While I said in my Je suis Charlie Chaplin post a few days ago that I had nothing new to directly contribute about the terrible shootings in Paris last week, I do have something to say about the debate over freedom that has followed the attack on the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine who had long been a target of those it satirized. Haven’t been a blog writer that long, but while I treasure freedom, I’ve already indicated that we need to approach the subject better if we intend to foster the fair, equitable, and mutually beneficial public interest that I am promoting with my ideas and 4D Framework model.
Take the case of sociology Professor Ricardo Duchesne of the University of New Brunswick (UNB). Last Wednesday, the same day as the Charlie Hebdo shootings, CBC reported about an ongoing feud between Professor Duchesne and Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang, also a professor of psychiatry at the University of BC, over the former’s academic work through which he criticized the effect of the growing Asian population on what he called once “a very British city, a beautiful British city”, as well as have been accused of making derogatory statements about Asians in general. In response to Councilor Jang’s complaint filed last summer, a UNB vice president defended Professor Duchesne’s academic freedom in the course of his work at the University.
First of all, of course I agree that Professor Duchesne has the right to freedom of thought and expression, especially after the Charlie Hebdo incident. His academic status also means he is a part of an important global community that creates, researches, and explores ideas that attempt, rightly or wrongly, to better explain our understanding of the world. He is free to publish his work, and his peers, as well as the public, are also free to weigh their opinion on it.
Now I am a lifelong Canadian and Vancouver resident of Japanese heritage, and this city has been many things to me but never a British one. I’m not an expert in architecture, but aside from the Hotel Vancouver, Gastown, the Marine Building, and the fact that the Guinness family built the Lions Gate Bridge, the city’s beautiful appearance has never depended on a British flavor. In my opinion, credit belongs to its natural setting that nourishes and inspires its people as well as drives its gateway economy through which the city engages the world.
That British city declaration and his opinions about Asians, if true, show Duchesne deserves some derision and ridicule, but not necessarily muzzling. Instead, news reports on Monday about the Twitter reaction to a claim by a ‘terrorism expert’ on Fox News that the British city of Birmangham was ‘totally Muslim’ demonstrated the response we, as the audience, are also free to make against such questionable statements.
But it would also be a mistake to dismiss Duchesne simply as an idiot as British Prime Minister David Cameron did of the Fox News correspondent. Duchesne is a tenured University professor with a doctorate from York. A scan of the comments section in several news stories reporting the Jang/Duchesne dispute also reveal how the subject has touched a nerve with a number of people in Vancouver and across the country, in regards to freedom as well as immigration.
This does not, however, does not deter me from considering Professor Duchesne to be a blockhead, at least in the definition of the term I use in this blog as explained in my November 23rd post. As I said, this blog concerns a public interest that is fair, equitable and mutually beneficial. Here, a blockhead is someone whose actions, attitudes, and/or ideas benefit the few rather than the many. Naturally, this definition fits anyone who demonstrates bigoted tendencies as Duchesne does especially in his blog.
In that regard, first, Professor Duchesne leaves the impression he is promoting European values and culture more out of personal preference rather than reasoned thought supported by researched evidence. He is entitled to his own biases in how he conducts his own life, but allowing those biases to be heavily reflected in his academic opinion reflects poorly on the quality of his published work.
Second, while Canada’s origins was initially led by the English and French, its governance is based not on culture, but democratic principles defined in our Constitution that reflect our objective of being a country of peace, order, and good government. The European influence that was present in the founding of Canada is already enshrined into many of our institutions and culture which should be understood and respected by all residing here, including immigrants, but cities that evolve to reflect the changes in the composition of its citizens is a natural process of democracy and free markets. Wishing for the past to be frozen in time in a city is to deny those who reside their right to have a reasonable say about how it runs and develops, not to mention how it ignores the vast growth in economic and cultural prosperity and diversity that has been achieved by keeping our doors and minds open.
Finally, but most importantly, Duchesne is still free to express and publish his opinions on his blog and as an employed academic of the University; however, I question as to how much that academic freedom should extend to the classroom. Freedom of expression also demands a freedom to respond without coercion. The problem here, then, is that as a teacher whose students’ grades may depend on the degree of their agreement with his views, Duchesne is empowered to impress his flawed ideas upon his charges.
Going back to the point I was hinting at the outset of this piece, it is in this regard that whether it involves travesties like the Charlie Hebdo shootings or non-violent conflicts in the classroom, the real issue of concern is not a question of our own exercise of freedom, but recognizing and addressing those who unduly affect the free will of others, even when they claim to do so in the name of freedom.
It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. I don’t think Councilor Jang was questioning Duchesne’s freedom of expression. Rather that the University needed to be cautious about whether Professor Duchesne is capable and responsible enough to wield the authority he holds over his students in his classroom. If he does assess his students based on their understanding of principles and use of reasoned arguments, there is no problem. Otherwise, allowing his biases to affect his students’ grades otherwise should be a concern to the University about the quality of education being given and how it affects the school’s reputation.
When it comes to incidents like these, we tend to empathize with figures like Charlie Hebdo and Professor Duchesne as if our own freedom was being attacked at the same time. With Charlie Hebdo, this was certainly understandable, but in Duchesne’s case, this approach garnered him more support than he deserved in the Canadian media. Of course, he’s nothing like the terrorists who conducted that heinous act in Paris, but the principle is consistent: rather than arguing about our own rights to freedom, we need to be vigilant against those who are in a position to damage or threaten it, whether through extreme violence or sanctioned authority.
For those who’ve been following my work with my 4DF model, this is how I illustrated my blockhead assessment of Professor Duchesne. This is just for practice and demonstrative purposes on how I structure my opinion as well as my blockhead determination.
First, in this case, I reduced and simplified the domains to reflect Duchesne’s limited view of the Canadian people, basically dividing them into Europeans and non-Europeans. The four dimensional quadrants – Relational, Scope, Dynamic, and Awareness – remain the same. The expanding circles reflect the wider public interest served while the square in the middle represents the individual involved.
As usual then, the assessment considers the extent someone’s conduct contributes to the public interest. The bigger and more circular the resulting graph, the more people whose interests are being served. Clearly, Duchesne views are limited to serving the interests of at least what he considers European Canadians, the innermost circle. His conduct reflects how he uses evidence to favor his Euro-Canadian supportive conclusions rather than deriving conclusions based on broader research. I scored him neutral in some categories, especially those in the Scope dimension, since I’m not aware of his views on issues like the environment.
The mostly circular result reflects how the views of Professor Duchesne can appeal to those whose interests he supports. He wants to create a Canada that is in favor of European Canadians like him with little regard to those outside that sphere. That may be fine if you belong to that group, but detrimental to those who do not. What makes him more potentially destabilizing, as represented by the skew in the graphic, is the empowerment he possesses in the classroom that reaches beyond those he mainly supports.
As I said, anyone with bigoted views generally qualifies as a blockhead under this model. Those who are genuinely concerned with a public interest that works for everyone may not have needed for me to illustrate it this way to know that people like Duchesne are harmful toward that objective, especially when they proclaim to defend freedom, but I hope this helps to show their is a structured argument to confront such people.