If You Go Far Enough Right OR Left, You'll Wind Up At Segregation Again

Politics & Current Events

Now and then I write about a conflict between "multiculturalism" — as that term is understood by some — and certain core values. Those values include the rule of law, and the equality of all humans before it, and freedom of expression, and freedom of worship.

"Multiculturalism" and "core values" need not conflict. Rationally understood, multiculturalism is simply an openness to ideas and contributions from cultures other than our own, and an interest in the history, artistic expression, and philosophy of other cultures. Multiculturalism encourages us not to be hostile to or afraid of something because it originates from somewhere else. Multiculturalism is not having a shitfit because salsa is more popular than ketchup now, and not assuming that a culture is doomed based on ethnic demographic shifts..

Improperly understood by some, multiculturalism encourages abandoning core values at the demand of another culture that doesn't share them. Demanding that a book be destroyed because it teaches girls how to play didgeridoos and girls aren't supposed to play digeridoos in Aboriginal culture is an example. Demanding that Western countries respect non-Western values and enact laws criminalizing blasphemy is an example. People who oppose our core values everywhere are perfectly capable of exploiting this unprincipled view of multiculturalism:

So, please respect our religions, cultures and traditions by keeping your homosexuality out of our country.

This month brings the latest example: universities segregating public meetings based on the culture-based demands of the speakers.

For some time there as been controversy about universities in the United Kingdom allowing Islamic speakers to require gender segregation of public events using university facilities. Recently Universities UK — an advocacy group for UK universities — published a policy that encouraged accommodation of speakers who wished to demand gender segregation of events on university campuses. Bear in mind we are not talking about meetings of a student group — which might be governed by values of freedom of association — but outside groups using university facilities for public events. I quote at length, because the mushy and unprincipled discussion is lengthy:

Aside from freedom of speech and the s.43 duty, the paramount issue is to consider how equality obligations apply, and how those interact.

• For example, under the Equality Act 2010, the first question is whether the segregation is discriminatory on the grounds of a protected characteristic within the definition of the Act. Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either female or male attendees.

• It will therefore, for example, be necessary to consider the seating plan for any segregation. For example, if the segregation is to be ‘front to back’, then that may well make it harder for the participants at the back to ask questions or participate in debate, and therefore is potentially discriminatory against those attendees. This issue could be overcome assuming the room can be segregated left and right, rather than front and back (and also ensuring that appropriate arrangements are made for those with disabilities).

• Consideration will also need to be given to whether imposing segregation on everyone attending the event is required (see below). If it is required, this may amount to less favourable treatment of other attendees because of a protected characteristic. On the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that discrimination claims will be made on other grounds. For example, it is arguable that ‘feminism’ (bearing in mind the views of the feminist society referred to in the case study), or some forms of belief in freedom of choice or freedom of association, could fall within the definition of ‘belief’ under the Equality Act. This would in turn mean that applying a segregated seating policy without offering alternatives (eg a nonsegregated seating area, again on a ‘side by side’ basis with the gender segregated areas) might be discriminatory against those (men or women) who hold such beliefs. However, the question of whether such beliefs are protected under the Act is unclear without a court ruling. Further, an act of indirect discrimination can be ‘objectively justified’ if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, meaning the institution should also have regard to its other obligations under the Equality Act and the s.43 duty to secure freedom of speech, for example.

It should therefore be borne in mind – taking account of the s.43 duty, as well as equality duties and Human Rights Act obligations – that in these circumstances, concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system. Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully. Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest against segregation, and could be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the issues, but their views do not require an institution to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief. The s.43 duty requires an institution to secure freedom of speech within the law.

Notice a few things about this. First, see how utterly useless it is as a guideline to any actual human being making a real decision about a real-world event. Second, see how academicians can simultaneously kowtow to and insult identity groups — for instance, the scare quotes around feminism. Third, note how the ethos of Universities UK create a ill-defined protected right to segregate at public events at a university, a right that must be "balanced" in some obscure way against values like equality of access. Note also how the Universities UK approach results in an unprincipled and self-parodying jumble of interests groups, in which yielding to a gender segregation demand is objectionable not because universities shouldn't be gender-segregating public events in 2013, but because gender-segregating might lead to impaired access for the disabled.

Universities UK has reacted to criticism by claiming that it doesn't promote gender segregation That's right: it doesn't promote it, it simply advocates accommodating it on the premise that a group's culture-based desire to segregate a public meeting on a university campus is of equal value as the university's core value of equality of access. Or at least, Universities UK wishes to accommodate some cultures. Let's be clear: this is not about equal respect for all viewpoints. There is precisely zero chance that Universities UK would have drafted this policy to support the beliefs of Christian or nativist groups. Universities UK is not going to write feckless hand-wringing policies about accommodating the BNP in excluding non-whites from speeches, nor should they. Universities UK is not going to write drivel explaining how to balance the desire of some fringe Christian group to exclude gays from speeches, nor should they. [Edit: as a commenter points out, a fairer analogy would be the BNP or religious groups insisting that non-whites or gays sit separated from others at the speech.] Universities UK and other groups of its ilk are proceeding from foolish and wrong view of multiculturalism: that the requisite respect for other cultures includes accommodating demands that violate core values, whether that means segregating public events on university campuses or pursuing deeply embarrassing and ridiculous anti-offense policies.1

University UK's input is quite controversial and has been roundly condemned. This brings predictable and unserious smears from the sort of people who think that multiculturalism requires uncritical deference to practices that violate core values:

In allowing its website to be used to petition against the right of Islamic Societies to determine the running of their own meetings, Avaaz is endorsing cultural imperialism and side-lining of an entire culture within our Universities. The petition represents an attempt to force Western culture into the meetings and events of women and men who subscribe to another culture. This is not tolerance, freedom or any other form of positive. Never underestimate the ability of White Men to use Women of Colour as a means to espouse racism and cultural superiority.

Look: if you want to have a private group that segregates, have a private group that segregates. If you want to determine the determine the leadership of your own group, determine the leadership of your own group. But if you want to hold an event open to the public on a university campus, and you want to demand that the university cooperate with and enforce your segregation requirements, then fuck off. If that's cultural imperialism, then hand me a pith hat and quote me some Kipling. The same goes for demands for censorship. My respect for your culture ends when you use it to demand that my nation censor speech to meet your tastes and join a system of brutal and minority-oppressing anti-blasphemy laws.

The post-9/11 world has triggered a lot of anti-Muslim dipshittery, from the increased prominence of anti-Muslim lunatics to paroxysms of idiocy over things like turning a Burlington Coat Factory into a mosque. It's good to call out and criticize that, and generally to resist the siren call to demonize The Other. But on the other hand, open-mindedness and charity towards other cultures doesn't require us to abandon the values that ought to be at our core. Should we look at the censorious and prejudiced motes in our own eye before picking at the eyes of others? Certainly. That's only honest. But we need not adopt censorship or segregation ourselves just because someone else says that's their cultural value. That view of multiculturalism is entitled to no respect.

Hat tip to Ophelia Benson for her coverage of the issue.

  1. Once of my core values is saying offense instead of "offence." IN YOUR FACE ENGLAND. USA! USA! USA!  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. Lizard  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:10 am

    Universities UK and other groups of its ilk are proceeding from foolish and wrong view of multiculturalism: that the requisite respect for other cultures includes accommodating demands that violate core values,

    The belief that tolerance means tolerance only of other culture's values, and not your own, is hardly new.

    "The idiot that praises, with ethusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own" was on the High Executioner's list in the Mikado, from 1885. It seems to be a universal folly, a form of demonstrating (as you note) one's tolerance by a form of bigotry: "WE are civilized enough to set aside our values, but THEY are too primitive and will take offense, so, we must be extra-gentle around them, poor dears." (The targets of such treatment, being exactly as smart as anyone else, often exploit this to their own benefit — why wouldn't they? Using people's virtues (a desire to seem tolerant) against them is one of the most effective forms of ethical judo.)

    My respect for your culture ends when you use it to demand that my nation censor speech to meet your tastes and join a system of brutal and minority-oppressing anti-blasphemy laws.

    To quote Charles Napier:

    "Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

  2. Erbo  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:26 am

    Let's also be perfectly clear: A major reason why a lot of organizations bend over backwards to accommodate the desires of this particular minority group, is that this particular minority group is noted for reacting to perceived "offenses" in rather less-than-cordial, and in fact violent, ways. Morally, it's little more than blackmail.

  3. Marconi Darwin  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:30 am

    I feel the same way about religion. "Respect my religion" gets the same treatment.

    [Waiting for anti-blasphemy laws]

  4. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:33 am

    @Erbo:

    That proposition may be correct in some contexts — for instance, censorship demands. I don't think there's any indication that it's correct in the context of requests for gender segregation on university campuses for speeches. Moreover, in this instance, you're using "this particular minority group" to sweep up too much. There are some people who demand gender segregation, and there are some people who demand censorship on pain of violence. Just because they both call themselves Muslim doesn't mean that they are part of the same "group" in a meaningful way.

  5. Kateality  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:33 am

    I completely agree. Multiculturalism is about tolerance for what private individuals choose to do in their private lives, and examining laws/policies to make sure that they have a purpose other than preferring some customs over others.

    The accommodation debate has taken an interesting turn of late on this side of the border, as the government of Quebec, a province that struggles with balancing accommodation of minorities with what it sees as a ceaseless onslaught against its own minority French-Canadian culture, has proposed a Charter of "secular" values, which would prohibit any public service employee, including daycare workers, from wearing any large religious symbol, such as a hijab or kippah, on the job. Not prohibited? The massive crucifix on the wall of the provincial legislature, which they consider of historical, rather than religious significance.

  6. Grenaid  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:40 am

    There is precisely zero chance that Universities UK would have drafted this policy to support the beliefs of Christian or nativist groups. Universities UK is not going to write feckless hand-wringing policies about accommodating the BNP in excluding non-whites from speeches, nor should they. Universities UK is not going to write drivel explaining how to balance the desire of some fringe Christian group to exclude gays from speeches, nor should they.

    I think the more apt analogy would be making gays sit on the left or right side of the room, no? As much as I disagree with Universities UK here, it doesn't seem as though they are keeping anyone out of the room in a litteral way.

  7. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:41 am

    @Grenaid: Yes, that's fair.

  8. PonyAdvocate  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:43 am

    I agree almost entirely with Mr. White's post, but take slight exception its title. In the US, where I live, there exists stupid thought and behavior on both sides of the political spectrum. Anyone making an honest assessment, though, must acknowledge that here, hostility to other cultures and their idiosyncrasies, often tinged with some violence, is much more mainstream among those on the right than intolerance, or excessive tolerance, of other cultures is on the left; and what there is on the left seems to exist much more in the academy than in the population at large.

  9. Ryan  •  Nov 26, 2013 @10:50 am

    Ken nails this argument perfectly.

    The trouble with using multiculturalism or religion as an excuse to violate certain core values in this context is that it's not like there is a consistent standard.

    If my alma mater tried a stunt like this, I'd be finding a babysitter and taking my wife on a date to the event – and sitting side-by-side in the front row to make the point.

    Multiculturalism means that I respect your right to your beliefs, you respect my right to mine, we celebrate the differences that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and where we clash we choose the course of action most consistent with liberty for all.

  10. Dan T.  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:11 am

    Talking about "forcing Western culture" at British universities is a little weird given that universities in a Western country are pretty much by definition part of Western culture and designed to preserve and perpetuate it.

  11. JonasB  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:11 am

    The speakers are free to ask that the university accommodate them, and the school is free to do so. The issue is when one result is considered mandatory.

  12. Ophelia Benson  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:16 am

    There are currently 31 comments on that blog post by Nicola Dandridge at Universities UK. They are ALL roundly critical.

  13. Christenson  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:18 am

    …and not assuming that a culture is doomed based on ethic demographic shifts..

    But Ken, our culture *IS* doomed if the ethical demographic shift continues towards allowing people in blue uniforms to be violent whenever they want with no consequences whenever unelected officials allow it!

    (you have been bit by the typo monster, so I am punning you!)

  14. Ken White  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:20 am

    RESPECT MY CULTURE OF NOT PROOFREADING.

  15. Db  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:38 am

    Ken nails it with the commentary. But by quoting the uuk statement at length the assacadamse speaks for itself. I just wish you had wrote 'let me be clear:' before their statement.

  16. Ivraatiems  •  Nov 26, 2013 @11:51 am

    I move that we institute a Popehat.com Anti-Proofreading Law to ensure that our precious values of writing something once and then never correcting it is protected.

  17. Rupert  •  Nov 26, 2013 @12:23 pm

    There's nothing I really disagree with in Ken's post. But isn't the argument against gender-separating the lecture theatre a bit undermined by the fact that other rooms in the building are already gender-separated?
    I refer, of course, to the toilets.

  18. Christenson  •  Nov 26, 2013 @1:16 pm

    You sure of that separation?? I've seen lots of unisex toilets, nice, single seaters with real doors on them and often "handicapped" signs.

  19. CJColucci  •  Nov 26, 2013 @2:00 pm

    While I don't endorse a policy of accommodating speaker preferences in this fashion, I could understand a policy that said forthrightly, if somewhat more diplomatically than I'm putting it here: "For organizations that we control or sponsor, or recognize, speakers follow our rules. If some asshole speaker wants to speak here under other rules and we think it important that the asshole be heard somewhere and will not speak without accommodating his assholery, we will do that. If you want to picket his talk, have at it."

  20. Tarrou  •  Nov 26, 2013 @2:08 pm

    Tribalism is absolute, the only question is who "we" identify with. A group to which we belong, or some other group, which may or may not want anything to do with us.

    Of course, we all belong to many groups. One person may be a woman, a scholar, a hispanic, an athlete etc. Which we identify with, which groups are part of the core of who we think ourselves to be, becomes important in a way that the rest of those groups are not.

    And, people can hold identity with groups that they are not a part of, as with this multiculturalist drivel. The proponents are not tolerant of other cultures, they exalt other cultures as a means of critiquing their own. For a Brit to be "multicultural" is to be reflexively anti-british. Muslims are good because they are anti-western, and Britain is western. It's an interesting leapfrogging of loyalties.

    It is my sense that a lot of the pro-Soviet rhetoric of my childhood was not so much pro-Soviet as anti-western. Once the USSR folded, they had to find a new "other" to identify with against the groups they actually belong to. Hence the rise of the importance of victim groups which are defined in opposition to dominant western culture. To identify with one's "own" culture seems to be regarded as a sign of philistinism, if one is straight and white. Otherwise, it is a sign of courage and moral superiority, so long as one does not identify with the dominant culture.

    So we find ourselves in this situation, where a liberal-minded, cosmopolitan and ideologically pure intelligentsia can, with straight face, advocate segregation, anti-semitism and homophobia, so long as they do so on behalf of a group even more anti-whatever-culture-they-hate than women, Jews and gays.

  21. Peter English  •  Nov 26, 2013 @3:04 pm

    What would we feel if the UK Universities had said it would be accceptable to have areas in the lecture hall just for men, and just for women – as long as there was also enough space for any people who wanted to sit in an at-least-as-good equally unsegregated areas to do so?

    This would have permitted anybody who wanted to attend, and not have to risk sitting next to a person of the opposite sex, to do so, while not requiring anybody to sit apart from people of the opposite sex if that's what they preferred.

    I object to the idea of compulsory segregation; but if people are able to choose to sit apart from, or with, people of the opposite sex, should we worry?

    And would this not have been a compromise that we could all live with? Anybody who refused to speak in such circumstances (because they insist on complete segregation) would have no leg to stand on IMO.

  22. Jesse W  •  Nov 26, 2013 @3:07 pm

    In case folks feel moved to object to the foolishness from Universities UK, a petition (the one referred to in one of the responses above) is here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Universities_UK_Rescind_endorsement_of_sex_segregation_at_UK_Universities/

  23. James Pollock  •  Nov 26, 2013 @3:57 pm

    I'm not sure I buy into this one. If X group or Y speaker want to impose gender segregation as a condition of entry (even though the event is held in public facilities) I don't automatically object. People who find the requirements tolerable will attend and those who don't will not. It might be different if exclusions were in play, but it doesn't sound like they are.

    There's two kinds of segregation. One comes from withdrawing from contact with "others" which is generally dumb but inoffensive; if somebody wants to live apart from women, from left-handers, from people of different political opinions, or whatnot, and approaches that goal by avoiding them, that's their business. I don't get pissed until they start suggesting that THEIR rules be applied to OTHER PEOPLE, regardless of the other peoples' opinions on the subject.

    So, if a Muslim speaker wants to speak to a crowd on the condition that the crowd be segregated by gender, and whoever decides who gets to use the facilities thinks that the speaker provides a valuable learning opportunity, then a university can offer that. People are free to attend (under the rules) or not as they see fit. If some white supremacist group wants to speak on the condition that white people be seated in the front, and other colors of people be seated in the rear of the auditorium, I'm OK with that rule, too… I expect more people outside the auditorium than in… and in neither case am I likely to attend.

    Now, if a Muslim group suggests that ALL speakers should have segregated seating, or a white-power group suggests seating all non-whites in the back, either deserves the resultant storm of laughter.

    (… and when the musical act demands that they be provided with five dishes of M&Ms with all the green ones picked out, it's the same question. Is the content to be delivered of enough value to be worth the extra headaches created by the demands. My law school has had various USSC justices appear on campus, and hearing those speakers involved a certain amount of security that was not present on other days and times. It was worth it to hear Justice Kennedy speak.)

  24. BannableLecturer  •  Nov 26, 2013 @4:34 pm

    Living in Doha for many years, I wonder how receptive a Muslim request would have been received if they were going to explain WHY they believe this to be a necessity. After all missing the opportunity to share your beliefs is not going to further any cause

  25. jim  •  Nov 26, 2013 @4:40 pm

    I can't find a pith hat but: "We are very slightly changed From the semi-apes that ranged India's Prehistoric Clay; He that drew the longest bow Ran his brother down, you know, As we run men down today." So we see people drawing the cultural bow or the racial bow or whatever comes to hand to keep others in their place and to protect themselves. It's a shame that they get taken seriously.

  26. Jason  •  Nov 26, 2013 @4:46 pm

    James Pollock,

    Something to consider on that position: what happens when, say, a female student chooses to sit in the male section? Now the university is not only allowing the speaker the impose conditions, it is employing a security guard or summoning a police officer to eject the woman by force from its auditorium.

    Should a university be willing to use force to enable a learning experience by, say, enforcing capacity limits in the auditorium? Sure. Enforcing the privacy of the speaker in the greenroom? Sure. Enforcing the safety of the speaker? Definitely.

    But for the university to commit itself to dragging a student out to accommodate the speaker's desire to segregate the audience? I don't think that's something a university should do, no matter how educational the speaker was.

    Now, if the speaker wanted to exhort the audience to segregate or insult women who chose to sit with the men, I think there's a case for the university allowing it for a sufficiently important speaker. It's often necessary to tolerate speakers who say things you disagree with–although of course the insults are a pretty good reason to not invite the speaker and have to be balanced against compelling reasons to invite them. But the university shouldn't get involved in enforcing the speaker's views.

  27. barry  •  Nov 26, 2013 @5:06 pm

    I don't think Universities UK has thought this through properly. (I haven't read the whole thing, but from the extract quoted here.)

    ..would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either female or male attendees.

    So gay couples can sit together but heterosexual couples can't? It's not exactly discriminating on gender, but it is discriminating on gender preference.
    One group gets 'less favourable treatment'. If I go to something with someone, I want to be able to sit with them. That's not even segregating on a 'belief' like the feminism example, but a more fundamental property of who people are.

  28. En Passant  •  Nov 26, 2013 @9:26 pm

    barry wrote Nov 26, 2013 @5:06 pm:

    I don't think Universities UK has thought this through properly. (I haven't read the whole thing, but from the extract quoted here.)

    ..would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either female or male attendees.

    This is the same "separate but equal" accomodation permitted for racial segregation by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), overturned by Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

    Our "progressive" friends across the pond might find their hopes dashed in the USA, even under the less than strict scrutiny with which courts examine sex based discrimination.

  29. G. Filotto  •  Nov 27, 2013 @2:22 am

    Ahh Lizard… You make my day sir. Verily I am almost moved to brotherly love by your quote of Napier. Thanks also to popehat author (I can't see if it's Ken or Clark or who on my phone) for so clearly expounding a point that I have long held inside as being absolutely true, but have lacked the patience to try and codify into acceptable speech beyond a generalised "fuck you!"

  30. G. Filotto  •  Nov 27, 2013 @2:30 am

    Ken, while you may be technically correct, I feel Erbo's point deserves a much wider and deeper view. You can, for example, blaspheme any Christian concept quite safely, try doing that with respect to the prophet of Islam in any public way and I guarantee you will not feel very safe at all. That may be acceptable if you choose to live in Saudi Arabia, but it's fucking deplorable when you choose to live in say London. And out of the same misguided wish to be "polite" Erbo's point gets swept under the carpet. Lizard's quote of Napier above is perfectly apt here too. As an aside, I have no religion as such, in case you were thinking I was partisan to Christianity.

  31. James Pollock  •  Nov 27, 2013 @9:48 am

    "Something to consider on that position: what happens when, say, a female student chooses to sit in the male section?"

    If the university has done its job as promoter of the event, all persons attending know what the rules are before they decide whether or not to attend. (That's a big "if", that will frequently not be true in the real world, but it's a working assumption.)

    If she knows what the rules are, and decides to break them, then I have no sympathy for her (or him, if you want to flip the gender roles and have a guy insisting on sitting in solidarity with the sisterhood.)

    I see it as not really different from, say, a person with a $2 ticket trying to sit in a $10 seat… if you break the rules for the event, you will be asked to leave. If you don't like the rules for the event, don't attend (i.e., "vote with your feet".) If you choose to attend and break the rules in protest, good for you… but one of the consequences of breaking the rules to protest something you don't like is being forcibly removed. (or being pepper-sprayed, arrested, jailed, etc.)

    If the people who choose to go do so knowing that attendance requires mandatory segregation, then they have made the value choice that attendance is worth accepting a temporary separation. That's their call to make, not mine. I'm not going to substitute my own opinion (such as "that's NEVER acceptable!!!") for theirs; I only get to decide for myself.

    Once upon a time in America, whole colleges used to be segregated by gender, and somehow American freedom managed to survive and perhaps even thrive. They'll survive Muslim (or Christian) guest speakers who want to impose gender segregation, too.

  32. James Pollock  •  Nov 27, 2013 @9:54 am

    You can, for example, blaspheme any Christian concept quite safely, try doing that with respect to the prophet of Islam in any public way and I guarantee you will not feel very safe at all.

    If you intentionally blaspheme a religion in front of adherents of that religion, you're being an asshole, regardless of what religion you're talking smack on and regardless of where you are.

    To complain "this group is more violent about it when I deliberately provoke them" reveals less about the group complained of and more about the complainer.

  33. mud man  •  Nov 27, 2013 @10:19 am

    Is gender separation invariably indefensible?

    If the University is not asked to perform "enforcement" (no U. ticket-takers, ushers?), but there are signs requesting gents to the left, ladies to the right, is there still a problem?

    Is your objection because the institution is a University in particular, or because it is secular/public?

  34. Erbo  •  Nov 27, 2013 @10:27 am

    If you intentionally blaspheme a religion in front of adherents of that religion, you're being an asshole, regardless of what religion you're talking smack on and regardless of where you are.

    To complain "this group is more violent about it when I deliberately provoke them" reveals less about the group complained of and more about the complainer.

    Are you suggesting that to respond to people being "assholes" with violence is perfectly fine and dandy? If so, remind me never to come within spitting distance of you without being armed to the teeth.

    A group may respond to people being "assholes" (assuming that said "assholes" are not themselves being violent) by ignoring them, by making their case calmly, or even by being assholes themselves. As soon as they engage in violence in response to the "assholes," however, they have crossed the line of civilization and become responsible for the consequences.

    And if you don't think that this certain group is more prone to crossing that line than others, I will assume you have been living under a rock for the past decade or so and have not heard of the Danish newspaper cartoons incident, among many, many others.

    I have no proof that Universities UK, in making the statement they did about accommodating certain speakers' segregation requests, was driven to do so by the fact that said speaker is or may be a member of a group that is well-known for engaging in violence whenever it doesn't get its way. But, if they were, they are submitting to blackmail of the worst sort.

  35. Lizard  •  Nov 27, 2013 @11:50 am

    If you intentionally blaspheme a religion in front of adherents of that religion, you're being an asshole, regardless of what religion you're talking smack on and regardless of where you are.

    So, if I park my car, which has a "Cthulhu fish" bumper sticker, in…. well, anywhere in my local area, which is over 95% Christian, (Indeed, my household is 66 2/3% Christian, 33 1/3 atheist) I am being an asshole and "talking smack", thus justifying, or at least excusing, a violent response, as this directly mocks a scared Christian symbol, and it is impossible for me to argue, given the neighborhoods make-up, that I did not know/did not intend to expose Christians to it?

    Any expression of faith, or non-faith, is an implicit rebuke to all other faiths. Freedom of religion is inherently disrespectful of all religions, but it disrespects them all equally, and that's really what matters. (This is why even the smallest appearance of endorsement or favoritism to any one faith or doctrine by the government must be fought with extreme vigor.)

  36. mud man  •  Nov 27, 2013 @11:55 am

    even the smallest appearance

    People who make a fetish of being easily offended deserve the world we live in, but could we not find a quiet spot for the rest of us?

  37. goober  •  Nov 27, 2013 @2:35 pm

    Anyone else note that their first bullet for why segregation is okay is because it's totally cool as long as it is "seperate but equal".

    Now where have I heard this before?

  38. Lizard  •  Nov 27, 2013 @3:06 pm

    People who make a fetish of being easily offended deserve the world we live in, but could we not find a quiet spot for the rest of us?

    When discussing virtually any topic that does not involve the use of overwhelming lethal force, "Oh, for fuck's sake, just deal with it" is usually my internal emotional response, if not always my verbal response. I am a member of a minority faith by birth (Jewish) and a member of an equally small minority by actual practice (Atheist), and I accept that this means the public representation of my views is going to be pretty much non-existent, esp. in the Midwest. I don't believe I have any right to feel "accepted", "included", "empowered", or whatever the buzzword of the moment might be. The marketplace of ideas, like all other marketplaces, often fails to provide "products" that appeal only to small groups. (It's amazing how often product lines I really love vanish from store shelves.) I do not, will not, and should not demand that private organizations, for profit or not, "recognize" or "acknowledge" my lack of faith, and anyone throwing a hissy fit because the McDonald's clerk said "Merry Christmas" (or "Happy Holidays") should be taken out and shot, just on general principle.

    Once the government is involved, though, I have to become rather extreme. It's not a matter of "offense". I suffer from no shame, guilt, sorrow, alienation, etc., if I see a government display of religion. I do feel that it's a breach of the terms of service between myself and my employee, the State. One of the jobs I employ the government for is making sure that disputes are resolved by a disinterested third party, and history has shown that feelings of religious affiliation creates bonds between people similar to those of kinship, and that creates an innate potential for injustice. While nothing can be done to change people's feelings, and the likelihood people will always be biased based on shared faith, anything that seems to authorize or endorse such bias is highly problematic and should be avoided. If a zoning board would approve a variance to build a church, but not a McDonalds, that bothers me. If it would approve a church, but not a mosque, that's even worse. (This has been an issue in part of the state to the South, with people claiming Islam is not a religion, so that religious exemptions to zoning laws don't apply. Look, I don't pretend to explain this stuff, I'm just reporting it.)

  39. James Pollock  •  Nov 27, 2013 @3:53 pm

    "Are you suggesting that to respond to people being "assholes" with violence is perfectly fine and dandy?"

    No, which you can tell by the fact that nothing even remotely similar to this proposition appears in my commentary.

    …remind me never to come within spitting distance of you without being armed to the teeth.

    This, also, reveals more about you than about me.

    As soon as they engage in violence in response to the "assholes," however, they have crossed the line of civilization and become responsible for the consequences.

    True, in the sense that we are all always responsible for the consequences of our actions, whether it be intentional provocation OR retaliation. If you choose to be an asshole, then the consequences are that you will be treated like one. Apparently, a heavily armed one. Whatever.

    And if you don't think that this certain group is more prone to crossing that line than others, I will assume you have been living under a rock for the past decade or so and have not heard of the Danish newspaper cartoons incident, among many, many others.

    Really? By my math, the percentage of "that certain group" who did nothing at all with regards to Danish cartoonists at approximately 99.9999%. The number of times I have experienced violence by "that certain group" is… let me add it up… 0 incidents of violence, putting them in a tie with the Mormons.

    I have no proof that Universities UK, in making the statement they did about accommodating certain speakers' segregation requests, was driven to do so by the fact that said speaker is or may be a member of a group that is well-known for engaging in violence whenever it doesn't get its way. But, if they were, they are submitting to blackmail of the worst sort.

    You're suggesting the speaker may be an English soccer fan? Why didn't you say so from the beginning? Obviously THEY should be banned from associating with decent folk.

  40. James Pollock  •  Nov 27, 2013 @4:13 pm

    So, if I park my car, which has a "Cthulhu fish" bumper sticker, in…. well, anywhere in my local area, which is over 95% Christian, (Indeed, my household is 66 2/3% Christian, 33 1/3 atheist) I am being an asshole and "talking smack",

    I suppose if you live someplace where parking a car is blasphemy, then maybe.

    "Any expression of faith, or non-faith, is an implicit rebuke to all other faiths."

    True. This is why polite people take religion out of the conversational toolbox when conversing with people of differing faith, who will or might take offense at mention of competing faiths (or non-faith). See also sex, politics, and Emmy nominations. (Seriously! NOTHING for "Community"?)

  41. Patrick Non-White  •  Nov 27, 2013 @4:29 pm

    James Pollock:

    If you intentionally blaspheme a religion in front of adherents of that religion, you're being an asshole, regardless of what religion you're talking smack on and regardless of where you are.

    I'm an agnostic. Kindly explain this verb "to blaspheme" to me, using small words. I don't know what it means.

    If your point is simply that it's boorish to disparage the religious, or their religions, to their faces, well, yes… This is a world full of incivility. I wish we all had better manners. But is it possible for one who doesn't believe in God to blaspheme?

    To complain "this group is more violent about it when I deliberately provoke them" reveals less about the group complained of and more about the complainer.

    To complain that I kicked every last tooth out of your mouth because you talked smack to me reveals more about you than it does about me?

    Really?

  42. James Pollock  •  Nov 27, 2013 @5:00 pm

    "Kindly explain this verb "to blaspheme" to me, using small words. I don't know what it means."

    Feel free to consult the dictionary(ies) of your choice, until you find one with words small enough to meet your needs. I'd hate to offend you by offering a definition that uses common, ordinary English words in their common, ordinary meanings in such a way as to further confuse your delicate sensitivities.

    "To complain "this group is more violent about it when I deliberately provoke them" reveals less about the group complained of and more about the complainer.
    To complain that I kicked every last tooth out of your mouth because you talked smack to me reveals more about you than it does about me?

    These are two extremely different things, such that a comparison between them is entirely meaningless, unless you are assuming an undisclosed intermediary step, wherein I deliberately provoked you prior to this hypothetical teeth-kicking. If that part is assumed, then yes, it does.

    Perhaps you could adopt Erbo's approach, which is to go about in public so visibly armed as to avoid being subjected to provocation. That would save you the needs for all this kicking.

  43. Patrick Non-White  •  Nov 27, 2013 @5:08 pm

    James Pollock:

    You're dodging the questions, because you don't want to answer them.

    You've attempted to justify violence against those who "blaspheme," and you've been running from that justification ever since. Hopefully because you're ashamed of yourself.

  44. Lizard  •  Nov 27, 2013 @5:52 pm

    I suppose if you live someplace where parking a car is blasphemy, then maybe.

    A public display of a symbol mocking the faith of another is usually considered blasphemy, and by your logic a justification for violence, whether it's on a car or a protest sign or a t-shirt.

    I think that, as per the initial post that began this, you have a stronger empathic reaction to mocking a minority faith than a majority one. You have trouble sympathizing with a hypothetical Christian, who lives in a nation and a region where his faith is dominant and his culture is the assumed norm, becoming upset or hurt by my Cthulhu fish. We have a culture that has, as one of its core values, the idea that "good people" are more concerned about the emotional state of a member of an "out" group than of a member of an "in" group, and that it is a measure of virtue to make an effort to defend, support, or uphold the minority against the majority. On balance, this is NOT a bad thing. Given the diversity of our society, having it be a virtue to be more concerned with hurting the feelings of the least powerful, and mocking/ignoring members of the more powerful who protest that their feelings are also hurt, probably contributes to the peace. Of course, I'm a product of this culture and thus inculcated with these values — naturally, they seem right to me. They're my values.

    However, there's a difference between the impolite and the immoral. Responding to rudeness (blasphemy) with violence is not acceptable, period, no matter how much the wronged person might feel "excluded" or "disempowered" or whatever the kids are calling it these days. It's relatively easy to sell people on the idea of equality, and that bigotry is bad, mmmmkay? However, if you then go and say, "Oh, but it's not bigoted when they do it, but it is bigoted when you do it, because privilege![1]", then, you are selling a different idea. You are selling the far more pernicious and evil idea that bigotry, discrimination, and so forth are just peachy-keen: The debate is entirely over who gets to oppress who. If those are the terms of the debate about how society shall be structured, then only an idiot volunteers to be the one on the wrong end of the whip.

    [1]A magic word in progressivese which means "I can't refute your points in any way, so I will repeat this word over and over until you get fed up and leave."

  45. Jacob H  •  Nov 27, 2013 @6:35 pm

    To complain "this group is more violent about it when I deliberately provoke them" reveals less about the group complained of and more about the complainer.

    What it reveals about the complainee is that they are too prone to violent reaction.

    What it reveals about the complainer is that they are too prone to deliberately provoke.

    Which is more revealing? Who is more sympathetic, the needlessly violent, or the needlessly provocative?

    Since I abhor violence much, much more than provocation, my choice is obvious.

  46. James Pollock  •  Nov 28, 2013 @11:50 am

    "You've attempted to justify violence against those who "blaspheme,"

    In your imagination, perhaps.
    In actual fact, I've made no reference at all to violence, much less offered support for it. I believe it was YOU who related his fantasies of violence.

    you've been running from that justification ever since.

    If and when I make such a justification, I'll stand by it. I'm kind of known for that kind of stubbornness.

    Hopefully because you're ashamed of yourself.

    If and when I do something I should be ashamed of, I'll get back to you.

  47. James Pollock  •  Nov 28, 2013 @12:33 pm

    A public display of a symbol mocking the faith of another is usually considered blasphemy, and by your logic a justification for violence, whether it's on a car or a protest sign or a t-shirt.

    Gee, I may have mentioned this before, but I offered NO justification for violence, nor even reference to justification for violence, at any point in this thread. If you go back and review, I think you'll find that you're attempting to compare apples to oranges, but that if your tortured adaptation of my logic is correct, then knowingly displaying a "Cthulhu fish" (whatever that is) where persons gather who would consider this a blasphemy (against whatever religion they happen to subscribe to is… grounds to call you an asshole. Parking the car on the street, not so much. Wearing such a t-shirt on the street in general, not so much. Wearing such a t-shirt to where the religious folk gather might justify calling you an asshole.

    You have trouble sympathizing with a hypothetical Christian, who lives in a nation and a region where his faith is dominant and his culture is the assumed norm, becoming upset or hurt by my Cthulhu fish.

    You're generalizing where it is inappropriate, insisting on equating a minor and inoccuous act with an act of deliberate provocation. As long as you persist in this, we'll have no agreement. (Hint: I have no sympathy for anyone who's offended by stuff that is none of their business, I do have sympathy for people who are presented with intentional, unwarranted provocation.) I'm generally irreverent but I don't go down to places where the religious folk gather to do it.

    Given the diversity of our society, having it be a virtue to be more concerned with hurting the feelings of the least powerful, and mocking/ignoring members of the more powerful who protest that their feelings are also hurt [...]

    OR, it could just be that looking for opportunities to hurt the feelings of people is wrong, regardless of whether they're a majority or a minority. (Put a crucifix in a jar of urine and call it art? Asshole. Set up a table offering free ham sandwiches to people coming out of a mosque? Asshole. Photoshop a picture of a political adversary with a bunch of dicks? Asshole. Further examples are left as an exercise for the reader.)

    You see, this involves granting people basic respect as a default condition, and assuming that while decisions they have made might not be right for me, they must be right for THEM, and it is not my place to substitute my judgment for theirs. Note that this is not to say that it's always wrong to question the judgment of others, just that they start with the benefit of the doubt.

    Responding to rudeness (blasphemy) with violence is not acceptable

    Duh. Or is calling you an asshole somehow to be categorized as "violence"?

    As a final note, I'll point out that calling you an asshole when you are not, in fact, acting like an asshole is itself assholish. Govern yourselves accordingly.

  48. wondering  •  Nov 29, 2013 @1:29 pm

    Is it actually legal to let someone who is butthurt about that whole "equality" thing treat others (i.e. females) as 2nd class citizens?
    Does this mean that a racist speaker could be accommodated for wanting non-white people to sit in the back?
    Or for a feminist speaker to ask for men to sit elsewhere (so as to not trigger victims of male abuse?)
    When will the madness end?

  49. James Pollock  •  Nov 29, 2013 @5:37 pm

    Is it actually legal to let someone who is butthurt about that whole "equality" thing treat others (i.e. females) as 2nd class citizens?

    Yes, absolutely. Whether anyone else can be required to go along with it is an entirely different story.

    Does this mean that a racist speaker could be accommodated for wanting non-white people to sit in the back?

    Yes, a racist speaker could be so accommodated. (Again, whether audience members should choose to participate under these conditions is a different question.)

    Or for a feminist speaker to ask for men to sit elsewhere (so as to not trigger victims of male abuse?)

    Sure, a feminist speaker can ask for this.

    When will the madness end?

    You haven't even gotten to the truly mad demands, which show up as "contract riders" for performers. Peruse a few of them here:
    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/backstage

  50. wondering  •  Dec 1, 2013 @6:21 am

    Thank you Mr Pollock, your answer, while undoubtedly correct, is frustrating.
    So, legally it is acceptable to make these demands, but socially it may not go over so well…
    I thought that it is not acceptable to discriminate against others while expressing your own rights and beliefs.
    Or is it that in Canada, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms handles it differently than your Constitution and Bill of Rights?

  51. TPRJones  •  Dec 6, 2013 @1:10 pm

    I find I want to find one of these public engagements, put on a fancy dress while failing to shave my six-inch long beard, call myself "Susan," and insist I am a woman for purposes of seating. I'd be sure not to bring ID, and if any mention of checking of genitalia is made insist that ALL attendees must be so checked before I would agree to it.

    Fortunately I don't live anywhere near the UK.