Cat-calling, free speech, and the continued cannibalization of the Left

The National Review has an excellent piece out by Charles Cooke on that video about catcalls that recently went viral (if you haven’t seen it yet, or don’t know what it is, here, and get out from under that rock). The article highlights well the continued crisis that Leftist circles have been in since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Aside from continuing to defend the likes of Fidel Castro at the superficial, political level, the intellectual depravity of the Left is on full display thanks to the work of the people who made the video. Here is Cooke, for instance, on one of the more popular versions of the Left’s criticism of the video; the one arguing that most of the men – who were largely black or Latino – catcalling the girl were forced into doing so simply because of the white power structure in place (no seriously):

To contend that the minorities depicted in the video are mere victims of circumstance and that they have been forced by their conditions into badgering innocent women on the street is to contend that those minorities lack agency, intelligence, sensitivity, and the capacity to reason — that they are child-like figures who act on their base instincts and who need excusing and explaining by their betters. Oddly enough, it is also to contend that the victim was either a “white gentrifier” herself, or a proxy for white gentrifiers, and that she therefore deserved the treatment she received. This presumption, it should go without saying, is typically anathema to the arbiters of feminist thought. One cannot help but wonder whether, weighed down by their own contradictions, the champions of “empowerment” have at last become what they despise themselves?

Eastern Europe knows these contradictions well. It’s a damn shame more Westerners don’t. Here is Cooke again, on the attempt by the organization (“Hollaback”) to defend free speech by advocating legislation that would ban catcalling:

The case for a robust — almost impregnable — protection of freedom of speech stands on its own and applies to all people. It is as tyrannical an act to prosecute a rich man for his utterances as it is to target a poor one. Nevertheless, should Hollaback get its way and provoke the passage of an anti-cat-calling law, it would likely be the poor who would bear the brunt of its force. Such rules would be enforced capriciously, and those without power would find themselves hauled into court more than those with connections. As has been demonstrated by the new anti–“rape culture” rules that are sweeping the nation’s college campuses, there is always a price to illiberalism, and that price is often paid by a downtrodden and less powerful group. As kindly as possible, I would recommend that if anybody believes that the problem of unwanted male attention warrants the infringement of the First Amendment, they should re-examine their priorities.

Again, the entire piece is well worth the read. I’ve only highlighted the general issues Cooke takes up with the video controversy, but his work pointing out how the Left is essentially eating itself is quite lucid.

In some ways, the post-socialist Left has remained relevant since the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the growing-in-number anti-“rape culture” rules highlighted above attest, but in the most general, important way, the Left continues to become more and more irrelevant as its ethnic and gender elements contextualize and re-contextualize themselves into irrelevancy. At the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of individuals and nobody should get special treatment because of the color of their skin or the thing between their legs. The fact that humanity has a long history of doing just this – awarding special privileges to some at the expense of the many – is both a) a testament to the radicalism and the simple brilliance of libertarianism, and b) a really, really good reason not to continue to pursue policies that do just that (even if such policies are meant to correct past injustices).*

It’s also nice to see that the Right-wing National Review is becoming more libertarian when it comes to issues of race and gender. I also see the Clintonian Left becoming slightly more libertarian (thanks in large part, I think, to the realization of what Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid have been doing to our purchasing power parity).

* I support some kind of reparations system, here in the US, for stolen land and stolen labor but this has nothing to do with skin color or gender when you think about it.

11 thoughts on “Cat-calling, free speech, and the continued cannibalization of the Left

  1. One of the absurdities of the whole conversation is the reflexive assumption that the woman in the video IS white. She’s walking at a fast clip, often past the people who are walking in the reverse direction. It wouldn’t necessarily be obvious to anyone what her “race” was. She could be Hispanic. Is that “white”? She could be of mixed race. Is that “white”? Hard to know, hard to tell, and in my case, hard to care. Frankly, if I went by the vicissitudes of left-wing race consciousness, I’d be hard-pressed to figure out what “race” I myself am. Some days I’m an off-white beneficiary of white privilege. Some days I’m a brown victim of Islamophobia. They just seem to make up whatever rubbish suits them at a given moment, and it becomes the race-wisdom du jour. One of the great things about left-wing race consciousness is that it demands consciousness of something while questioning the existence of the very thing we’re supposed to be conscious of–and then reprimands us for not being sufficiently conscious of “it.” Wouldn’t it just be easier to stop obsessing over it?

    I think the video is “uncomfortable” for reasons that have little to do with race. For starters, it should be uncomfortable for libertarians. Put aside the people who merely catcall. What about the people who follow the woman for several minutes down the street? That seems to me to fit the definition of “harassment.” But should harassment be a rights violation adjudicable by law in, say, a libertarian regime? Libertarian theory is unclear on that sort of thing. I constantly encounter Rothbard-oriented libertarians incapable of conceptualizing assault and fraud, much less harassment. If there’s no contact, they say, where’s the “aggression”?

    The video should also be equally uncomfortable for liberals. If it’s harassment for a man to follow a woman down the street as in the video–begging for sexual attention–should it not be harassment for a panhandler to follow a pedestrian down the street in the same way, regardless of the gender of either the panhandler or the pedestrian? Is begging for monetary attention so much more excusable? In fact, the woman’s treatment differs only by degree, not in kind, from the treatment that a lot of non-white non-attractive non-women (like me) get on the streets of New York.

    Maybe the real lesson here is a rather mundane one–that the streets of New York are chock full of idle louts with too much time on their hands, and a deficit of a sense of respect (starting with self-respect). “Hollaback” really is the right remedy, but it can’t just be confined to women being catcalled by men. It should be an equal opportunity thing. Unfortunately, few on the left are apt to put things that way. Which is why, no matter how disaffected I get with the right, I can never manage to turn left.

    • Just to be clear, when I said “Hollaback” is the right remedy, I didn’t mean that we should ban cat-calling by legislation. What I meant is that if you don’t like something that someone says to you on the street, you should be free to say something in response. I was taking the “hollaback” phrase literally, not referring to the legislative agenda of the organization with that name.

    • Thanks Dr Khawaja.

      Race is definitely an interesting topic. I think on the one hand that your off-white privilege and your brown Islamophobia is real, but on the other hand it’s much simpler than what the Left tries to make of it. The Left wants to wield race as a weapon, just as the reactionaries of old – the Left’s intellectual heirs (at least here in the States) – did.

      The uncomfortableness (yeah, that’s right, right?) you point out is something I had not thought of, and will have to think about a little more, but I do know it’s not a NYC thing. I have female cousins in LA, SLC, Denver, and Sacramento who all posted the video on their FB feeds and were, like, “yup, pretty much.”

  2. The left does want to wield race as a weapon, there’s no question about that.

    If you want to see the simpleminded libertarian position I was criticizing, here’s a version of it (meaning in the comments):

    Some of the commenters seem to think that following someone down the street is “free speech.” But following someone down the street isn’t speech at all. It’s an action. The video is somewhat ambiguous because the woman never tells the followers to stop, but if someone were following me very closely, and I told him to stop following me, and he didn’t, I don’t think he could cite his desire to deliver an unwanted message as a justification to continue following. I’m entitled to some distance, and if someone steps within a certain radius of personal space, I’d call it a rights violation even if there was no actual physical contact. There is, after all, no need for physical contact in fraud or assault (as opposed to battery). Libertarians often forget that the paradigm case of assault is a speech act–a verbalized threat.

    This is a very simple case, but one that can generate a lot of disagreement. If someone gets in your space but without physical contact, and you push him out (or away) have you initiated force or has he? My claim is that he has. Suppose you punch him rather than push him? I’d say you have to wait longer before you punch, but after a certain point, you’re entitled to punch. But the law doesn’t reflect this reasoning.

    I’m sure you’re right that the discomfort isn’t just a NYC thing.

    • Those comments are definitely cringe-worthy.

      On a side note, I’d just like to take a moment to state how useless I think student organizations like SFL and YAL are. I briefly joined one at UCLA but left it quickly after getting into an argument about how to better advocate for freer trade.

      Some guy, who didn’t go to UCLA and I’m pretty sure wasn’t even in college, was preaching the Gospel of Condescension and that libertarians should take the missionary approach to activism. I came away from the argument with the conviction that student organizations do more harm than good (at least if Truth is your end goal). It turns out that my hunch was correct. Also, there were no girls at these things. And I only went to one “meeting,” maybe two. Take it for what it’s worth.

      Nobody was talking about ideas. They were all talking about how to best mimic other projects they’d seen elsewhere (presumably advertised on the webpages of YAL and SFL). The blog post you provided (thanks, by the way) has done much more for liberty than hundreds of hours of tabling could ever hope to.

      I can buy your argument about harassment to an extent, but it becomes trickier when we start talking about and defining ‘space’. In anthropology we learn how different cultures have different perceptions of space (which I’m sure you already knew), and I think if we treat street harassment as a legal matter then the system is going to punish minorities and especially immigrants more harshly than it will white folks.

      I am certainly open to arguments that trump individual rights over so-called cultural ones, but I think that a discussion about combating street harassment has to take into account the fact that any action in this vein will have a disproportionately negative impact on non-WASPs for the foreseeable future. Not because non-WASPs are more likely to harass women, but because of the huge potential there is for cultural misunderstandings due to differing perceptions of space.

    • Let me get back to you later about your question re harassment, but as for SFL, you might consider writing up your thoughts about it and sending it to Reason Papers for our “Afterwords” dept. We mentioned in our July 2014 editorial (pp. 12-14) that we were looking to start a conversation about the efficacy (etc.) of SFL.

      Click to access rp_361_0.pdf

      Contact me via the journal if you’re interested, or know people who are. More later.

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