Bill of Intellectual Rights
By Wendy McElroy
posted April 29, 2002
According to the recent study Aggravating
Circumstances by Public Agenda Online, 80 percent of Americans consider
"lack of respect" to be a serious social problem.
Most surveyed believe the problem is increasing,
with 41 percent viewing themselves as part of the problem.
Politically correct feminists bear some of the
responsibility for making North America a less civil place in which to
live. PC feminism is the politics of rage that depicts men as political
enemies of women. It replaces reasoned argument with ad hominem
onslaught and has sparked a hate-filled
backlash at the fringes of the Men's Rights Movement, where women
are hated as a class in tit-for-tat fashion.
The bitterness inspired by PC feminism is so great
that tell-all books are written
by insiders to expose the viciousness. Tammy Bruce — former president
of L.A. NOW — chronicles the left-wing campaigns of malice against dissent
in her book, The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on
Free Speech and Free Minds.
More recently, Woman's
Inhumanity to Woman by pioneering PC feminist Phyllis Chesler,
accuses the movement of embracing slander, libel and backstabbing against
anyone who dares to question or disagree.
The fractiousness might be written off as distracting
gossip were it not for the fact that slander has become standard methodology
for many discussions that affect social policy: domestic violence, rape,
abortion, sexual harassment. The methodology of malice has become a barrier
to progress that must be addressed. Intellectual civility must be championed,
beginning on the individual level.
The following is a list of some intellectual rights
you should demand:
- You have the right to not care. Perhaps anorexia
in America is being blamed on Calista Flockhart for the 100th time.
If the topic is boring, you have the right to state, "I don't want to
talk about this further."
- You have the right to not understand something
without being made to feel stupid. A feminist may be excoriating white
male culture for the lack of women in Congress. You have the right to
say: "I don't understand. Since more women vote than men, how can men
be blamed for election results?"
- You have the right to be uninformed. You may
know nothing about the trafficking of girls into prostitution in East
Asia. Don't apologize. Simply state: "I am not familiar with that. Why
don't you explain it to me?"
- You have the right to make an error. Perhaps
in arguing against affirmative action, you misstate
a statistic. Committing honest errors is inevitable and you have
the right to be fallible without having your integrity questioned. Admit
"I'm clearly mistaken on that point," then move on.
- You have the right to change your mind. When
the Taliban required women to wear burquas, you may have railed against
the garment: Now that burquas are optional, you may defend the prerogative
of Afghan women to dress as they wish. There is no shame in changing
your mind. Indeed, it can be a sign of intellectual honesty.
- You have the right to disagree without having
to justify yourself. Female co-workers may be bashing men in general
as philandering wife-beaters. You have the right to state firmly "I
disagree" and walk away without explanation — or stay and argue, as
- You have the right to form an opinion and to
express it. You do not need a diploma, permission from your spouse,
dispensation from the Church, or a birth certificate listing the "correct"
sex. Simply by being human, you have a right to reach conclusions and
state them. For example, men have a right to independent opinions on
"women's" issues like abortion.
Rights are what we are entitled to claim from other
people, and all rights have corresponding duties — those behaviors that
others are entitled to claim from us. The following are some of the intellectual
duties, or rules of etiquette, that others have a right to expect from
- Never purposely embarrass anyone. Brute reason
is as inexcusable as brute force.
- Give the other person time to consider your
points: don't badger them. Your purpose is not to punish someone but
- When someone has conceded a point, move on.
Do not keep hammering away simply for the satisfaction of being correct
over and over again.
- Freely acknowledge errors. "Sticking to your
guns" makes your error the center of attention and is likely to cast
doubt on every other claim you've made.
- When you are uncertain, say so. Saying "I don't
know" is a sign of intellectual honesty and self-confidence, not weakness.
- Acknowledge good points made by your "opponent."
Such courtesy within arguments is so rare that you will acquire a reputation
for fairness based on this habit alone.
- Don't argue to display your own cleverness.
This is as offensive to most people as an ostentatious display of wealth
that usually causes resentment, not admiration.
It is time for a renaissance of goodwill
between the sexes and of civility in public debate. The renaissance
will begin with individuals. It will begin with you.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com.
She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the
forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st
Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her
husband in Canada.
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