Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The University of Zero

“If from the many truths, you choose one and follow it without question; it will become a falsehood and you – a fanatic.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes, from a  philosopher whose name I can never remember much less spell when I do.

They used to study philosophy at Universities in Canada. There used to be classes in Logic and the works of great thinkers, humanitarians and artists too. All manner of concepts and ideas were discussed, debated or passionately argued. Sometimes a consensus was achieved. Sometimes it wasn’t. Students, professors and guests on campus agreed to disagree and continue their exploration of the issue. Those who disagreed at least considered the opposing view.

I’m sure all of that still happens in most of our halls of higher learning. In others, I’m no longer sure.

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“Since arriving in Canada I've been accused of thought crimes, threatened with criminal prosecution for speeches I hadn't yet given, and denounced on the floor of the Parliament (which was nice because that one was on my "bucket list").

Posters advertising my speech have been officially banned, while posters denouncing me are plastered all over the University of Ottawa campus. Elected officials have been prohibited from attending my speeches. Also, the local clothing stores are fresh out of brown shirts.

Welcome to Canada!” – Ann Coulter

A couple of week’s ago, American conservative pundit Ann Coulter was prevented from speaking at the University of Ottawa after Police determined protests by students had reached a point where a peaceful assembly was not possible.

Although I lean toward conservative points of view on a lot of issues, I can also be found to the Left of Che Guevara on others. And I’ve never found Ms. Coulter to be of laser-like intelligence.

But sometimes she’s funny.

Not as consistently funny as Jon Stewart, Bill Maher or Lewis Black, slipping into partisan rants more often than they do. But she often offers a skewed or new perspective that does shine some light.

Maybe, like Country music or Curling, she’s an acquired taste. Certainly she’s polarizing and controversial. I’ll even credit her with holding views and spewing quips other people find offensive.

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Prior to her arrival in Ottawa, Ms. Coulter received a letter from a U of O Provost suggesting she bone up on what constitutes “Hate Speech” under Canadian law.

“Apparently Canadian law forbids "promoting hatred against any identifiable group," which the provost, Francois A. Houle advised me, "would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges."

At the risk of violating anyone's positive space, what happened to Canada? How did the country that gave us Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd and Catherine O'Hara suddenly become a bunch of whining cry-babies?”

With that last comment, Ms. Coulter offers one of those keen observations I was talking about.

What has happened to us?

Where and how did our once legendary willingness to think outside the box get corralled into only holding discourse along narrower, more accepted paths?

I’m not talking about making the land safer for holocaust deniers, racists or misogynists. But I’m starting to wonder what’s gained when magazine columnists and night club comics are being hauled before Human Rights Commissions for “upsetting” somebody in their audience. 

It’s a syndrome I encounter almost daily on this blog. And it’s something I see happening with growing regularity when fellow screenwriters, bloggers and other people in my industry take on a current issue, critique a new TV series or even disagree with the opinion held by one of our Guilds, associations or local institutions.

Even when we’re JOKING, there always seems to be somebody either demanding an apology or dropping a dime on you, in the hope some authority figure can whip you back in line.

Our culture seems to have become one in which, if I don’t happen to find “Little Mosque on the Prairie” funny, I must be in favor of bombing civilians in Iraq.

We’ve become this almost “1984” society where not getting your news from Peter Mansbridge implies you must be hearing it from Bill O’Reilly and are therefore suspect on any number of levels.

And God forbid you should question the motives of any group someone else is hoping might one day throw them a bone.

We seem to have a lot of people quite willing to defend those who have no more use for them than any of the other junkyard dogs they employ for that purpose. And while their hair-trigger startle response to the slightest of slights isn’t going to affect me much, it does lead to the heartbreak of reading far too many emails thanking me for saying something the writer --- just --- can’t.

I’ve posted before about how counterproductive silence really is. But I do understand that some will never have the confidence or courage to say what they really want to say. That’s sad, inevitably allowing situations to grow worse. But it pales beside taking it upon yourself to silence someone else.

More and more, having opinions which have nothing to do with vilifying any race, gender, sexual preference or creed, but simply imply you’re not running with the herd are considered “offensive”.

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The Canadian Human Rights Act ensures that everyone can live free from discrimination. Yet somewhere along the way, its official mandate seems to have been adjusted to gives us the right to live without ever being offended.

Human Rights Commission spokespeople regularly parse the difference between “freedom of expression” which is guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and “freedom of speech”. In the words of one of HRC Investigator, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value”.

Gee – isn’t that kinda Xenophobic? Maybe even “promoting hatred against an identifiable group” – like Americans?

During the debate about the Coulter non-debate, a lot of people pointed out that the University of Ottawa had recently hosted Israel Apartheid Week during which all kinds of far from Conservative speakers were given a podium. According to many, this led to a lot of “offensive” things being said.

But somehow nobody on the campus seemed to have a problem with those views.

Last Sunday night, two Ottawa University students determined to be Jewish sympathizers by another group of Students were attacked with a machete.

I wonder if anybody on campus is going to have second thoughts about what happens when we only hear one side of a debate. Or did those two students, like Ann Coulter, only get what they “deserved”?

UPDATE:

The victim of the Ottawa Machete attack is interviewed here. Not much that hasn’t been covered by most news outlets. Except for what he says in the last minute of the interview. Tune in at 08:52 to have your mind completely blown by what passes for journalism on Canadian television these days.

2 comments:

JA Goneaux said...

Some people see things work in practice, and wonder if they should work in theory. You can usually find these people sitting in the Annex in Toronto, sipping a $6 latte and working on material for the 6th year of their 4 year course in Basket Weaving.

Or, as PJ O'Rouke (someone funnier and smarter than Coulter and Stewart put together) would have it, "conservatives say you shouldn't laugh at cripples. Liberals say you can't".

The difference between Coulter's words and machete-toting losers (alleged) actions should be evident to anyone with a third digit in their IQ. However, what the left will come up with now is a Machete Registry, some sensitivity training and, when it all comes down to it, having the victim apologize for enraging the attackers by having contrary opinions.

Kay said...

What all these demonstrators at UoO don't realize is that all they've accomplished is giving Ann Coulter even MORE publicity. Now she gets to play the victim - nice going idiots.
When I heard her comments to the Muslim student at Western I was appalled, but really not surprised. And of course those comments have now been over-shadowed by the bullshit in Ottawa.
I wish she had spoken in Ottawa, perhaps she might have (again) said something spectacularly stupid as she did a few years ago when interviewed by the Fifth Estate (Canadian troops fought in Vietnam!)
As to the alleged machete attack - there's something not quite right here. The Gatineau police don't appear to be commenting other than to say they are investigating & the only media who have covered this "story" so far are CanWest newspapers & the Ottawa Sun. It seems that the original source for these articles is a blog item by the victims. I'm reserving judgement 'til I hear what the police investigation turns up, but this "report" has certainly brought the Muslim-haters out in full force on some blogs. And that is a bigger problem than the Ann Coulter-haters.