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Sarah Palin’s Definition of Free Speech Finds Another Convert!

[ 97 ] May 7, 2013 |

You may remember Niall Ferguson from such incidents as “making isolated spontaneous homophobic comments that he’s also been committing to print for decades.” Now that he’s been criticized for his attacks on Keynes — which were not merely gay-baiting but involved egregious misreadings of his work– he wishes to note that even when he’s acting as a buffoonish sixth-rate reactionary pundit he’s also a Serious Scholar, so you filthy unnamed “bloggers” should show some respect.

The first part of the argument is a definitive use of the tu quoque fallacy — Keynes also made some objectionable remarks, neener neener! Since nobody is saying that Keynes should be beyond any criticism (as opposed to criticism that botches his work or attacks him based on his sexuality), this is just an irrelevant diversion.  Then, the Great Scholar engages in some classic whining:

What the self-appointed speech police of the blogosphere forget is that to err occasionally is an integral part of the learning process. And one of the things I learnt from my stupidity last week is that those who seek to demonize error, rather than forgive it, are among the most insidious enemies of academic freedom.

This is absolutely pathetic stuff. Arguing that somebody should be fired for expressing political views you disagree with is a threat to academic freedom. Criticizing academics when they say foolish things, or calling gay-baiting what it is, does not make one an enemy of academic freedom. Given how remarkably shoddy Ferguson’s work in pundit mode is I can understand why he wants to invent a right to be exempt from any criticism he doesn’t like, but academic freedom means pretty much the opposite of what he’s pretending to think it means.

…see also.

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  1. Scott S. says:

    those who seek to demonize error, rather than forgive it

    Says the guy who just got in trouble for demonizing someone he disagreed with.

  2. howard says:

    although i’m sure ferguson is paid healthy money from the various institutions of higher learning that see fit to employ him, his real money almost certainly comes from being an overpaid lecturer, and his defensive response suggests (if we’re lucky) that his market penetration may be in decline.

    speaking personally, the reason i’m a member of the internet’s speech people wrt ferguson is that he quite clearly lied in his apology: he doesn’t – can’t possibly – “detest” prejudice or else, as i’ve noted here previously, he would never have reached for a gay slur in the first place.

    the only lesson i would say this supposedly lesson-learning jerk has absorbed is that times have changed and his 18+ of keynes gay-bashing have to end, which is not a lesson that an illustrious professor of history should have to be learning in 2013.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      speaking personally, the reason i’m a member of the internet’s speech people wrt ferguson is that he quite clearly lied in his apology: he doesn’t – can’t possibly – “detest” prejudice or else, as i’ve noted here previously, he would never have reached for a gay slur in the first place.

      As Scott points out, he reached for it because it’s a standard, indeed go to, move for him wrt Keynes. I think it’s possible, indeed inevitable, for people of otherwise good will who are committed allies to slip up, perhaps even in that way. (Though I’d think the tone would be different.) It is, of course, getting a hell of a lot harder to make the “Well, sure, but since gay people can’t have kids…d’oh, of course they can have kids in all sorts of ways, just not with their preferred partner via biology or…ok, I’m just stopping now because I lost it. Sorry.” mistake as the culture catches up.

      However, this isn’t a slip by Nially. It’s a well considered, often repeated, entirely culpable move.

      • howard says:

        bijan, i agree: although i missed the word, that was my 18+ reference (i meant to say 18+ years of keynes gay-bashing, and that’s simply the first time we’re aware of that it ended up in print).

        but it was clear that it was a phony apology even before i knew the relevant history simply because you cannot detest prejudice and then gay bait: the two simply don’t work together….

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Oops, sorry I didn’t fully connect your third paragraph to your second.

          As to your more general point…I’m not sure it’s an impossibility per se, e.g., the closet has requires much of people in it, for example. And, of course, this is just more of the “I can’t be racist/homophobic because I’m not crude, uncouth, or lower class.” Which explains a lot about the Sullivan connection.

  3. Alex says:

    The charge of homophobia is equally easy to refute. If I really were a “gay-basher”, as some headline writers so crassly suggested, why would I have asked Andrew Sullivan, of all people, to be the godfather of one of my sons, or to give one of the readings at my wedding?

    I’m always amazed when people use the “but my best friend is ________” defense. He doesn’t even try to support it or build it into his larger post, it just automatically refutes any argument brought against him.

    • Malaclypse says:

      If I really were a “gay-basher”, as some headline writers so crassly suggested, why would I have asked Andrew Sullivan, of all people, to be the godfather of one of my sons, or to give one of the readings at my wedding?

      Because B. Daniel Blatt wasn’t available?

  4. Manju says:

    Arguing that somebody should be fired for expressing political views you disagree with is a threat to academic freedom. Criticizing academics when they say foolish things, or calling gay-baiting what it is, does not make one an enemy of academic freedom.

    If you read him carefully, he appears aware of this. So he threads the needle in manner that falls just short of criticism = academic censorship:

    those who seek to demonize error, rather than forgive it, are among the most insidious enemies of academic freedom.

    so demonizing isn’t censorship. But censors tend to demonize.

    So we should tag this as: McCarthyistic Correlation Fallacy Sophistry.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      I don’t get the threading you see.

      Pretty clearly, he’s lumping a large swathe of his actual critics in with the demonize error. (Shouldn’t we demonize error? Error is bad! People who make errors are all people. Some people’s errors say quite a bit about them besides that they are people.)

      And if the demonizers of error are *among* the most insidious enemies of academic freedom aren’t they therefore enemies of academic freedom? (One can be an enemy of academic freedom without being a censor per se, but I don’t get why the “among” is the key bit.)

      • Manju says:

        i read him as saying demonizers are to censors what homosexuals are to Keynesians. There’s a connection, but the former doesn’t necessitate the latter.

        Either way, his reputation will suffer in the long-run. But I suspect he doesn’t care. And that would make him the only known person in this controversy to demonstrate a genuine lack of concern for this timeframe.

  5. c u n d gulag says:

    Let’s see if he’s really learned a lesson, before we call him a “lesson-learning” jerk.

    The very definition of ‘jerk’, means that you learn very few lessons – if any…

    What he’s liable to learn, I would bet, is to be more circumspect in the words he chooses before certain audiences.

    • commie atheist says:

      I think his Harvard Crimson letter is a pretty good indication that he hasn’t learned any lessons. He just doubles down on the homophobia, while saying he can’t possibly be a homophobe because one of his best friends is gay Andrew Sullivan.

      • Jeremy says:

        I’ve always thought this bit from Wikipedia sums up everything I really need to know about Niall Ferguson:

        Ferguson received a Demyship (half-scholarship) at Magdalen College, Oxford. While there he became best friends with Andrew Sullivan, based on a shared affinity for right-wing politics and punk music. He became a Thatcherite by 1982, identifying the position with “the Sex Pistols’ position in 1977: it was a rebellion against the stuffy corporatism of the 70s.” While at university “He was very much a Scot on the make…Niall was a witty, belligerent bloke who seemed to have come from an entirely different planet,” according to Simon Winder. Ferguson has stated that “I was surrounded by insufferable Etonians with fake Cockney accents who imagined themselves to be working-class heroes in solidarity with the striking miners. It wasn’t long before it became clear that the really funny and interesting people on campus were Thatcherites.”

        He heard the Sex Pistols and thought: “wow, this is new and exciting and rebellious… just like shilling for the ruling class.” It’s already been said in the thread, but Christ, what an asshole.

        • Njorl says:

          Much as the Sex Pistols criticized the queen, the barons forced the Magna Carta on King John. So, the Sex Pistols are the modern equivalent of the landed aristocracy.

  6. Leeds man says:

    His whining sounds much better in the original PGFTO (Posh Glaswegian Filtered Through Oxbridge).

  7. Bijan Parsia says:

    But this really isn’t the best part! The best part about his self-serving cry against the enemies of academic freedom is that he’s doing it FOR THE STUDENTS!!!

    I was duly attacked for my remarks and offered an immediate and unqualified apology. But this did not suffice for some critics, who insisted that I was guilty not just of stupidity but also of homophobia. I have no doubt that at least some students were influenced by these allegations. Nobody would want to study with a bigot. I therefore owe it to students—former and prospective—to make it unambiguously clear that I am no such thing.

    Because this might cause prospective students to be blighted by the absence of Ferguwisdom.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Stop denouncing his repeated gay-bashing of Keynes! Don’t you realize you’re hurting his former students?

    • howard says:

      i wonder what happens to the tenured professor under whom not a single student wants to study? mankiw wasn’t quite the perfect test case, but ferguson might be….

    • Leeds man says:

      Ferguwisdom

      I think you mean Nialledge. Or Homo Nonsapience.

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      Nobody would want to study with a bigot.
      Therefore I am not a bigot.
      Q E FUCKIN D.

    • scott says:

      From the remarks which you bolded, I wonder whether old Niall is a bit worried about where this is going. Sure, he may have tenure, but if the social ostracism (deserved) for gay-baiting goes too far, Niall will be a professor with no students, which won’t be too comfortable for him.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        I think the odds of him ending up with “no students” is approximately zero, esp. if we’re talking classroom students.

        I think the odds that he cares about students per se are also pretty low. I wasn’t able to find mentions of students or teaching on his personal website or his uni webpage.

        I think the odds of him suffering significantly if he had no students is also approximately zero. In the worst case, he could go full time at the Hoover institute.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Sorry, the uni page lists upcoming courses.

        • scott says:

          You’re probably right in concrete terms (whether he’ll get students and classes), but the quote still does evoke for me a sense of unease about how other people in his little world might view him.

          • pete says:

            I suspect that it’s not about the number of students he attracts so much as the number of $75,000 a pop speaking gigs

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              I feel that there is plenty of room for a posh English accented Harvard/Oxford/Stanford celebrity prof to get paid an obscene amount to peddle slurs against liberals even in this hardscrabble world. He needs to refine his act a bit, but somehow I think there are sinceres enough for him.

              I think it’s simpler: He got caught out being declasse. It’s no longer posh to gay bash and he didn’t keep up. I think he’s genuinely chagrined. But he’s more chagrined to be caught out awkward than genuinely morally ashamed.

  8. Uncle Kvetch says:

    Christ, what an asshole.

  9. J.W. Hamner says:

    Indeed, I’ve long felt that peer review is academic freedom’s greatest enemy. Those reviewers are literally trying to silence my voice over so called “egregious errors of logic” and “a lack of basic knowledge of the topic”! Oppression thy name is associate editor!

  10. Some fun in comments:

    Niall. I audited your class a few years ago and quite enjoyed it although the one thing that stayed with me was the time you opened a class with the famous clip of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star-Spangled banner at Woodstock. You then went on a ten-minute rant about how Mr. Hendrix was a ‘bad soldier’ and a ‘serial adulterer.’

    (You probably convinced half of the young men in your class to go buy a Fender Stratocaster that day. Hope you own stock…)

    • John Protevi says:

      serial adulterer

      Lest anyone accuse Fergie of hypocrisy, this lecture could have been before he traded in his wife (mother of his three children) for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Besides, if he only left one wife, does that make a series? I suppose it does, the shortest possible series. Where is Bijan Parsia to advise on math?

      BTW, AHA spoke at the same “exclusive event” where the accidental gay-baiting occurred: http://www.altegris.com/sic/speakers. Do event organizers get a discount when they hire both of them for the same gig?

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Where is Bijan Parsia to advise on math?

        I fled to England.

        • herr doktor bimler says:

          Advise on maths then.

          • N__B says:

            Make sure to leave space between them for the plaster keys.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Besides, if he only left one wife, does that make a series? I suppose it does, the shortest possible series

            It’s not the shortest possible series..the empty series is shorter :)

            Of course, you need at least one in order to be an adulterer so we must not rely on the math. I think the intent is similar to “serial killer”, i.e., at least the intent for there to be more than one, habitually, over time, with a single other victim/participate. If you go to weekly orgies…well, I don’t want to know what Ferguson thinks about that.

      • dmsilev says:

        I think he meant ‘serial’ as in ‘one cheated-upon wife at a time’. Parallel adulterers are, I suspect, considerably rarer.

        (and we should not dwell overly long on that true perversion of nature, the SCSI adulterer)

        • herr doktor bimler says:

          Ah, but you can cheat on your single spouse with multiple mistresses / gigolos. Not necessarily at the same time — that would be scuzzy.

          • Joey Maloney says:

            The original designers of the SCSI interface intended for it to be pronounced “sexy”. But you can’t fight the free market of ideas.

      • Leeds man says:

        Serial male adulterer; sad bastard with only one penis.

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      Unpossible. Ferguson is on record as abhorring prurient inquiries into people’s private lives (except that of Keynes).

    • Origami Isopod says:

      Weldon Berger: “I believe I can prove that the root of the problem here is Professor Ferguson’s deep sexual attraction to mirrors.”

  11. Another Anonymous says:

    I can’t quite figure out how he hasn’t “come out” as a barefaced liar.

    “Unqualfied apology”: “My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation. It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.”

    May 7: “Keynes’ sexual orientation did have historical significance. The strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath ….”

    How are those “views” not part of his “approach to economic policy”?

    • Warren Terra says:

      I adore that quote (emphasis mine):

      Keynes’ sexual orientation did have historical significance. The strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior
      undoubtedly

      played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath

      This is just the most extraordinary claim. A conclusion this offensive and seemingly absurd would be almost impossible to prove; even if Keynes went on the record saying this, it would appear to be a joke. Where this dear friend of Andrew Sullivan acquires his complete certainty that Keynes assessed the critical economics question of the decade in a manner utterly distorted by his non-normatively-heterosexual-and-thus-depraved all-consuming gay lusts is quite beyond me.

      Or, to put it more succinctly: Geez, whatta maroon.

  12. Jay B. says:

    I’m happy I was able to point out at The Crimson that grad students from UMass debunked the austerity frauds from Harvard who were either lying or couldn’t handle Excel. I’m also tickled they get to enjoy the idiot stylings of Professor Ferguson. It sure is impossible to understand how we have such shitty politics and an awful ruling class.

  13. herr doktor bimler says:

    I was duly attacked for my remarks and offered an immediate and unqualified apology. But this did not suffice for some critics

    Apparently offering an apology means that everyone is obliged to accept it.
    If you act as if your apology wipes the whole slate clean and makes the original offense unhappen, then your contrition is purely pro forma and it was not an unqualified apology.

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      And “immediate” is here a term of art, meaning not so much “straight after I committed the offense”, but “after someone reported it and denial was no longer viable”.

    • Bexley says:

      Apparently offering an apology means that everyone is obliged to accept it.

      This is a rule I can get on board with. As a result let me offer the following apology:

      I’m sorry if Niall Ferguson was offended by any instances in the past where I may have said that he is a cretinous wanker of the first water who is willing to blow syphilitic goats that even Mickey Kaus wouldn’t look twice at. I hope Niall can now put these incidents in the past and that he won’t be so thin-skinned in future despite being an utter tosspot.

    • DocAmazing says:

      It’s possible that he means “an apology crafted by one not competent to make apologies; an apology offered by an unqualified person”.

    • Warren Terra says:

      When he apologized, I read it, took it to be written in a suitably abject manner – and doubted its sincerity, because it was clear from his track record that Ferguson was sincere in his bigoted statements, and that however well he might write an apology on a particular day he was deeply unlikely to actually think about his transgressions and mend his ways. I am profoundly unsurprised, but nonetheless saddened, to have my low opinion of him so thoroughly confimed.

      Simply put, and using his own word with rather better evidence than he’s got, Ferguson is an undoubted asshole.

    • Cody says:

      I get the impression he assumes that no one has other reasons to criticize him except for this one time he said Keynes being gay means poor people shouldn’t get money.

      Of course, now that it’s cool to criticize Neill we have a long backlog of dumb things he has said and done. These include many previous examples of him using the exact same logic.

  14. Origami Isopod says:

    Is it just me, or have the comments disappeared? I see “33 Comments” at the top but clicking the link doesn’t bring ‘em up.

  15. cpinva says:

    “Perhaps Keynes was lucky to pre-decease the bloggers because, for all his brilliance, was also prone to moments of what we would now call political incorrectness….”

    I knew, before I even hit the link, that he was going to throw the “political correctness” charge in it somewhere. It is the stock charge of the outed racist/sexist/homophobe, that it is somehow wrong for them to be criticized, for uttering egregiously wrong and odious things in public. by doing so, it is actually the racist/sexist/homophobe who is the victim, because his/her odious speech has been criticized.

    there’s a psychological term for this warped thought process but, not being a psychologist, I have no idea what it is.

  16. Steve S. says:

    one of the things I learnt

    If a qualified linguist could help me out here, is ‘learnt” standard British English usage or just standard Asshole usage?

  17. Matt says:

    At this point, Ferguson’s whole “it was a mistake” routine reminds me of a skit on “The State” years ago which featured a character who was “only trying heroin. Several times a day.”

    An “error” is when one says something stoopid in public, off-the-cuff. Repeatedly calling Keynes a fag (literate-style) in multiple, substantial publications over a decade is not an error.

  18. giantslor says:

    “Arguing that somebody should be fired for expressing political views you disagree with is a threat to academic freedom.”

    Wait — what? If I argue that Harvard should fire Ferguson for his political views, this is a threat to academic freedom? Not a chance. Even if Harvard actually fired Ferguson, this would not be a threat to academic freedom in a free market that Ferguson claims to love so much. Invisible hand and all that. Harvard is a private institution and as far as I know, firing someone for their political beliefs is well within their rights.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Harvard firing Niall for his political views would indeed, in most cases, exactly be a violation of his academic freedom. It might be within Harvard’s rights to do so, though I bet Ferguson’s contract says otherwise.

      I surmise that this is a satire, but I’m not entirely sure.

  19. sibusisodan says:

    Prof Ferguson has forgotten the salient advice given one another occasion by one of his heroes, despite the fact Ferguson’s attraction for her has undoubtedly played a part in shaping his academic and political views:

    I have apologised already. I may say it was out of character for you [the person who caused the furore in question]. And then no further comment. Not from you, not from me, not from any of us. The less we say, the sooner the story will go away.

    Apologise, then shut up. If Margaret Thatcher, of blessed memory, can get this right, why can’t he?

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      Instead he has picked a fight with a bloggosphere of vituperative demonizing bloggers with too much time. This will not end well.

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