The cowardice of cancel culture

A lecturer has been sacked for a clumsy conversation about stereotypes.

Jim Butcher

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It is de rigeur in woke circles to claim that cancel culture is just about the wealthy whinging about challenges to their views. The case of Stephen Lamonby should make us stop and think of the insidious and potentially authoritarian character of cancel culture in universities and in workplaces more generally.

Stephen Lamonby, a 73-year-old part-time engineering lecturer, was investigated for racism and then sacked by his employer, Southampton Solent University, on the basis of gross misconduct. This finding has now been upheld by an employment tribunal. He intends to appeal.

Lamonby was having a conversation with his line manager in the canteen. On discovering that a colleague had a degree in physics, Lamonby asked her if she was Jewish. Jewish people, he said – citing Einstein as an example – had a ‘particular gift’ for the subject. He added: ‘I believe that the Jewish are the cleverest people in the world. They are much maligned because of it.’ He also said he had a ‘soft spot’ for young black men as ‘many are without fathers’ and they need ‘all the help they can get’. The comments were reported to his employer.

Lamonby claimed his view that some nationalities or groups are better at some things than others is not racist, but that it is ‘directly related to the level of exposure to criteria such as industry and education’. For instance, he also claimed in the same conversation that Germans are good at engineering. He denies the most serious accusation against him – that he said black students did not have it ‘in their DNA’ to do engineering.

During a final university disciplinary hearing, he admitted he had ‘been clumsy’ in his language and ‘apologised profoundly’ saying he had no intention of being racist. The stereotypes he used were intended to be positive, he said.

The case reveals the insidious way cancel culture can operate in the workplace. There will be no letters from the great and good demanding his reinstatement. And there will be no union campaign against his sacking. His views certainly come over as odd and clumsily put – something he apologised for – and patronising.

In the past, his eccentric remarks would most likely have been met with disagreement, laughter, incredulity and possibly a forthright rebuke by a colleague. And that would – and should – have been the end of it. But today, a culture of offence has been formalised in numerous employment codes and regulations (which become de facto part of employees’ contractual obligations). This encourages staff to see the views of others not just as objectionable or something to be challenged, but as worthy of investigation and sanction by employers. This doesn’t only impact on the cancelled individual — it can also erode trust and frank exchanges of views more generally.

As spiked has long pointed out, UK universities have developed numerous regulations around speech, including safe spaces, and freedom from offence has become an institutional value. ‘Offence’, as in Lamonby’s case, can be taken on behalf of others and need not even have been intended. Lamonby’s argument that the stereotypes he used portrayed people in a positive light do not cut any ice, either.

The tribunal judge decided that ‘such “positivity” is nonetheless potentially offensive to the recipient’. The elastic, subjective nature of offence puts plenty of opinions at risk, particularly on sex, race and gender. Perhaps most insidious is the view of the tribunal judge that a university has a duty to its ‘multicultural, predominantly young student body’ to protect them from potential acts of racism. To be sacked for being ‘at least potentially racist’ – the words of the tribunal judge – is akin to being found guilty of a thoughtcrime.

Cancel culture has nothing to do with promoting equality. This is an insidious culture of snitching. It is dishonest and cowardly. It is damaging to individuals and to politics.

Jim Butcher is a lecturer and writer on tourism and politics. He blogs at politics of tourism and tweets at @jimbutcher2.

Let’s cancel cancel culture

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Comments

John Harvey

1st August 2020 at 3:09 am

Reflect that if his comment about Jews had been made by a Jew, or his comment about Blacks had been made by a Black, there would have been no repercussions. Somehow we have accepted this idea that whether something is ok to say depends on the group of the speaker or writer. Did any such idea exist in Plato’s day? Will we ever shed this poisonous Nazi doctrine? How about the alternative idea that it is good to speak the truth, whoever you are , and bad ( though not illegal) to speak falsehood?

John Little

27th July 2020 at 6:11 pm

Its an outrageous act of injustice perpetrated by spineless cowards and bigots at some s++t++le of a puffed up former poly. Probably Pompey Tech. I hope someone with clout takes up the cudgels on his behalf, takes them to court and sues the bejesus out of them.

Neil John

27th July 2020 at 9:50 pm

Southampton Soylent was formerly the Southampton College of Higher Education.

Gareth Edward KING

27th July 2020 at 4:05 pm

He’s a 73-year-old university lecturer and he’s been sacked for his ‘clumsy’ remarks. His colleagues are obviously no bunch of laughs either. He was in the canteen in his own free time involved in ‘small talk’ presumably and he was ‘snitched on’. This incident reminds me of the self-important ‘Gay & Lesbian Bikers’ whom last summer held their ‘annual binge’ in Exeter University’s student union building. I recall one of them getting uppity about my obviously tongue-in-cheek ‘shirt-lifters’ remark in pure Kenny Everett style. If one makes the rounds with a very thin skin and with a very large carrot up one’s rectum then one is going to get ‘hurt’ very quickly indeed! ‘Little Britain’ bring it on: out, loud and very proud!

KATHLEEN CARR

27th July 2020 at 2:39 pm

Unless there was something missing from the account written in the newspapers it would seem Dr Bonars ( the American who brought the complaint ) might be jealous of Stephen Lamonby’s popularity and his ability to have a repore with the students. Hopefully he will get other offers to teach or just share his knowledge . Solent University haven’t done themselves any favours , especially at this difficult time in trying to recruit students, might regret their over-PC actions. Mr Lamonby said the tribunal referred to him as a brexiter ( wheras he is non-political )and this dismissal of the elderly continues. Perhaps all the over-sixties should be issued with masks with the motif ‘ Ignore me I’m Old’ written on them so they can’t give ( even unintentionally ) offence to the younger generation?

James Knight

27th July 2020 at 2:34 pm

They say cancel culture does not exist. Yet another case proves otherwise. I doubt they even believe he is racist. If they did why not challenge his prejudice? Are they such shrinking violets? Have an open debate. I suspect they fear there would be nothing to debate because he is not racist. Which is a bit rich considering how woke campaigners talk endlessly of “representation”, but when someone brings it up they don’t want to debate at all.

What a terrible message to send to students.

Puddy Cat

27th July 2020 at 11:06 am

When the Spider Lady gave what seemed like a partial judgement we saw the effect that Blair’s seeding of the institutions was having. That the Jewish lady did not rebuke, shame or correct the person that addressed her almost suggested a fishing trip you don’t know what you’re going to pull out of murky depths(their are deep sea creatures that have an appendage that imitates food for others, which is a lure rather than reward).

The whole thing racism, homophobia, bullying are all aspects of the same issue. The definitions of any of those categorise might sound conclusive but as the English language is a maze of metaphor and simile much of what we think we are saying can be construed in another ear as being far from the intention. It used to be that America and Britain were two nations divided by the same language, the chickens have come to roost.

Bullying, hitting are emotive words that have that about them of trying to inform of the size of the fish to you caught with just one hand. So much of what we use as our own language, our personal lexicon is something that was ingrained in us, in some cases decades ago. Whereas Radio 4 Extra can excuse itself from modern mores by referring to the standards of the times, of its old recordings, no such latitude is offered in our common communication. That waggling bait is unseen by so many as they saunter through their ancient vocab words that your mind feeds on un-apologetically. Words from categorise, phonetics, rather than with reference to whatever the current language vogue may be.

This is an unwanted, unnecessary and dangerous new arena where the person you are addressing may have an agenda; which would rather record whatever is said than doing the right thing, the meaningful thing, corrects or informs as to the gravity of what is said. In this way relationships are formed on the basis of knowing someone and not intentionally causing them hurt.

But that is a long way from street war and extra judicial judgement, word lynching, the idea that the person objecting is the magistrate and their exploration of what they can impose is an open door to even greater invective which, over time, goes so far as to be incapable of finding the way back. The only half chance anyone has of stating their case, speaking their mind is to be within a discrete group of undercover opinions. History relates that these ideological pods soon attract a para-military arm of those who find language burdensome. Soon the intention to shame or call-out people, who at least engage, is lost and we are in a dystopia of reaction and closed ears and minds.

James Clark

27th July 2020 at 11:00 am

Spiked likes free speech, unless there’s a mention of Koch Industries, and then it doesn’t.

Philip Humphrey

27th July 2020 at 10:28 am

I’m sure some such complaints are driven by petty personal rivalries, but there’s also an element of deliberately driving conservatives and especially social conservatives out of institutions. In this the left have been quite successful. The employment appeal tribunals are clearly worse than useless in many cases. I personally feel that this can only be partially remedied by explicit legislation to protect free speech (similar to the protection for whistleblowers), but also we should now look to “defund” of all public money institutions that are clearly no longer fit for purpose e.g. universities that no longer tolerate free speech.

Neil John

27th July 2020 at 2:35 pm

I suspect like many cases involving academic line managers there’s more to this than what’s being reported. Soylent had a reputation for targeting older staff before lockdown, Christ knows what they’ll be like now, especially after winning this case. One might also question if his comments/statement should have been covered by ‘academic freedom’ and if the response should have been an open and honest questioning and debate “questioning received wisdom”…

James Knight

27th July 2020 at 2:44 pm

Snitch culture is the ugly sister of cancel culture. When those in positions of authority are so easily triggered it is hardly surprising if it ends up being used to settle old scores. The latest way to maintain and cement elites in power as their enemies can be banished literally forever.

Don’t get me wrong, I have big no problem firing people involved in, for example, genuine harassment. Or discrimination. But what we have here is the equivalent of “pre-crime”.

Carlton Smethwick

27th July 2020 at 9:46 am

Not my experience. I have worked in universities for twenty years. Fifteen years in the south west in a post 92 x poly in Bath. They are the most5 conservative of places – riddled with racism and sexism and run by self aggrandising old white farts. I have witnessed racism and have seen students come forward to complain of racism only to see it swept under the carpet – Good for Solent, although I would say, this is heavy handed. A simple warning should have been enough. UCU are a disgrace and would never help a member, they basically in the pockets of management

George Whale

27th July 2020 at 11:17 am

In which alternative universe? A recent study by the Adam Smith Institute found university academics to be 80 percent leftists. I know from personal experience (20+ years, on and off) that interview panels are packed with humourless Trotskyite zealots. The universities are indeed “cesspits of communism” (as one commenter here memorably put it). One wrong thought and you’re out, and don’t expect any help from the Marxist unions, they’ll hang you out to dry (never mind 20 years of subs).

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 11:53 am

Any ‘racism’ there evidently comes from young “farts” like yourself.

James Knight

27th July 2020 at 2:28 pm

In that case go and find some real examples of racism and discrimination or genuine harassment. Incidentally, who cares if harassment is racial or gender based? What difference does it make? Get rid of “protected characteristics” and get back to equality before the law where people are treated as individuals.

Why waste the time of a tribunal with all the cost with this nonsense?

Last time it was students dressing up as pirates were the problem. Then it was statues.

Brandy Cluster

27th July 2020 at 10:28 pm

They are grievance panjandrums who fight with each other like those mosquitoes we used to see in Australian television commercials where the insect repellent is being put to the test. Salary and wage dependent nobodies who think the world revolves around them. Meanwhile, back in the entrepreneurial world of successful business most people cannot tolerate this rubbish and kick it to the kerb. It’s mainly for those who cannot find importance any other way. Just pity them, then ignore.

Simon Giora

27th July 2020 at 9:11 am

Does rather suggest you can now be dismissed for promoting positive stereotypes. It would be interesting if this were to be applied to all groups though I doubt it will happen.

“his eccentric remarks”, which of his remarks is eccentric? Are you saying that, at this time, German engineering is no better than average? Are black men no more likely to be brought up by a single parent (even the Guardian has run stories on this)? The merits of IQ tests can be argued but there does seem to be a correlation between IQ test score and what most people would consider intelligence. Ashkenazi jews have the highest IQ scores followed by Asians. IQ scores by group are “on average”, differences within groups are greater than between groups.

Dodgy Geezer

27th July 2020 at 8:34 am

Many of my thoughts, including the belief that Britain used to be a rather nice place to live in, now appear to be illegal…..

George Whale

27th July 2020 at 11:21 am

Just to reiterate that sentiment, pre-invasion Britain was indeed a freer, kinder, happier, safer, saner, cleaner, more cohesive country than it is now.

Stephen J

27th July 2020 at 8:00 am

It seems to me that there are 7 billion people on the earth and around 7 billion opinions to go with them.

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 7:37 am

The stupidity of the auto-censorship on this site is beyond ridiculous.
Come on you fools … get this sorted!

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 9:00 am

And then when finally they do let your post through, they post all of the vatiations you had tried so as to try to get through the auto-censorship, cluttering up the discussion.

Claire D

27th July 2020 at 1:06 pm

Sympathies.
But my argument with my own annoyed self was that if only I had been patient and trusting (not my strong points on Spkd alas) after the first comment, all would have been well.

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 7:36 am

Not only is nothing he said remotely an issue, but he would have been accurate to invoke not only an experiential but also a genetic basis for what he said about ‘a certain European minority’ people and also Africans. And that doesn’t rely on well-established differences in intelligence measures, as the former deputy editor of Nature, Nicholas Wade, explains in his new book, ‘A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History’. There are very long-term contrasts in the adaptation to very different circumstances facing the different races that underpin clear genetic divergences since the presumed African common human ancestor, and genetic changes in ‘a certain European minority’ owing to quite extreme selection pressures following ‘a certain European minority’ being obliged to specialise in cognitively demanding employment.
I have a complaint currently going through the useless BBC complaints procedure about the BBC’s scientific illiteracy on these points — as is the BBC across the board on all things science.
[Note, ‘a certain European minority‘ apparently has to be used because of auto-censorship idiocy on this site.]

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 7:32 am

Not only is nothing he said remotely an issue, but he would have been accurate to invoke not only an experiential but also a genetic basis for what he said about Ashkenazi Semitic people and also Africans. And that doesn’t rely on well-established IQ differences, as the former deputy editor of Nature, Nicholas Wade, explains in his new book, ‘A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History’. There are very long-term contrasts in the adaptation to very different circumstances facing the different races that underpin clear genetic divergences since the presumed African common human ancestor, and genetic changes in Ashkenazi Semites owing to quite extreme selection pressures following Semites being obliged to specialise in cognitively demanding employment.
I have a complaint currently going through the useless BBC complaints procedure about the BBC’s scientific illiteracy on these points — as is the BBC across the board on all things science.
[Note, ‘Semites’ replaces the more usual word because of auto-censorship idiocy on this site.]

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 7:30 am

Not only is nothing he said remotely an issue, but he would have been accurate to invoke not only an experiential but also a genetic basis for what he said about Ashkenazi J* people and also Africans. And that doesn’t rely on well-established IQ differences, as the former deputy editor of Nature, Nicholas Wade, explains in his new book, ‘A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History’. There are very long-term contrasts in the adaptation to very different circumstances facing the different races that underpin clear genetic divergences since the presumed African common human ancestor, and genetic changes in Ashkenazi J*s owing to quite extreme selection pressures following J*s being obliged to specialise in cognitively demanding employment.
* J stands for Semitic people — it’s a word apparently that struggles to get through the auto-censorship on this site.
I have a complaint currently going through the useless BBC complaints procedure about the Boob’s scientific illiteracy on these points — as is the Boob across the board on all things science.

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 7:27 am

Not only is nothing he said remotely an issue, but he would have been accurate to invoke not only an experiential but also a genetic basis for what he said about Ashkenazi Jewish people and also Africans. And that doesn’t rely on well-established IQ differences, as the former deputy editor of Nature, Nicholas Wade, explains in his new book, ‘A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History’. There are very long-term contrasts in the adaptation to very different circumstances facing the different races that underpin clear genetic divergences since the presumed African common human ancestor, and genetic changes in Ashkenazi Jews owing to quite extreme selection pressures following Jews being obliged to specialise in cognitively demanding employment.
I have a complaint currently going through the useless BBC complaints procedure about the Boob’s scientific illiteracy on these points — as is the Boob across the board on all things science.

George Whale

27th July 2020 at 11:25 am

Steve, I got it the first time! (System is quirky, it always lets comments through – eventually!)

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 11:54 am

Not my fault. Often you can find the innocuous term that the dumb software has picked up on.

Christopher Tyson

27th July 2020 at 7:15 am

I recently called Keir Starmer a racist on here (for his self confessed ‘unconscious bias’), no one picked up on this. There is clearly discretion, depending on who is doing the calling out and who is being called out.

Christopher Tyson

27th July 2020 at 11:19 am

“The definition of ‘racist incident’ should be: ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’.”

This recommendation from the Macpherson report is absurd. Or worse than absurd, in the sense that anyone can call anyone else racist, but someone will decide which incidents to take seriously. Somebody somewhere will be given discretion. We would expect some safeguard, some protection from frivolous or malicious claims. But how do you know if someone genuinely ‘perceives’ racism, or if they are pretending, or if they are politically motivated. But you don’t have to prove actual racism, so why would you have to prove actual as opposed to made up perception?
If I say that someone is racist, then they are, isn’t that so?
The American politician Joe Biden recently said, I paraphrase, that anyone black person who doesn’t support him ‘ain’t black’. Others have been called racist for less. Do I really believe that Keir Starmer is racist? I don’t normally go around calling people racist, I don’t know the man, but as a lawyer Starmer would appreciate that this is not about my personal opinion, but about the evidence. Some more schooled in racistology than I am, saw racism in Starmer’s failure to distinguish between a ‘movement’ and a ‘moment’ regarding black lives matter.
I suspect that Starmer didn’t care one way or another, he made the requisite apology and plea bargained for unconscious bias. There is a case for racism in Starmer’s blithe manipulation of race for political advantage, and his implausible discovery of the virtues of ‘unconscious bias’ training so late in his public service life.
For the racism police some are more expendable than others, Biden and Starmer may be useful to the cause. But they can’t have it both ways, this pragmatism or realpolitik sits uneasily with their ostensible quest for righteous justice. Of course we have to be careful what we wish for, this arbitrary racism policing could be replaced by an inquisition of the great and the good, assessing claims and deciding on who is or isn’t racist.
The system is open to abuse, or is it? I would argue that there is an ideology at work, it wouldn’t be difficuclt to work out the kind of person who would be given a free pass or benefit of the doubt (Starmer, Biden etc), and those who wouldn’t.
So Starmer is a racist, what will be done about it? We’ve had enough talk, now we need action.

Dominic Straiton

27th July 2020 at 6:53 am

The 14 million Jws do seem to have rather a lot of nobel prizes for science compared with say the entire ummah of 1.8 billion. Black men are disproportionally represented in the prison population and have fathers who dont hang around. None of this is controversial.

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 9:02 am

It’s basic fact, and, moreover, it’s little to do with life experience (either handicap or privilege) but is underpinned by genetic differences.

Andrew Shaughnessy

27th July 2020 at 9:40 am

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re currently living in a world where ideology trumps facts.

Ray Diator

27th July 2020 at 9:46 am

Can you think of anything invented south of the Sahara?
Or how many Nobel prizes awarded for science/engineering?
Is this just a coincidence?

Kevin Turner

27th July 2020 at 10:15 am

The above comments clearly demonstrate the danger of asserting that everyone thinks in racial terms. And the danger is that everyone starts thinking in racial terms, just not in the way that BLM specifically, and SWJs more generally, wanted them to. I have watched many discussions by the likes of Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, and Douglas Murry, etc., who have all talked about how this insistence for myopic thought can and will give rise to some uncomfortable truths. Whatever his motivations, Charles Murry has been as something of a pariah since the publication of the Bell Curve. How long before he comes in from the cold.

steve moxon

27th July 2020 at 2:50 pm

Well, the backlash against the Left’s great backlash at least has now begun.
That is, the articulation of opposition to ‘identity politics’ is now underway, whereas hitherto it’s mostly been gut-level accurate summation by ordinary folk of what is going on. They know the elites hate them, but have been more at a loss as to why. The common (also accurate) intuition that any new boss effectively is the same as an old boss is why folk have never bought supposed ‘rule by the masses’: they well know that those who assume leadership of whatever sort in whatever context are basically the same sorts. It surely isn’t much of a stretch for folk soon to work out that frustrated would-be alpha males of the Left are taking it out on those who won’t go along with their bid for status. The surprise is that it’s taking so long. ‘Identity politics’ and its adherents are going to be toast. It’s only a matter of what it takes to throw the wall switch on the toaster, and when. Of course, with the complexity of factors at play and the difficulty even identifying all of them, this is impossible to say, and might be full-blown civil war if nothing less suffices.

Gordon O Gopher

27th July 2020 at 2:47 am

Yeh but he was talking in the canteen. Back in his day he’d have got the cane for that. Ironically his racism would’ve been fine.

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