April 25, 2018
April 25, 2018
I belong to Freethinkers of Portland State University, a skeptic student group. We’re hosting a panel this Saturday (2/17/18) on diversity featuring James Damore, the Google employee who was fired last July for writing a memo expressing heterodox views about sex disparities in the company’s workforce.
We expected controversy. But we also got danger. The left-wing newspaper Willamette Week published an article with a false and inflammatory headline: “Tech Bro Fired from Google for Saying Women Are Biologically Unfit to Be Engineers Will Speak at PSU Next Month.” The subheadline inaccurately attributed to Mr. Damore the view that “women can’t do math.”
Campus activists called us misogynists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis. A person claiming to work for campus audiovisual services tweeted that he could break into our event through a back entrance and “literally turn the whole building off.” There were threats of violence. A Facebook user—it’s not clear if he’s connected to PSU—suggested he’d throw “active grenades” at Mr. Damore onstage. Campus police took these threats seriously enough that they denied our request for a larger venue, despite overwhelming interest.
PDX Women in Tech, a local activist group, proclaimed itself “disheartened and appalled” that we were “engaging in discourse without an opposing viewpoint.” If they’d asked us, they’d have known we invited every tenured and tenure-track professor from the women’s studies department and were rebuffed. Meantime, the administration and student government have organized three counterevents to challenge “the notion that women do not generate ideas”—something Mr. Damore has never claimed. Opponents also attempted to deny our event an audience by hoarding the free tickets and not using them.
I used to be an evangelical Christian but became disillusioned with conservative organized religion because of its zealotry and hostility to free thought. When I enrolled at PSU, in one of America’s most secular cities, I thought I was entering a world of open-minded and thoughtful young adults. Instead I encountered a new kind of fundamentalism, many of whose adherents claim to disavow religion.
In 2016, the Freethinkers organized a screening of “Islam’s Non-Believers,” a British documentary about Muslim apostates. I naively thought the nonreligious ethos on campus would draw many students who agreed with the film’s message of freedom of belief. I was wrong. Flyers for the film were torn down across campus, and in our display case, a message was plastered across the glass: “Atheist Islamophobia is NOT OKAY.”
Last year we invited the American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers, YouTube host Dave Rubin, and PSU philosophy professor Peter Boghossian to speak about open inquiry and free speech on campus. The local Antifa gang incited dozens of students and other activists to disrupt our event, which they described as a “fascist safe space.” The event went off with only minimal disruption thanks to a heavy presence of campus police, bodyguards and private security.
Freethinkers of Portland State find ourselves confronted with a new secular religion, called “intersectionality.” This doctrine conceives of human beings in terms of a good-and-evil binary of “oppressed” and “oppressor,” reducing individuals to a collection of group identities rated within a hierarchy of “marginalization.”
Intersectionality’s true believers tend to be far less tolerant than traditional religious believers with their sophisticated apologetics. To intersectionalists, skepticism is an existential threat. To question their beliefs, I’ve been told, constitutes “debating someone’s right to exist.”
The title of our event is “We Need to Talk About Diversity.” The proof is that our adversaries are so determined to shut us down.