Speaking IS Doing.

As is often the case when someone says some terrible things, a furore occurs between the people who think that that person should be barred from speaking at certain locations (e.g. on a university campus), or even being allowed into a country, and those people who are profoundly confused about ‘freedom of speech’. A recent example of this is regarding Julien Blanc, and Andy J. Semotiuk provides us with an exemplar of confused writing over at that bastion of nonsense, Forbes.

Content note: the following is a discussion of an awful human being who advocates sexual assault (Blanc), and the people who support them.

Semotiuk opens with the blindingly brilliant rhetorical question “Should someone be excluded from entering a country not because of what they’ve done, but because of what they think?”, the answer to which is obviously “no”. But straight out of the gate, Semotiuk is misrepresenting the situation. Before we go any further, lets clarify exactly what is going on.

Blanc makes presentations to large groups of men, where he tells them that not only is it ok to physically abuse women, but that they should physically abuse women, that this is merely one viable “strategy” amongst many when it comes to having sex. Here’s a video where he advocates sexual assault in Japan, followed by some clips of him sexually assaulting Japanese women. His twitter account, unfortunately, has recently been locked down, so pulling examples from that isn’t currently possible. Apparently, this kind of sexual assault falls in line with what Semotiuk claims is “willing, open and honest consent”. One of us is profoundly confused as to what ‘consent’ entails, and I don’t think that it’s me.

There are two main points that I want to focus on here:

  1. “Speaking” and “thinking” are two different things. Moreover, “speaking” is “doing”.
  2. Semotiuk, and the people claiming that terrible people like Blanc shouldn’t be excluded because of their ‘thoughts’, are holding a double-standard, and women pay the cost of this.

“Speaking” and “thinking” are two different things. Moreover, “speaking” is “doing”

While it seems self-evident to me, it would appear to need clarifying: thoughts are the things that occur within the meatspace of your brain. Axons flare, synapses connect, neurochemicals are released and are absorbed: this is thinking. When your mouth is moving, and sounds corresponding to a grammatically correct formulation of a particular language: that’s speaking. Moreover, given the movement of the external parts of the body, this is, in fact, an action, not a thought. Certainly, thoughts were the ultimate causal agents (so to speak) with regards to your speaking, but that’s true of every action that you take. If you issue the command “don’t do anything, at all”, and they speak, they have violated the command. Speaking is doing, and claiming otherwise is just ridiculous.

Yes, yes, I’ve focused on minutiae in a silly way, but it’s apparently necessary as their are people who don’t understand the difference between having a thought and expressing a thought. Certainly, there are those for whom this is a single continuous act, and I regret their lack of self-reflection. The world would be a better place if those people (predominantly white, predominantly male) could learn to separate the two (said the white male author).

We have laws in Canada about the expression of certain thoughts, because the expression of thoughts has consequences. It turns out that when you tell women “women are bad at math”, they do worse on math tests than if you don’t say that. Racial parallels also hold. This is known as Stereotype Threat. It’s been heavily studied, it’s a real thing, and it’s easily reduced on a day-to-day basis: don’t say bigoted things. Note that this is not merely restricted to saying abusive things, but saying bigoted things.

Moreover, I would like to draw your eyes to this particular part of falsehood in Semotiuk’s writing:

In Canada, Section 36(2)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the most salient provision I could find on point states:

A foreign national is inadmissible on grounds of criminality for … committing an act outside Canada that is an offense in the place where it was committed and that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an indictable offense under an Act of Parliament.

This section enables border officials to block would-be visitors from coming to Canada even in those circumstances where the individual has not yet been convicted of a crime if there is evidence that, weighed on a balance of probabilities, would lead the border official to conclude that the individual would be convicted of the crime abroad and in Canada. But simply put, there is no such evidence in Blanc’s case. Blanc’s views are repugnant and vile, his motivations are barbaric, but in our democracy nobody should be denied entry to Canada simply based on their views. The government is not and should not be the moral arbiter of people’s thoughts and opinions.

Blanc has committed a crime, and it’s been documented by Blanc: it’s in the video I linked to before. This blog lists the specific Japanese crimes that the video would constitute evidence for: sexual assault, and/or forcible indecency. While I don’t blame Semotiuk for not being familiar with Japanese law, even under Canadian law he’s committing assault. Unless, of course, Semotiuk doesn’t think that physically grabbing a woman’s head and forcing it into ones crotch constitutes “assault”, in which case…. guh? I mean, Semotiuk is a practicing lawyer (Immigration, granted, not criminal, but assault isn’t exactly all that nuanced…).

Semotiuk is holding a double-standard

I know, I know, how dare I make so bold a claim. But bear with me.

Let’s talk about a hypothetical person: Bob. Bob thinks it’s great fun to walk into international airports, and say (in a loud, clear voice) “I’m carrying a bomb”. Of course, Bob doesn’t actually have a bomb, but he enjoys the commotion that this causes, and enjoys the subsequent attention that the local police force pay him. Moreover, this is a criminal offence in most parts of the world. This action (speaking) also causes the airport to be shut down for a period of time, so greatly disrupts the lives of the people who are in his vicinity. Bob, I think we can agree, is a terrible person.

Bob also wants to share the joy he experiences with other people, and so Bob has started a media company (Real Social Douchecanoes) in order to promote this particular hobby of his. And it turns out that it’s immensely popular! Men from many, many countries pay his extremely high fee to hear him tell stories of the various airports that he’s been tasered in. In this talks, he explicitly encourages other young men to do this in their home cities, to go into their own local airports and declare that they are carrying a bomb. He spends several hours discussing the various ways it could be said, the clothing one could wear, but ultimately the result of his talk will be that several young men, several times a year, will walk into an airport and (falsely) declare themselves to be carrying a bomb.

And now Bob wants to visit Canada to conduct his seminars here: should we allow him into the country? After all, he’s merely expressing his thoughts, right?

The answer to this is obviously “no, we shouldn’t let this terrible person into our country, because the consequences of his seminars are awful. Moreover, he has committed a crime, on camera, and his seminar consists of inciting others to commit crime”. Would Andy J. Semotiuk allow Bob into Canada, given the obvious consequences? I suspect (hope?) that the answer to this question would be “no”.

And yet here we have Blanc, someone who advocates for the sexual assault of women, who has hundreds of young men attend his seminars with the intent of putting what they hear and see into practice, whom Semotiuk is ready and willing to allow into Canada. Because….. This only affects women, I guess?

I look forward to Semotiuk’s forthcoming retraction, or else admission that people yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre are totes ok by him…

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