The Canadian Taliban

Here’s the New York Times:

The controversy began when Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write, the magazine of the Canadian Writers’ Union, penned an editorial defending the right of white authors to create characters from minority or indigenous backgrounds. Within days, a social media backlash forced him to resign. The Writers’ Union issued an apology for an article that its Equity Task Force claimed “re-entrenches the deeply racist assumptions” held about art.

Another editor, Jonathan Kay, of The Walrus magazine, was also compelled to step down after tweeting his support for Mr. Niedzviecki. Meanwhile, the broadcaster CBC moved Steve Ladurantaye, managing editor of its flagship news program The National, to a different post, similarly for an “unacceptable tweet” about the controversy.

It’s not just editors who have to tread carefully. Last year, the novelist Lionel Shriver generated a worldwide storm after defending cultural appropriation in an address to the Brisbane Writers Festival. Earlier this year, controversy erupted when New York’s Whitney Museum picked for its Biennial Exhibition Dana Schutz’s painting of the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955. Many objected to a white painter like Ms. Schutz depicting such a traumatic moment in black history. The British artist Hannah Black organized a petition to have the work destroyed.

Other works of art have been destroyed. The sculptor Sam Durant’s piece “Scaffold,” honoring 38 Native Americans executed in 1862 in Minneapolis, was recently being assembled in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. But after protests from indigenous activists that Mr. Durant was appropriating their history, the artist dismantled his own work, and made its wood available to be burned in a Dakota Sioux ceremony.

I wonder if this is just a sign of old age.  If I were to graph the fraction of the articles I read each day that seem indistinguishable from an Onion parody, it would have risen from under 1% in 2000 to perhaps 5% today.  At this rate what will things look like in 20 years?  Is anyone else seeing an increase?

The Nazis burned books and paintings and the Red Guard destroyed monasteries. The Taliban destroyed a couple big statues in Afghanistan:

ISIS is destroying architectural sites all over the Muslim world.  But the Canadians? Perhaps Trump needs to redirect our drone strikes away from Yemen and towards Toronto.

I consider libertarianism a sort on inoculation against this madness. Throughout history, these bouts of insanity have infected both the left and right, at various times.  But if you start with the principle that everyone should be free to produce whatever sort of art they like, and if you don’t like it then don’t buy it, then you are less likely to buy into this sort of craziness.

PS.  I would not have even done this post if the story was not in a respectable outlet like the NYT.  I am well aware that the internet is full of reports of outrages, which on close inspection are actually less outrageous than they appear.  But I have to assume the editors of the Times checked the facts, and these events actually occurred.  Am I wrong?  Is this fake news?

PPS.  In all of human history, has anyone ever produced a work of art that does not involve cultural appropriation?  Just asking.



34 Responses to “The Canadian Taliban”

  1. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    15. June 2017 at 21:05

    Excellent post.

  2. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    15. June 2017 at 21:35

    The demand for things to be progressively-tribally outraged by clearly exceeds the supply, hence the increasing level of deranged nonsense.

    Cultural appropriation is wildly ahistorical, as all cultures borrow and adapt. My favourite example is tempura, whose names comes from the Latin ‘tempora’: time, time period.

    Are nations who use vaccination or quarantine (both invented in the West) culturally appropriating?

  3. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    15. June 2017 at 23:31

    Perhaps Trump is, in part, an extreme manifestation of a broader narcissism that has taken hold of people, apart from ideology around much of the world. Actual concerns about ethics and intentions have been replaced by an overindulgence of blind self-concern, especially with regard to peoples’ emotional reactions. Today, people left, right, center, and even many libertarians are consumed with the latest grievance of the moment, hair-triggered into apoplectic emotional seizures by the slightest hint of disagreement with what they consider unquestionable truth, paying no attention to the processes by which truth is determined.

    Underlying narcissism is both insecurity and a very crude view of human relations as being merely about power struggles for social status and real resources. Where did this cynical, faux desperation come from?

    Part of it is likely due to the raw, bimbotic Machiavellianism of the American right in the US, along with hypersensitive, ill-informed liberalism, and silly fundamentalist extremist libertarianism.

    But, this is not just a US phenomenon. Likely, the poor performance of many economies around the world, the detached cluelessness of discredited elites, and the general feeling that people like bankers get away with murder all seem to contribute to the temperature of these tires, but I don’t feel like they quite get at the essence of what’s going on.

  4. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    15. June 2017 at 23:32

    Temperature of these tires, rather.

  5. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    16. June 2017 at 03:14

    Great post. And shocking. At this pace, maybe some will soon call for outlawing interracial marriage too, this time for cultural appropriation reasons. “They take our wimmen” etc.

    Scott Freelander: many good points, especially the remarks that all groups on all sides are now viciously hysterical in their constant outrage over mole hills. Let me add two more items. One, the social media cocooning that fosters tunnel vision and tribalist hairsplitting (as evidenced, e.g., by the plethora of novel gender classifi ations that sprung up over the last decade). Two, the human need to be concerned about something is running on empty, once the real problems of most people are basicall solved. I see the whole thing as a form of social hypochondria.

    But I would disagree on one point – it really is stronger in the US. I tend to read a lot of US media and so I see all these phenomena, but whenever I read non “anglo saxon” sources I realize there’s a whole class of outrage items that doesn’t even exist outside US UK AU NZ CA.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. June 2017 at 04:39

    Everyone, Good comments. A few weeks ago Tyler linked to a long piece that defended the idea that cultural appropriation is bad. I read it just to see if there was anything there I had missed. There wasn’t.

  7. Gravatar of Majromax Majromax
    16. June 2017 at 05:47

    This issue is to first order orthogonal to libertarianism: no state power is being used coercively. The debate about ‘cultural appropriation’ is occurring within the marketplace of ideas as the various factions use their social positions for persuasion.

    This debate also isn’t particularly new. You liken it to the Taliban dynamiting of the standing Buddha statues, but in my opinion it’s more akin to the controversy over the ‘piss Christ’ or even Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’.

  8. Gravatar of Below Potential Below Potential
    16. June 2017 at 06:06

    “But I would disagree on one point – it really is stronger in the US. I tend to read a lot of US media and so I see all these phenomena, but whenever I read non “anglo saxon” sources I realize there’s a whole class of outrage items that doesn’t even exist outside US UK AU NZ CA.”

    That’s absolutely true. This cultural appropriation madness is mainly an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. Especially strong it’s in the US (the proverbial melting pot, of all places !)… in continental Europe it’s almost non-existent at the moment.

    One may argue that continental Europe already had its own kind of cultural appropriation fever going around in the 1930s – when fascists were waging war against the intermixture of different cultural influences. So maybe they are now kind of inoculated against this insanity 🙂

  9. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    16. June 2017 at 07:49

    @Scott F and mbka: well said. Maybe this is simply a fever as social media evolves, and someday hopefully the tide will break and recede. Once the molehills have all been turned into mountains, mostly on social media, maybe it will fade.

    Maybe not but that’s the optimistic take. Eventually we get to reductio ad absurdum. The reaction to the insanity will eventually overwhelm the absurdity. Let’s hope.

  10. Gravatar of Adam Adam
    16. June 2017 at 08:08

    I won’t comment on the Canadians, but as to Durant and the Walker, erecting a scaffold and advertising it as a place for kids to play, in the middle of a city with a significant native and Dakota population, is remarkably tone deaf. How do you expect those people to see it as anything other than celebrating and trivializing the execution of their ancestors?

  11. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    16. June 2017 at 09:27


    I agree it’s worse in the US, but I wonder how much more likely it would’ve been that Le Pen won in France, for example, if they didn’t wisely have a run-off in their Presidential election. How stupid are we to not only not have a run-off to filter out the hopeless candidates, but then to also have the electoral college to relatively enhance the support of such extremists?

    And Scott’s right. We should abolish the Senate. The idea that Iowa and Alaska should have equal representation with states like Texas and California is ludicrous.

    While we’re at it, districts shod be drawn in as bipartisan a method as possible.

  12. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    16. June 2017 at 09:48

    Craziness. I have a feeling artists won’t be affected in the marketplace by this nonsense though. I would have never been aware of this silliness unless I’d read it here. Will this affect the value of Paul Gauguin paintings? (Tried to think of an obvious example). The center left would do well to distance themselves from this, and perhaps get out in front of ridiculing it.

  13. Gravatar of Kevin Dick Kevin Dick
    16. June 2017 at 12:24

    What helps me understand this kind of behavior is the “victim hood culture” framing:

    Cultural appropriation is simply an aspect of this cultural shift.

  14. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    16. June 2017 at 13:05

    As Kevin says, it’s the victimhood culture rearing its ugly head again. Since the success of the Civil Rights movement a half-century ago, being able to claim victim status has become highly valued. And as Lorenzo notes above, now that all the really injured victims have been recognized, new victimhood claimants have to get more and more imaginative to find some way in which they have been supposedly wronged.

    It may be a cultural thing now, but I think the real drivers in its development have been the financial rewards the courts have showered​ on victims who would have been laughed out of court only a few years ago, and liberal politics. And the former is largely the result of the success of the latter.

  15. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    16. June 2017 at 14:40

    “I would not have even done this post if the story was not in a respectable outlet like the NYT.”

    You have got to be joking.


    They are proven liars and propagandists.

  16. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    16. June 2017 at 15:54

    Sigh. Yes people should produce the art they want to, and I don’t care.

    I wonder when American libertarians will become as concerned with the rights of people to develop their own property as they see fit.

  17. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    16. June 2017 at 18:08

    ‘This issue is to first order orthogonal to libertarianism: no state power is being used coercively. The debate about ‘cultural appropriation’ is occurring within the marketplace of ideas as the various factions use their social positions for persuasion.’

    You couldn’t be more wrong as Canadian citizen Mark Steyn has the wounds to show it;

    In 2008, shortly before my writing was put on trial for “flagrant Islamophobia” in British Columbia, several National Review readers e-mailed from the U.S. to query what the big deal was. C’mon, lighten up, what could some “human rights” pseudo-court do? And I replied that the statutory penalty under the British Columbia “Human Rights” Code was that Maclean’s, Canada’s biggest-selling news weekly, and by extension any other publication, would be forbidden henceforth to publish anything by me about Islam, Europe, terrorism, demography, welfare, multiculturalism, and various related subjects. And that this prohibition would last forever, and was deemed to have the force of a supreme-court decision. I would in effect be rendered unpublishable in the land of my birth. In theory, if a job opened up for dance critic or gardening correspondent, I could apply for it, although if the Royal Winnipeg Ballet decided to offer Jihad: The Ballet for its Christmas season I’d probably have to recuse myself.

    And what I found odd about this was that very few other people found it odd at all. Indeed, the Canadian establishment seems to think it entirely natural that the Canadian state should be in the business of lifetime publication bans, just as the Dutch establishment thinks it entirely natural that the Dutch state should put elected leaders of parliamentary opposition parties on trial for their political platforms, and the French establishment thinks it appropriate for the French state to put novelists on trial for sentiments expressed by fictional characters. Across almost all the Western world apart from America, the state grows ever more comfortable with micro-regulating public discourse—and, in fact, not-so-public discourse: Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish Free Press Society, has been tried, been acquitted, had his acquittal overruled, and been convicted of “racism” for some remarks about Islam’s treatment of women made (so he thought) in private but taped and released to the world. The Rev. Stephen Boissoin was convicted of the heinous crime of writing a homophobic letter to his local newspaper and was sentenced by Lori Andreachuk, the aggressive social engineer who serves as Alberta’s “human rights” commissar, to a lifetime prohibition on uttering anything “disparaging” about homosexuality ever again in sermons, in newspapers, on radio—or in private e-mails. Note that legal concept: not “illegal” or “hateful,” but merely “disparaging.” Dale McAlpine, a practicing (wait for it) Christian, was handing out leaflets in the English town of Workington and chit-chatting with shoppers when he was arrested on a “public order” charge by Constable Adams, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community-outreach officer. Mr. McAlpine had been overheard by the officer to observe that homosexuality is a sin. “I’m gay,” said Constable Adams. Well, it’s still a sin, said Mr. McAlpine. So Constable Adams arrested him for causing distress to Con­stable Adams.

  18. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    16. June 2017 at 19:10

    The state of Indiana official unemployment rate is 3.2%. That is supposed to be a “low” unemployment rate.

    Here is a current job ad from a large employer, from

    Host / Hostesses – Start at $9+ per hour!
    Red Robin 1,819 reviews – Indianapolis, IN 46250
    $9 an hour
    Now Hiring:
    Host / Hostesses

    If you are:
    A strong Team Player

    A Good communicator

    Organized with a great attention to detail

    At least 18 years old

    Then we can offer you:
    Flexible Work Schedules

    Fast Paced Surroundings

    Opportunities to Build a Career

    A Great Place to Make Friends

    Awesome discounts on great things like Computers, Cell Phone Plans,Event Tickets (Concerts, Sports, Events, etc…) & more!

    Red Robin is an Equal Opportunity & E-Verify Employer

    Host Staff | Hostess | Host | Front Desk | Maitre d’ | FOH | Front of House | Receptionist | Reservationist | Restaurant Job | Hourly Job | Restaurant Hourly Job |
    4 days ago – save job – original job
    » View or apply to job


    The above is an anecdote, but also a good indicator…Red Robin is chain of restaurants. Note the number of job reviews. I do not know if host/hostesses receive tips (I would guess not), or participate in a tip pool. I sure hope so.

    Labor shortages have brought us to this: $9 an hostesses at restaurants.

    What next!?!?

  19. Gravatar of DonG DonG
    16. June 2017 at 19:54

    I prefer the definition of “cultural appropriation” as being the stealing of culture without giving due credit. For example, white folks should not claim to have invented jazz. This allows for humans to continue the free trade of ideas! Here is a good article:

    That said, Canada is getting extreme with their political correctness. Without a guarantee of free speech, they have moved beyond banning “hate” speech to compelling by law politically correct speech. Maybe. It depends on how C-16 is enforced. Here’s a link. Choose another article, if you want a different spin.

  20. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    16. June 2017 at 22:23

    Cultural appropriation makes for excellent signalling precisely because it is deeply ridiculous — if you are prepared to buy into, even better, get all outraged over it, you signal that you are a postmodern progressive tribal member in good standing.

    Kiwi political scientist Xavier Marquez’s theory of cults of personality provides the base analysis. In a highly moralised milieu, how do you signal your superiority morality? By bearing the costs in self-contradiction and fact suppression.

  21. Gravatar of edeast edeast
    17. June 2017 at 02:15

    Yes, it happened.
    Here is kind of a summary of events, at the time.

  22. Gravatar of ChrisA ChrisA
    17. June 2017 at 03:48

    I call it the cult of personal ethics. That is the view that ones own moral tastes are absolute and unarguable and should therefore be enforced on others. In past times ethics were much more socially established – for example on homosexuality. What has happened in recent times is that much of this socially established ethics has been challenged. So people are increasingly developing the taste for development of their own ethic approach, some of the results of these ethics look weird, like the cultural appropriation approach. But is it any more weird than say hating gays? Or going to a church every sunday? I think this change to selection of ethics rather than having them imposed is just a consequence of more and frequent interaction with groups outside your own area, via such things as cheap travel, internet and so on.

  23. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    17. June 2017 at 08:33

    Remember when we were told on this blog that the Paris Agreement was more about optics than substance, and that it was a bad move by Trump to not sign into it?

    Well, the EU just voted to make the Paris Agreement LEGALLY BINDING.

    Why would these communists do this? So that no citizen in Europe can leave “the EU” political anti-market power structure.

  24. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    17. June 2017 at 08:34

    We could have been under that power structure.

    Will Sumner the libertarian speak out about this?

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. June 2017 at 12:55

    Majromax, Well CBC is a public broadcaster, isn’t it?

    And the “Piss Christ” was partly funded by the government, wasn’t it? That’s certainly not something that libertarians would normally favor.

    Adam, You said:

    “How do you expect those people to see it as anything other than celebrating and trivializing the execution of their ancestors?”

    Um, because it wasn’t?

    Tom, You said:

    “I would have never been aware of this silliness unless I’d read it here.”

    I am surprised as to the extent to which it has gone beyond campuses, (which you sort of expert to be subject to bouts of political hysteria.)

  26. Gravatar of SG SG
    19. June 2017 at 06:54

    Intellectually, of course I think cultural appropriation is a bogus concept, and even if there were a coherent definition I think that it is something to be generally celebrated, not feared.

    On the other hand, I have experienced a few times where I felt like my religious “culture” (Mormon) had been unfairly appropriated. The HBO show Big Love allegedly depicted Mormon temple ceremonies. And Matt Stone and Trey Parker have made a lot of money lampooning Mormons with South Park and the Book of Mormon show.

    I’m not saying that this stuff shouldn’t be the subject of artistic depiction, but I am annoyed that in the above instances, the art seems to have been produced in a way that was dismissive of, or intentionally antagonistic to, Mormons themselves.

    Scott is certainly correct though, that my remedy for being offended is limited to not patronizing the art that offends me. So even though I ultimately disagree with leftists who invoke the concept of “cultural appropriation” I can sort of see where they’re coming from if I squint.

  27. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    19. June 2017 at 12:13

    Let’s see: Students demand that somebody is removed from his job because they think his views are not like their own but inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable.

    They want his head, they want his job, they want him to be removed from his position for good. Sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it?

    Let’s just say: They learnt from their masters, and Scott unfortunately, is one of them. They learnt their lesson and they learnt it well.

    By the way: I was in opposition to Obama, many of his views were silly, but I never demanded his removal – except of course through the only acceptable way: Free elections. The same goes for Trumpy.

    Everyone should put his own house in order first.

  28. Gravatar of Sjw Sjw
    19. June 2017 at 22:31

    ” In all of human history, has anyone ever produced a work of art that does not involve cultural appropriation?”

    No, but what’s your point? Even those sexist Taliban dudes know that art cannot be tolerated. It’s just going to take a while for the West to come around.

  29. Gravatar of Major-Freedom Major-Freedom
    20. June 2017 at 14:40

    It has been reported (cite) that no bullet casings were found. The crime scene was very organized to the point of being sanitized. This would indicate careful planning on the part of the offender, control of the entry to and exit from the crime scene as well as in-depth understanding of law-enforcement investigative processes

  30. Gravatar of Major-Freedom Major-Freedom
    20. June 2017 at 14:43

    For those paying attention, the DNC is trying to spin this into a “patsy” story, rather than what it is which was a planned murder to cover up election fraud and in John Podesta’s words “making an example” out of a leaker whether there is a basis for it or not.

  31. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    21. June 2017 at 05:56

    SG, Just to be clear, there is a big difference between cultural appropriation and negative or insulting images of another culture. I’m opposed to the later.

    Christian, You may have a point there, but it went right over my head.

    SJW. ???????

  32. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    22. June 2017 at 20:05

    The DNC claims that Russia hacked their servers – but they refuse to let the FBI investigate.

  33. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    28. June 2017 at 07:35

    It does not bother me that statues of confederates or pagan statues in the middle-east are taken down.

  34. Gravatar of June 25, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting – Musing Codger June 25, 2017 – Stuff I Found Interesting – Musing Codger
    10. December 2017 at 16:08

    […] The Canadian Taliban – An amusing editorial about some of the Taliban-like behavior of the politically correct Canadian Writers’ Union from one of my favorite economists. Best line: “If I were to graph the fraction of the articles I read each day that seem indistinguishable from an Onion parody, it would have risen from under 1% in 2000 to perhaps 5% today.” […]

Leave a Reply