In the Matter of an Elephant Gun and a Fly
IN THE MATTER OF AN ELEPHANT GUN AND A FLY
Donna Lee Lillian’s (2001) dissertation, Canadian Neo-Conservative Discourse: A Critical Discourse Analysis, employs critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis on the writings of one William Gairdner, a conservative Canadian politician, to show how his discourse deliberately misleads his readership in support of an anti-woman, anti-homosexual, and racist agenda which, in Lillian’s view, advances his own interests and the interests of the elite. Though Lillian is a linguist, this is unmistakably a political dissertation: Lillian does not like Gairdner, and indeed, her dissertation makes clear that he is a thoroughly reprehensible fellow. As she concludes, however, “[t]he attitudes of sexism, homophobia, and racism are neither subtle nor difficult for a reader to detect” (p. 201).
This leads to the first immediate question about this dissertation: if these attitudes are indeed so obvious (as I will readily grant), then how is this dissertation a contribution to knowledge? A second observation is that Lillian has succumbed to the naturalistic fallacy, that is, she confuses the world as it is with the world as she thinks it ought to be (Appiah, 2006). This critique will accordingly be organized principally around these two issues.
Who is William Gairdner?
First, however, it is necessary to bring forward information that Lillian (2001) divides between her first and final chapters, information that sets a context that is all the more important for readers in the United States and elsewhere who are less familiar with Canadian politics. Though, in Lillian’s (2001) presentation, Gairdner makes a populist anti-intellectual appeal, and though he claims to write from the standpoint of an ordinary Canadian and a concerned parent, he is not an uneducated man. On the contrary, according to Lillian, he holds two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. His Master’s degrees are in Structural Linguistics (1967) and English/Creative Writing; his Ph.D. is in English Literature (1970); and all of these degrees were earned from Stanford University. In Lillian’s (2001) view, this makes him fair game for her analysis—he should be well aware of the consequences of his lexical and grammatical choices.
Academic-Authoritarian Writing Style
With such a background, however, as is clear from the samples Lillian (2001) provides, Gairdner also often writes in what might be called an academic authoritarian style, even when, as Lillian sometimes complains, he fails to provide proper citations or explanations for his conclusions or when he “disparage[s] . . . academic prose” (p. 2) or when he vaguely attributes statements to imprecisely specified sources. Lillian herself identifies this style as “the traditional impersonal academic style” (p. 126) and observes that it features “the modality of validity” (p. 163). This traditional style demands that all writing be done in the third person, distancing the author from the text, as a pretense to objectivity. Objectivity is a positivist value with, in Western culture, a frequently privileged claim to truth that is, in itself, associated with power (Ellul, 1964; Macedo, 2006; Minnich, 2005; Postman, 1993). Yet with the insights of complexity theory (Capra, 1996; Macy 1995; Morin, 2008), one might recognize the ingredients for a positive (destabilizing) feedback loop that would serve to enhance the reputation of both the author and the text: Having produced “objective” writings, the producer may be esteemed as a producer of “truth,” and cyclically, the esteem accorded to such a producer may then be reflected on to his production and which may then again further enhance the reputation of the producer.
Another point that needs to be considered in academic-authoritarian style is the use of the word argue. Scholars generally use this term not particularly to signify aggression but rather to signify the act of combining premises to support a conclusion. Lillian (2001), however, in a quantified linguistic analysis, assigns an aggressive connotation to Gairdner’s use of the word:
Verbalization processes are second highest in transitivity after material processes, and in addition to the material processes which are metaphors for verbal activities, there are nine examples of verbalization processes in the data. Of those nine, six consist of the verb ‘argue’ (examples (23), (24), (26), (28), (29), and (32)), which adds to the impression Gairdner tries to create of feminists aggressively promoting their cause. Such aggressive verbal behavior is echoed in example (26), in which feminists are said to be ‘insisting’. (Lillian, 2001, p. 70)
Lillian (2001) seems to be trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, she condemns Gairdner for abandoning the principles of responsible scholarly discourse in failing to properly cite sources, for preferring dubious sources to reliable ones, and for making an anti-intellectual appeal that I believe is belied by his style of writing. On the other hand, she criticizes Gairdner for the consequences of using a writing style that many scholars demand.
Is Gairdner Self-serving?
Lillian (2001) recognizes that Gairdner states many falsehoods in academic authoritarian style, often employing unsubstantiated certainty to bolster his claims, and still appears authoritative, but sadly, Lillian does not recognize its authority-enhancing positive feedbacks discussed above. As a consequence, she is reduced to something of a cliché which she states most fully in this passage:
William Gairdner may attempt to portray himself as just an ordinary Canadian, but there can be little doubt that he speaks from a position of relative power, being a wealthy white male, holder of a doctorate from Stanford University, former Commonwealth, Pan-American and Olympic decathlete, former president and owner of The Fitness Institute of Canada, Chair from 1994 – 2000 of The Gairdner Foundation, and president and owner of Gairspar Investments, Ltd. Toronto. (Lillian, 2001, p. 6)
Lillian (2001) repeats variations on this cliché throughout her dissertation, and for her, its importance is that she interprets it to mean that the policies Gairdner advocates are self-serving. But what is astonishing here is that she waits until her concluding chapter to bolster the cliché, by presenting a history of the New Right in Canada, in which Gairdner is among a number of seminal figures. It is only then that readers (including myself) who are not otherwise familiar with Gairdner’s career learn that this man’s influence is not merely economic and athletically heroic; but also that he has been engaged politically with the ascendance of a movement that may have culminated in current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.
Neoconservative? Or Something Else?
Gairdner and the political movement of which he is a part are therefore not inconsequential. A political dissertation and one which, as Lillian’s (2001) does, picks apart rhetoric, and critiques its ideology, needs to be clear about just what that ideology is. I was struck by Lillian’s (2001) use of the term neoconservative to describe Gairdner and his ideology. To many in the U.S., neoconservatism refers to a variant of conservatism that came to power with the George W. Bush administration in 2001, and exploited the 9/11 attacks to justify wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Lillian, however, writes that she is employing Canadian usage, and she explains, when she finally gets around to it, that “there is not any one uncontroversial definition of the term, and it is used somewhat differently in the U.S.A. and in Great Britain” (p. 202). This may or may not be accurate; it is possible the term is simply being employed incorrectly.
George Nash (2006), in his History of the Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, sees neoconservatism as something of a reaction to apparent policy failures in attempts to remedy poverty and racism, and to the 1960s counterculture movement. Neoconservatives, according to Nash (2006), are “disillusioned liberals” or “right wing liberals,” or, borrowing from Irving Kristol, they are liberals “mugged by reality” (Kristol, quoted in Nash, p. 556). Nash writes,
In part the neoconservative phenomenon could be interpreted as a recognition that good intentions alone do not guarantee good governmental policy, and that the actual consequences of liberal social activism in the 1960s and 1970s had been devastating. Neoconservatism was also a reaction of moderate liberals to the polarizing upheavals of the 1960s (particularly on the campuses) and to the shattering rise of the New Left, with hostility to an American military presence abroad. Many neo-conservatives, in fact, had been anti-Communist, “vital center” liberals of the Harry Truman-Hubert Humphrey wing of the Democratic Party who found themselves bereft of a political home after the capture of their party by the followers of Senator George McGovern in 1972. (Nash, 2006, p. 557)
In Lillian’s (2001) portrayal, Gairdner certainly draws on some aspects of what Nash (2006) regards as neoconservatism. But her definition is different, and at first blush, more strongly resembles what I have called “functionalist” conservatism (Benfell, April 26, 2013):
Neo-conservatism seeks to protect the interests of the dominant elites in Western countries including, but not limited to, Great Britain, the United States of America, and Canada. Those dominant elites are predominantly white, male, and heterosexual, and they seek to maintain and expand their power, in part through discourse. Because discourse -- education, politics, and media -- is controlled by these same elites, their discourse is privileged and becomes naturalized within the societies in which they are dominant. What the elites say and how they say it acquires the status of 'common sense' and is rarely challenged, because it is below the level of conscious awareness for most people. This elite discourse is perceived as 'natural', not as deviant, so the ideology behind the discourse seldom comes under criticism. (Lillian, 2001, p. 28)
This is because Lillian (2001) conflates, and perhaps a common Canadian usage of the term neoconservative conflates, what in the United States, may be seen as several kinds of conservatism, in particular, traditional conservatism, the religious right, neoconservatism, functionalist conservatism, and capitalist libertarianism. But in fact the excerpts that Lillian supplies rarely support that initial appearance of a functionalist conservative view, as I have described it (Benfell, April 26, 2013), except by virtue of the fact that most elites in Western countries happen to be white and male, and that they profess to be heterosexual. Functionalist conservatism is largely about state authority, the rationalization of violence and coercion to preserve that authority, and about protecting the privileges attached to that authority (Lenski, 1966; Weber, 1946/2010). Its practice can be found among both male and female rulers of multiple races around the world. It has little inherently to do with race or gender, although unfair treatment along such lines is often manifest, but rather a great deal to do with military, political, and economic power; with the privileges of class, particularly as a means of distinguishing the wealthy and powerful from everyone else; and with preserving those privileges for at least a majority of that class (Abernethy, November 1, 2011; Bradford, November 6, 2011; Cookson & Persell, 2005; Domhoff, 2005; Douthat, April 6, 2013; Hayes, 2012; Mills, 1956/2000; Seldes, 1948/2009).
Gairdner’s text, however, according to Lillian (2001), is largely concerned about the State to the extent that those people he treats as “others” may undermine his vision of what he thinks Canada traditionally is and ought to be. He is concerned that it may, particularly under the influence of feminists and homosexuals, interfere with his strongly patriarchal, heteronormative, monogamous notion of the family. He believes Canada to be primarily and preferably an English-speaking nation with English traditions and he thus opposes those French-speakers in Quebec whom he believes have different ideas about proper governance, and whom he believes would impose the French language and socialism on English speakers. He is concerned—“alarm[ed]” even (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, p. 194)—that immigration from non-Eurocentric nations (notably, migrants from the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa are apparently acceptable) threatens what he sees as traditional Canadian culture. He opposes even Canada’s Charter (apparently the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but Lillian does not make this clear) as “a form of law he identifies with the ‘horrifying tyranny’ of the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and the former Soviet Union (Gairdner 1994:28)” (Lillian, p. 4). And finally, he is concerned to the extent that government regulation may interfere with so-called “free” markets (Lillian highlights the inconsistency between this stance and his willingness to accept quotas on immigration). This autonomy Gairdner would, at least in Lillian’s portrayal, accord families and economic actors is a poor fit for functionalist conservatism. And to the extent that neoconservatism can be viewed as a form of functionalist conservatism with its strong interest in expanding State power outside its territory (Benfell, April 26, 2013), Gairdner’s views, as presented by Lillian (2001), are again, a poor fit.
The argument for labeling Gairdner, and for that matter, Canada’s current government, neoconservative seems to lie in timing. Lillian’s history fits well with Nash’s (2006) image of neoconservatism as arising in the wake of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. It is true that the counterculture movement invited a reconsideration of how people should live and relate to each other that defied tradition and, according to Nash (2006), pushed many erstwhile liberals to the right. Yes, this movement was anti-war, and it was also famously about experimentation with drugs, and about a sexual freedom facilitated by the invention of the birth control pill (Bailey, 1999/2004). There were uprisings among American Indians, prisoners, women, homosexuals, and Blacks (Staggenborg, 2011; Zinn, 2005). But more than that, the power elite seemed to be losing their grip. Howard Zinn writes, for example,
The courts, the juries, and even judges were not behaving as usual. Juries were acquitting radicals: Angela Davis, an acknowledged communist, was acquitted by an all-white jury on the West Coast. Black Panthers, whom the government had tried in every way to malign and destroy, were freed by juries in several trials. A judge in western Massachusetts threw out a case against a young activist, Sam Lovejoy, who had toppled a 500-foot tower erected by a utility company trying to set up a nuclear plant. In Washington, D.C., in August 1973, a Superior Court judge refused to sentence six men charged with unlawful entry who had stepped from a White House tour line to protest the bombing of Cambodia. (Zinn, 2005, p. 542)
However, these events were not merely offensive to Nash’s (2006) “disillusioned liberals” or “right wing liberals,” that is, those who became neoconservatives. They were, in many respects, offensive to a broad spectrum of conservative values (Phillips-Fein, September 28, 2009). And incongruently with Lillian’s (2001) description of Gairdner as “neo-conservative,” at least in the U.S. usage of the term, Lillian’s (2001) portrayal of Gairdner’s views fits very neatly with those of traditionalist conservatives (Kirk, 1985/2001), who closely align with a religious right conservatives, and his views mostly fit with capitalist libertarian neoliberal views (Nash, 2006). The question then arises: how can those conservatives that Lillian classifies as neoconservative be distinguished within a non-monolithic field of conservatives? Lillian does not explain, and because she does not even acknowledge that the term may be ambiguous until her final chapter, a reader who begins at the beginning and who does not share her understanding of the term may plod through four chapters with a dissonance that strikes every time she uses the word.
Lillian (2001) also uses the term “New Right” in reference to Gairdner’s ideology. This term is imprecise, also applying to religious conservatism, which shares many policy concerns with traditionalist conservatism but arises from largely populist and Protestant rather than largely academic and Catholic origins (Nash, 2006). Suzanne Staggenborg (2011) portrays the New Right, in the way that Lillian (2001) appears to use the term, as having arisen partly in reaction to and partly alongside the “New Left.” The New Right can best be described as the alliance between various conservative factions, including traditional conservatives, capitalist libertarians, and anti-communists, that helped to propel, first, neoliberal ideology and, second, Ronald Reagan to power in the U.S. beginning in the late 1970s (Nash, 2006; Phillips-Fein, September 28, 2009; Staggenborg). This coincides with the rise of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and, in Canada, with the movement that Gairdner participated in. The New Right, according to Staggenborg, “disassociated itself from blatant racism and violence” (p. 123), but as a political movement is difficult to distinguish—particularly in light of violence against abortion clinics and doctors; in light of the “Birther” movement that challenges U.S. President Barack Obama’s origins, and thus his eligibility for the office he holds; and in light of the gun rights movement that has dogged Obama’s presidency nearly since his inauguration (DeBrabander, December 16, 2012; DeVega, March 6, 2012; Eban, June 27, 2012; Klein, May 11, 2013; MacGillis, May 28, 2013; Maraniss, July 27, 2012; Potok, November 7, 2012; Pugh, January 12, 2012; Rosenbaum, October 8, 2012; Staggenborg; Tanenhaus, February 10, 2013)—from those more blatant siblings in the “radical right.”
Notes about terminology
Gairdner, at least in the excerpts supplied by Lillian (2001), refers to male homosexuals as homosexuals, female homosexuals as lesbians, and rejects usage of the term ‘gay’ as an appropriation of a “perfectly good English word” (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, p. 107) that once meant “happy.” In her study, Lillian generally follows this usage even though it obviously excludes numerous other people who are often grouped together and whom Gairdner would presumably also disapprove of, including transgender people, bisexuals, and queers. At this writing, and at least in the part of the world where I am living, such usage seems distinctly dated, and I feel a certain dissonance in reproducing it.
It would be preferable, of course, if a consensus could be cited on self-identification. Perhaps one has arisen since Lillian’s (2001) dissertation. Her sources seem to suggest that neither the term ‘gay’ nor the term ‘homosexual’ is unanimously preferred. Be that as it may, I choose not to overlook the exclusions of other ‘transgressive’ people and instead to reproduce the usage in Lillian’s work.
An Exclusion: Canada’s First Nations People
Lillian (2001) frequently mentions many groups that do not fit what would seem to be Gairdner’s ideal archetype of a white, wealthy or upper middle class, healthy, heterosexual, English-speaking male who dominates his family and who prospers within a capitalist economic system. As potential victims of his policies, she includes women, homosexuals, immigrants, French-speakers, and the poor. However, she barely mentions Canada’s First Nations people—its indigenous peoples—in her dissertation. From her excerpts, it seems possible that Gairdner does not mention them; but certainly they do not fit his ideal archetype.
A quick web search on the terms “William”, “Gairdner”, and “First Nations,” for a text that Gairdner might in some way be responsible for, yielded none. I did find, however, a review of a book, Canada’s Founding Debates, in which Gairdner is identified as the last of four co-editors. In this review, Larry Glassford (October, 2003) complains that the editors did not comment on a binary that appears to suggest that the rights of “Indians” are not those of “civilized men.” One might suspect that Gairdner prefers not to mention First Nations people because, as will be touched upon further in this essay, he, at least in Lillian’s (2001) portrayal, characterizes Canada as a country of English-speaking people of western European heritage. The existence of any indigenous people is an inconvenient truth for any colonizers who imagine themselves as natives in a territory they have colonized. In a critical theory approach, one might accordingly expect Lillian to notice Gairdner’s omission and to mention it more often, along with the other groups that would be (further) disadvantaged by Gairdner’s policies.
A RIGID APPLICATION OF METHOD
Lillian’s (2001) dissertation is organized into five chapters. The first and fifth are introductory and concluding respectively, and as mentioned in the previous section, I would have preferred that she had moved some material from her conclusion to her introduction. Chapters two, three, and four, are intense linguistic and discourse analyses of Gairdner’s writings illustrating his sexism, his homophobia, and his racism respectively. Whatever flaws I find in Lillian’s (2001) dissertation, I am left in no doubt that Gairdner is indeed sexist, homophobic, and racist. Indeed of the 224 pages (excluding frontismatter and bibliography) in this dissertation, relatively few would not stand on their own as containing at least one proof of Gairdner’s bigotry. However, suspecting over-analysis, I also recall a statement attributed to Sigmund Freud that, “[s]ometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (Freud, quoted in Bartlett, 2002, p. 608).
There are a few research methods in which over-analysis is a hazard. Deconstruction, critical linguistics, and critical discourse analysis come to my mind. The risk is that in picking apart details of a text (for deconstruction, text can be read in the post-modernist sense that everything is a text), a researcher may wrongly ascribe intent to factors that may lie outside an author’s control. For such research to be a contribution to knowledge, the researcher cannot simply seize upon every detail, portray it in the worst possible light, and use it to impugn an agent s/he holds responsible for each and every one of those details. Alternative explanations, including those that offer the possibility of exonerating the author for those details, must be fully explored, considered, and exhausted. As Raymond Morrow and David Brown (1994) explain,
Social facts are particularly difficult (some say obdurate or stubborn) because they cannot be taken for granted. Naive interpretations tend to assume that facts are just there, out in the world, just sitting and ready to be harvested by an empiricist method. What this tack ignores, however, is that facts are, in practice observable (and hence the basis for "data collection") only from the perspective of a theory. (Morrow & Brown, 1994, p. 44)
Since the theory is chosen by the researcher, it is incumbent upon the researcher to justify her/his choice, most obviously by trying other theories, and finding them wanting. This also suggests that the researcher should be introspective, seeking to recognize any biases that determine that choice. As Valerie Bentz and Jeremy Shapiro (1994) put it,
In critical theory, the relationship between theory and practice, knowledge and values, is conceived in a dialectical manner. That is, values, concerns, and commitment shape knowledge but are informed and revised by it. The investigator must be open simultaneously to rethinking her commitments in the light of her inquiry and to rethinking her inquiry in the light of her commitments. (Bentz & Shapiro, 1994, p. 158)
Possibly because one of Gairdner’s Master’s degrees is in Structural Linguistics, over twenty years prior to publication of the books that Lillian (2001) analyzes, she may feel that he is fair game even for a critical linguistic analysis that often brooks no alternative possible explanations. I am unconvinced. This shortcoming, in combination with the previously mentioned obviousness of her conclusions leads me to suspect that her dissertation is more a rigorous demonstration of two methods (critical discourse analysis and critical linguistics), but lacking a fully developed argument for the choice of these methods over other methods, than it is a contribution to knowledge.
We and Us and Them
Consider, for example, Lillian’s (2001) argument that “Gairdner’s attempt to establish solidarity and identification with the readers is enhanced by his use of personal pronouns, especially his use of inclusive first-person plural to refer to himself and his readers” (p. 9). Lillian cites an authority to show how this works and argues that Gairdner’s usage of the words we and us supports his binary of “us” and “them” (with “them” consisting of assorted French or other non-English speaking, non-white, feminist, socialist, and homosexual segments of humanity, as well as that segment consisting of interfering politicians). Lillian does not pause to consider that first person plural also contributes immeasurably to readability and is acceptable even in scholarly writing (it is first person singular that unfortunately remains controversial).
One might also note, however, that this usage of first person plural diminishes the distancing that lends credibility through the appearance of objectivity, which as this essay has suggested, may support a feedback loop of authority-enhancing effects. Because Lillian (2001) does not address the feedback, she has missed an opportunity to explore the interplay of third person and first person in persuasion as an interplay of authority enhancement and reader identification in persuasion.
The ‘Natural’ or ‘Average’ Family
It is worth pausing here to consider the sort of family that, in Lillian’s (2001) portrayal, Gairdner is seeking, rather aggressively, to defend, and which constitutes the “we” in Gairdner’s binary. She analyzes it at length, but among other things:
This 'average' family lives in a house that has enough property with it to provide a garden. The garden is large enough that it periodically takes at least four people working together to maintain it (two parents plus at least two children). The family owns at least one automobile, which Father drives around in, and given the number of errands that Mother runs in a day, they likely have two vehicles. Father does not work shifts, since he is apparently always able to drive the children to school and is home in the evenings. Since he does not work a second job in the evenings, and since the woman does not work outside the home for pay, the man must make a substantial income, and indeed, their lifestyle suggests that they live at a middle class level, perhaps even upper middle class. They have enough disposable income to utilize dry cleaners on a regular basis, which also makes it likely that Father is a white-collar worker whose suits need cleaning. Blue-collar workers more typically wear clothing that can be laundered at home. (Lillian, 2001, p. 50)
In order to achieve this, Lillian (2001) reports, Gairdner advocates that men should be paid considerably more—a ‘family wage’—than women for comparable work so as to encourage the latter to marry men, stay home, and bear children and so that women ‘tame’ men by providing free sex so that men will not rape women to satisfy their sexual desires (and Gairdner blames single women for any ambiguity in declining sex rather than blaming men for raping them). Furthermore, the State should implement taxation policies that favor families arranged according to this ideal. Lillian notes that this amounts to “economic coercion” and is “a blatant attempt to engineer society,” the latter being something that Gairdner accuses many of the groups he constructs as “them” of doing. Lillian does not note, undoubtedly because she is unclear on the distinctions among conservatives, that this would be anathema to capitalist libertarians. Lillian does seem astounded by the detachment of this ideal from reality. She correctly notes that it inherently excludes vast segments of society, but of course, these segments are “them” and must apparently be left to fend for themselves, even if they—some might think of ‘first responders’ such as police, firefighters, paramedics, and hospital emergency room workers—perform essential functions.
The detachment from reality that appears in Gairdner’s plans, as represented by Lillian (2001), lends further support to my view of Gairdner as being a traditionalist conservative. As I wrote of traditionalist conservatives, employing Russell Kirk as an exemplar,
Kirk (1985/2001) is inclined “to cherish the permanent things in human existence,” to say that “custom, convention, constitution, and prescription are the sources of a tolerable civil social order” (p. xv); to stand by “tradition and old establishments” (p. 5); to “respect the wisdom of their ancestors” (p. 8); . . . to view history with all its injustice as the design of the god of Abraham; to view “[t]he individual [as] foolish, but the species [as] wise” as reflected in inherited social “prejudices and prescriptions and presumptions” (p. 37), and so on. (Benfell, April 26, 2013)
Further, traditionalist conservatives “reject a tenet of radicalism, that ‘[m]ankind, capable of infinite improvement, is struggling upward toward Elysium, and should fix its gaze always upon the future’ (p. 27)” (Benfell, April 26, 2013). This is in keeping with an anti-positivist attitude (Kirk, 1985/2001; Weaver, 1964/1995), but where indigenous inquiry may often see empirical, traditional, and spiritual ways of knowing as facets of an interconnected whole (Kuokkannen, 2000; Lavallée, 2009), traditionalist conservatives devalue the empirical in favor of the traditional and religious. Sonja Foss, Karen Foss, and Robert Trapp (2002), for example, speaking of another traditionalist (and Southern) conservative, Richard Weaver, say that he ranks “specific ideas about things . . . the thoughts that individuals employ in the activity of daily living or facts about existing physical entities” beneath “beliefs, convictions, theories, laws, generalizations, or concepts that order the world of facts” beneath “the metaphysical dream, which is ‘an intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality’” (p. 160).
Lillian’s (2001) critique of Gairdner’s detachment from reality and, more generally, of his lack of concern for social justice entirely misses that, while conservatives can generally be seen as authoritarian and hierarchical, and as somewhat oblivious to the social consequences of their policies, the characteristics she describes incline toward a classification of traditionalist conservatism. Yes, she and I will agree that Gairdner’s plan for families makes no sense in the “real world.” But such sense as she and I share is of considerably reduced importance to traditionalist conservatives, and to hold traditionalist conservatives to the standard that she and I share is to fail to address foundational values, that is, values in a system of values that are premises for other values and that are themselves beyond challenge.
This is a place where introspection becomes essential. As researchers interested in the coherence of a social theory, in this case, the theories, however poorly developed of Gairdner, we need to recognize our own foundational values, and to distinguish them from the foundational values in the theory. Lillian (2001), I, and many of our readers likely agree that all human beings are entitled to equality and to dignity. She writes approvingly of a value that Gairdner refers to and disparages as ‘universalism’ as “[t]he principled belief that all human beings have equal value regardless of their race, that the cultures of all societies are equally valid, and that all languages are inherently adequate for their speakers,” which she states “is a serious tenet of modern anthropology, sociology, and linguistics, not a passing impulse hit upon by a conspiratorial government in adopting immigration policies that are designed to avoid favouring ‘traditional’ over ‘non-traditional’ immigrants” (pp. 172-173). Lillian might find much to appreciate in Martha Nussbaum’s (2011) idea that humans and non-human animals alike are entitled to the opportunity to fully develop according to many of their capabilities. I certainly do. But we can only defend such a view with a vague appeal to morality and justice, perhaps with a claim that in the absence of justice, there can be no lasting social order.
Gairdner (in Lillian’s, 2001, portrayal), Kirk (1985/2001), and Weaver (1964/1995) clearly prioritize preservation of an idealized notion of culture. Kirk and Weaver explicitly dismiss the notion of egalitarianism (they call it “equalitarianism”) as “leveling,” and they deny that it recognizes the diversity among humans, a diversity they largely construe linearly with wealth and power or the lack thereof as a reliable measure of worth, as the god of Abraham has willed it. They—Gairdner, Kirk, and Weaver—are equally unable to defend their foundational values, saying, equally unpersuasively, that their path is the only way to “preserve” social order.
Lillian and I, on one hand, and Gairdner (according to Lillian, 2001), Kirk, and Weaver, on the other, do not agree on foundational values. What we do share is a commitment to our respective foundational values despite their indefensibility. In short, we all place our foundational values beyond challenge—this is what makes them foundational—and Lillian succumbs to this by seeming to argue from a premise that her (and my) foundational values are universal.
A Charge of Propaganda
The nuance of differing foundational values is important when considering Lillian’s (2001) charge against Gairdner that he is not merely being persuasive, but rather that he engages in propaganda. In this argument, Lillian first focuses on Gairdner’s efforts to persuade his audience to identify with him. This is, Lillian argues, misleading since unlike many of his readers, Gairdner is a rich and powerful man. But Lillian takes Gairdner’s use of first person plural, discussed above, as a conscious effort to persuade his readers to ally with him in a polarity of a broadly cast “we” against what is actually a considerably broader “they.” Since, in Lillian’s view, this advances his own interests and the interests of his class, this is a persuasion that subordinates the reader’s interests to those of Gairdner’s. Further,
It is to emotion and expectation that Gairdner does primarily appeal, not to reason. A careful examination of his work reveals that he asserts many of his premises without offering substantiating evidence for them, or ‘proves’ them by amassing questionable evidence, garnered from unreliable or academically unsound sources, then draws faulty conclusions through the stringing together of faulty premises. He dismisses credible academic sources and relies instead on questionable, biased sources with whom he happens to agree. A reader may be swept along, confused and befuddled, as he quotes sources, bandies about statistics, and even invents largely meaningless graphs, but chances are that the reader’s lack of resistance is generated in part by the emotional appeal of being included in the ‘motherhood and apple-pie’ imagery that Gairdner associates with his neoconservative [Lillian is here inconsistent in her hyphenation] agenda. (Lillian, 2001, pp. 11-12)
In that passage, Lillian’s (2001) argument more precisely reduces to an accusation that Gairdner is intellectually dishonest. Instead, she writes that “[i]t is Gairdner’s one-sidedness and his position that there cannot be more than one interpretation of reality which, in part, signals that he has crossed over the line between legitimate persuasive discourse and propaganda” (p. 12). Lillian is not recognizing that she, too, is approaching a contested reality in a one-sided manner, based on a particular value system that is very different from Gairdner’s value system and on a barely disguised assumption that Gairdner is malicious. Because Gairdner’s discourse is misinformative rather than educational, Lillian argues, and because it is intentionally misinformative—she consistently holds Gairdner, as a Ph.D. and as a linguist, fully responsible for his discourse—and because she believes that this misinformation serves his own purposes more than it does the reader’s, it is in fact propaganda.
For me, the appellation of propaganda is not compelling. The term is more commonly used among media scholars to signal an intentional deviation from the journalistic value of ‘objectivity’, which some doubt is, in any event, the usual practice of journalism. J. Herbert Altschull (1995) sees the media in every political system around the world as dependent upon and in service to elite interests. David Croteau and William Hoynes (2003) point out how journalism is inevitably corrupted by corporate conglomerate ownership, the ownership’s interests, and by journalists’ own practices. David Halberstam (2000) exposes news media ownership, and therefore journalistic practice, as a means of access to political power. In this light, the question of whether a politician like Gairdner engages in propaganda is much like asking whether fish swim. The important questions in evaluating Gairdner’s work, the questions which Lillian should be pursuing, lie not in an inflammatory appellation, but in a more nuanced distinction.
Sissela Bok (1999) draws a distinction between lying and deception. For her, a lie is a stated and intentional deception. This excludes so-called “lies of omission.” It also excludes statements which are simply incorrect, that is to say, a speaker or a writer may be wrong without being a liar. Finally, it excludes false statements that are negligent or reckless, that is, statements made when the author should have known better, or should have weighed the reliability of various sources differently. In this light, Lillian’s (2001) accusation against Gairdner reduces to a claim that he purposefully states false information that he knows to be false in his books, and it is on this claim that the charge of propaganda hangs. This is a high standard: legally, a purposeful act is considered to be the most culpable (Reiman, 2004). Yet, although there are, evidently, many falsehoods in Gairdner’s popular books, Lillian (2001) can only point to one unequivocal lie as the basis for her charge of propaganda:
Gairdner never overtly lies about his background, and his Ph.D. is used as a marketing tool on his book covers, but he does appear to be concealing his academic background when he opens the preface of War with the following statement, "My first book, The Trouble with Canada, was one man's view of this wonderful country" (1992:ix). Trouble was not, in fact, his first book, although it was his first popular book. His first book was The Critical Wager (1982), a scholarly, academic book on the history of philosophy as applied to literary criticism. Since that book is, admittedly, irrelevant to his popular writings, except as evidence that contrary to what one sees in those books, he actually does know how to write in a scholarly and responsible manner, it is not surprising that he would not promote it or even refer to it in his popular books. However, what the above quotation suggests is that he is virtually denying its existence. Perhaps he hopes that his readers will not discover that he once pursued an academic career himself. Perhaps too, he would shrink from having his readers discover that he who rails against any form of public subsidy, including educational and academic support, actually had assistance from public sources of funding in the making of that book. (Lillian, 2001, pp. 8-9)
To continue, Bok (1999) asserts that any lie deprives its audience of autonomy, that is, their freedom of action is curtailed by misinformation. While the same could be said of deception, particularly a “lie” by omission, Bok’s critical focus is on the active and intentional deprivation of autonomy; her concern is to weigh the effects of a lie on the recipient’s freedom of action, and whether these are beneficial, or that their benefits outweigh their harms (as with a so-called “white” lie), or they are harmful, or that their harms outweigh their benefits. Bok compellingly argues that while in principle, lies are undesirable, they are sometimes necessary and sometimes beneficial. Nevertheless, the challenge to a deceived person’s autonomy remains, for it is the liar, and perhaps his or her confederates, who weigh these alleged harms and benefits.
The logic of Lillian’s (2001) argument, then, is that Gairdner is intentionally lying so as to mislead his readers. By intentionally misleading them, Lillian argues, Gairdner is impinging upon their autonomy in order to advance his own interests with a pretense that his readers’ interests are identical with his own—hence the attempt to persuade or deceive his readers into identifying with him—when in fact, according to Lillian, he will benefit more than they will.
However, this is not to say that Gairdner’s readers will not benefit; with Bok’s (1999) insight, we may say at most that their autonomy may be curtailed. Perhaps they will benefit overall, or in ways which Lillian and I do not foresee, or perhaps society as a whole will benefit, again in ways which Lillian and I do not foresee:
Convinced that they know the truth—whether in religion or in politics—enthusiasts may regard lies for the sake of this truth as justifiable. They may perpetrate so-called pious frauds to convert the unbelieving or strengthen the conviction of the faithful. They see nothing wrong in telling untruths for what they regard as a much "higher" truth. (Bok, 1999, p. 7)
More fundamentally than this, Lillian (2001) never makes a case weighing the benefits and harms of Gairdner’s discourse for his readership. Gairdner’s readership will not include all of Canadian society. Not all Canadians are conservative, let alone traditionalist conservative in the way that Gairdner seems to be. Some, including Lillian herself, are aware of the history that Lillian presents and may dismiss Gairdner’s writings out of hand, perhaps even as the ravings of a lunatic. Others may have no interest in what he has to say at all. Lillian does not weigh the possibility that Gairdner is preaching principally to readers who already agree with him.
As well, the question of foundational values must be considered. Lillian (2001) and I will agree that, if implemented, Gairdner’s policies would be harmful overall to a diverse society that includes women seeking work outside the home, that includes homosexuals, that includes French-speakers, that includes immigrants, that includes people of color, that includes people who are not fully able-bodied, that includes people whose jobs require them to work odd hours, that includes people who, for whatever reason, do not earn at least a middle class income, or who have not been able to save for their retirement. But Gairdner, at least, believes his policies would benefit some people, perhaps not as many as he claims, perhaps only a narrow, already powerful and wealthy class. Because this is a counterfactual situation, we cannot be certain precisely how narrow the class of people is who would benefit. Lillian (2001) and I think that class of people is too narrow, even if Gairdner’s policies work as he claims. Lillian and I value all human beings in a sense that they should be accorded equal treatment, equal opportunity, and dignity. Gairdner, however, does not, and on his foundational values, either many people are undeserving of the benefits of a fair society or they must sacrifice their aspirations for the benefit of society as a whole.
With these nuances, the question becomes different from whether, as Lillian (2001) claims, Gairdner’s lies in fact amount to propaganda. Bok (1999), in the passage quoted above, suggested that perhaps a believer might lie in the service of a greater good. Lillian (2001) clearly doubts that this is what Gairdner is doing. I see that a Ph.D., two Master’s degrees, and the background in politics such as Gairdner possesses do not necessarily or even probably confer wisdom. I am unpersuaded that the omission of a scholarly book from a list of popular works, that is, a single lie, means that everything Gairdner writes is a lie.
Mockery? Or Intrusion?
Lillian (2001) interprets the following passage as “a tone of ridicule and mockery” of feminism (p. 77):
I would hate to be a woman. My wife says she would hate to be a man. I think this has something to do with why we have a good marriage. I have asked my lawyer whether the local Gender Committee will charge me with "sexism" for writing this. Ah me . . . (Gairdner 1992: 295-6) (Lillian, 2001, p. 77)
Reasonably enough, Lillian (2001) continues, writing that “[a]lthough there is no such thing as a ‘Gender Committee’, this phrase is meant to conjure up in the reader’s mind any and all feminists groups that might exist either in reality or in the imagination of the author of the reader” (p. 77). However, on a premise that the notion of a “Gender Committee” is silly, Lillian concludes that Gairdner is impugning feminism as silly.
I read the passage differently, and consistent with a context of resistance to the intrusions of big government—the “Leviathan” of “small government” conservative nightmares—Gairdner could be concerned that the bureaucracy that has been established to enforce anti-discrimination laws might intrude into the private conversations he has with his wife and impose values which he objects to. Lillian (2001) eventually considers this possibility (in a passage quoted below), but does not weigh it against her own interpretation above. Yet my interpretation is entirely consistent with a resentment against social pressure for “politically correct” speech that arose at least in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s.
Lillian (2001) appears to be ridiculing what she perceives as Gairdner’s ridicule, which in my judgment does little to advance the conversation. First, as seen in preceding sections of this essay, Gairdner has already identified sexism as a virtue rather than a vice. What he objects to is a sense that he should, in his personal thoughts, which he has publicly uttered in his writing, conform with a perceived feminist hegemony in defining acceptable thought and speech.
The “Other,” as a Disease
Second, Gairdner, in the passages Lillian (2001) has previously quoted, often appears to view feminism not as trivial but as a threat to society and civilization as "we" (the “we” of Gairdner’s binary between “us” and “them”, also discussed above) know it. In the passage immediately following, Gairdner, according to Lillian, writes:
Every age seems to have its peculiar intellectual cancers, and this chapter is meant to serve as a kind of anticarcinogen. Like so many, I find myself increasingly surrounded by strident, petty, whining feminist arguments that have by now nibbled their way into every organ of society. (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, p. 75)
I read fear and loathing, indeed, by analogy, of a life-threatening disease, into Gairdner's words. In the previously quoted passage, Gairdner suggests that he is the subject of oppression for his beliefs. But to ridicule this fear, as Lillian (2001) does, only amplifies the impression of a bully—Gairdner's imagined feminist hegemon. Lillian continues:
Furthermore, suggesting, even ironically, that such women's groups would go about bringing charges against people on account of their personal preferences makes them appear as malicious busybodies with nothing better to do than to poke their noses into other people's personal affairs. Placing 'sexism' in quotation marks is equivalent to calling it 'so-called sexism'. Both place it within a modality of doubt. The result is to call into question the very existence and validity of such a concept. (pp. 77-78)
Gairdner, as established earlier in this essay, is undoubtedly delusional, but the passage in question does not establish a denial of sexism as a concept. Indeed, Lillian (2001) has already established that Gairdner calls for complementary, albeit fixed and traditional, gender roles. Lillian’s interpretation of ‘scare quotes’ as questioning the existence of what those quotation marks enclose may thus be a misinterpretation: Elizabeth Minnich (2005), for example, employs such marks to suggest rather that the concepts thus enclosed should be examined critically, which is an entirely different shade of meaning from denying a concept’s existence, and one that in this context opens a possibility that Gairdner may in fact be differentiating between what he views as ‘good sexism’, that is, the fixed and traditional gender roles he approves of, and ‘bad sexism’, in which men are, or are portrayed to be, misogynist. Again, Lillian does not consider a reasonable alternative interpretation.
Lillian (2001) then works her way to Gairdner’s use of the word ‘nibbled’ in the passage quoted above:
Suggesting that feminist arguments (and by implication, feminists themselves) have 'nibbled' their way into every organ of society (line 9) extends the cancer metaphor while simultaneously extending the imagery of feminists as childish and impotent. The verb 'nibbling' can also connote the eating behavior of certain small animals as such as mice, rats, or rabbits, all relatively non-threatening animals. Nibbling is, in effect, a diminutive sort of eating or chewing. Thus feminist arguments apparently lack the force to bite into, or to devour the organs of society, two other 'eating' words with stronger connotations of power or efficacy. (Lillian, 2001, p. 79)
Lillian’s (2001) analysis presents a paradox she does not seem to address: is feminism a cancer, an oppressive, life-threatening disease to be “fear[ed] and loath[ed]” (p. 78) and that insidiously works its “way into every organ of society” (p. 79) or is it rather diminutive, like a mouse or a rabbit, threatening perhaps, but in an entirely different way? Certainly it is possible to interpret the metaphor of “nibbling” as an attempt to diminish women, including feminists, and thus to keep them “in their place,” although Lillian misses this latter possible meaning. It is also possible that Gairdner mixes his metaphors. However, I frankly wish for the insights of a psychologist in interpreting this passage, and possibly to present an alternative interpretation.
Gairdner, in Lillian’s (2001) excerpts, returns to the disease metaphor with homosexuals, except that where he wrote of a cancer with feminists, he appears to seek to horrify and to disgust with a litany of diseases that he rhetorically associates with homosexuality. Lillian (2001) lists “cancer, amebiasis, giardiasis, salmonellosis, shigellosis, hepatitis, tuberculosis, syphilis, AIDS, HIV, gonorrhea, and others” (p. 114). There are a couple of things to be said about the disease metaphor.
First, a disease is not something a person generally chooses to have. Most people seek to avoid disease to the maximum extent practicable. But in Lillian’s (2001) excerpts, it is also apparent that Gairdner views homosexuality as a choice particularly as he prefers the term sexual choice. Lillian does not draw the seemingly obvious inference that if people choose to have what Gairdner views as a disease, then there must be something powerfully appealing about that condition, particularly to Gairdner. Yet Gairdner apparently presses his argument that sexual orientation should be referred to as sexual choice. Lillian quotes Gairdner accordingly:
Perhaps one of the most insidious victories of the homosexual movement can be seen in the broad acceptance of the term "sexual orientation," now used widely in our schools and in sociological and government documents. It was coined to replace the phrase "sexual preference," which suggested that homosexuals were choosing their behaviour and therefore were responsible for it -- an implication most of them strive to avoid. They needed to find a word which suggested that just as the magnetic forces of earth pull the compass needle to North, something called "sexual orientation" directs homosexuals to indulge in the behaviours they enjoy as if they were a natural fact of life. [...] The public would do well to reject this word [...] and to talk about "sexual choice" instead of "orientation." And everywhere they see the former phrase, they should insist on the use of the latter, both privately and publicly. (Gairdner 1992: 378-9) (Lillian, 2001, p. 104)
For me, a suspicion seems inescapable that Gairdner and others who insist on the word choice, in application to behavior that they seek to repress, do not merely seek to repress this behavior in others, but in themselves as well. Lillian (2001) neglects either this possibility entirely or the opportunity to embarrass Gairdner with it. Lillian is instead more interested in Gairdner’s attempt to reframe the term sexual orientation as controversial, but her authority for declaring it uncontroversial is one that, judging from the title, Gairdner would likely regard as biased: the OUT!SPOKEN Styleguide, whose title clearly plays on words used to describe homosexuals “coming out,” that is exposing themselves publicly as homosexuals.
All that being what it may, Gairdner, in Lillian’s (2001) excerpt, seeks to persuade homosexuals to accept the word choice:
[I]t is dangerous for them to argue that they are born homosexual, because what they do has always been universally despised. If homosexuality is found to have a physical cause, then society will likely set about to root it out. The offending gene, or whatever, will get excised at birth. So they had better not argue that way if they want to preserve their habits. (Gairdner 1992: 366) (Lillian, 2001, p. 111)
Lillian (2001) recognizes that there is a none-too-subtle threat against homosexuals:
Here, Gairdner presents homosexuality as if it were a genetic disorder which could ultimately be eliminated and furthermore, he frames this possibility in a manner that is clearly meant as a threat to homosexuals. Homosexuals are first warned that it is dangerous to them to argue for genetic causes of homosexuality. The source of the danger is left unspecified, but the danger is linked causally through the subordinator 'because' to the assertion that 'what they do has always been universally despised'. Although couched in agentless passive structure, this clause has, as an implied agent 'everybody', since the claim is made that homosexual actions (and therefore by extension homosexuals themselves) are 'universally' despised. The danger is further extended through time by the adverb 'always', which suggests that there is no escape anywhere at any time from the danger of being a homosexual. The final element of threat in this passage comes in the last sentence, which begins 'so they had better not argue that way'. (Lillian, 2001, p. 111)
However, I am stunned that Lillian (2001) regards “[t]he source of the danger” as having been “left unspecified” in her verbose grammatical analysis (p. 111). I strongly suspect that for many casual readers and especially for many homosexuals, there will be no mystery at all as to the meaning of Gairdner’s words: the excerpt is hate speech and he is threatening, on behalf of society as a whole, which he says “universally despise[s]” homosexual behavior (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, p. 111), a pogrom. Yet again, Lillian seemingly misses this meaning.
Another example in Lillian’s (2001) line of reasoning also disturbs:
Since Gairdner's entire argument against homosexuality hinges on the presupposition that it constitutes a behavioral choice, he has a stake in preventing anyone from discovering a physiological or genetic cause for homosexuality. If homosexuality were found to be genetically determined, then arguing, as he does, for systematic discrimination against gays and lesbians would be viewed in similar terms to arguing for discrimination against people with Down's Syndrome or any other genetically caused condition. Thus, in order to protect his position, he implies a threat to try to prevent people from even attempting to discover whether or not there is a genetic cause for homosexuality. (Lillian, 2001, p. 112)
Can Lillian (2001) truly be unaware that homosexuals continue to face homophobic violence? Lillian apparently takes Gairdner’s disease metaphor, and understanding disease to invite compassion for its sufferers, refuses to consider that some diseases—including, historically, AIDS—have been associated with considerable stigma, directed principally at homosexuals. Gairdner makes this point clear in another of Lillian’s excerpts:
Many cancers are natural. So are heart disease, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases. Society is not required to encourage or protect things just because they are "natural." On the contrary, it tends to sort out the natural good from the natural bad and then organize for self-protection, whether against physical, social, or moral threats. (Gairdner 1992: 367) (Lillian, 2001, p. 112)
Lillian (2001) interprets this as implying that homosexuality is a danger to others. Given the disease metaphor, one might suspect contagion, and this seems to be what Lillian infers as she writes,
However, the danger posed by the diseases that Gairdner names is not limited to the homosexuals whom Gairdner is targeting, but rather, is extended to anyone who might unwittingly come in contact with them. Heart disease and cancer may affect only the individual suffering from them, but tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease are potentially a threat to 'innocent’ people who may have contact with the infected individual. (Lillian, 2001, p. 113)
The problem with Lillian’s (2001) interpretation is precisely that “[h]eart disease and cancer may affect only the individual suffering from them” (p. 113). These diseases do not, in any conventional sense, pose any risk of contagion. In this passage, taken in its entirety, Gairdner seems rather to be employing the concept of disease as something to avoid.
The Birds and The Bees and The Pedophiles
However, Gairdner does, in Lillian’s (2001) excerpts, unmistakably get around to an implication that homosexuality can be spread through nurturing. Here is a portion of one passage that Lillian subjects to analysis:
My view is that any human population could be made homosexual under certain extreme conditions. For example, a group of young children with no prior sexual knowledge, raised on a desert island by a homosexual, would likely end up fancying homosexual behavior themselves. In other words, it is quite possible to train a young population to like homosexual behavior. (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, p. 125)
Lillian (2001) regards this “scenario . . . [as] so unlikely as to be absurd” (p. 127) and I do not disagree. Still, her analysis deserves further attention:
Nevertheless, as absurd as this scenario is, it will serve subsequently as part of the foundation of ideas and impressions upon which Gairdner will rely in trying to argue that homosexuals working in daycare centres are likely to 'cause' inordinate numbers of children to become homosexuals themselves. In the sample passage above, Gairdner suggests a cause-and-effect relationship between the sexual orientation of a care-giver and the sexual orientation of the children who are being cared for. Perhaps Gairdner is aware of the research which finds that children raised by gay or lesbian parents are no more likely to be homosexuals than are children raised by heterosexual parents, for he modalizes his proposition considerably. He writes that this hypothetical set of children "would likely end up fancying homosexual behaviour themselves" (lines 4-5). The degree of certainty is mitigated by the modal adverb 'likely', which allows for the possibility of doubt. Gairdner also stops short of asserting that such children would become homosexuals, claiming instead that they would likely 'fancy' homosexual behaviour, a somewhat weaker claim. However, even modalized as it is to include no direct cause-and-effect assertion, this sentence contains some insidious implications. As he establishes the scenario, the desert island contains one adult (presumed to be male since Gairdner uses the term 'homosexual' for males, but 'lesbian' for females) and two or more children. The children are presumably quite young since they have no prior sexual knowledge. In agricultural cultures, children are likely to be aware of the mating habits of animals from the time they are very young. In cultures such as that of present-day Canada and most other industrialized Western countries, children are bombarded with sexual imagery and sexual information (and misinformation) through the mass media almost from the day they are born. Thus, Gairdner may have some trouble in making a plausible claim to even being able to find such a group of naive children and if he found them, they would be very young indeed. (Lillian, 2001, pp. 127-128)
Lillian (2001) seems to be assuming that children learn about sexuality through observation in agricultural cultures and through some form of osmosis from sexually-saturated media messages in Western countries. Gairdner makes no such claim; indeed that he does not, is a reason Lillian regards the scenario as implausible. Gairdner instead arguably evades the question:
We are only going to exhaust ourselves trying to figure out why, and we likely will always wind up in a conflict of expertise in which biased experts with warring political agendas dispute each other’s findings for eternity. It’s a dead end. (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, p. 126)
Lillian (2001) continues:
For the sake of argument, one might accept that such children exist, and that somehow they become stranded on a desert island with just one adult, who happens to be a homosexual man.
If the caregiver is the only adult, then he would have no available adult sexual partner with whom the children might observe him engaging in sexual acts. That being the case, then how could he model for them these 'homosexual behaviours' they purportedly grow to fancy? The answer is clear: Gairdner is implying that the adult will engage in sexual acts with the children. (Lillian, 2001, pp. 128-129)
Sadly, this makes a sort of perverse sense, although Lillian (2001) fails to fully explain why. Recall that in Gairdner’s ideal society, at least as Lillian portrays it, a principle duty of women is to marry men so as to tame their sexual appetites. The homosexual caregiver, deprived of any such outlet, can thus be seen as unable to control his urges and he therefore rapes the children. Lillian highlights an implication that homosexuals are pedophiles, but I am intrigued that if there are any girls among the children on this imaginary island, neither Lillian nor Gairdner mention them. Indeed, it would seem that for this scenario to be plausible, there would have to be at least one boy to be raped—and probably more, so as to purportedly find these rapes enticing—among the children in order to instruct them in homosexual sex acts.
THE WORLD AS IT IS—AND AS WE WANT IT TO BE
Kwame Appiah (2006) deals elegantly and at some length with the naturalistic fallacy, that is, a confusion of the world as we want it to be with the world as it is. Indeed, Morrow and Brown (1994) write about the distinction between the world as elites think it ought to be and the way it is as a form of oppression. In Lillian’s (2001) case, we find something of the opposite, where people in reality are still held accountable to standards of the world as it ought to be, but where these standards are set not by an elite imagination but rather by a progressive imagination of the world as it ought to be, an imagination, by the way, which I largely share.
As it happens, this critique is written soon after a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was intended to limit federal recognition of marriages to those between a man and a woman, and that dismissed an appeal of a ruling that struck down California’s Proposition 8, which had amended California’s state constitution to bar same sex marriage (Doyle, June 26, 2013; Hollingsworth v. Perry, 2013; United States v. Windsor, 2013). However, reflecting longstanding attitudes, a majority of states continue to ban same sex marriage. Thus, in this example, we have not only the world as it is, and the world as we want it to be, but the world in transition, and the world as it is becoming (which, hope notwithstanding, may still turn out differently from how we want it to be).
In this, I admit I enlarge the meaning of a naturalistic fallacy in a way I hope is fair. Most of the remainder of this essay will take up the question of how Lillian (2001) has committed this fallacy in her dissertation.
The distinction between the world as we want it to be, the world as it is, and the world as it is becoming may also be seen with ‘rape culture’, that is, a state of affairs in which many members of society tolerate or excuse various forms of sexual harassment or sexual assault, up to and including rape. Consider, for example, the following lyrics to “There's Yes! Yes! In Your Eyes”:
You fooled me, dear, now for a year
My heart you tantalize
But without a doubt, I have found out
The secret in your eyes
Your lips tell me no, no
But there's yes, yes in your eyes
I've been missin' your kissin'
Just because I wasn't wise
I'll stop my scheming and dreaming
'Cos I realize
Your lips tell me no, no
But there's yes, yes in your eyes
I never knew just what to do
You had me fooled somehow
You made me guess, but I confess
I know your secret now
Your lips tell me no, no
But there's yes, yes in your eyes
I've been missin' your kissin'
Just because I wasn't wise
I'll stop my scheming and dreaming
'Cos I realize
Your lips tell me no, no
But there's yes, yes in your eyes (Friend & Santly, quoted in Ceder, n.d.)
This song was recorded by Dean Martin (Ceder, n.d.), who may not have been the most upstanding example of U.S. culture in his era, but was nonetheless a popular entertainer. It reflects, on one hand, a traditional gender role assigned to women as sexual gatekeepers, who dared not say yes to sex too often or too early, lest they be considered promiscuous or otherwise, to adopt a contemporary term, be ‘slut-shamed’; and on the other hand, a traditional gender role assigned to men as sexual aggressors, in which women dared not make a first move for fear that they would be too ‘forward’. Cliff Friend and Joseph F. Santly, in these lyrics, capture an ambiguity in the word ‘no’, that is no longer to be considered ambiguous, as when people say of sexual consent, “no means no,” meaning that when a woman says no, the man may be guilty of assault or rape if he continues.
‘Rape culture’, however, has not so easily been banished, as, for example, numerous reports of sexual assault and of commanding officers mishandling sexual assault cases continue to surface in the U.S. military (Baldor, January 21, 2013; Carpenter, July 19, 2013; Democracy Now!, May 8, 2013; Huffington Post, May 6, 2013; McNeill, June 16, 2013; Scarborough, July 28, 2013; Steinhauer, May 7, 2013; Ukman, December 27, 2011; Whitlock, March 8, 2013, May 6, 2013, May 12, 2013, May 14, 2013). Conservative defenders of the military, including Gail Heriot (July 8-15, 2013) and William Kristol (July 16, 2013), relying on an article in Foreign Policy by Rosa Brooks (July 10, 2013), seek to place the crisis in perspective. The problem is no worse, they say, than in other segments of society, say, colleges and universities. While some might suggest that this is damnation by faint praise (Culp-Ressler, July 8, 2013; Gwynne, July 24, 2013; Marcotte, August 16, 2013; Sander, August 12, 2013; Williams, September 5, 2013), Kristol calls the problem of sexual assault in the military a “pseudo-crisis” and the headline on Heriot’s article proclaims, “[t]here is no sexual assault crisis.”
Some might say that any rapes anywhere are too many rapes. But it is clear that the military is far from alone in having a crisis. The University of Southern California is now under investigation in part because “campus police determined no rape occurred in [an anonymous student’s] case because her alleged rapist did not orgasm” (Gwynne, July 24, 2013). The University of North Carolina has been accused, and is under investigation, for allegedly “retaliat[ing] against Landen Gambill, a sophomore at the university, after she publicly came forward about her rape” (Ressler, July 8, 2013). Tennis star Serena Williams was quoted blaming the victim (though she denies blaming the victim) of another rape, and partly excusing the rapist:
I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. (Williams, quoted in Tillet, July 3, 2013)
Jessica Valenti (March 22, 2013), commenting on the conviction of the perpetrators in that case, wrote:
But the trial outcome doesn’t change the fact that these two men, along with a party of onlookers, didn’t think anything was wrong—or even out of the ordinary—about sexually violating someone. And as the media and public response to the trial demonstrated, it’s not just the rapists who believe penetrating an unconscious girl is little more than teenage party hijinks. The truth is that for all of our cultural bluster surrounding rape—how awful it is, how it must be stopped—we’re still a country that treats sexual assault as a joke. (Valenti, March 22, 2013)
As distressing as it is that “we’re still a country that treats sexual assault as a joke,” and that Valenti (March 22, 2013) had to write those words even in a left-leaning publication—the Nation—the fact of those stories, many of them in the mainstream media, suggests again that change may be afoot, that outrage against these attitudes may be replacing a commonplace acceptance.
Valenti, as it happens, is a co-author, with Jaclyn Friedman (2008), of Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, which advocates that explicit assent—and the freedom of any party to initiate intimacy—at every step should replace the persistent ambiguity of ‘no’ reflected in the lyrics cited above. Again, this may be the world as we want—certainly, I want—it to be, rather than the world as it is, or the world as it is becoming.
Lillian (2001) seems particularly offended by Gairdner’s attitude on rape:
Gairdner's formula for avoiding what he sees as the ambiguity of 'no' is apparently that women should dress modestly, not be alone with men, not flirt unless they intend to have sexual intercourse, and marry young so that men are provided with an outlet for their sexual desires. Needless to say, this puts the onus almost entirely on women to 'avoid' being raped, rather than putting the onus on men not to rape women. If a woman even hints at 'maybe', or does anything (consciously or unconsciously) that might arouse a man, then Gairdner would hold her responsible for provoking whatever her partner may do, on the grounds that "a stiff member hath no conscience" (Gairdner 1992: 561). (Lillian, 2001, pp. 63-64)
Lillian cites a number of studies to advance an argument that ‘no’ unambiguously means ‘no’. I do not dispute that ‘rape myths’ are widespread in ‘rape culture’. That they are myths does not, in itself, alter the beliefs of those who hold them. Lillian effectively acknowledges this as she cites additional studies that seem to suggest improved interpersonal communication and that suggest that some men continue to believe they are entitled to dominate women, even with physical violence.
What is a Family?
The distinction between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be, however, often seems lost on Lillian (2001). Gairdner, in Lillian’s portrayal, imagines a society that is overwhelmingly patriarchal, white, English-speaking, Eurocentric, and at least middle class. For him, at least in Lillian’s (2001) portrayal, the fact of “others”—feminists, homosexuals, people of color, non-European, French-speaking, and socialists—are an entirely unwelcome intrusion. Certainly such a society is not one that I have experienced, and Gairdner often seems, to borrow Lillian’s term for it, to engage in ‘social engineering’ as he advocates policies that, while probably unrealistic, he believes will encourage the sort of society that he prefers to develop. Gairdner also appears to make claims of fact that are, at best, dubious. Lillian’s evidence for this would include the following excerpt:
I have concluded that the natural family does not change in any important way -- in fact, that the root natural family, parents and their children has been the same for millions of years. It is true that the social family -- all the extensions of the natural family, whether of blood relatives or just friends -- does change. It responds to and itself generates all sorts of political, economic, and social forces that complicate the moral and legal meaning of marriage and childbirth. (Gairdner 1992: 59) (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, 2001, pp. 47-48)
Lillian (2001) critiques this by pointing to Gairdner’s use of the phrases ‘in fact’ and ‘it is true’ to convey “a subtle but important manifestation of a modality of certainty . . . some sort of absolute certainty” (p. 48). Further, she argues,
The scope of his claims is preposterous, as, for example, when he claims to know what form human families have taken for millions of years, something no one can know as fact, given the lack of historical and anthropological data extending back into the remote past. (Lillian, 2001, p. 48)
The Othering of Others
Lillian (2001), on the other hand, at least in this dissertation, incomprehensibly seems to imagine those people Gairdner treats as “others” as wholly integrated with society. Apart from that produced by Gairdner and his ilk, she seems blissfully unaware of any backlash to feminism, any homophobia, any white resentment against people of color, and upper or middle class resentment against the poor, or any English-only movements (Faludi, 2006; Romero, 1998; Rubin, 1984; Sernau, 2006). For me to accept this, I would have to believe that while such a backlash is all too common in the United States, it is otherwise rare in Canada. However, if it were indeed true that such a backlash was so rare, then to whom would Gairdner, in Lillian’s (2001) representation, be appealing? Lillian does not say.
Who Supports Feminism?
Another example implicates both Lillian (2001) and Gairdner. Gairdner, in Lillian’s light, quotes Kenneth Robert Minogue, an Australian political theorist, approvingly, and writes:
Yet in spite of the fact that the quote from Minogue (1977) is merely unsubstantiated opinion, Gairdner takes that opinion as the premise for the assertion that he makes in the next sentence of the passage (lines 22-23): “For women as a whole in North America have never supported the aims of radical feminism.” (Lillian, 2001, p. 86)
The phrase ‘radical feminism’ is particularly problematic because Gairdner, according to Lillian (2001), confounds multiple flavors of feminism under a label of ‘radical feminism’ in an attempt to cast it as extreme. But in her treatment of this excerpt, although she has offered something of a taxonomy of feminism earlier in her dissertation, Lillian neglects the fact that women hold diverse views with respect to feminism, sometimes even as they take advantage of the gains that feminists of earlier generations have won (Brown, June 17, 2013), sometimes opposing abortion rights for fear that they will lose leverage with men, sometimes opposing the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. for fear of losing the “right” to be homemakers (Ginsburg, 1984; Staggenborg, 2011), sometimes historically even opposing suffrage because “a majority of suffragists wanted the vote in order to ‘make her a better Christian and homemaker and citizen of the State—the very Gods that woman has served from time immemorial’” (Shulman, quoting Emma Goldman, 1998, p. 11). Another possibility is that some women may eschew the label ‘feminist’, just as some radical activists eschew the label ‘anarchist’, not because they oppose the respective goals, but because for them, the labels have taken on meanings they are uncomfortable with. For anarchists the problem may be a dictionary definition that entails violence (Gordon, 2008). For feminists, it might those among them like Catharine MacKinnon (1989) who appear to oppose any sexual relationship, whether heterosexual or homosexual, at all.
Canada, not the U.S., or does it matter?
This essay has already noted Lillian’s (2001) claim that the term ‘neoconservative’ is used differently in Canada than in the U.S. It is less clear whether the United States and Canada can be considered as culturally distinct, even acknowledging the inherent ambiguity of cultural boundaries. Much of Lillian’s analysis of the “New Right” draws heavily on U.S. sources. Her account of Gairdner’s influences includes both former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Lillian, at one point, seems to suggest that homophobic rhetoric is something of an import to Canada from the U.S. when she writes:
In "The Gay Agenda: Marketing Hate Speech to Mainstream Media", Marguerite J. Moritz identifies some of the extreme anti-homosexual rhetoric of the religious right in the U.S.A. as hate speech (Moritz 1995: 58). Some of the most extreme forms of this propaganda include calls for the death penalty for homosexuals, whom they purport violate Biblical laws and principles. According to Moritz, these extreme forms of rhetoric gain little support for the anti-gay lobby outside of fundamentalist circles, so the radical right has moderated its rhetoric somewhat to appeal to mainstream audiences, often reframing their arguments as a 'special rights' issue (Moritz 1995: 58). Marian Meyers echoes the observation about the use of a category of 'special interest group' to marginalize gays and lesbians and to distance them from the so-called mainstream of America (Meyers 1994: 340). Although Gairdner's own anti-gay rhetoric at times becomes quite extreme, his use of the 'special rights' argument (see below) against gays and lesbians also links him to the right-wing forces Moritz refers to as the radical right. The fact that Gairdner's anti-gay rhetoric is not isolated, but rather forms part of a wide continuum of such discourse makes it all the more potent. Many Canadians, especially those who adhere to far-right political and/or religious positions, are accustomed to reading American perspectives on issues, and thus find that Gairdner's writings resonate with ideas and even styles of language with which they are already familiar and with which they already feel comfortable. Gairdner sows his seeds of hatred in ground that has been already tilled by the years of homophobic propaganda that various right-wing elements have been circulating throughout North America. (Lillian, 2001, pp. 100-101)
Lillian (2001) thus fails to distinguish between U.S. and Canadian varieties of the “New Right.” This is perhaps understandable; this essay has already noted that the term New Right is imprecise. But Lillian is thus using ambiguous terminology in appearing to attribute blame to the U.S. for much—of however much there is—homophobia in Canada. Lillian offers no analysis of differing cultural heritages that might help to explain how homophobia might be alien to Canada. At the very least, one might suspect that the imprecise terminology Lillian employs might be a problem in a linguist’s dissertation; remember that she is holding Gairdner fully accountable for his wording, on the grounds that one of his Master’s degrees—awarded in 1967—is in linguistics.
Special Interest Groups
A similar failure of critical analysis appears in Lillian’s (2001) otherwise worthwhile discussion of conservative usage of the term ‘special interest group’:
Marian Meyers elaborates on the right's use of the related term 'special interest group', pointing out that it is used by political conservatives to marginalize any group or class of people who have an agenda different from theirs.
Thus, women, minorities, the disabled, organized labor, the poor, gay men and lesbians -- all, presumably, but white, middle- and upper-class, fully-abled heterosexual males -- constitute a special interest group whose agenda is suspect. Despite the fact that most of the US population is a special interest group by this definition, the term carries with it the assumption that those so designated would sacrifice the larger social good in pursuit of their own narrow interests. (Meyers 1994: 340)
Meyers is arguing in the context of a discussion about then-U.S. President Clinton's effort to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the U.S. military, but her observations can be readily extended to the Canadian context. In Canada, as in the U.S., the far right defines as 'special interest groups' any groups who are not advocating on behalf of the rights of middle- and upper-class healthy, white males. Gairdner is a salient example of just such a commentator. (Lillian, 2001, p. 103)
The categorization of all of these “others,” that is, “women, minorities, the disabled, organized labor, the poor, gay men and lesbians -- all, presumably, but white, middle- and upper-class, fully-abled heterosexual males -- [as] constitut[ing] a special interest group” (Lillian, 2001, p. 103) connects to a phenomenon noted by numerous critical theorists in which elites effectively—and Lillian misses this part—pit each of these groups against each other as a means of maintaining power (Butler, 1991/2010; Collins, 1990/2010; de Beauvoir, 1949/2010; Gates, 1986/2010; Harding, 1995; Hartsock, 1987/2010; Lara, 1998; Minnich, 2005; West, 1990/2010). Because a principal interest of functionalist conservatives—Lenski (1966) uses the terms functionalist and conservative as interchangeable in his analysis of social inequality, and I combine the two terms to distinguish functionalism as a form of conservatism—I connect this insidious “othering,” in which subalterns as a whole are not only “others” from an elite perspective, but are “othered” from each other, to functionalist conservatism (Benfell, March 15, 2012).
Lillian’s Own Binaries
But more profoundly, just as Gairdner, in Lillian’s (2001) telling, poses a binary between “natural” families and the “others” as already discussed in this essay, Lillian often verges on treating Gairdner and his ilk as “others” in a binary between evil conservatives and a virtuous Canadian society. If it is wrong for Gairdner to treat feminists, homosexuals, and immigrants as the “other,” then it is also arguably wrong for Lillian to treat conservatives, who have been winning elections recently (Carter, May 3, 2011), albeit with allegations of fraud (Wattie, February 25, 2012), as though their policies are alien to mainstream Canadian thinking:
Ironically, Gairdner's claim that feminists' belief systems are out 'to destroy everything they hold dear' (line 41) could also be levelled [sic] against himself. Gairdner explicitly aims to dismantle the social safety net that generations of Canadians have voted to build and maintain and which most Canadians apparently hold dear, since they object when any government tries to dismantle it. Gairdner also seeks to destroy the rights of equal pay and of non-discrimination against women, homosexuals, visible minorities and people with disabilities. Given what Gairdner himself proposes, it is indeed cocky of him to accuse feminists of seeking to destroy what they hold dear. (Lillian, 2001, p. 93)
Such a claim should be supported with evidence that a majority of Canadians continue to support the policies that Gairdner apparently objects to. But Lillian (2001), who complains about the shortage of citations evidence supporting Gairdner’s works, offers no support for her own claims about Canadian views whatsoever—and unlike Gairdner’s books, Lillian’s dissertation is unmistakably aimed at a scholarly audience.
In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Homosexuals
Public opinion is also important in evaluating Lillian’s (2001) discussion of Gairdner’s objection to the use of the word ‘gay’ as a label for homosexuals. She recounts a history that indicates that the word ‘gay’ was initially, that is, prior to the 1970s, used as a code word so that homosexuals could “identify each other without revealing themselves to heterosexuals” (p. 106). Their need to do this is understandable. Homosexuals have long been among the most stigmatized groups in society (Staggenborg, 2011), so much so that, for example, C. J. Pascoe (2007) argued that the epithet ‘fag’, although suggesting a particular sexual orientation, was actually used among boys in a California high school as a means to enforce conformity to expected behavioral norms. Lillian writes,
Speculating about people's motivation for using terms such as 'gay' and 'sexual orientation', Gairdner asserts that "by altering the word-labels that describe their world, homosexuals hope to make their behaviour invisible, or at least so 'normal' it won't be noticed. This is part of their campaign to morally desensitize the public" (Gairdner 1992: 376). This explanation imputes sinister, or at least objectionable, motivations to gays and lesbians who use these terms, an idea on which Gairdner elaborates in the following excerpt:
Public acceptance of the word "gay" has been a great victory for homosexuals, for the word "homosexual" had always been a negative term to denote those who preferred to copulate with their own sex. But what homosexuals wanted was a word that elevated their behaviour to an admirable status, and they achieved this by taking a perfectly good English word -- now off-limits to normal people -- and appropriating it for their specific use. (Gairdner 1992: 377) (Lillian, 2001, pp. 106-107)
I believe that Lillian (2001) is wrong to say that Gairdner “imputes sinister . . . motivations to gays and lesbians” (pp. 106-107) in this case, that this is an over-reading of the evidence she presents. Gairdner obviously objects to the use of the word ‘gay’, so the use of the term ‘objectionable’ seems reasonable and is sufficient for Lillian’s argument. Lillian is thus going overboard by even suggesting he means ‘sinister’, making Gairdner out to be even worse than he is.
Lillian (2001) does correctly criticize Gairdner in that passage for “appropriat[ing] the voice of ‘homosexuals’ and [for] purport[ing] to know and understand their motives and their goals” (p. 107). However, there is little reason to doubt that homosexuals, as a group, have felt persecuted in the extreme, and it would not be the least bit unreasonable to suspect that they may have found solace in the company of others like themselves. It is also under such circumstances that consciousness-raising and movement-building may occur, demonstrating how attitudes such as Gairdner’s may prove self-defeating. It is thus by no means an endorsement of bigotry but rather a recognition of historic bigotry to acknowledge that homosexuals have occasionally been segregated—often violently, certainly viciously—from heterosexual society (Staggenborg, 2011). Lillian seems not to recognize this history and a reality that extends into the present day when she writes:
The choice of someone, particularly outside the gay and lesbian community, to use 'gay' instead of 'homosexual' to refer to gay men does, as Gairdner recognizes, have a significance, although not necessarily the significance he assigns it when he claims that
[t]o them, the word "gay" suggests carefree, happy-go-lucky individuals who have a culture and a way of being all their own, which may in some secret way be superior to the hum-drum, sometimes ungay world of the rest of humanity. The word suggests a special in-group with access to happiness the rest of us lack. (Gairdner 1992: 377)
The word does not, in fact, necessarily connote cheerfulness or good humour on the part of gays, except in the mind of Gairdner and those like him who will impute any meaning in order to discredit a concept they dislike, but it does suggest a more positive, or at least accepting, attitude towards members of the group than does 'homosexual' in many contests, which is undoubtedly why Gairdner admonishes his readers not to use it. (Lillian, 2001, p. 107)
Gairdner’s interpretation, of course, is even worse, suggesting, in Lillian’s (2001) excerpt, that homosexuals facing extreme persecution were “carefree, happy-go-lucky individuals” (Gairdner, quoted in Lillian, p. 107), but he invokes the theory of in-groups and out-groups—a longstanding theory that Lillian does not address—in which “[s]ocial scientists use the label in-groups to describe groups with which we identify and out-groups to label those that we view as different (Tajfel & Turner, 1992)” (Adler, Rosenfeld, & Proctor, 2007, p. 31). Further, there is some evidence that members of some in-groups may indeed exhibit pride in their groups and hostility toward out-groups (de Figueiredo, Jr. & Elkins, 2003; Dollard, 1939; Hurwitz & Peffley, 1992). So a proper response to Gairdner on this point involves an identification of homosexuals as a historically persecuted group whose members may at least on occasion have sought each other out and preferred each other’s company, partly for companionship, partly out of a fear of wider society, and partly to build a movement seeking to be treated as human beings in that society.
In the end, any piece of scholarly writing should be evaluated according first, to whether it constitutes a contribution to knowledge; and second, to whether its evidence supports its conclusions. Lillian (2001) in both her introductory and concluding chapters, suggests that her goal is not only a contribution to scholarly knowledge but, as well, to educate the Canadian public as to the dangers of Gairdner’s discourse. She as much as admits that she does not contribute to scholarly knowledge when she writes that “[t]he attitudes of sexism, homophobia, and racism are neither subtle nor difficult for a reader to detect” (Lillian, 2001, p. 201). Further, it seems unlikely that the Canadian public will seek out Lillian’s dissertation at their local university library; as such it is a poor means toward their education.
On the more prosaic matter of whether Lillian (2001) adequately supports her conclusions, I certainly accept that she has, although not without the caveats that make up the bulk of this essay. I would, however, question whether the means are appropriate to the end. In other words, failing a contribution to knowledge in its conclusions, does Lillian’s dissertation contribute to knowledge as a demonstration of method?
Structural and Methodological Considerations
Lillian’s dissertation is organized into five chapters. The first contains an introduction and literature review, chapters two through four contain an analysis of Gairdner’s writings for sexism, homophobia, and racism, respectively, and the fifth includes further background material, which as previously mentioned, should have been brought forward into the introduction.
Lillian’s (2001) argument for her methods—critical discourse analysis and critical linguistics—takes up a relatively small portion of her introductory chapter. Nowhere in her analysis does she show how her chosen methods are uniquely suited to her task and they instead often take on the appearance of extreme overkill. The linguistic analysis generally adds little to an understanding of Gairdner’s discourse and it must be said that this takes a greater portion of this dissertation than what she casts as a more generic critical discourse analysis.
The critical discourse analysis, which this essay has generally focused on, is undermined by its failings to a point where, for me, Lillian’s (2001) credibility suffers. She is a linguist so it is perhaps inevitable that she would have performed a linguistic analysis, but for a dissertation as a body of work offered to scholars across the disciplines, the critical discourse analysis would have benefited had Lillian been more introspective, had she given more consideration to alternative explanations, and had she not confused the world as she wants it to be with the world as it is.
On the other hand, Lillian (2001) deserves credit, first, for soldiering through what she makes clear is hateful, spiteful material. I suspect my own experience of my trial study, analyzing Richard Weaver’s Visions of Order was similar. To be of left-libertarian sentiments, that is, to be opposed to domination and to favor economic and social justice, and to pick apart material such as this is something of a contest of a contest of endurance: At the same time I was repelled by what I read in Weaver’s work—and I suspect that Lillian may have had a similar experience—I was astonished that anyone could stand to hold others in such low regard, to hate as much as these conservatives do. The question of why such disdain must exist, however, is beyond the scope either of Lillian’s (2001) dissertation or this essay.
The strength of Lillian’s (2001) dissertation is collocated with one of its weaknesses. Where in Human Science, we expect consideration of and a respect for multiple ways of knowing and an introspective approach that brackets rather than excludes a researcher’s worldview, Lillian’s dissertation follows much more of a mainstream academic tradition in assuming 1) a particular single “scientific” way of knowing that separates the subject from the object and 2) a universal objective reality that is to be discovered rather than critically examined. I have adopted a Human Science perspective, which leads me to appreciate less the thoroughness of this dissertation’s linguistic analysis in light of its failure to consider alternative explanations or to avoid a naturalistic fallacy. I also view the linguistic analysis as, at times, an over-analysis, and see it as often confirming the obvious.
But in a dissertation in a linguistics department presumably organized along disciplinary boundaries, in which the rigor and vigor with which a method is applied counts for as much as its appropriateness to the problem under study, what I see as weaknesses may become strengths. Lillian (2001) has vigorously and rigorously applied her methods, even as she, presumably inadvertently, displayed their limitations.
What I have learned
This critique has, for me, been something of a validation. As harsh as it is—and I understand this to be typical for such critiques—I believe I see in Lillian’s (2001) dissertation what I might not otherwise as easily have been able to substantiate as hazards to be avoided. She has compelled me to consider—in advance of my own work on my dissertation—the need to keep my peripheral vision in play, to seek out and consider alternative explanations, and most especially to avoid the naturalistic fallacy in treating material that has entirely different moral aspirations, and that is grounded in completely different foundational values, from my own. Finally, I hope I can organize introductory information—or rather, information that should be considered introductory—in the introduction rather than scattering it, as Lillian did, between the first and final chapters. Having one’s heart in the right place—as I believe Lillian (2001) has hers—is not enough.
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