Thursday, March 15, 2018

Here's the Q&A panel following the first evening screening at the world premiere of the documentary The Red Pill concerning the Men's Human Rights Movement, at Cinema Village in Manhattan, for which I was present, in October 2016. (You can see me in the background at some points when a member of the audience is speaking.) The quality of the video is poor because it was pieced together from iPhone recordings.

This was the first time I saw Alison Tieman, on the far left of the panel, wearing that beret or whatever it is, which I think looks really smart on her. I got to meet her as well as Karen Straughan, Paul Elam, and others afterwards outside or at the after party. I'd already met director Cassie Jaye and producer Nena Jaye before the screening, and got all their autographs on the movie poster.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: _Pedagogy of the Oppressed_ and _Pedagogy in Process_ by Paulo Freire

Sometimes you hear good things about something for a long time, and it’s only when you hear something bad about it that you feel impelled to check it out.

Over the years I’d encountered references to Paulo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, cited as inspiring the popular education and critical pedagogy movements. Being interested in both pedagogy (that is, the theory of education) and social change, I’d always figured this would be an interesting book to read, but it was never a priority.

Then, last year, while watching a YouTube video by Dr. Janice Fiamengo – a professor at the University of Ottawa who’s highly critical of trends in higher education – I encountered a very different take on the book. Fiamengo described how it’s cited as an important influence on many in the academic Left, and apparently on the basis of second-hand information, held it largely to blame for a decline in support in the academy for such ideas as critical thinking and belief that there’s such a thing as objective truth. She suggested that despite its title, the book actually promotes the idea that “the oppressed have nothing to learn from their oppressors.”

Being very interested in anything to do with helping the masses to become better educated – and, at the same time, very concerned about the trends denigrating the pursuit of knowledge, trends that clearly run counter to the first concern – I now had to see for myself what this book really says, and so I made reading it a priority.

I did so a few months ago, and pretty soon became convinced that Freire was not guilty as charged. His best-known work is focused on ideas he and associates first put into practice in his native Brazil, largely in connection with literacy. Where it differed from conventional approaches, at least conceptually, was in an insistence on the idea that the teacher is also a learner, and the students are also teachers. Rather than seeing the students as passively receiving knowledge from the teacher as something prepackaged, complete, and unquestionable, the teacher and students work together on actively knowing the students' world. Closely related to this is the idea that the purpose of education is not for the oppressed to passively learn to adapt/conform to their world as it is but, rather, to approach it as a challenge that they progressively transform in the process of engaging and increasingly understanding it.

The specific reference to literacy might be considered sufficient proof that Freire isn't saying the oppressed have "nothing to learn" -- although, admittedly, it seems to be assumed that the teachers are typically from the middle layers of society and not from the oppressors, if the latter is understood to mean the upper echelons. Still, there's certainly nothing here suggesting a rejection of knowledge.

The only thing in this book that might, by a stretch, be construed that way is a passage in which it's stated that dialogue between the oppressors and the oppressed isn't possible. But the statement is more nuanced than that. What's actually said is that the oppressors organized as a class cannot have dialogue with the oppressed -- where dialogue is defined as an exchange premised on both parties' fully recognizing each other's humanity. But "the oppressors organized as a class" means, by definition, their constitution as a political party for the purpose of preserving their class privilege -- that is, their domination and exploitation of the oppressed -- and thereby logically excludes fully recognizing the latter's humanity, the prerequisite of dialogue in Freire's sense. So, he is completely right about this.

But this in no way precludes individuals from the oppressor class transferring their allegiance to the oppressed and offering whatever of their knowledge may be of help to the latter. Indeed, Freire repeatedly quotes with approval from revolutionaries like Fidel Castro, who came from the upper layers of society, so he clearly knows that this is possible.

While I found the ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed intriguing, I was frustrated by the dearth of concrete examples of their application. So I glad to see, when I arrived at the end of the book, that he'd written several more, including one in particular that promised to fill that gap, which I have recently finished reading.

Called Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau, it's centered on correspondence Freire wrote to educators and officials of that country shortly after it had attained its independence, with which he and his team collaborated on their adult literacy campaign. It offers considerable detail about how the ideas in his earlier work were applied here.

For instance, "generative words" were employed as thematic springboards for lessons. These were words, such as "rice," that signified something vital in the lives of the students. Not only could they be organically linked to a whole series of other words of similar importance, they could also serve as the basis of linking the intellectual lessons to vital manual activities of the community, thereby further making the lesson meaningful and memorable for the students.

But in addition to fleshing out the concepts in Freire's earlier work as they pertain to literacy, Pedagogy in Process also illustrates the importance of other kinds of learning to a revolutionary perspective. For instance, he approvingly offers this quote from a central figure of the Guinea-Bissau independence movement:

"Our culture must be developed at the national level of our country. And this must be done without holding the culture of others in low esteem [my emphasis -- E.H.]. We must take advantage of all of those things in the culture of others, of all that is good for us and of all that can be adapted to our conditions of life. Our culture must develop on the basis of science. It should be scientific, not based on a belief in imaginary things. Our culture should not allow any one of us to think that lightning is the result of God's anger or that thunder is a voice speaking from the skies or the fury of IRAN. Tomorrow everyone in our culture must know that thunder occurs when two clouds, carrying negative and positive electrical charges, bump into each other. First comes the lightning and then the noise which is thunder." Amilcar Cabral, "Resistencia cultural," in PAIGC -- Unidade e Luta, pp. 198-99, quoted in Paulo Freire, Pedagogy in Process: the Letters to Guinea-Bissau, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016(1978), p. 116, footnote

This, surely, should put to rest the notion that Freire promoted any sort of objectivity-and-science-denying extreme relativism.

Why, then, does Professor Fiamengo think that he did so? She's apparently relying on second-hand information from people who may have motives for distorting Freire's message -- people she herself doesn't trust, and for good reason. In her videos she cites many examples of academics in the humanities and social sciences practicing selective scholarship and ignoring inconvenient facts in support of trendy theories. (In one, for instance, she quotes from a feminist scholar who describes Canada's 19th-Century seduction laws as reflecting the denial of "women's cultural and legal control over their own bodies," completely disregarding that it was only men who were imprisoned under these laws.)

Fiamengo is also not wrong to suggest that when many scholars deride concepts like objectivity and rationalism as nothing but tools of social control by dominant groups, this may help create an environment in which, increasingly, students feel entitled to engage in disruption or even violence to stop others' saying things they consider "oppressive." And it's the very same devaluing of open-minded inquiry, and the very idea of objectivity, that makes it entirely believable that people taking this attitude might quote Freire selectively, or even paraphrase him inaccurately, to support ideas that were not his, and that they would do so with no compunction whatever. It seems likely to me that this is just what has happened

But it would be quite unfair to pin that on Freire -- just as it would be wrong to blame Charles Darwin for the pseudoscience of so-called social Darwinists in the last century who tried to use his ideas to justify racism and imperialism -- or to blame Jesus of Nazareth for the Inquisition. Such misuse is the inevitable fate of any great thinker when he's no longer around to defend himself. To the contrary, I have no doubt that Paulo Freire helped a lot of people become better grounded in reality and better equipped to transform it, and that through his writings and example he will continue to do so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A One-Sided Response to a Many-Sided Mess

It's disappointing to see some of the names under this statement:

While Gilbert Achcar, for instance, is right to note the complexities and ironies of the current alignment of forces in Syria (as he does in this interview:, he shows a total lack of sophistication by then signing on to a statement which calls simply and without qualification for military action, implicitly by the Western powers, as if one could seriously expect this to make things better -- especially after seeing how such actions in the recent past, as in Iraq, are largely responsible for the current bloody mess.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

I Am (Wo)man

I was recently reminded of the song "I Am Woman," and struck by how much it affects me:

Honestly, I don't see how anyone with an ounce of humanism can fail to be moved by the impulse toward freedom it expresses. Indeed, I see from the comments that some people find it personally inspirational for reasons unrelated to gender, and even when they themselves are male. The thrill it gives me is not so different from that I get when Alison Tieman -- one of the most intellectually creative men's rights activists, and my personal heartthrob -- explodes about something in one of her "Ragening" videos.

So, how does confessing this feeling square with being opposed to feminism? Quite simply, by understanding the distinction between that primal impulse, which at a particular historical moment took the form of a widening collective rebellion against gender-based discrimination as experienced by women, on the one hand -- and, on the other, an ideology that captured that movement and framed it within a false narrative about the history and present status of gender relations, one that wrongly counterposes women's liberation to men's liberation instead of recognizing them as complementary objectives to be achieved by overthrowing a gender system that oppresses both sexes in different ways -- and which, by so doing, has actually become detrimental in many ways to women's liberation, as well as being harmful to men.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Why Determinism Is Not the Same As Fatalism

This excellent passage from Engels, which I just read yesterday, employs a mathematical metaphor to make the difference clear:

"Secondly, history is so made that the end-result always arises out of the conflict of many individual wills, in which every will is itself the product of a host of special conditions of life. Consequently there exist innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite group of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant product – the historical event. This again may itself be viewed as the product of a force acting as a whole without consciousness or volition. For what every individual wills separately is frustrated by what every one else wills and the general upshot is something which no one willed. And so the course of history has run along like a natural process; it also is subject essentially to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals – who desire what the constitution of their body as well as external circumstances, in the last instance economic (either personal or social) impel them to desire – do not get what they wish, but fuse into an average or common resultant, from all that one has no right to conclude that they equal zero. On the contrary, every will contributes to the resultant and is in so far included within it." -- Frederick Engels, letter to Bloch, 21 September 1890, Selected Correspondence, p. 475

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fund Created for Social Mobbing Victims


"This fund has been initiated by Jonathan Kay, and seeded with his own $2,500 donation. All donations (including his) will be held, in trust, by the Toronto-based Levitt LLP law firm and its Financial Administrator. Upon the dissolution of the fund, any unspent funds will be returned, on a pro rata basis, to donors. Interested parties may learn more about the fund by contacting us through Twitter .  

"A number of Canadian academics, artists, authors, journalists and politicians recently have been targeted by ideologically-motivated mob attacks on social media. In some cases, these attacks have led to the threat of job loss—and have continued even after the mobbing target has been largely cleared of significant wrongdoing by a neutral fact-finder. These same mobs also have focused their attacks on third parties who have urged due process for the accused.

"Because of the increasingly precarious nature of work in creative industries and academia, those who stand accused of offensive words or actions often have scant means or institutional support to assist in their self-defence. To the extent these individuals have access to legal representation, it may be provided by third parties—such as a union—that exhibit divided loyalties. Even some NGOs that traditionally have stood in support of free speech and academic freedom have fallen mute, intimidated by the barrage of online criticism they will endure if they champion the civil liberties of mobbed individuals. As a result, there is an emerging sense on campuses, and within some businesses, that Canadians with controversial opinions or reputations may be terminated, bullied or libeled without legal consequence. 

"This is something I learned first-hand in the Spring of 2017. Thanks to some good luck, I was able to fight back successfully. But others have been less fortunate, which is why I have created a fund to defray the legal costs of those who have been attacked by ideologically motivated mobs.  

"Legal advice will be provided to fund beneficiaries by Howard Levitt, a well-known Toronto-based authority in labour-and-employment-related matters. Mr. Levitt also has experience in areas of law—such as libel and breach of contract—that sometimes arise in labour disputes. It is foreseen that Howard will provide fund beneficiaries with advice or representation, as circumstances may warrant. In other cases, he will direct beneficiaries to other legal resources that he believes are more suitable. As beneficiary candidates present themselves, Mr. Levitt will help ovsersee a small committee to assist in funding decisions. (I will not be on it.)

"In all cases, the purpose will be to help encourage all parties to pursue a just resolution of any underlying dispute. Where circumstances warrant, journalistic avenues may be pursued so as to highlight elements of these cases that raise concerns in regard to the treatment of unpopular individuals or opinions by schools, business entities and other institutions.     

"The purpose of the fund is not to advance an ideological agenda, except insofar as the protection of due process, freedom of speech, and freedom of intellectual inquiry may be taken to represent matters of ideological preference.

"It is not intended that the fund will be used to protect any and all parties who are fired, disciplined or censured on the basis of their expressed viewpoints—as some forms of speech truly do go beyond the boundaries of legally acceptable discourse. Mr. Levitt will exercise discretion in directing the fund's resources, but will do so without any defined ideological or partisan litmus test in mind."       

Jonathan Kay

Monday, February 19, 2018

Understanding Abusive Spiritual Systems and Relationships

The International Cultic Studies Association is holding a conference on Understanding Abusive Spiritual Systems and Relationships which qualifies as continuing education.

Understanding Abusive Spiritual Systems and Relationships

Indiana University -- Purdue University
Hine Hall, President's Room

This event will bring together mental health professionals and other helping professionals who currently work with those who have experienced spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse may be viewed as being situated within the broader umbrella of psychological abuse but is a unique and often unrecognized aspect of this broader phenomenon. The societal value placed on religion can sometimes hinder critical evaluation of harmful dynamics and coercive control within religious frameworks. This workshop will explore spiritual abuse and the underlying mechanism of coercive control, and explore counseling interventions for clinicians working with those who have experienced abusive spiritual systems and relationships, and their loved ones.

Introduction to Spiritual Abuse (Ashley Allen, MSW, LMSW, .25 CE hours)
Panel: Born and/or Raised in Spiritually Abusive Groups (Debby Schriver, MS, 1.0 CE hour)
God Images, Implicit Religions, and Multiplicity of the Self: New
Conceptual Models for Understanding the Experience of Spiritually Abusive Groups (Peter Malinoski, PhD, 1.0 CE hour)
Early Trauma, Spirituality, and Serious Mental Illness: Exploring Intersecting Factors (Vincent Starnino, PhD, 1.0 CE hour)
Applying Cultural Competency to Work With Former Members (Matthew Staton, MDiv Counseling, .75 CE hours)
Choosing Self-Advocacy: An Attorney's Journey Through Spiritual Abuse

Panel: Support Groups (Dawn
Racine, M.S.Ed., Donna Lark, and Gina Harding, MBA)
Roundtable Discussions (Donna
Backstrom; Anna Holmquist; Stephen Martin, MDiv;
Peter Malinoski, PhD)

  • Attendees will be able to identify clinically relevant effects of spiritual abuse.
  • Attendees will be able to describe areas of clinical focus with this population.
  • Attendees will be able to utilize effective skills for assessing spiritual abuse.
  • Attendees will be able to identify the unique clinical needs of children raised in spiritually abusive groups.


ICSA Members including Institutional Members: $25.00 + $7.00 for parking voucher
6 CE credits are available with registration
(Please check with your individual board to be sure NBCC CE hours are accepted)

Financial Assistance
Scholarships are available for those with financial need, e.g., unemployment, disability. Contact ICSA at

Information on spiritual abuse: