we value our political system as sacred. We are proud members of this congregation, willing to fight and die for the principles provided us by men of honor, endowed by their creator with the ability to construct a government for and by the people.

And now, as the mantle is passed from one President to the next, we watch as tolerance and empathy and rational thinking give way to laziness.

The American President is America’s greatest ambassador and we’ve elected a bully, the definition of which is someone too scared not to lash out.

Think of the bullies you’ve known.

They taunt you for the way you dress, the way you look, the way you sound. They project their own insecurities onto you, and then try to beat them away. They assault you and threaten those you love.

As children we were told never to fight the bully. Don’t give in and give him what he wants. Listen to him. Understand why it is that he’s bullying. Ask him what he is afraid of? What is making him so angry?

While we might be able to empathize and listen to Trump, and try in earnest to understand what it is that drives him, the fact is we’ve chosen a bully to represent us.

And while that might look attractive to the lazy Americans who voted for him, consider again what happens when two bullies confront each other. While a playground skirmish might be benign to the average child enjoying his or her recess, imagine those bullies with guns.

Imagine them with nuclear weapons.

Maybe all of this is mere hyperbole.

Maybe my words here really are, as I’ve seen told to others, just a bitter response to losing.

Which I would accept, were we to have elected John McCain or Mitt Romney.

But those were men of honor.

I do not agree with them on many political and social issues, but they would have made exceptional Presidents.

Donald Trump is a joke.

He is a deplorable person.

He is my President.

Where is My Empathy?

It would be unfair to simply assume that half of those Americans who voted did so for less than honorable reasons, such as their laziness. Or to say that maybe they were simply bored and wanted something fun to watch for the next four years.

Likewise, it would be unfair to simply argue here that they were perhaps too ignorant themselves to realize what they’d done. To compare their actions with a clever metaphor: voting for Donald Trump is like hating property taxes so much you burn down the house, only to realize you now have no place to live, and still have to pay the tax.

It would be unfair to judge them for simply voting party. I’ve seen this argument come up a few times. It’s used as an excuse, an attempt by the user to disassociate themselves from Donald Trump. As if they might further argue that while they hate the man and everything about him, they still support their party. I mean, all judgment aside, this is an irresponsible argument, isn’t it? Voting party does not excuse one’s support of the party’s candidate. After all, to be that party’s candidate, the party must accept that person, and everything he brings with him. You can’t just say, “I didn’t vote Trump, I voted Republican,” because an aegis ‘Republican vote’ was a vote for Trump. After all, you could have written in the name of another Republican, such as John McCain said he would. At least that would have been more responsible.

It would be unfair to point out that Donald Trump represents the complete opposite of the religious right’s position on absolutely everything. It would be additionally unfair to assume, then, that he received their votes because, though he might not be a man of God, at least he hates their enemies (everyone who isn’t Christian) as much as they do.

It would be unfair to point out the ignorant futility of a white middle-class, angry at its lack of representation for the last eight years, that just elected a man whose economic plan has been predicted by experts (in all their uselessness, see below) to directly hurt the white middle-class.

It would be unfair to point out the hypocrisy of those who voted for Trump because he was the candidate who showed himself as a man who ‘supports our troops,’ especially since he thinks he knows more about military thinking simply because he successfully dodged the draft five times.

It would be unfair to assume one of the major reasons he won America’s vote is simply because, unlike any other candidate, he seems more likely the type of person you’d want to have a beer with. A clever way of saying a candidate seems more like ‘one of us,’ and less like the typical, out of touch, politician. Except that it’s a stupid qualification for President. Sure, being able to sit and chat with the man who holds the nuclear codes would be fun, but I wouldn’t want it. Look, politics is hard. It takes focus and concentration and tactical moves across a chess board of players all better at it than you are. It’s a game. A hard game. It takes training and skill. It takes subtlety and nuance. It isn’t just about showing your hand every time you think you’ve won. It’s also a job, and just like any other job, it’s not something you want the average beer drinking Joe to have, regardless of how ‘down home’ and ‘relatable’ he seems. That’s why we tend not to elect people who run under ‘nicknames’ or on platforms of free nacho night every third Tuesday. It’s because politics is serious, with serious repercussions. I would not vote for a man or woman to the Presidency simply because I felt like I could have a beer with them. Voting is a job interview, after all, and I’d want them to do the job, not hang out. Save that sort of thinking for people you wouldn’t think to send to speak on behalf of America in Iran or China.

How does this lead back to empathy?

America has its issues, and our fragile political system, with its flaws and corruption, shouldn’t be immune to change. Occasionally electing an outsider whose rhetoric and policies diverge from the path of the same old empty promises can seem like a useful remedy. The status quo can only work for so long before it begins to work against the American people.

Donald Trump fit that description well.

So did Bernie Sanders.

Now, before we distract ourselves with conversations about corruption within the DNC, and arguments about why Clinton should have accepted that she could not have won against Trump, my summoning Bernie Sanders into this rant is not meant as an endorsement, but instead as an empathic understanding of one side’s thinking.

These two candidates seem to have grown out of a discourse that demanded change. They arose out of frustration, on both sides, of a Presidency mired in ‘do nothingness.’ Out of the frustration of watching Barack Obama either act in a manner that didn’t benefit the American people at large, or constantly battling a Congress that refused to work with him.

These two candidates represented a shift, especially toward the more extremes of each party: one toward the anger and racist bigotry associated with far-right thinking, and the other toward socialism.

Were I a supporter of Bernie Sanders I would, if nothing else, better understand how Trump came to crystalize the discourse of the Republican Party. How he kept his momentum and seemed ever more resilient against each disparaging and damning fact that came out about him.

I can empathize with this.

It makes sense.

If only the Democratic Party had realized that as well, I can’t help but think (from a liberal perspective at least) that we wouldn’t have a deplorable man as President.

The New Deplorables

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton referred to certain members of Trump’s support base as ‘deplorable.’

This is an apt description, given their, well, deplorable nature.

You’ve probably seen them. I have.

They wear t-shirts that support lynching members of the press.

They wear t-shirts that in some ‘clever’ way call Hillary Clinton a bitch.

They accost protestors.

They kick the wheelchair of a child with disabilities peacefully protesting at a Trump rally because of the way he mocks the disabled (side note: where you at, Sarah Palin, with your ire over the use of the term ‘retarded’ in even a benign context?).

They take to the internet with chants of MAGA!

They spread disinformation and hate.

They feed on discord and violence, and Trump eggs them on and supports them and blames the victims for their actions. The classic, well if you weren’t such a (insert insult here), I wouldn’t have called you that.

I’ve known a lot of these types of people in my time. They used to call me a ‘faggot’ for dressing a certain way or for reading during my lunch breaks.

For going back to school.

I sat once and listened to a group of them talk angrily about President Obama with statements like, someone should just kill him, while their children nodded in agreement.

They argued for years that Obama wasn’t an American, even after he supplied his birth certificate. They kept the argument alive by denying its accuracy, or incorrectly stating that Hawaii wasn’t a state when he was born there (he was born in 1961, and Hawaii became a state in 1959).

Out of curiosity, I checked the Facebook pages of the people I knew who were like this.

They voted Trump.

Now, whether any of this is correlative to the deplorable nature of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and whether it is (again) fair to categorize all republican-voting Americans in this list of people (it isn’t, of course), it begs the greater question: perhaps they aren’t the deplorable ones.

A majority of Americans elected Donald Trump.

Maybe the people we thought were deplorable aren’t really the deplorables.

Maybe I am?

Maybe my type of thinking, or even just my way of life, is the new deplorable?

Here’s what I mean.

Prior to this election, the academic world was in great decline. Funding for state universities has been lessening more and more, and especially in the humanities, jobs are dwindling to nothing. People are being fired and tenured positions are disappearing. ‘Adjuncting’ is the new norm. A form of teaching where we receive less than minimum wage, no benefits, and no funding for research and/or conferences. It’s actually better to simply get a full-time job and do the whole academic thing as a hobby.

As well, there persists this notion that a college education isn’t valuable anymore. But I’d argue that this stems more than anything from a misunderstanding about what an ‘education’ means. Of course it doesn’t just mean a four-year degree. An education can be gained from courses taken at a community college, courses that vary from the most basic level of the humanities to more direct vocational training. Both of which share inestimable benefits. Or even from skills learned outside the context of a college setting. But this isn’t the misunderstanding I mean here. Rather, I’m referring to the idea that an ‘education’ consists mostly of taking classes and graduating. A misunderstanding, then, about the ‘college experience’ in general. For me, college is where people discover how to deal with difficulties. Where we are faced with the challenge of addressing different subjects all at once. Where we ‘grow up.’

Here’s an example: I was terrible at math. I failed every class in High School. When I finally went back to college I had to start at the beginning. Adding and subtracting. My homework was writing out numbers. One hundred. Four thousand, two hundred, and twenty five. I hated it. I worked hard. I studied. I got tutoring. I passed every class. Asked now, I couldn’t possibly remember how to do the things I learned in order to pass. But the point is, I learned them. I forced myself to learn a task and excel at it, regardless of how much I disliked it. Tell me that isn’t the sort of knowledge that might come in handy in the ‘real world.’

Nevertheless, the nation’s mood toward academia was bad before. It’s worse now.

From inside this context I’ve seen the rhetoric on the right side of things getting more and more combative against the ‘educated elite.’ When Britain’s own end-of-the-world scenario was decided (‘Brexit’), one of the rallying cries from the ‘leave’ campaign was the notion that we’re “tired of the experts.”

Anti-intellectualism is becoming more and more normalized. It’s being filled with conspiratorial accusations, the worst of which dealing with ‘Global Warming.’ I’ve known intelligent, rational people, for whom I hold great respect, deny any and all aspects involving the pollution and direct influence humankind has on the environment with passionate claims that the whole thing is a hoax in order to get us to pay more taxes. They reject academic articles on the subject, and published scientific findings because, in their lives, they’ve known academics who were corrupt or opinionated. I myself have been asked on a few occasions what my ‘agenda’ is in my own research, a response that stems directly from a mistrust of the academic world. A mistrust, I believe, that arises from negative personal experiences. It’s sort of like dismissing scientific data about the dangerous repercussions of fracking because a lecturer once gave you a poor grade for a paper you wrote about feminist narrative in 19th century southern fiction.

I’ve also seen angry contempt over the building of wind and solar farms, punctuated by the central issue of their aesthetic appeal. I’ve found myself arguing that perhaps the ugliness they see in wind turbines and solar panels is not necessarily the objects themselves, but what they represent. In this sense, a physical embodiment of the liberal lie that is Climate Change.

Conspiratorial thinking, based on feelings rather than facts.

Donald Trump, after all, thinks ‘Global Warming’ was invented by the Chinese.

My larger point here is that I’ve seen myself and others depicted as the new deplorables. This has been especially evinced over the last few days by colleagues who have described scenes of students crying in class, or the fact that here at Dartmouth a number of professors cancelled their lectures and instead held open office hours for those who wanted to talk.

Why, you might wonder?

Because the future for academia, for creativity and exploration, and especially for rational and objective thinking, seems to be heading toward an end.

And this isn’t just because some of the things we research are so easily politicized.

As a quick example, allow me to move away from the emotions of undergraduates at an IV university in New Hampshire to my own experiences.

I finished my PhD about a year ago and have been writing articles and chapters and books to ‘boost’ my CV. In that time I’ve applied for about 20 or so teaching positions or post-doctoral fellowships. The rejections I receive tend to have the same response. Thanks for the application, you look great, we’d love to have you, but we had about 200-500 applicants and only had space for one. This is pretty normal.

It also doesn’t help me that I research something that’s kind of sexy, but not really sexy enough. That’s my own fault.

Right now the academic market is currently flooded with applicants, and there just aren’t enough jobs for us. Which is getting worse. As I mentioned above, funding for new positions is getting cut. Departments are downsizing. Current lecturers and professors are fighting just to keep their own jobs.

In America, an academic CV just isn’t what it used to be.

Which is a direct result of the sort of discourse that will find support in Trump’s America. A PhD used to mean something. Now it’s something we might be better off hiding about ourselves.

Here’s another issue: since academia seems to be losing its support, and since the outcome is the adjunct solution mentioned above, where we might have found financial and beneficial support in the past, we are now finding ourselves in the position of having to decide whether or not to dismiss ever getting the PhD in the first place.

One of the first things Trump has vowed to do as President is repeal the Affordable Care Act, removing this basic service for millions and millions of Americans. Which means those of us surviving on an adjunct basis no longer have the medical benefits our universities don’t offer us. Meaning, while we could have nominally survived a few years before finding a full-time position, that option seems impossible now. Which makes it harder to boost one’s CV, which makes us less and less qualified for a full-time position.

In other words, it no longer makes financial sense working as an academic grunt if a basic injury might send me deeper in debt beyond the money I owe for the education I got in order to be an academic grunt.

See, it’s little actions like this, seemingly unrelated, that cause the biggest effect. The Affordable Care Act, from an academic perspective, was something that supported academic thinking by making the terrible situation of finding a job that much easier. Now, I’m better off working at Home Depot.

So in the end, people like me but without the benefit of an amazing wife whose employer offers spousal benefits are finding themselves at a crossroads. Which is why, even at the undergrad level, people are worried.

Couple this with the notion that in contemporary America, and especially in Trump’s America, academics are becoming personae non gratae, and we begin to see a growing issue.

Yet, and regardless of this, some of you might find yourselves asking if academics really matter that much? Why should we support people who just think about stuff or who have circle-jerk arguments about theories? Who don’t have ‘real jobs?’

To that I’d answer: because people who devote their passions to research and study and teaching provide a service immeasurable to the benefits of society.

We thrive on furthering intellectual thought.

We study religion, and law, and science, and provide the basis on which culture not only starts, but grows.

Because we are storytellers, and the world does not exist without stories.

Because without academic thought there is no democracy.

There is no dissemination of knowledge.

Because without academic thought, ignorance thrives.

And so does laziness.

Fight or Flight

So here it is, the end of this rant.

Here’s where I wrap up the whole thing and end on a positive note.

During the campaign, and especially since it ended, I’ve seen a lot of people talking about leaving America.

I admit, last Wednesday I thought about contacting friends and colleagues abroad for advice on attaining research visas. Maybe going back for another PhD. Which I would love to do. We loved living in Scotland. We loved traveling Europe. The last year has been difficult. The reverse culture shock is only getting worse.

And for many of us, Donald Trump’s success has brought us to a crossroads of fight or flight. The nightmare we thought just couldn’t happen has happened, and suddenly we’ve come to find ourselves as the new deplorables.

We find ourselves in the minority for promoting racial equality, same-sex marriage, the separation of church and state. We support the dangers of objectivity. Of rationality. Of not being lazy.

Maybe we should just run away. Run and hide someplace where this sort of thinking is welcomed and loved. What America used to be.

When I think about these two options I can’t help but consider one of them weaker than the other. What does it say about me as a person that when faced with an orange Mussolini Presidency I immediately run away?

What does it say about me if I don’t stand and fight for the democracy I hold so dear and sacred?

The idea of a Trump Presidency is a nightmare. Not just for those of us who didn’t vote for him, but for all of us.

Empathy and fairness aside, this man is the least qualified individual to have ever attained a political position of power in the history of the United States.

And it’s our job to ensure he doesn’t destroy it outright.

For that reason, I am staying here.

For that reason, I wholly accept that I am the new deplorable.

I embrace it.

I will be the constant annoying reminder that the America I have always known and loved is still here.

That they can’t just have what they want. That America doesn’t work like that. That this isn’t a monarchy. This isn’t a theocracy.

I will remind him and his followers that the First Amendment does not promote religion. It does not quiet Free Speech. It does not deny me the right to protest.

I will remind our new Vice President, our actual President by everything but name alone, especially after Trump realizes how hard the job is, that though he may be a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican (in that order), the American people are not. I will remind them both that this is not a Christian nation.

I will remind them that the First Amendment protects religious freedom by not infringing on it. By not promoting one belief over another. By keeping it out of political decisions. By removing it from state capitols and courthouses.

That the First Amendment protects their own religious beliefs from their own machinations.

I will remind the new Supreme Court that it is its job to ensure all Americans find equal protection under the Constitution. That it does not serve to promote, protect, and defend the Americans with whom the majority of Justices agree politically or religiously. That decisions are, and should be, difficult. That they need to look no further than their own history, to the history of Judicial America, to find the foundations of equality on which decisions like Snyder v. Phelps (2011) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) have been made.

Rather than lowering to his level and insulting his ‘tiny hands,’ I will remind President Trump why American democracy is so great. Every time he tries to do something unconstitutional, I will remind him why that document exists. When he tries to gag the press because he doesn’t like how the media (or the public) treats him, I will make sure he sees it.

I will remind him that equality is better than racism. That homosexuality is not a sin. I will normalize these things by living a life that accepts people, regardless of their ‘differences’ from me.

I will implore others to empathize. To understand why people might act out with violence, and argue that responding with violence isn’t always the best approach.

I will ask them to consider the heartache someone might feel in not being allowed to sit with the person they love as they die. To hold their hand. To kiss them. To cry with them. To be with the person they love more than themselves during a moment of fear and loneliness. And then I will ask them if they think the type of sex these people have should restrict them from this.

I will remind Trump’s America that as parents of daughters, and as grandparents to granddaughters, that normalizing sexual assault is an insult to humanity.

I will remind them that children need to learn that sexual assault is a crime, even if their President does it.

I will remind them of this because they’ve elected a President who thinks sexual assault is permissible because of someone’s financial worth or fame. I will force them to justify this decision. To explain their choice to their children. To explain why they decided to normalize these actions. Why they thought a ‘strong leader’ was worth electing a sexual deviant.

I will remind them that Planned Parenthood isn’t about abortion, it’s about women’s health. It’s about offering women a place where they can responsibly care for themselves, a place to find support and treatment.

I will remind them that abortion is legal in the United States, that American women have the right to make that choice, even when I don’t agree with it.

I will remind them that though America has immigration issues, and though we have illegal immigration issues, there are better resolutions than militarily rounding up and deporting people. That this was never a part of our social and civil infrastructure. That it only breeds more hate, and this is not how I want the world to see us.

I will remind President Trump that he must now do the job. That perhaps his own worst nightmare has come true.

I will remind him that this job requires more than just making empty threats built on the foundation of ignorant fears. That it is more than just riling up hateful crowds. That he must now do more than simply wave his hands and tell people that his plans are the best, really the best, better than anyone else’s.

I will remind our new Secretary of State that feelings are not more essential than facts.

I will remind them both that they have to speak to foreign leaders on behalf of all Americans and, worse for Trump, respect them. Especially the women. I will remind him that he can’t just dismiss Angela Merkel, perhaps soon to be leader of the free world, because, as we’ve seen, he has no respect for educated, rational women.

I will remind him that he now has to make decisions. Difficult decisions.

I will remind him that his decisions might cost America billions of dollars. That his decisions cannot only benefit Republican ideals, if he even knows what those are, beyond what is told to him by aides.

I will remind him that his decisions cannot only support white, Christian men.

I will remind him that his decisions cannot simply benefit Vladimir Putin.

I will remind the baby-boomers who elected him, who lived through the Cold War, that they might have just elevated a ‘useful idiot’ to the Presidency. That we are perhaps set to see America’s involvement in, and support of, a Russian invasion of Europe. Under the guise of protecting it from Islamic terrorism. Of our becoming a part of the new Axis Powers in a third World War: Russia, Britain, the United States. Do the bad guys know when they’re the bad guys, or does that realization only occur after they’ve lost?

I will remind him that he has to make decisions that don’t cause further damage to the already weakened peace of racial America. I will remind him that in the inevitable event of another Ferguson, he cannot simply militarize the police. That in the face of racial violence, from both sides, the best solution is found in locating the source of this violence, and resolving it there.

I will remind him that when he calls the spouses and parents of soldiers killed in the service of their country he cannot disrespect them or insult them because they’re Muslim or supported a different candidate.

He can’t call them cowards if they get captured.

I will remind Republican Americans that the next time they ask me to ‘thank a sniper’ or admonish me for not properly celebrating Memorial or Veterans day by thanking a veteran, that this man was their choice. That before they demand this sort of respect from me, they should first demand it of their Commander in Chief.

I will remind Trump’s America that anger is not an option.

That fear and hate are not American ideals. They are his.

They are not mine.

I will make myself inclusive to other’s beliefs, as I always have been. As I was taught by my parents and my grandparents.

I will find commonality with people who think me their enemy.

I will show them love and compassion and empathy when they show me hate.

I will defend their right to speak freely, to protest. Even when I don’t like what they say.

I will defend our right to do this together, and I will do it peacefully.

I will invite Republicans and Democrats to join me in this, in being the new deplorables. In finding harmony in our disharmony in an effort to preserve and protect all that has been great about America. To ensure America is as great as it always has been. To keep it safe during the inevitable hard times to come.

I will defend the disestablishment of religion in America, and I will do it by continuing my research. By writing about and publishing and teaching others about religion.

Mine will be a voice of American Atheism, a reminder that regardless of our own beliefs, the sacred right of religious free exercise, even in our darkest hour, remains sacrosanct and enduring.

Donald Trump is my President, and I will proudly be the new deplorable.

 

 

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Bully for Free Speech

Now that we’ve reached the ides of June, commencement ceremonies are in full swing.  Not only is this a romantic time for students finally untethered from their foster mother, the university, it’s also a great time for notable individuals to give commencement addresses.

While I’ve never attended one of my own graduation ceremonies, I do have fond memories of my brother’s when he graduated from USC.  The commencement address was given by Michael Eisner, who was at that time the Chief Executive of the Walt Disney Company.  He talked about email.  For about 45 minutes.

For many famous or successful people, the opportunity to give a commencement address is also the opportunity to speak about something important to them, something they feel passionate about, in the form of ‘advice’ for the students awaiting their diplomas.  This is based, I can only assume, on the idea that a commencement address is the final word these students will hear at this liminal stage in their lives, one last lesson for them to take to heart before passing through that threshold into the ‘real world.’

Back in May, Ian McEwan, for whom I I have had the great pleasure of obsessing over for the last four years (my PhD Thesis uses his work), gave a commencement address at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  He was also awarded an honorary doctorate for his incredible body of work.  For those interested, here is a video of his speech:

As well, here is a link to a transcription of that speech, provided by Time magazine:

http://time.com/3883212/ian-mcewan-graduation-speech-dickinson/

The content, ‘thesis’ even, of his address was the importance not only of free speech as a human right, but of our need to support and defend it, especially against those who wish to hinder, or even restrict it.

“Let’s begin on a positive note,” he begins, followed by:

[T]here is likely more free speech, free thought, free enquiry on earth now than at any previous moment in recorded history (even taking into account the golden age of the so-called ‘pagan’ philosophers). And you’ve come of age in a country where the enshrinement of free speech in the First Amendment is not an empty phrase, as it is in many constitutions, but a living reality.

However, he then turns to the more harsh and ‘negative’ reality which he sees as threatening the ‘life-blood,’ the ‘essential condition’ of the liberal education they have all just received:

But free speech was, it is and always will be, under attack – from the political right, the left, the centre. It will come from under your feet, from the extremes of religion as well as from unreligious ideologies. It’s never convenient, especially for entrenched power, to have a lot of free speech flying around.

He then makes a number of sincere, and sometimes accurate, arguments about the importance, even necessity of free speech:

It’s worth remembering this: freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy. Without free speech, democracy is a sham. Every freedom we possess or wish to possess (of habeas corpus and due process, of universal franchise and of assembly, union representation, sexual equality, of sexual preference, of the rights of children, of animals – the list goes on) has had to be freely thought and talked and written into existence. No single individual can generate these rights alone. The process is cumulative.

However, and this is where I find myself disagreeing with his argument, his speech soon veers into a personal aside, an example that represents his disappointment in seeing certain individuals who have, in their active disaffections, come to challenge free speech by means of not supporting the use of it by others.  This example stems from his disappointment in a number of American writers who publicly disassociated themselves from a PEN gala in honour of the murdered journalists of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.  To further underscore his argument, he refers back to a quote which, he admits, is likely incorrectly assigned to Voltaire (‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’):

American PEN exists to defend and promote free speech. What a disappointment that so many American authors could not stand with courageous fellow writers and artists at a time of tragedy. The magazine has been scathing about racism. It’s also scathing about organised religion and politicians and it might not be to your taste – but that’s when you should remember your Voltaire.    

While the horrific and disgusting terrorist attack on the writers of Charlie Hebdo is inexcusable, I find myself thinking that his argument here is in many ways myopically misguided.  He states, shortly after the previous quote:

There’s a phenomenon in intellectual life that I call bi-polar thinking. Let’s not side with Charlie Hebdo because it might seem as if we’re endorsing George Bush’s ‘war on terror’. This is a suffocating form of intellectual tribalism and a poor way of thinking for yourself. As a German novelist friend wrote to me in anguish about the PEN affair -“It’s the Seventies again: Let’s not support the Russian dissidents, because it would get “applause from the wrong side.” That terrible phrase.

As I will argue in my conclusive statements below, I do not (for the most part) agree that the reason behind those writers ‘disassociating’ themselves from the PEN gala was a decision made by ‘fear’ or ‘apprehension’ in being affiliated with, and thus in support of, Bush’s ‘war on terror.’ Rather, and as I will reveal below, I think this arises from something very different.  Likewise, while I do agree that all religious beliefs are ‘worthy of respect,’ at least in the academic use of empathetic methodological agnosticism, I especially find myself disagreeing with his sentiment that ‘free speech’ is somehow inextricably linked with ‘criticism’ or ‘mockery:’

Islam is worthy of respect, as indeed is atheism. We want respect flowing in all directions. But religion and atheism, and all thought systems, all grand claims to truth, must be open to criticism, satire, even, sometimes, mockery.

What I think he has confused here is the idea that ‘criticism,’ in the sense of examination and open and free discussion, particularly related to political, social, and cultural restrictions and amendments concerning ethics, is somehow the same thing as ‘mockery.’  These are not the same thing, or, if nothing else, because of my objective lens, I do not see these as the same thing.  One I see as the mythological hope of the First Amendment: the idea that all religious individuals are free to exercise their beliefs in a manner that isn’t harmful, dangerous, or threatening to others.  The other I see as a type of bullying: knowingly harassing, inciting, or disrespecting an individual whose beliefs do not match your own, and thus appear foreign, odd, or worthy of insult.

This differentiation, for the sake of simplicity, is the thesis of this post, and the focus of the following discussion.

However, and for pragmatic reasons, my argument against McEwan’s defence of this type of ‘free speech’ is in need of some background data, which I will break into three sections: what I mean by ‘bully,’ a description of a story by McEwan about bullying, and a final argument about empathy using McEwan’s own description.


Bully

To better elucidate my use of the term ‘bullying,’ I think it is terribly important to first understand what I mean by the term ‘bully.’  Let’s first look at a lexical example.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term in two ways.  First, as a noun:

A person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker: he is a ranting, domineering bully.

Synonyms for this definition include: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, brow-beater, intimidator, coercer, subjugator, scourge, tough, heavy, bully boy, ruffian, thug, and attack dog.

Second, it is defined as a verb:

Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something: a local man was bullied into helping them.

Synonyms for this definition include: coerce, pressure, pressurize, bring pressure to bear on, use pressure on, put pressure on, constrain, lean on, press, push, force, compel, oblige, put under an obligation, hound, harass, nag, harry, badger, goad, prod, pester, brow-beat, brainwash, bludgeon, persuade, prevail on, work on, act on, influence, intimidate, dragoon, twist someone’s arm, and strong-arm.

For the purposes of my usage herein, I will stipulate the term to mean:

someone who uses force, or the threat of force, either in a manner meant to terrorise, or control, another individual. 

A ‘bully,’ then, is someone who knowingly insults, incites, or threatens another.  This stipulation will be important later.  For now, however, I think it will help if we briefly turn to a discussion of a story, a sort of fairy tale, about bullying, and the healing power of empathy.


The Bully

In 1994, McEwan published a short little novella called The Daydreamer.  Consisting of eight vignettes (chapters) about the early life of a young boy, Peter Fortune, The Daydreamer is, as McEwan describes in the novella’s preface: “a book for adults about a child in a language that children could understand” (9).  In each of these chapters Peter learns something new about himself, so that like young Briony Tallis coming to terms with her own existence at the start of his renowned novel Atonement, these chapters become singular moments of self-discovery, blended into a story about a young boy’s coming-of-age.  While these fluctuate between fantastical and realistic physical and emotional alterations, one story stands out for my intentions here.

“The Bully” tells the story of Peter’s interaction with a fellow classmate, Barry Tamerlane, who is known for terrorising the students at their school.  While the story reflects much of the metaphorical nuance that McEwan is so good at, such as the notion that the bully, as well as Peter’s ability to confront and defeat him with nothing more than his logic, is emulative of an almost Atheistic enlightenment about God’s existence through our own creation, his description of this interaction is quite poignant for my argument herein.

In the beginning, the bully is described as such:

He didn’t look like a bully.  He wasn’t scruff, his face wasn’t ugly, he didn’t have a frightening leer, or scabs on his knuckles and he didn’t carry dangerous weapons.  He wasn’t particularly big.  Nor was he one of those small, wiry, bony types who can turn out to be vicious fighters.  At home he wasn’t smacked like many bullies are, and nor was he spoiled.  His parents were kind but firm, and quite unsuspecting.  His voice wasn’t loud or hoarse, his eyes weren’t odd and small and he wasn’t even very stupid.  In fact, he was rather round and soft, though not quite a fatty, with glasses, and a spongy pink face, and a silver brace on his teeth.  He often wore a sad and helpless look which appealed to some grown-ups and was useful when he had to talk himself out of trouble. (74-75)  

With such an innocuous description, we might wonder, as Peter does, what would make Barry a bully?  Peter decides that there are two reasons for this:

  1. “The first was that he seemed to be able to move in the quickest way between wanting something and having it.” (75)
  2. “The second reason for Tamerlane’s success was that everyone was afraid of him.” (75)

However, he also adds: “No one quite knew why.” (75)

At this point in the story, and in a random turn of ‘grown-up logic,’ Peter is invited to, and attends, Barry’s eleventh birthday party.  This experience shocks him as he finds no trace of the ‘bully’ in Barry within his home environment.  In fact, he is polite, and friendly, and refers to his guests as ‘friends.’  He laughs, and plays, and is genuinely polite.  Peter, deciding to investigate, finds Barry’s room to be much like his own: “There were books all over the place, a train set on the floor, an old teddy on the bed wedged against a pillow, a chemistry set, a computer game.” (77)

So, he concludes, Barry lives a ‘double-life.’  At home, he is a regular boy, much like himself.  Then, on the way to school each morning, he transforms into ‘the bully.’  This thinking sends Peter into a long daydream in which he begins to consider his own existence, particularly after overhearing two girls debate whether or not ‘everything’ in the wider existence is really a dream.  If, he wonders, everything is a dream, then he is the dreamer, and everything is thus his own invention.  In this same way, he is the creator of all life, meaning likewise that as everything is a dream, then ‘dying’ would merely be the moment one wakes up.

As he’s further considering this, one day alone on the playground, the bully re-enters his life, demanding the apple that he is holding.  Soon, a crowd forms.  All the other children surround the two as the bully threatens Peter with a beating if he does not relinquish the apple.  However, Peter does not hand it over.  Rather, he amends his philosophical hypothesis about the world existing as his own dream by adding into it a theory about Barry’s ability to suddenly become a bully:

What made pink plump Barry so powerful?  Immediately, from out of nowhere, Peter had the answer.  It’s obvious, he thought.  We do.  We’ve dreamed him up as the school bully.  He’s no stronger than any of us.  We’ve dreamed up his power and his strength.  We’ve made him into what he is.  When he goes home no one believes in him as a bully and he just becomes himself. (84)

Then, in response to Barry’s final threat, and in a manner emulative of Genesis 3:6, Peter puts his theory into practice:

In reply, Peter raised the apple to his mouth and took an enormous bite.  ‘You know what,’ he said slowly, through his mouthful.  ‘I don’t believe you.  In fact, I’ll tell you something for nothing.  I don’t even believe you exist.’ 

This revelation works like a tonic, inspiring within Peter an almost sinister justification for the insults he soon directs at Barry.  He calls him a ‘fat little pink jelly with metal teeth,’ he reveals his ‘ordinary nature,’ tells the gathering crowd about his ‘teddy’ tucked up in his bed.

Barry begins to cry.  The crowd begins to loudly taunt him.  His crying becomes sobbing, and the crowd falls silent.  Barry sobs into his hands, defeated, the bully now gone.

Later, after the sense of his accomplishment begins to subside, Peter begins to regret his actions:

He had mocked Barry for being fat and having a brace and a teddy and for helping his mum.  He had wanted to defend himself and teach Barry a lesson, but he ended up making him an object of scorn and contempt for the whole school.  His words had hurt far more than a straight punch to the nose.  He had crushed Barry.  Who was the bully now? (88-89)

In an effort to reconcile their relationship, while at the same time pacify his guilt, Peter offers an olive branch in the shape of a note that reads: “Do you want to play soccer?  PS.  I’ve got a teddy too and I have to help with the dishes.” (89)  The two become friends, and Peter, after empathising with his enemy, comes to realise his own faults as a bully, and the shocking ease and simplicity there is in taunting and criticising others.


Only Love and Then Oblivion

On 15 September, 2001, The Guardian published an article by McEwan entitled: “Only Love and Then Oblivion.”

As a direct response to his feeling the horrid sense of loss and tragedy after witnessing (albeit, like so many of us, on his television) the events that unfolded as the World Trade Center came melting to the ground, this short article is about love, and empathy, and last words.  It is about the emotional bereavement felt at watching such a terrible event unfold.

As well, and in many ways mostly, it is about his own philosophical perspective on morality.

This stems, in this context, from an empathetic feeling of connectivity, of feeling in some way a part of this event, as those most victimised by this tragedy were ‘people like us:’

[…] we remember what we have seen, and we daydream helplessly. Lately, most of us have inhabited the space between the terrible actuality and these daydreams. Waking before dawn, going about our business during the day, we fantasize ourselves into the events. What if it was me?

This, he describes, is the inherent meaning of empathy:

This is the nature of empathy, to think oneself into the minds of others. These are the mechanics of compassion: you are under the bedclothes, unable to sleep, and you are crouching in the brushed-steel lavatory at the rear of the plane, whispering a final message to your loved one. There is only that one thing to say, and you say it. All else is pointless. You have very little time before some holy fool, who believes in his place in eternity, kicks in the door, slaps your head and orders you back to your seat. 23C. Here is your seat belt. There is the magazine you were reading before it all began.

Then, empathy becomes morality via the fact that, as he sees it, no person capable of feeling another’s emotions, or seeing the world through their eyes, would be able to, in any capacity, inflict harm on that person:

If the hijackers had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of the passengers, they would have been unable to proceed. It is hard to be cruel once you permit yourself to enter the mind of your victim. Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.

In a final indictment, he solidifies this notion:

The hijackers used fanatical certainty, misplaced religious faith, and dehumanising hatred to purge themselves of the human instinct for empathy. Among their crimes was a failure of the imagination. As for their victims in the planes and in the towers, in their terror they would not have felt it at the time, but those snatched and anguished assertions of love were their defiance.

Empathy is essential to his sense of morality here, the backbone of his argument that the terrorists on that fateful day had somehow lost the ability to feel what another person felt, to imagine what it might be like to be sitting in their seat, leaving messages for their loved ones, or praying to their own gods.


Argument

McEwan’s argument that free speech is a universal right in need of defence and support is indeed appropriate and commendable.

His argument that individuals disassociating with those whose usage they might not agree with is somehow a threat to that right, is not.

This is, I would argue, most apparent in his notion of ‘bi-polar’ thinking.  While maybe the individuals who did not participate, or excused themselves from the PEN gala, did so because they did not want to somehow be associated with Bush’s ‘war on terror,’ I think there is a sincere lack of empathy within this idea.  Perhaps, we might consider, they were doing so not out of fear of supporting someone else’s agenda, but because they simply did not want to associate themselves with a type of bullying.  Perhaps their reasoning for not standing with Charlie wasn’t about a fear of retribution, or of supporting Bush’s campaign against terror.  Perhaps it was merely a decision not to stand with someone responding to a bully by bullying back.

In my own personal aside, I’ve never quite understood the reason for doing an act that one knowingly will offend another.  Sure, this is free speech, but is it the best use of free speech?  For instance, does protesting a soldier’s funeral with signs reading, ‘God Hates Fags,’ really convey a message we all want to stand behind?  This is free speech, after all, and we would likely agree with the right to express such a message, regardless of our disagreeing with the sentiment behind it.  This is especially the case with this example as the Westboro Baptist church is, legally, representing the First Amendment by speaking un-prohibited.  The Supreme Court case Snyder vs. Phelps affirmed this in 2011.

Yet, I might also concede that this is an inaccurate and unfair association in its own way.  The publications of Charlie Hebdo and the protestations of the Westboro Baptist Church are in no way related, and I would never simply lump them together as such.  However, what cannot be separated here is their equally shared position on free speech, particularly when it is based on statements which convey their central ideals.  Because this is free speech granted by judicial law, and upheld by the Constitution, both should be equally defended.  In this same way, as well, if we were to employ McEwan’s own notion of empathy, we would further come to realise that standing with Charlie would, via his promotion of free speech, be the same as standing with the Westboro Baptist Church.

How, then, does this relate to bullying?  Depending on whose side you stand on, any sort of free speech that comes across as criticism or mockery brings with it a sense of bullying.  That is, while due to our liberal educations we might all agree that we need to support, defend, fight for, and eternally use free speech, we also need to recognise how what we say freely might be perceived by others.  In this way, we might also consider if offending another’s religion is free speech or free bullying?  Is the critical mockery of another’s sacred beliefs something that benefits all of us, or just certain individuals who’s own beliefs centre around the idea that believing in something clearly disprovable, something that fetters scientific, political, and cultural advancement, something that breeds hatred and racism and violence against innocent people, is also something deplorable, backward, and harmful to mankind?  In the opposite direction, then, is an attempt at censoring that, or silencing it in any way, an act of free speech or an act of bullying back?

There are clear dichotomies at work here.  Like rather obvious stances of ‘your side against mine,’ these lead to stalemates and debates about who is better supporting whose free speech.  This, I would say, is central to McEwan’s argument in the commencement address above.  Which seems rather odd.  He clearly understands humanity’s ability to understand the perspectives of other people.  Not only does his empathy-as-morality support this, but so does his description of Peter’s realisation that he himself has become the bully in his own self-defence.  Empathy is something that not only comes through in his work, it also seems inexplicably attached to his sense of ethics.  Yet, with his statements in the commencement address above, it seems he has either forgotten this, or is revealing the fact that his empathy is selective.

This, I would lastly argue, is where the benefit of an objective lens comes into play.

Because I might methodologically approach these same examples with an objective sense of empathy, it’s arguable to conclude that just as much as we might collectively agree that any sort of terrorist act is an act of bullying, from the other end, we might also see how the critical mockery presented in Charlie Hebdo‘s publications is a similar type of bullying.  Given our ability to ‘imagine ourselves into the thoughts and feelings’ of others, we can, if nothing else, at least come to an intellectual or philosophical understanding about why each side believes and acts the way it does, especially when it comes to their uses of ‘free speech.’  In this way, we are at least able to free ourselves from the biased position of believing our free speech is better, or if nothing else, more ‘free’ than another’s.

Finally, I would like to conclude here that this does not mean that empathising with a terrorist who murders writers and cartoonists because they are offended by their critical mockery is in some way permissible, nor is this the same as saying, ‘they deserved it.’  Rather, this is meant as a critical assessment of empathy, and the skewed sense of it I see in McEwan’s defence of free speech.  If we are to defend that right, and if we are required to empathise with others who might bully us into refraining from speaking freely, or who wish to silence our voices entirely, perhaps the best way to do that wouldn’t be a further criticism of those whose own free speech we might not like (such as those who disassociate with a group that appears to be bullying back).  For this reason, perhaps my larger argument here is really just a defence of McEwan’s fictional philosophy, rather than what he expresses in ‘real-life.’

As such, I think that the McEwan who gave the commencement address at Dickinson college could learn a thing or two from the lessons learned by Peter Fortune.


In a somewhat shameless plug, I’d like to point out that the International Society for Heresy Studies recently published its second newsletter, Excommunicated, and much of that deals with, and discusses, Charlie Hebdo.  The individuals involved with the ISHS, and the editors of the newsletter especially, are excellent scholars and wonderful people.  It is definitely worth a read:

Excommunicated, Vol. 1, No. 2. 2015.