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Freeze Peach Revisited


There's something strange going on in the philososphere. There's an outbreak of incoherence in the discipline that self-identifies as the true keepers of rigor and symbolic logic. Let's start with one case: a prominent gender-critical feminist, Kathleen Stock, recently compiled a list of thirty-one violations of free speech. And what is most striking about this list of free speech violations is that none of them are violations of anyone's free speech. Thirty one out of thirty one are examples of terfs being subject to mild criticism. That's it. Yet Stock's obviously false claim was promptly repeated by the Twelve Leading Scholars, who uncritically endorsed the idea that there is a crisis of free speech in philosophy and that steps must be taken to protect the free speech of transphobic academics.

And there are other examples. A gender critical philosopher pleads for civility, before immediately insulting her interlocutor's sexuality. A grad student asks if Stock has read any radical feminist texts and gets accused of "gatekeeping" by a tenured professor. The administrator of philosophy's most powerful and widely-read blog nods his head and approves of civility and collegiality, before publicly soliciting anonymous dirt on one of his colleagues.

Thankfully, there's a standard leftist diagnosis of this strange phenomenon: Stock and her allies have confused the genuine right to free speech with "freeze peach": the specious "right" to say whatever one wants and not face any criticism for it. Their silencing consists of being criticized; their supposed loss of speech consists of another speaking. This is a simple, satisfying diagnosis: some people can't tell the difference between criticism and censorship. They should give up on "freeze peach" and just admit we've all got free speech and there is no crisis.* Free speech matters; freeze peach is a joke.

Here's my hot take: this is backwards. Freeze peach is the one that matters. Far from being merely confused, Stock et al. accurately sense a profound change in who has the frozen peaches. They're just wrong to think this change is bad. Let me explain.

Free speech is your right to speak free of government interference. This is democratic bedrock. This is also your right to run a blog that nobody reads, print a book that nobody buys, and hold a protest that nobody cares about. Freeze peach is your ability to speak and be heard — for your testimony to be credited, your expertise accepted, for your opinions and preferences to matter in public discussion.

Free speech is bare minimum; frozen peaches are a scarce resource. This does not mean there aren't equitable ways of distributing it, merely that it has to be distributed. Some examples:

  • A university club has only so many speaking slots in a year. Do they host a famous racist so his views can be "debunked" (again), or an anti-racist activist, so we can learn how to fight racism better?

  • Trolls are driving survivors out of an online forum. Do the mods ban the trolls, or watch the survivors leave?

  • Some guy on the internet wants you to "debate him." Do you spend the next week composing a ten-thousand word essay proving sexism exists, or get on with your life?

  • You've got an hour to spare on your morning commute.Do you spend it listening to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez testify about conditions in concentration camps, or another Jordan Peterson YouTube video?

This is what has got Stock and the Twelve Leading Scholars so riled up: trans people are speaking and people are listening to us. For them, that's intolerable. Kathleen Stock has no recognizable knowledge of or expertise in her chosen field, the philosophy of sex and gender. She was an obscure philosopher working in the unrelated subfield of philosophy of fiction before her rank bigotry catapulted her to prominence; now she's giving talks on sexual orientation at Aristotelian Society. Her sole credential is bigotry and ignorance. According to the Twelve Leading Scholars, this is natural and normal: defenders of traditional hierarchies should have all the frozen peaches; those marginalized by those hierarchies should thank their betters for the pits they’re allowed.

I say fuck that. I say it's time for a more equitable distribution of frozen peaches. I say a good ally knows how to listen – to the marginalized, to the subaltern, to the Other. And recognizing intersectionality means recognizing that there is no "true bottom," no winner of the Oppression Olympics: we are all allies to many Others. It's better to provide credit, authority, and speaking time to those who are speaking on their own oppression than it is to give the same to the tired old bigots defending prejudice and the status quo. We might actually learn something.

This is the part where I zoom out and remind everyone that this kerfuffle in philosophy is just one small front in the freeze peach wars. Everywhere the voices of the marginalized are getter louder, and everywhere mushbrained centrists think that this means that their "free speech" is being violated. "I am being silenced by social justice warriors," thunders Jordan Peterson — to sold-out auditoriums, his two-million-subscriber YouTube channel, and (before he closed his account) his nine thousand Patreon supporters (estimated yearly income: six hundred thousand dollars). A laundry list of pundits — Brett Stephens, Bari Weiss, Jon Chait, David Brooks — cast themselves as defending free speech against the intolerant left, against mobs and ratios and safe spaces, and all this from the lofty pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, to name just two.

They're all idiots. The free speech wars aren't about who has the right to speak. The free speech wars are about who has the power to be heard. So to Kathleen Stock, to Jane Clare Jones, to Holly Lawford-Smith and the Twelve Leading Scholars and all their bigoted fellow-travelers, I say this:

We're here.

We're queer.

Get used to it.

* The above is a bit glib. There are numerous genuine threats to free speech in this country. States and the federal government are attempting to criminalize protest. Prisoners are barely allowed access to books, news, and contact with the outside world. Sex workers routinely have their websites shuttered and their bank accounts frozen. What unites these cases is simple: the apparatus of the state leveraged against the marginalized in order to protect existing hierarchies of power. But you wouldn't know any of this from reading so-called free speech defenders like Weiss, Brooks, Chait, or the Twelve Leading Scholars.

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