The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

Letters to the Editor

Re: Debating dignity, tolerance on campus

What is really being debated?

Ibnul Chowdhury unjustly maligns Professor Jordan Peterson by implying that he wishes to debate the “human dignity, existence, and freedom from violence” of transgender and non-binary students. There is nothing in his lectures that even tends in this direction, and to claim otherwise is pure sophistry.

This is part of a strategy to redefine opposition to a particular gender ideology as inherently violent, in order to justify real punitive action against innocent people like Professor Peterson, via government action. 

People may, in good faith, disagree with new theories of gender. For example, they may believe that gender is inextricably linked to biological sex. They may believe that biological sex is immutable. Such views are not bigoted, let alone inherently violent or unjust. However, promoting government-imposed penalties against the expression of such views, held and argued in good faith, is unjust. 

Chowdhury’s rhetoric bolsters those who wish to exercise power over others, and wish to do so with a good conscience. 

— Philippe Stephenson

Hoping for a better future for everyone

Can there be hope for a better future when prejudice, bigotry and racist attitudes and beliefs stubbornly persist throughout our society?

Prejudice is when a person negatively prejudges another person or group without getting to know the beliefs, thoughts and feelings behind their words and actions. It is grounded in misconception, misunderstanding and inflexible generalizations.

Bigotry is stronger than prejudice and is a more severe mindset that is often accompanied by discriminatory behaviour. It is arrogant and mean spirited. Bigots are obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.

Racist attitudes and beliefs are misconceptions about people based on perceived racial lines and are often founded on the fear of difference, including differences in customs, values, religion, physical appearance and ways of living and viewing the world. It destroys community cohesion and creates divisions in society.

Prejudice, bigotry and racism have a terrible impact on our society.  Ignorance is no excuse, insecurity is not justification, and the majority of society likely agree that each in all their forms should be uncompromisingly condemned.  So why have honest, well meaning and constant attempts to do so failed, and how can we hope to scrub clean this kind of unjust and wrongful thinking?

Laws are important but when they diverge from a social norm, the practice may continue but simply go underground.  Social norms must always be appreciated and recognized as central to our communities sense of identity, but the tricky bit is to change the negative norms and replace them with new, positive ones.  Clearly after many years of trying we have not done a good enough job at this but we must never, and will never, give up.

Fear seems to be at the heart of the problem and hopefully fear that social and cultural norms are unchangeable will never add to the problem.  So who is trying to address and answer these questions for the future?  I am, and I hope you are, plus the continued efforts of social, political and religious leaders as well as media will remain imperative along with framing corresponding laws and enforcement of the same.   Civil society will never give up trying to teach people that prejudice, bigotry and racism are simply and clearly wrong.  So you can believe that there is hope for a better and happier future, just maybe not for the bigots.

— Robert Hicks

What ought we remember, and what ought we forget?

A critical perspective on Remembrance Day

What ought we remember, and what ought we forget?

As I have grown older, I’ve become increasingly ambivalent about Remembrance Day. That is not to say I take issue with setting aside a day to remember and contemplate those who risked everything in the name of what they thought was right.

But Remembrance Day as it is observed today has little to do with such contemplation. There is no room for questions about whether what our progenitors fought and died for was indeed right and just. Consequently, Remembrance Day has become nothing more than a time for uttering platitudes soaked in ardent nationalism and blind veneration of military force.

[pullquote-features]Remembrance Day as it is observed today has little to do with such contemplation.[/pullquote-features]

I witnessed one of these unabashed displays in Kingston a few weeks ago, although ceremonies similar in tone and substance took place nationwide. The Master of Ceremonies stood in front of the crowd and loosely recited, with much conviction, a few stanzas of Charles Province’s poem, Solider. “It is the Soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to protest. It is the Solider, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.”

Then came the bishop, who admonished us to pray for the men who died so that we may live, and who died in the name of some sort of holy “truth and righteousness.” We were to pray for men who took life, and who in turn had theirs taken, all with God on their side.

I found this disappointing, but hardly surprising. What profoundly disquieted me was that these statements were put forth to a crowd that included several elementary schoolchildren. I couldn’t help but think that these children would grow up actually believing that all our freedoms were won at gunpoint; that the actions of journalists and poets and protesters and lawyers are deservedly secondary to the actions of soldiers; and that it would be wrong to suggest otherwise.

When the moment of silence came, my thoughts turned to the men who served in the World War I. Many of them were younger than I am now when they went to war. I thought of how they had been duped by their leaders, tricked into going off to fight for freedom only to be slaughtered in the mud of some foreign land. Few Canadians had the courage or the decency to warn these men that they were dying for nothing, and those few that did find their honest voice were met with swift and severe ‘patriotic’ backlash. To question whether the war was just had risen to the level of heresy and slander — and I can scarcely imagine it being much different a century later.

Perhaps my discomfort is best summed up in the book Warrior Nation by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift. It is worth reading at length, but one of its major themes can be paraphrased as follows: When we make every soldier into a hero, we make all of their actions heroic, and the result is that we find ourselves unable to debate the merits both of past wars and of sending our armies into combat again.

[pullquote-default]Few Canadians had the courage or the decency to warn these men that they were dying for nothing, and those few that did find their honest voice were met with swift and severe ‘patriotic’ backlash.[/pullquote-default]

Thinking back to the schoolchildren, we hope they will become tomorrow’s active participants in democracy. But by consistently telling them that freedom is always born out of violent conflict, and by giving them such a peremptorily one-sided picture of how war, nation, and freedom are intertwined, we do them a significant disservice. We make democratic participation more difficult for them, and consequently, their contributions become less likely. And in consistently feeding the same lines to adults, we essentially do the same, for we circumscribe the important discussions we ought to now be having.

Nick Papageorge is a second-year student at the Faculty of Law.

Letter to the editor: In objection to anti-psychiatry

Re: Understanding what is at stake

Dr. Burstow puts up a vigorous defence of her eponymous antipsychiatry scholarship in the name of academic freedom, honest science, and evidence.

Many of us who object to this scholarship do not take issue with criticisms of past and present psychiatric practice, a valuable perspective, if slightly akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Yet antipsychiatry goes beyond criticism. It is not content to rest on the facts, but extrapolates extreme conclusions using such bizarre logic that even a first year philosophy student would blush.

Dr. Burstow’s recent book, Psychiatry and the Business of Madness, is a master class in using fallacies and misdirection, drawing evidence from its own echo chamber, to logically ‘prove’ the unprovable. More concerning, antipsychiatry does not engage intellectually with those in the broader community who question the logic of its conclusions. I’ve written an extensive critique of her book and would welcome comment and criticism.

Criticism of psychiatry and academic freedom are not the issues with this scholarship and the antipsychiatry group at OISE. The structural flaws of the research program, the lack of engagement in critical analysis of their work, and the intellectual overreach are the issues. This is advocacy dressed in academic clothing, and does not rise to the standard we expect from U of T.