On February 17, 2018, the Freethinkers of Portland State University (PSU) held a panel discussion featuring such speakers as former Evergreen State biologist Heather E. Heying, PSU philosophy professor Peter Boghossian, writer Helen Pluckrose, and the infamous author of the Google memo, James Damore. This panel was entitled “We Need to Talk About Diversity.”
In defense of the memo, Heather Heying told the crowd, “James argues accurately that there are differences between men and women. This is a strange position to be in to be arguing for something so universally and widely accepted in biology.”
The Heckler's Veto
A video clip of the event shows a planned student disruption. It includes a walkout and an attempt to shut down the panel’s PA system.
The clip begins with Heather E. Heying explaining how women and men are biologically different and ends with the protest. A female protester screams, in reference to Damore, “He is a piece of s***. That is not ok. Even the women in there have been brainwashed.”
It is fully ironic for any group to lecture anyone about civil society when they are chanting violent epithets and shutting down a public discussion.
A male protester adds, “Should not listen to fascism. It should not be tolerated in civil society. Nazis are not welcome in civil society.”
The female protester returns with, “F*** the police and power to the people.”
The firing of Damore and the dismissal of his lawsuit by the National Labor Board should have been enough to quiet his critics. Instead, Damore has since become a cultural sensation. In addition to being labeled a misogynist, he is accused, among other things, of being an alt-right hero and a fascist Nazi.
It is fully ironic for any group to lecture anyone about civil society when they are chanting violent epithets and shutting down a public discussion. But the larger concern of this protest is their likening of James Damore and the other panelists to fascists and Nazis.
According to Wikipedia,
“Fascism is a form of authoritarian nationalism, characterized by doctoral power, forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.”
It should be safe to say that a free event at a public university put on by a student group is the opposite of an authoritarian state whose aim is to control the means of production through force. Yet, these facts do not seem readily transparent to college kids.
"You're All a Bunch of Nazis"
The ultimate problem with these critics is that they are not challenging Damore based on good arguments. Calling someone a Nazi is easy and cheap. If you liken Damore to an ideological movement that led to the death of over thirty million people, then you never have to confront his ideas intellectually.
The tragedy, of course, is for the rest of us. By calling James Damore a fascist, an important societal label is misappropriated into a political culture war. Suddenly, what should be a descriptor for violent political ideology becomes a cheapened slur for anyone who disagrees with left-leaning thought.
Not everyone who disagrees with us is a fill-in-hated-group-here.
What is even more disturbing about this label is what happens if James Damore’s points are proven to have some validity. If James Damore is a fascist, does that make valid arguments fascist, too?
There are many social psychologists who either disagree with Damore or believe the presentation of his points was exaggerated. Among these names are Janet Hyde, Michael Wiederman, Cordelia Fine, and even Catherine Hakim who is referenced in his memo. It would be more fruitful for Damore’s opponents to reference these thinkers and their elevated ideas to refute his position. But doing so takes critical thinking, initiative, and effort.
We must learn as a society to rescue the conversation surrounding complex issues. Ideas need to be debated and not shut down. Not everyone who disagrees with us is a [fill-in-hated-group-here]. They may be wrong, of course, but shutting down an idea through a slur is never a healthy way to move a disagreement forward.