Jewish World Review April 25, 2002 / 14 Iyar 5762
The Bill of Intellectual Rights
According to the recent study
Circumstances by Public Agenda Online, 80 percent of
Americans consider "lack of respect" to be a serious social
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
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
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.
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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 choose.
- 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 you.
- 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 to
- 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
- 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
between the sexes and of civility in public debate. The
renaissance will begin with individuals. It will begin with
JWR contributor Wendy McElroy is the editor of Ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Wendy McElroy