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Cancellation of the Lecture That Was Objected to by Some Serbian-Americans:

Last week I blogged about what struck me as an unjustified fracas over a forthcoming moral philosophy lecture by Prof. Peter French at Kent State University; some Serb-Americans apparently objected to it, on grounds that struck me as likely unsound.

The lecture has been called off; when I e-mailed Prof. French to ask for an explanation, he kindly responded. He told me that "Kent State wanted me to go on with the lecture and promised security at the event, but my family insisted that it was not worth it," and also passed along the following (some paragraph breaks added):

I was scheduled to give a lecture at Kent State University of March 7, 2007, as a part of the Veroni Memorial Lecture Series. The title of my lecture was to be "On Being Morally Challenged by Collective Memories." I intended to discuss how collective memories (what some have called heritage stories) can be seen as a potential source of a type of moral impairment that I call "being morally challenged."

The paper that I would have read has three parts. In the first part of the paper I distinguish between being morally incompetent and being morally challenged in terms of an account of moderate moral reasons responsiveness combined with the Frankfurt conception of volitional necessity. In the second part, I provide a sketch of different types of memory and offer an account of what collective memories are.

I conclude in the third section with an attempt to provide a convincing account of how collective memories can cause volitional necessity leading to moral challenges for some individuals in group situations. The primary point I make at the conclusion of the paper is that though collective memories may engender what Harry Frankfurt called volitional necessity in some group members and render those individuals morally challenged in certain circumstances with regard to doing the right thing, they do not convert those group members into moral incompetents with respect to whom moral responsibility assessment is inappropriate.

This all undoubtedly sounds highly philosophical and probably rather dull to most people. However, in the third section I offer a few examples of how I believe certain individuals may have been morally challenged when elements of their heritage or collective memories were used by their leaders to incite untoward actions. One of the examples I use is that of the speeches of Slobodan Milosevic that recalled the 1389 battle on the Field of Blackbirds as a way of motivating Serbs against Kosovo/Albanian Muslims. This example is discussed in two brief paragraphs of a paper that is about 20 pages long. It is in no way the focus of the paper.

Nowhere in my examples, nor anywhere else in my paper, do I make any claims about the morality of the Serbian people. However, after event organizers generated a poster with a blurb citing the Serbian/Kosovo example to announce the lecture and displayed it on the Kent State University campus and website, there arose an outcry of complaints and accusations regarding my supposed views about Serbs.

This escalated into an outrageously false (and I believe libelous) article posted on a website (www.serbianna.com) in which my views are grossly mischaracterized. This website wrongly attributes to me the claim that "Serbian people are rapist and killers because they are delusional about their history during the time they lived under the Islamic Law in Kosovo." I make no such claim. Nor do I make any of the other wild claims now attributed to me in emails and elsewhere. I do not think the Serbian people are or were delusional and I was not going to say so in the lecture. Nor do I think the Serbian people are rapists and killers (although individual Serbs have raped and murdered, as have members of every ethnic group on Earth).

I have written extensively on the complex issues of individual and collective responsibility, and I am the last person to make unsophisticated, sweeping statements about the morality of any ethnic group or to make assumptions about the morality of an individual based solely on his or her ethnicity. The website article goes on to quote Susan Ilievski, a person I have never met. She says, "This man is out of his mind. Whatever French says is a fiction or was he paid to say that, who knows." This is, of course, utter nonsense.

Ms. Ilievski has no idea what I say in the paper because I have not given it and I have not provided a copy of it to anyone at Kent State. It is most irresponsible for anyone to make incendiary claims about someone's views based solely on an advertising blurb created to excite audience interest.

Unfortunately, the audience interest that was incited was poisonous and most unsettling. I have received a large number of harassing emails from within the U.S. and from abroad, accusing me of racism, being a closet Islamist, collaborating with those who would destroy Western Civilization, and much more. I was told to expect a very unpleasant experience at Kent State should I dare to give the paper. After consultation with my family and my attorney I decided that traveling to Kent to give this somewhat technical philosophical paper in such a hostile climate (and at my age) was unwise.

Philosophical discourse is all that interests me. The utter irrationality and vituperative rhetoric of the attacks I have endured is astounding and depressing. Hearing from so many hate-filled people who have no idea of the actual philosophical points that are in my paper and clearly have no desire to engage intellectually with me made it clear that this visit would not be a worthwhile philosophical experience.

With reluctance, I decided to cancel my talk. I had hoped that my talk would provide an opportunity to engage the Kent community in an interesting discussion of a complex philosophical concept. It is astounding and tragic that a simple academic exchange could spiral into such a controversy.

JB:
This reminds me of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper.

Professor: I have this technical topic which I'll brighten up by applying it to a hot-button case. What could go wrong?
Interest group: We're not evil, like your paper says. KILL THE UNBELIEVER!!!

In this case, it's the Serbs saying "We're not delusional rapists, and we'll prove it by vaguely threatening you with an 'unpleasant reception'!"

Of course, the professor is a head-in-the-clouds space cadet to not realize that this is precisely what would happen.
3.5.2007 11:36pm
M (mail):
A sad but not altogether unusual case. A good friend of mine, a few years ago, gave a paper on terrorism to the philosophy dept. at our former undergraduate institution. The idiots who run Little Green Footballs got ahold of the title and, knowing nothing more about it, let the crowed there go to town on it. They rediculous and absurdly false charges of anti-semitism were the most mild things he faced. The fact that he was a military vetern and reservist (and is now serving in Iraq) was nothing to them when they accused him of supporting terrorists, hating America, etc. It was a truly sad spectical that marked everyone involved as fools. It's very sad to see something similar happen again.
3.5.2007 11:55pm
Michael Benson (mail) (www):
I hope "the original TS" will recant the following claim he made based on his/her incautious reading of a poster:

"Yeah, I, too, read this poster as being absurdly pro-Serb. Ooh! Look! The Serbs were victims, too! They couldn't help it!

This is but the latest and most ridiculous essay in victimology. The lecture itself assumes an unproven and, at least on its face, blatantly stupid premise."

In the future, I hope you might bother to read an article, or watch a lecture before accusing someone of making a "blatantly stupid" argument for "victimology."
3.6.2007 12:27am
donaldk2 (mail):
"...this is precisely what would happen." Not as recently as 20 years ago. Because of the vastly developed means of communication, you can activate a crowd of nuts with the slightest effort.

Also, the successes that occur make others want to do it. It becomes an expression of authenticity to make trouble. Very sad.
3.6.2007 1:38am
Pendulum (mail):
JB,

Attempting to integrate a real-world example into a theory automatically makes one a provocateur?

What evidence do you have that the professor was doing anything more than attempting to add empirical support?
3.6.2007 3:15am
JB:
Pendulum,
I'm not sure I understand your point. In both the Walt/Mearsheimer case and this one, the professor(s) took a fairly dry, technical argument and applied it to a hot-button issue, then was surprised when people got upset.

I have no evidence that the professor was doing anything more than attempting to add empirical support, and you have no evidence that I claimed to have any such evidence.
3.6.2007 3:59am
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Bottom line is, what happened to freedom of speech in America? Remember freedom?
3.6.2007 4:21am
markm (mail):

...volitional necessity...moral challenges...collective memories...may engender...moral responsibility assessment...

This all undoubtedly sounds highly philosophical and probably rather dull to most people.

Actually, it sounds like someone talking in his own private language.
3.6.2007 8:08am
Barry P. (mail):
markm:
I understand French's language just fine, and I'm not a philosophy major. Heck, I'm not really all that bright, yet I have no difficulty with this topic.
3.6.2007 8:28am
Per Son:
This episode just proves the point that all you need is a controversial subject matter in an unreleased paper or speech and the hatemail, threatmail brigades (on all sides of the spectrum) come out of the woodwork.
3.6.2007 8:47am
AntonK (mail):
Walt/Mearsheimer's paper was a piece of unadulterated anti-semitic garbage, with almost no defenders. Indeed, neither Walt nor Mearsheimer bothered to defend their work in any serious way.

See this for example, and research the issue if you wish.
3.6.2007 9:10am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
He was astounded? When did he change his name from Rip van Winkle?

The hecklers won and Kent State let them. Universities can offer "security" but, as was the case at Columbia, it appears the "security" has different rules of engagement, depending on the speaker. The prof was wise to choose not to depend on Kent State's word.
3.6.2007 10:42am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
It isn't fair to characterize someone as a "head in the clouds space cadet" for expecting people to withhold criticism until they have heard or read his paper. There's no evidence that French was unaware that his paper mentioned a hot button issue; indeed, he evidently picked the example precisely because it is salient. The problem is not naivete on French's part but rather the disposition of (some) Serbs and their supporters to throw a tantrum based on their guesses as to what he intended to say.

"There is no right to speak without investigation." - Mao
3.6.2007 1:19pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Bill P.

The good professor said he was astounded. Why on earth...?
3.6.2007 1:30pm
AP (mail):
The problem here lay, initially, in the incendiary posters created by someone other than Prof. French. Whoever (the students or other organizers) had the posters printed evidently and quite clearly were operating on an anti-Serbian bias, such as would never have been tolerated toward any other group of people, whether they were Muslims, Blacks, Jews, Polish, Irish, or what have you, but is tolerated at the most extreme level at Serbs, so extreme as to amount to nothing less than racism.

It is extremely hypocritical of any student group to scream about freedom of speech when there is no such thing at campuses any more, thanks to the students and the lenient college administrators who let them get away with it. The only people who truly are allowed to speak on campuses are those who support the student causes, which are highly biased, to say the least, and often are racists. Students, broadly, but especially all over the U.S., are bullying their way around campus to ensure that one viewpoint is prevalent and then when someone objects they cry "where's free speech"! Of course, free speech is only allowed to work in their favor, not to be actually free. (I left my position at a major university precisely because of such intolerance that I witnessed there in recent years, so don't waste my time or yours trying to convince me it isn't so.)

But there is potentially a second problem with Prof. French's intended lecture inasmuch as his reference to Slobodan Milosevic's speech suggests that he might be basing his conclusions regarding that speech on the widely published (either deliberate and malicious or due to complete ignorance and lack of any level of intellectual curiosity) misrepresentations of Slobodan Milosevic's speeches. The first thing that occured to me in reading what Prof. French had to say about this event and his intended lecture was: Prof. French, have you actually read the speech as properly and correctly translated or have you discussed the speech with someone who read it in the original Serbian prior to coming to your philosophical conclusions? Far from preaching division, Milosevic's speeches, particularly those in Kosovo, state quite clearly that the man was underscoring the strength that a nation gets from cultural diversity and how Serbs will always welcome all nationalities. And as you should know, but probably don't because the demonization of Serbs is so prevalently acceptable and unquestioned, Serbia was always the most culturally diverse nation in the Balkans and remains so to this day. While Croatia, Slovenia and certainly Kosovo are now ethnically "pure" (pay attention, students, this means they have no diversity because they have eliminated it) and Bosnia Hercegovina is ethnically divided, Serbia lives on peacefully, its people still composed of more than 30 different ethnic groups (including Albanians) and having taken in countless refugees from all the republics of the former Yugoslavia.

I don't believe that Prof. French was threatened by a single Serb. On the other hand, a strongly supported objection to the lies stated on the posters, and therefore to any lecture that included such lies, would no doubt be insultingly twisted into something worse than a mere objection in the campus world of freedom-of-speech-but-only-for-us, whereas calling Serbs rapists and murderers without any substantiation (because there is none)is considered completely acceptable and open season on the Serbian people doesn't cause you to blink. Un-bloody-believable.
3.6.2007 3:08pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
It is astounding and tragic that a simple academic exchange could spiral into such a controversy.
It's certainly tragic, but hardly astounding - at least to anyone who's been paying attention the last 20 years.

"Disgusting" it the word that comes to my mind.
3.6.2007 3:16pm
Hoosier:
AP--I'm not sure how you would know if he had been threatened by "a single Serb." Or a married Serb. I certainly don't have any information on this, and you have not provided any. This strikes me as a problem, since Prof. French cites the threat to his safety as his reason for pushing the 'abort' button.

markm--Let me paraphrase: The professor was going to problematize the master narrative of nationalistic self-reification through the hermeneutical re-presentation of reified (re)presenations of an ethno-national discourse that disappears the other in its attemp to construct a narrative of power for the paradigmatically-dominant structures. (See, it's easy, really.) And philosophers don't speak in "private languages" anymore, 'cause Wittgenstein told them they aren't allowed.

Where have you been living, Mark? The /world/?
3.6.2007 3:58pm
AP (mail):
I said "believe" -- I don't believe he was threatened by even one Serb, and I believe this with good reason which I can outline; however, I won't take the time to do so since no proof of a threat has been provided either. The ball's in your court first. It's a lot easier to prove a positive than a negative, so let's see the evidence of threats. If you want to focus on this small part of my remarks, I regard that as your intellectual problem, because I made a lot of other points that I view as more important. Harp on this, though, it's your choice, but come to the table with that for which you are looking to me -- evidence.
3.6.2007 5:09pm
Hoosier:
"but come to the table with that for which you are looking to me -- evidence."

Wow. That's more convoluted than my parody response to Markm. I can't see the point in continuing this. Interpret that as a victory if you want.
3.6.2007 5:13pm
bokababe (www):
I am mystified as to how you and others cannot step outside of your position even momentarily to look at that poster and not see why Serbs would not be furious about it. Or how you could reasonably expect any of us to know that it did NOT represent what the Professor was to discuss? I'd also like to know why the professor and many of you have not forcefully condemned the creators of the poster, given that it is supposed to NOT accurately represent Professor French's discussion? (If I were Professor French and my lecture was being misrepresented and politicized, I'd be livid &say so.)

If you were to substiture the words "Jewish men" for "Serbian men" and "Palestinian women &children" for "Kosovo women &children", do you not think that every Jewish organization in the US would be all over the professor and this issue, too? Does your sympathy only extend to academics or other politically correct ethnic groups?

I still believe that Serbs had every reason in the world to be offended by that poster -- and if that poster was the instrument that did both Serbs and Professor French harm, then the anger should be directed at the creator of the poster, not at Serbs, as we had no way to seperate the professor's intent from the advertisement.

If a box is labeled "rat poison", it is reasonable to assume that "rat poison" is what it contains, not "Girl Scout Cookies"!
3.6.2007 5:44pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
bokababe.

You miss the point. The Serbs are entitled to be furious. It's a free country. You can look it up.

What they are not entitled to do is threaten the speaker. You can look that up, too.
3.6.2007 6:49pm
bokababe (www):
I was born &raised in California, Richard. I don't need to "look it up".

And we only have Professor French's word that he "felt threatened". If he was truly physically threatened by anyone, then I'd suggest that he call the police and not a blog.

BB
3.6.2007 7:52pm
Svetlana (mail) (www):
After reading French's response, all I can say is: What a bloody liar!

He claims that "most people" (Serbs in particular, I'm sure) wouldn't even understand the vertigo-inducing depths of his 'philosophical' drivel, that he is not a Serbophobe even though he did choose to single Serbs out, and that it wasn't him, the KSU or anyone BUT "his family" that made a decision he should cancel his fascist diatribe, not because he'd have to defend his 'philosophy' in the court of law, but because barbaric Serbs would've attacked him physically.

Poor Professor French - what was to be a purely scientific experiment of courageously throwing another rock at those he perceives as weak and defenseless, has been irreparably destroyed by the Serbian apes threatening his dignified academic ass he, the Philosophical Braveheart doesn't even think of, but alas, his Family loves him so and can't risk losing him to wild and foaming bunch of Serbian rapists and killers lining up to gang-rape him at the KSU.

I have read a number of letters sent to KSU regarding French's intended fascist drivel and the only warnings issued by the Serbian community cannot be misconstrued as any kind of "threats", but were exactly those French purposely ignores and doesn't even mention: that he is bound to face legal consequences for libel, slandering the entire nation and inciting ethnic and racial hatred, under the guise of a "philosophical lecture". Serbs do not do Sulejman Talovic in States or anywhere around the world, they use their heads and legal means at their disposal to confront the French-like Trolls.
3.6.2007 7:57pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
svetlana.

Check out the First Amendment. No libel or slander in anything you claimed happened. Or, if it is libel or slander in your definition, it's legal.

Bokababe. If you looked it up, you missed the point. He gets to say what he wants. Serbs get to be mad. Nobody gets to threaten anybody.
3.6.2007 9:18pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Professor French, with all due respect, you are a coward!
3.6.2007 9:39pm
Svetlana (mail) (www):
Richard, I suggest you take a better look in order to learn that the First Amendment is not meant to be used as a broad &fuzzy blanket to cover smear campaigns against an entire nation and inciting ethnic and racial hatred.

Besides, whatever your personal opinion may be, it is up to the courts to decide on these issues on a case-to-case basis and I'd say it's safe to assume they generally aren't obliged to confer with you before issuing verdicts.
3.6.2007 9:39pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Svetlana, quit playing lawyer on the internet. You're in way over your head. Not that I think it matters to you - your mangling of common American phrases suggests that you live in another country.

Ordinarily, I would have just laughed at French's lecture topic as being more psychobabble. "Gee, Officer Krupke, I'm depraved on accounta my parents were deprived." But the apologists for Serbian massacres are so overwrought over this that French should rename his lectures the "Za Dom Spremni Tour" just to see their heads explode.

Nick
3.6.2007 11:02pm
bokababe (www):

"He gets to say what he wants. Serbs get to be mad. Nobody gets to threaten anybody."



Richard,

Scenario II:

The poster gets to say what it wants. We get to legally protest our case to anyone we want. The professor gets to make his choices about what to do based on the complaints -- which in this case was to withdraw from giving the lecture. And you get to whine about it.

Actually I like this scenario much better!
3.6.2007 11:08pm
Svetlana (mail) (www):
On the contrary, Nick, Ustasha "Za Dom Spremni Tour" or merely a cartoon fashioned after some of the Goebbels-sponsored masterpieces, would've been a far more appropriate introduction to French's "lecture", or at least an honest preface to his Nazi sermon over at the KSU's jihadist nest.

The only thing you could possibly gather from my English is that it isn't my first language. And indeed it isn't. It's my last. So, being that it is so, are you saying I should just shut up?
3.6.2007 11:27pm
Hoosier:
bokababe—

So why is it that you get to "legally protest" something that you don't like, while Richard only gets to "whine" about something that upsets him? I'm begining to wonder about your objectivity in this matter.

Oh, and by the way: You missed the part about Prof. French's safety being a factor. Did you miss this on purpose? Because your argument hinges on this point. And so does the freedom of expression on college campuses.

Perhaps French is just a coward. Or perhaps he just remembers Srebrenica better than you do.

(Fact that may be irrelevant: I'm of Irish extraction on both sides. And yet if someone wants to start a thread on the IRA, I'll be happy to give my two cents on those cowardly baby-murdering thugs. I won't defend crimes against humanity on the basis of my baptism or surname.)

—Stoopid Hoosier Mick
3.6.2007 11:37pm
Hoosier:
Svetlana—

Your English is great—Don't go changin'.

I don't know about KSU as a "jihadist nest." I thought it was a safe school for high school kids from Cleveland.

But if you're hinting at something else with that anti-jihadist comment, OK: Thanks for what you guys did to the Turks at the Battle of Kosovo. That was really cool.
3.6.2007 11:41pm
Michael Benson (mail) (www):
NickM, you said:

Ordinarily, I would have just laughed at French's lecture topic as being more psychobabble. "Gee, Officer Krupke, I'm depraved on accounta my parents were deprived."

But Prof French describes his main conclusion as:

The primary point I make at the conclusion of the paper is that though collective memories may engender what Harry Frankfurt called volitional necessity in some group members and render those individuals morally challenged in certain circumstances with regard to doing the right thing, they do not convert those group members into moral incompetents with respect to whom moral responsibility assessment is inappropriate. (emphasis mine)

Why are people continuing to read this as arguing that atrocities are morally justified by "collective memory"? He is arguing precisely the opposite point. He is actually claiming that, despite the problems such memories might present, these people can still be held morally accountable.
3.6.2007 11:56pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Svetlana. The First Amendment is not "meant" to do any such thing. The First Amendment just happens to allow it.

It costs $38 or some other crazy number to file a suit, grounds notwithstanding. So, I suppose, you could say that French or anybody else can be legally challenged.

But the challenger will lose, as the challenger should.

Yeah, boka, I bet you'd like the idea of threats. Your scenario worked this time. Too bad.
3.7.2007 7:54am
Hoosier:
So, lemme see if I have all this.

A guy named French wants to give a talk about what Serbs did to Kosovars. As a result, some Serbian newbies join us to denounce him (and me, I think) as crypto-Croatian fascists in league with German National Socialist propagandists.

But how do the Illuninati fit in to all this?
3.7.2007 9:44am
Per Son:
Do not blame me - I voted for Kodos!
3.7.2007 12:19pm
AP (mail):
Hoosier,

If you are misinterpreting Serbian objections to the poster descriptions of French's lecture as defending crimes against humanity then you are gaga. Surely, you're not.

And since you've raised the "S" word, Srebrenica has all along been an accusation more than an actual proven crime. It is used to whip the Serbs into shape and whenever they are needed to kneel before the Empire the Srebrenica tool gets brought out. No matter that the bodies aren't there in anything like the numbers claimed, no matter that a great many of the bodies found are Serbian, no matter that a minimum of 3,000 and perhaps as many as 5,000 of those that supposedly were massacred at Srebrenica have since voted in Bosnian elections, no matter that countless elderly and helpless Serbs in the Srebrenica area were massacred in the most beastly fashion by Bosnia's gleeful butcher Naser Oric (who got a hero's welcome from them), no matter that Izetbegovic needed to provoke an incident where "at least 5,000 got killed by Serbs" in order to hold Clinton's interest in the area and took actions precisely to insure an incident did occur that could then be blown out of all proportion (who believes Serbs anyway after 2 decades of demomization?), no matter that nobody is investigating the full facts of Srebrenica (why should they when the propaganda works so well), no matter that the Bosnian Serbs (while apparently intent on "genocide", no?) put the Bosnian Muslim women and children into buses to get them to safety before the fight they knew was coming (because of the deliberate movement of Bosnian military) happened, no matter any of this so long as the Serbs continue to be demonized.

Remember Kosovo? It's still there, held up as a beacon of American military success when in fact that formerly beautiful part of the Balkans has been turned into a Albanian narco-mafia supported nest of crime, brutality and neofascism. But think back and remember the accusations of 100,000 killed by the Serbs, which then went down to 10,000, and now stands at, maybe, 3,000 -- a figure composed of both Serbs and Albanians who died in local fighting - fighting that amounted to civil war. Of course the dropping of the figures never got the press that the lies got.

Serbs have been turned into an easy target for cowards with no real intellectual curiosity for the truth -- careerists ala Clinton (et. al), who will trot out Srebrenica every time his name falls off the front pages. And I have no reason to think that French is any different. He hasn't offered an honest discussion. University academics are mostly a bunch of careerist hacks, too, much more interested in getting published at any intellectual cost in order to maintain tenure than to present us with anything useful to humanity.

But, nevertheless, I reserve judgment on French and his lecture until I see it - if the man has the courage to show it.
3.7.2007 1:37pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Hoosier - the Illuminati are behind it, of course. They're behind everything. They're also under the stairs.


Michael Benson - you are overreaching my point. It's not French's ultimate conclusion I consider ridiculous, but the premises he accepts without which you do not even have an argument. "Collective memories creating volitional necessity" is the sort of thing I expect to hear from the defense expert on a particularly strained episode of Law &Order. Arguing that it leaves people morally challenged but still morally competent legitimizes the nonsense.

Svetlana - to the contrary, keep on talking. You're a very effective spokesperson for causes you oppose.

Nick
3.7.2007 1:51pm
AP (mail):
Nick,

Sarcasm is not a substitute for argument, but with the level of intellectual dishonesty currently tolerated in the U.S., your day may yet come.
3.7.2007 1:57pm
Michael Benson (mail) (www):
NickM:

Michael Benson - you are overreaching my point. It's not French's ultimate conclusion I consider ridiculous, but the premises he accepts without which you do not even have an argument. "Collective memories creating volitional necessity" is the sort of thing I expect to hear from the defense expert on a particularly strained episode of Law &Order. Arguing that it leaves people morally challenged but still morally competent legitimizes the nonsense.

Nick, have you noticed here that you don't actually enter into a sustained attack on the argument that bothers you? All I see is ridicule.

The problem that Prof French is dealing with is, as I see it, a special case of a larger issue, and one that is real. The fact that in certain circumstances ordinary people would do things they otherwise would consider truly despicable does create problems for individual notions of responsibility. Take as an example most any historical event where large numbers of people engage in, or tacitly consented to acts we consider monstrous such as slavery, mass murder, etc... It's quite clear that social forces do impact our individual abilities to behave ethically.

Yet, I don't think many are willing to accept the kind of moral relativism those problems might seem to support. Which means that it's worth working on sustained and well defined argument to deal with such problems. It appears to me that that's what Prof French intends to do.

Your apparent attitude that this is all simply stupid and warrants no more attention than the defense council on a Law &Order episode doesn't really strike me as one likely to actually answer the criticisms Prof French is engaging with.
3.7.2007 2:06pm
NickM (mail) (www):
AP - the argument which French was attempting to academically analyze rests on nonsense. "Collective memory" is a psychological fiction. It deserves ridicule.

Michael - as both human experience and controlled tests (see, e.g., Milgram experiment) show, it takes very little prodding for many, if not most, human beings to do very unpleasant things to others - being confident that they will not end up suffering physical harm or legal trouble often seems to be sufficient, and having an authority figure instruct them to do it normally seals the deal.
The "certain circumstances" is any circumstance where they do not expect punishment or retaliation. Man is not an innately good creature. Ordinary people are readily capable of monstrous things.
The entire subject is an attempt to excuse moral culpability. Social forces can remove inhibitors to unethical behavior, but our ability to behave ethically is unchanged.

Nick

Nick
3.7.2007 5:42pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Collective memory is a fiction if you think of it as a kind of genetically-transferred idea.

But stories passed down for generations are not a fiction, nor is their effect.

French did not excuse the Serbs' behavior, and said so. But things happen for a reason, people do things for reasons, and French was speculating on why the Serb perps did what they did. Nothing wrong with that. After all, they did do what they did, so that's a given. The reason is another issue.
3.7.2007 7:09pm
Svetlana (mail) (www):
Richard Aubrey - your name sounds familiar from a CNN forum 8 years ago, during US-led NATO bombardment of Serbia. You were as belligerent, boorish and fascistic back then too, and it's terrifying to see the capacity of an irrational hatred to get cemented like this.

Even if Serbs were responsible for what you and French are charging them with (along with most of the Soros/MSM parrots) - though the bulk of 20 years of allegations were disproved by the international courts, including alleged "rape camps" and "mass rapes" in Bosnia and Serbian Kosovo province, proved to be no more than propaganda fiction - the key issue with French's fascist drivel is why did he choose to single the Serbs out?

Peter French says in his letter above that he does not think "the Serbian people are rapists and killers (although individual Serbs have raped and murdered, as have members of every ethnic group on Earth)."

So, why single the Serbs out and 'peak the audience's interest' with the allegations against the Serbs neither he, nor anyone else can prove (the sheer garbage and basest hearsay of how some "Serbian men described themselves as compelled to rape and murder". This is thrash, pure and simple. Which men? Where are they? What are their names? There are NONE.)

We all know that members of every nation have raped and killed. Although the USA has never been tried for their war crimes (or hasn't been tried yet, which doesn't mean this can never change), we know that USA has led over 50 aggressive wars since the end of the WWII, we know that USA has committed at least a dozen of clear-cut genocides under any definition (Japan, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Korea, Vietnam, etc.), as well as couple of dozens of 'acts of genocide' far worse and deadlier than alleged Serbrenica 'act of genocide', we know that American troops are often found to be behaving in a manner contrary to what can be considered honorable or ethical behavior for the soldiers (it was precisely the American 'peace-keepers' that have recently raped an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl in Kosovo)...

Following the Professor French's line of thought, could this kind of appalling behavior on behalf of American aggressors all over the world be connected with the fact Americans have to learn and recite the Pledge of Allegiance every single day in public schools, for decades, throughout the country? Or is it a result of the "collective" pool of thought and experiences based on "puritan" roots of the first settlers? Where does that level of aggression stem from? And why not use the example he is bound to be most familiar with?

Nothing that Serbs did during their millennium old history can compare to what Americans have done and are doing in the last 60 years. It cannot compare to what Spaniards or Germans did, for that matter either. Nothing justifies Peter French's clear decision to single out one nation, far away, of which French himself says he can't claim expertise, admitting he doesn't know Serbs or Serbian culture well enough, but still chooses to focus on Serbs, basing his insults on a speech he obviously never read, in fact, basing the offense on sheer propaganda.

This is the problem. He does not act as a scholar, he acts as a propaganda tool, because he doesn't use any other nation as an example, East or West, including those from under his very nose, but reaches all too far to speak about those he doesn't know. Why?
3.7.2007 8:17pm
Michael Benson (mail) (www):
Michael - as both human experience and controlled tests (see, e.g., Milgram experiment) show, it takes very little prodding for many, if not most, human beings to do very unpleasant things to others - being confident that they will not end up suffering physical harm or legal trouble often seems to be sufficient, and having an authority figure instruct them to do it normally seals the deal.


The "certain circumstances" is any circumstance where they do not expect punishment or retaliation.


So you think that an average man would rape a woman if he believed there would be no consequences? I find that a strange conclusion. I certainly don't see how the Milgram experiment can prove it. Do you have other evidence, or just an appeal to "human experience?"

Man is not an innately good creature. Ordinary people are readily capable of monstrous things.

Well, that's a nice straw man you have constructed there. But both arguments actually suppose that ordinary people are capable of monstrous things. The question is, given that ordinary people are capable of monstrous things, why should we hold others morally culpable for actions which we ourselves would likely have committed were we in their shoes?

The entire subject is an attempt to excuse moral culpability.

Please read that sentence carefully, and then go back to what I wrote. There is no doubt that moral relativism would remove moral culpability. And most of us probably aren't willing to accept what.

But, my point was that responding this seems to require something more than snide ridicule.

Social forces can remove inhibitors to unethical behavior, but our ability to behave ethically is unchanged.

But you yourself suggest that humans aren't at all wired to behave ethically. If anything the view you have taken here seems to suggest that it is only because of social inhibitions and fear of reprisal that you and I don't go on a spree of rape and murder. If humans simply don't behave ethically without restraint, in what sense can they be said to have the "ability to behave ethically?"


Can you at least see that this merits a serious response, rather than just invective?
3.7.2007 9:10pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Svetlana. Thanks for the compliments. I don't recall being on a CNN forum, although linking through the 'net can bring one to strange places.
The history of the US--look up "genocide" when you get a chance--is not the issue here.
The issue is freedom of speech.
It's protected, even if some Serbs get pissed off.
3.7.2007 10:17pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Svetlana:

The reason French said he used the Serbs is the particular excuse the Serb thugs used. Other atrocities were excused by other means.
He singled out the Serbs because they used the excuse that interested him.
If he's interested in a different excuse for atrocity, he'll probably find a different bunch of thugs to use as an example.

I am beginning to be reminded of the words of a friend of mine. He was in the Army Reserve, and during the Balkan dustup, he got official notice to be careful about Americans of Serbian descent. Military people being interviewed were told not to use their last names, to protect their families.

"Irish Alzheimers" is where you forget everything but the grudges. The Irish have nothing on the Balkan folks. Which, I think, is part of French's point.
3.7.2007 10:22pm
Geca (mail):
It’s interesting that when university professors exercise free speech, it’s considered an intellectual prerogative. When the rest of us do it it’s referred to as hate mail and rioting!

That’s because they’re so much smarter than the rest of us. 99.9 % of all Serbians go to college, but we just don’t get it because, we’re so wrapped up in our collective memories!

I think Dr. French should actually read Milosevic’s speech. If he had, he would never have sited it as reference for his work. There used to be an English translation on our State Department’s website. I was surprised when I read it. It was a beautiful speech, irrespective of the source. It talked about equality and all peoples living together in harmony. All in all, it was an uplifting speech and not at all what the news media’s spin turned it into. Of course, they knew no one would actually read it (including Dr. French). One would think that someone with a PhD. and a CV three pages long would actually do his own research. No body went to Kosovo to hear Milosevic’s speech. Those that dared to brave the onslaught of Albanian wrath went there because it was the 600 year anniversary of their greatest historical and religious holiday.

The most obvious and egregious example of potential collective memory influencing war crimes, where millions and millions of people were not only raped, but mutilated, killed, chopped up into pieces, their remains eaten and their heads used for bonfires, is Rwanda. There is irrefutable evidence and mountains of documentation. Yet, Dr. French thought that Kosovo (where a few Serbian soldiers with battle fatigue raped some women) would really drive the point home. Terrible to be sure, but still to be proved and it hardly holds a candle to what is still going on today in Rwanda. If ever there was a case to be made of collective memory culminating in heinous crimes, Rwanda is it! But, I guess it’s not nearly as sensational as Kosovar Serbs (even if it was 10 years ago and probably not true)!

Volokh’s diluted comparison to Koreans is amusing. How about this version: Korean shopkeepers, tormented by 700 years of collective memories, find it impossible to trust American customers. They keep guns next to their registers so they can rape women and children that look at them funny. Now, take that same poster to some Korean neighborhood in L.A. (outside the sanctity of your university) and tell them you’re a professor exercising your first amendment rights. Oh, and wear a bullet proof vest, so you can make it back to your sanctuary to talk about second amendment rights.

No body has ever apologized to the Serbian people for the crimes committed against them. When they were slaughtered in concentration camps, somehow, the world didn’t think it was important. The Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia has been turned into a bird sanctuary. No monuments or Holocaust museums for them. And, I’m supposed to feel sorry for French, Odell-Scott and Volokh because they don’t get to practice on us and make their unsuspecting students write papers about us, so they can learn contempt for other cultures, too.
3.7.2007 10:32pm
Svetlana (mail) (www):
Oh, so your nation's war crimes, atrocities, genocides, rapes and brutality are not to be discussed, we should talk about other nations' crimes exclusively?! The Other is the Evil One, Americans are a always the "good guys" and no matter how despicable their atrocious behavior all over the world is, that is "not the subject". That's part of your problem, that your nation's grievous crimes are never allowed to become a subject.

A refreshingly Eichmann-esque view, quite in line with French's popular-mythology claptrap.

Anyway, I'm done here. The waste of time aside, talking with the Uberfuhrer Aubrey is about as illuminating as "discussing" Inquisition with the Croatia's own 'Father Satan'.
3.7.2007 11:31pm
Hoosier:
OK--I'm trying. But I'm lost. The Croats killed off Serbs in WWII, and the camp is no longer there. Koreans are paranoid rapists. ERGO: A philosophy professor shouldn't talk at a university outside of Akron.

Weird.

I need to read more philosophy, I guess.

AP--Holocaust denial is ugly. You aren't helping your cause any, you know.

Serbs were the poster (no pun on the current events at KSU intended) children for victims of Nazi occupation. And unlike the French, many Croats, many Slovenians, Belgians, etc., Serbs kept up the resistance. And paid a steep price. The Serbian military leadership acted bravely and laudably in denying Hitler the right of transit to head to Greece and save Mussolini's behind.

Americans are not ignorant of this. I've known all this since my days in college. Which is why the behavior of many Serbs under 'Slobo and Co.' was so shocking to me. And why the reservoir of sympathy for Serbia has, in this country, been largely drained. YOU may harbor resentments for centuries. But WE are more concerned with who is slaugtering the inocents now, when something can still be done.

And it bears repeating--since I realy don't understand this willingness to deny the obvious: If the thugs of the IRA are ever a topic of discussion on this blog, I'll not let my family roots in County Cavan make me a defender of the indefensible. "My people" were also brutalized, murdered, expelled, starved. But Gerry Adams can kiss my pasty mick ass. The IRA are a criminal mob. Adams is a mob mouthpiece. "Irish Alzheimer's" aside, there's nothing Hibernian about setting off bombs in shopping malls.

Nor anything Serbian about denying crimes against humanity. I won't make /my/ ethnic group look bad. Why do you?
3.7.2007 11:55pm
AP (mail):
What is worse, Hoosier? Denying a genocide that didn't happen or accusing a people of committing one when they didn't do it?

As for WWII, you can find all the Jasenovac info you want if you look for it -- the 3rd worst extermination of WWII and I'll bet you're so educated you never even heard of it. It's not Serbs, my boy, who commit genocide and if you ever educate yourself properly, you'll find that out.

It just goes to show you that it doesn't take brains to graduate from university in the U.S.
3.8.2007 12:17am
AP (mail):
Bokababe and others here, if you don't already visit

http://byzantinesacredart.com/blog

you'll find it refreshing after some of the drivel you've seen here. Some of these posters can't even comprehend what they read, so no point in continuing to waste time with those here that have had their minds closed by the front pages of newspapers operating in the service of bought-up politicians.
3.8.2007 12:21am
Geca (mail):
Here's the URL of Milosevic's actual speech that Dr. French refers to (Compiled by the National Technical Information Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce).

To AP:
It's not the students that are screaming about free speech in this blog, it's Professors Volokh and French.

Richard Aubrey:
I wonder what the Army told Serbian-American soldiers?

Professors:
Remember that your "rights" end where the other fellow's nose begins.

An excerpt about free speech from Lorem Ipsum:

The First Amendment, however, does not protect certain limited categories of speech that are “utterly without redeeming social importance.” . . . See also R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 382-83 (1992) (stating that “[f]rom 1791 to present . . . our society, like other free but civilized societies, has permitted restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas, which are of such slight value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality”). These categories include obscenity, Roth, 354 U.S. at 483, libel, Beauharnais v. Illinois, 343 U.S. 250, 266 (1952), and “fighting words,” Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-73 (1942).

BTW, all the Chinese post from fasdgsad said was "Diabetes" over and over, some joker copied a page from a Chinese pharmacy website and posted it into this blog. Ha Ha
3.8.2007 6:50am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Geca. Good question about what the Army told Serbian-American soldiers. IMO, anybody who refers to himself as Anything-American is suspect, especially when provided with weapons.

Svetlana is determined to make this a historical screed when the point is freedom of speech. Apparently, she thinks if she makes enough accusations of something or other, she can trump the First Amendment.

Interesting observation about Rwanda. I believe the colonialists set Hutu against Tutsi. The latter were moving in over several centuries prior to that, so there was no doubt some difficulty there. But the memories of oppression probably don't go back more than about a century or so. If French was looking for the really long-held collective memory, this may not have been the place to go.
3.8.2007 7:48am
Hoosier:
AP--You'd make Goebbels proud.
3.9.2007 9:45pm
AP (mail):
Hoosier,

That might make a lazy mind like yours "feel good" but ad hominem attacks in place of any kind of argument don't make you "look good." I gave you valid facts, and if you're afraid to check them out or are simply an intellectual deadbeat, that's your problem and your loss.

But for your potential edification, if you have that potential, you ought to know that the Goebbels fans are to be found in Croatia and and among the Kosovo Albanians. Only a blind or stupid person can't or won't see that.

There are a lot of others out there like you -- happy to be strung along by the propaganda. Unfortunately, though, it makes you a prat.
3.9.2007 11:07pm