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The decision from the Ghomeshi trial (read the full decision here) has generated a lot of discussion over the past five days. Some of the reaction has been in favour of the decision, while others have been critical.

In this post, I am not going to comment on the decision itself (although I do have several things to say about it, none of which are that I think Ghomeshi should have been found guilty given the way our current legal system works). Instead, I want to focus on the blurring of the lines that occurs in reaction feminist criticisms of the trial, the decision, the legal system, or responses to sexual assault survivors. I think in each of these cases it is important to keep the target of the criticism firmly in mind if you are going to respond to the criticism reasonably.

It seems to me that several targets of criticism and several alternative responses to sexual assault have been suggested in media responses to the trial. Once could criticize:

  1. a. The decision itself
  2. a. The criminal courts
  3. a. The legal system more generally
  4. a. The effects of one of the above on complainants bringing a case
  5. a. The effects of one of the above on possible future complainants

One could also discuss alternative ways to address sexual assault that have nothing to do with the criminal courts or the legal system. For example:

  1. b. Non-legal responses to sexual assault
  2. b. Ways to support survivors of sexual assault
  3. b. Social norms and changes to social norms

More could be added to the above lists, I am sure. But even with these brief lists, we can see the conflation of the targets of criticism and the contexts of discussion in some responses. For example:

Q: What I find very interesting though is how on the one hand you’ve heard people saying two contradictory things at once. You’ve been hearing “believe women,” #believewomen even, we’ve reduced it to that. On the other hand, everyone will agree of course you’re innocent until proven guilty. I don’t know how we structure a system that believes women on the one hand and also presumes that the accused is innocent.

A: If your friend comes to you and says ‘I was sexually assaulted,’ you believe your friend. But you also use your sense of scrutiny for everything else you do in life and sometimes you have questions. When it comes to a criminal trial, you have to dig down when there are those questions because someone else’s life is at stake and someone else’s liberty is on the line. I have a problem with the #believewomen movement. I get it. But it just makes no sense in the criminal justice context. We can support women who say they have been sexually assaulted. We can have resources available. But when it comes to a criminal trial, to #believe everything a woman says, says “Let’s just throw out the trial and convict the guy.” We would be using some sort of different justice system where no one gets a fair trial because the woman said this happened and that’ll be it. That would be a major setback. There are countries throughout the world who are desperate for our system of justice and there are people who have been convicted of things that they didn’t do. And one case that jumps out is that Neil Bantleman, the Canadian convicted overseas in Indonesia of sexually assaulting a child. The general consensus is the gentleman probably didn’t do it and did not receive a fair trial. The quality of the evidence is horrendous. But if it was #believekids that’s exactly what you get. Which is, “You’re convicted, the kid said it.” That’s full stop. We cannot regress to that justice system. We just can’t. (Source: The National Post emphasis added)

These two things are not at all contradictory because they are not being said about the same targets. The idea that everyone should be innocent until proven guilty is an idea that applies at the level of 2. a. the criminal courts, and possibly to other areas of 3. a. the legal system (but not all areas of the legal system). In contrast, the #believewomen movement is not about the criminal courts or about the legal system, it arises from rape crisis centres and discussions of 2. b. how to support sexual assault survivors. It has no direct application to other contexts. To conflate the targets of criticism, the context of discussion, and suggested responses is to create a straw person argument.

The idea that we should believe women when they tell us about their experience of sexual assault comes from rape crisis centres. The idea behind the movement is that the criminal justice system is currently set up to encourage defense lawyers to show that complainants are not credible and the defense will do this whether or not the complainants are telling the truth (this occurs in other criminal defenses, as well, not just in cases of sexual assault). The response “believe women” is meant to support complainants outside the courtroom as they have their credibility shredded inside the courtroom. It is meant to say that even though their credibility is being called into question, there are still some who believe them.

I have never read any feminist legal scholar or any feminist scholar of any discipline who suggested that the criminal courts should make any criminal decision on the basis of a blind faith in a woman’s testimony. To suggest that this is what the movement is about it to distort the argument and conflate the context of application for the suggestion. It is to misunderstand what #believewomen is about; it is not an analysis of the movement.

In addition, this particular misunderstanding and distortion of the movement serves to make feminists seem irrational. Kathryn Wells is right in the above quote that if what feminist were saying is that courts should never question a woman’s testimony this would create injustice, it would infantilize women, and it would undermine the criminal court system. But this is not what is suggested. The fact that people accept this interpretation goes to show the extent to which people are willing to create a caricature of feminist arguments rather than engaging them.

In contrast, some feminists have criticized the criminal courts and the evidentiary standards. But this is a separate criticism from the claim that we should blindly believe women.

Below the fold there are some more places to read or watch things about the trial.

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Happy Star Wars Day!

May the fourth be with you.

dino

An Empirial attack ad against celebrating this noble holiday.

Rebels are traitors to the empire, and the force is used for mind control.

Some of the sounds are so memorable, you’d know them anywhere.

Here is a link to the post for May the 4th from last year, with many excellent Star Wars Recruitment posters. And another to some Star Wars Arts and Crafts. Below the fold a few more Star Wars videos. (more…)

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John Dewey: One of the most dangerous men in America

John Dewey: One of the most dangerous men in America

There is a list going around Facebook recently, though the list is quite old published in 2005, of the top 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries from a conservative perspective. Many of the books listed are quite predictable, since anything that challenges capitalism or Christianity is an immediate candidate. But one book that made the top 5 kind of surprised me. There sitting at #5 is John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. I mean this book is at #5, it ranks as more harmful than Marx’s Das Kapital (#6) and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, where he proclaims that God is Dead (#9). Darwin’s The Origin of the Species and The Decent of Man don’t even make the list (though they get honourable mention). What on earth could be so dangerous about Democracy and Education? Well, lets see what they say:

In Democracy and Education, in pompous and opaque prose, he disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education–particularly in public schools–and helped nurture the Clinton generation. (Source: Human Events: Powerful Conservative Voices)

So thinking skills are threatening? I find this passage odd because “hard knowledge” itself comes from the exercise of thinking skills. Dewey does not actually argue against teaching knowledge in Democracy and Education. Instead he argues that while teaching knowledge is important, this ought to be done in the context of examining and questioning the knowledge that is being taught so that students will learn how to create new knowledge and advance our understanding. There would be no new scientific, mathematical, engineering, or other advances in knowledge without exercising thinking skills.  If Einstein had not been curious about physics and spent his time thinking while working in the patent office, then we would still be stuck with only Newtonian physics. In fact, we wouldn’t even have Newtonian physics, since his ideas about gravity and so on were derived from his thinking about apples falling to earth. Dewey on this point:

Dewey on the relation between thinking and knowledge

Dewey notes that knowledge is subordinate to thinking because knowledge cannot progress without thinking. From Democracy and Education, page 146.

Dewey's Democracy and Education: The 5th most harmful book of the 19th and 2th centuries

Dewey’s Democracy and Education: The 5th most harmful book of the 19th and 2th centuries

Second, it is strange to admit that teaching thinking skills leads to voting democratic. Surely if one’s views were worth their salt they should be able to withstand critical scrutiny.

Third, it is frightening to see how this kind of fear of critical thinking finds its way into official Republican policy only a few years later. In the 2012 election season the Republican party of Texas included the following in their educational platform:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (Source: The Washington Post)

Of course, it is important to note that the undermining of parental authority does not follow from the development of critical thinking skills that challenge students’ fixed beliefs. For that to follow you would have to make explicit the premise that parental teachings are of a kind that cannot withstand critical scrutiny. If one were truly certain of the knowledge one was imparting to one’s offspring, then one would have no fear of their critical questioning, since the critical examination of true beliefs merely leads one to understand their truth more deeply.

But finally, one of the things that I find most odd about the inclusion of Democracy in Education among the top-five most harmful books is that the very distinction between knowledge and thinking that these conservative fears are based on is a distinction that they seem to be getting from the very work they are afraid of. Here is Dewey’s description of this distinction:

Dewey on Knowledge and Thinking

Dewey Describes knowledge as that which is settled and known, that which is certain, while thinking arises from doubt, questioning, and the unknown. Thinking can also expose false knowledge, according to Dewey. From Democracy and Education page 283.

It seems strange to me to invoke a distinction introduced in a philosophical work in order to describe why that work is harmful when one clearly agrees with the distinction introduced therein. One of the means of evaluating whether philosophy is good or bad as philosophy is on the basis of the distinctions introduced by the philosopher because introducing and elucidating distinctions is part of the work of philosophy. The fear of Dewey’s work seems to have a tension in it because they seem to agree that the distinction between knowledge and thinking is a worthwhile and important distinction (therefore it is good philosophy) but then think that introducing the distinction is harmful because it might encourage thinking which would challenge children to examine their beliefs to discover whether what they have taken to be knowledge (what has been ‘called knowledge’ as Dewey puts it) really deserves the label.

I guess Hannah Arendt was right when she wrote:

There are no dangerous thoughts;
Thinking itself is dangerous (See Discussion on SciForums)

And just for fun, Stephen Colbert’s take on the Texas GOP’s position against thinking: for those in the USA, you can find the clip at this link. For those of you in Canada, you cannot find the clip because the Comedy Network’s website sucks, contrary to what their commercials claim.

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On Sunday July 22, 2012, the Québec Student Strike (grève générale indéfini, #ggi or Indefinite General Strike)  resumed protesting after a brief pause in June to give students some time to rest.

Student Protest on July 22, 2012

Students marching in the streets on July 22, 2012.

The Student Unions that organized the #ggi in Québec used the summer pause to travel to Ontario for a “Solidarity Tour” to help educate Student Unions there about how to organize a successful student strike. The Canadian English media’s coverage of the tour has been astonishingly poor. Take for example Tasha Kheiriddin’s article in The National Post: “We don’t need no solidarity with Quebec students.” Here is an excerpt from her piece:

Rather than inviting Quebec students here to infect them with their protest virus, the Ontario students would be better off going to Quebec, to see the effects of all this mayhem there. I played tourist in Quebec City and Montreal last week with my partner and his teenage children, and we had no trouble getting into any attractions because there were few big crowds. In June, hotels reported that business in Montreal was down by $5.8-million from the May of the previous year, with 5%-10% of bookings cancelled. While it might be great for vacationers who do show up, it is bad news for tourism operators and merchants — and for their employees.

Among those employees, of course, are students working summer jobs to pay their tuition. Between May and June, employment in the hotel and restaurant sector fell by 9% — at a time when it usually increases to serve the high season. Meanwhile, student unemployment overall stands at 16% compared to 14.5% for the same period time last year. And even if they find jobs in July, students have to head back to class in August to recoup class time lost to the strike, precluding them from holding full-time employment for the rest of the summer. (Source: The National Post)

It is not clear to me why Ontario students would be expected to take advice about their solidarity interests from a Whitby-based journalist who is unlikely to share the same interests as them since she is no longer a student.[1]

But even more striking in this quote is the lack of understanding of what a strike is, what a strike is for, and how one might measure the success of a strike: It is even less clear to me why Ontario students should take advice from a journalist, like Kheiriddin, who could not even be bothered to research strike actions and their history before writing about them in a national newspaper.

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Margaret Wente’s articles are almost always inane. The other week she wrote about the Quebec student strike.

“The truth is, the education they’re getting is overpriced at any cost. The protesters do not include accounting, science and engineering students, who have better things to do than hurl projectiles at police. They’re the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills. The world will not be kind to them. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.” (From here, but don’t click as it just gives her attention)

(As Mike Spry has pointed out Wente’s degree is A BA and a MA in English, so it seems like she hates those who are studying exactly what she did)

Many people are aware of the most famous results from the Milgram Obedience Experiments (that many research subjects were willing to shock learners to death when instructed to do so by an authority figure), but a lesser known result of these experiments might be relevant here: “many subjects harshly devalue the victim as a consequence of acting against him” (Obedience to Authority 1974, pg 10).

Rob Carrick argues, in the article “Young Adults have a Right to be Up in Arms,” that much of the reason that today’s students are suffering and having difficulties finding jobs is related to the numerous benefits that baby boomers, like Wente, experienced in the past and continue to experience in the present.

Is Wente’s continued disparagement of students (especially those in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences) a result of her own complicity in making their lives difficult for her own benefit?

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A fun craft for today:

Storm Trooper Snowflake

Storm Trooper Snowflake

You can get this and several other templates for Star Wars Snowflakes by clicking this link.

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A little randomness with a maritime feel. I miss out east.

Happy Star Wars Day!

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