No fancy philosophical focus on Foucault and his ilk this time, folks. No festive season reflections on the passing year and decade either.
Christmas is usually slow for news because the politicians and the other movers and shakers who make the headlines are at home with their feet up just like the rest of us, somnolently finishing off the mince pies.
There is seldom any let up in bad news for us heretics, though, and this month has seen a particularly shocking story unfolding in America. What makes it so alarming is that it is not a sex scandal. There is no Kevin Spacey or Jeffrey Epstein in this story.
The truly appalling news is that a man of utterly unblemished character, a distinguished intellectual, a professor, finds himself being hounded for his scholarship on pederasty in ancient Greece and for questioning whether the age of consent needs to be as high as 18, which it is in many of the states in the USA. Worse still, he is not being given the robust support by his university that should be expected. Every reputable institution of learning knows the value of academic freedom; when such places begin to waver in defence of unfettered scholarship, we have to fear the direction society as a whole is taking.
I refer to the University of Texas, Austin, and to Thomas K Hubbard, who is a professor of classics there, is 63 years of age, and ought to be able to look forward to an honour-garlanded retirement after a couple more years. Trouble kicked off publicly early this month when the city’s main newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman reported that following protests against professors “with histories of sexual misconduct”, a group of students was calling for Hubbard’s removal for allegedly “promoting harmful ideas about the age of consent and sexual relations with minors”.
The story was taken up by other papers, including, online, The Daily Beast, and later the Chronicle of Higher Education. The latter, in a report about a week after the Statesman one, signalled an ugly atmosphere, with worrying hints of a lynch mob mentality. Protesters had massed outside the professor’s home, banging on the door, shouting that he was a predator.
A rabble-rousing journal called, appropriately enough, Incendiary News, would later report that “He needed multiple officers to get away from the wrath of the students” and that one student, giving a speech, said “Pedophilia apologists like you deserve to be confronted and to feel afraid! We will make you scared to teach, scared to leave your home, scared to even exist in the City of Austin!” The same paper featured a photo of masked vigilantes with a banner and placards used in the protest, calling Hubbard a “pedophile” and “perv”. Video footage was posted, too, in which the mob are heard chanting their abuse. In a second video clip, Hubbard was filmed as the police escorted him away to safety.Graffiti were also reportedly seen daubed on a wall in the area reading “Pedo Hubbard, watch your back”. Other sources have reported that Hubbard’s house was likewise vandalised with hostile messages sprayed in red paint, and bricks may have been thrown at the dwelling.
It might be thought that the university would be falling over itself to see such intimidation against a member of their staff brought swiftly to a halt. They could have ordered a thorough investigation of any suspected instigators among the student population and insisted the police conduct their own determined probe into the vigilantism, which clearly went far beyond legitimate peaceful demonstration.
But no, although the police have said they are indeed looking into what happened, right from the outset the university set about washing its hands of its responsibilities. In the initial Statesman story, University of Texas spokeswoman Shilpa Bakre was quoted as saying “The university condemns ideas or world views that exploit or harm individuals”, as though accepting that Hubbard’s “ideas or world views” do indeed “exploit or harm” anyone. While conceding that the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects “even offensive ideas”, there was no reported enthusiasm for this law by the university itself, nor any defence of the need for academic freedom in order for scholarship to thrive. This was before the vandalism and intimidation at Hubbard’s home; but the university’s attitude only went from bad to worse afterwards, notably as expressed in a letter to the Dallas Morning News by the Austin President of the University, Gregory L. Fenves.
This letter followed a lengthy editorial in that paper. Saying they wanted to know for themselves whether Hubbard’s position was in line with the protesters’ claims, they read one of his articles, titled “Sexual Consent and the Adolescent Male, or What Can We Learn From the Greeks” in a 2010 edition of Boyhood Studies (then called Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies). They wrote:
What Hubbard learned from the Greeks, apparently, is that society really needs to reconsider age-of-consent laws that are intended to protect children from sexual predators. Ancient Greece, he argues, showed us that “where age-discrepant relationships are commonplace and positively reinforced, they cause little or no long-term harm to the younger partner and often confer great benefit,” he writes.
That’s not all. The problem of boys without fathers in their lives might well be resolved by having men have sex with those boys, he writes. “Pederastic intimacy evolved in part as a social mechanism for addressing it.” He goes on to write, “contemporary U.S. culture has not compensated for the magnitude of the problem.”
No, thankfully, contemporary U.S. culture has not gone the way of the Greeks.
The editorial goes on to claim, “No one is more eager to defend academic freedom than we are.” But they have an odd way of showing it. They say, “Should Hubbard wish to explore his considerations at some university, he should be able to do so. But Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for supporting him while he does…” While stopping short of saying he should be sacked, the editorial adds:
Instead, we urge students to do what they are doing: Stand up against this. Make your voice heard. And as important, make your wallet heard. Let Hubbard’s classrooms be empty. Let his papers go unread. And let the school know with letters and through any reviews of your education experience that this is unacceptable. Let Hubbard’s ideas, wrong and terrible and unlearned, be first challenged and defeated and finally neglected and forgotten.
Echoing this narrow philistinism, the follow-up letter from Fenves published the next day also sided with the protesting students, saying “I understand their concerns about his ideas. I personally find them outrageous.” He too claimed to support academic freedom but then hinted that he thought Hubbard might have crossed a line by teaching controversial matter that had no relation to the subject he had been assigned to teach. He wrote that:
…we are aware of the concerns and complaints about those classes this semester. We have been and are reviewing them and will take appropriate action, within the bounds of academic freedom and the constitutionally protected right to free speech.
For the university, then, it seems investigating Hubbard’s classes is more important than probing the intimidation used against him.
As for what Hubbard has been thinking and feeling about all this, we can get a pretty good idea, from two important sources, the Chronicle of Higher Education article and also his emails to psychology professor J Michael Bailey’s online academic forum, where Hubbard and I are both members.
The Chronicle report took up the theme that NAMBLA has in the past given publicity to Hubbard’s work:
His papers have been promoted and distributed by the North American Man/Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, a group that advocates for the legalization of pedophilia. NAMBLA has been dormant in recent years, and Hubbard has said he does not endorse NAMBLA’s radicalism or criminal activity and does not have “personal enthusiasm for sex with teenagers.”
“If people in these groups support me, it may be because I am one of the few academics who is willing to listen to them and learn about their motivations, instead of demonizing them as incurable monsters,” Hubbard wrote in an email. “How can one do scholarship on pederasty or sex offending if one doesn’t talk to pederasts and sex offenders?”
As for Bailey’s forum, Hubbard’s approach to that group enabled him to rally support from a number of the world’s most reputable scientists and other scholars working in fields relating to sexuality and sexual ethics. Together, they signed a letter to go to the Dallas Morning News as a response to the papers’ editorial and the university president’s letter. The letter referred to Hubbard’s status as an accomplished classical historian, whose work had been recognized by a prestigious Guggenheim award.
Hubbard’s Guggenheim citation in 2017 directly commended his work on “a particularly sensitive and controversial aspect of Greco-Roman culture, namely the widespread practice of homosexual pederasty”.
On 21 December, Hubbard emailed Bailey’s forum. He said the forum’s letter had not yet been published, nor had another one from the distinguished historian and theorist of sexuality Prof. David M. Halperin. However, wrote Hubbard:
…they did publish this craven letter from our University President, in which he claims to be “personally outraged” by my views. I seriously doubt that he has actually read my publications or could understand them if he had (he is a civil engineer). He has made no statement whatever about the mob violence at my house.
I have not been officially informed by the University of the nature of their “investigation” of me or been asked to provide any course materials. This letter to the Dallas paper is the first I have heard about it, which violates all kinds of due process. One cannot discuss ancient Greece or Rome without commenting on the differing social constructions of sexuality in those cultures.
The implication in his letter that I have introduced “irrelevant” material or personal advocacy into my courses is utterly false and threatens academic freedom fundamentally.
So far, I have been referring to Prof. Hubbard impersonally; but long-time followers of Heretic TOC may recall that he has been mentioned a few times here and that we are acquainted. We met once, a few years ago, at a classics conference in Edinburgh and he kindly gave a pre-publication endorsement for my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons. I am familiar with some of his work and find much to admire both in his scholarship and his steadfast outspokenness and opposition to censorship. The latter was very much on display in his book Censoring Sex Research: The Debate over Male Intergenerational Relations, co-edited with historian Beert Verstraete. Published in 2013, this book finally allowed a long-censored 90-page essay by Bruce Rind, another unjustly attacked academic, to see the light of day. As Hubbard put it in his introduction:
Dr Rind contextualizes his earlier analyses of psychological data through an aggressively interdisciplinary approach, showing that his earlier finding that male intergenerational relationships are usually not harmful is not as surprising or implausible as critics claim.
Incidentally, I just recently chanced upon a very well informed and deep – if somewhat nihilistic – review of this book by Diederik Janssen.
As for what the future holds for Tom Hubbard, who knows? He knows that the demonstrators constitute only a tiny minority of trouble makers and that many other students are interested in attending his classes. Whether they will feel intimidated and will stay away, only time will tell. We can only hope that they, and Tom himself, will feel able to hang in there.
OUR MAN BUMPS INTO GRETA THUNBERG
A regular follower of this blog had an interesting chance encounter with Greta Thunberg recently, on a train passing south to north right through Germany and onwards to the young climate change activist’s native Sweden.
It was a fraught journey, with a train breakdown, much chaos, and a three-hours-late arrival in Malmö, in the middle of the night.
Long before that late arrival, waiting on a platform for a replacement train around lunch-time, Heretic TOC’s Europe Correspondent (as I will think of him from now on!) saw “a rather attractive girl of (I thought) about 11, slight in build”. The thought occurred to him that “if she were just a little older and larger” she could even be Greta Thunberg.
Greta will be 17 on her birthday this Friday, but still famously has the appearance of quite a young child.
Two or three changes of train later, our correspondent continues, on the way into Denmark, he “literally bumped into this girl” when they both needed to board another train for the onward journey. He said he thought he recognised her; her brief response confirmed he was right. They ended up sitting quite near to each other, “although she was surrounded by her adult keepers”. Our correspondent continues:
I exchanged one or two bits of small talk with her “keepers”, one of whom was her dad, but quickly understood that Greta herself was incredibly tired and wanted little more than to sleep. It was a first class carriage, with very few passengers, so she could and did stretch out and sleep.
She literally looked no more than a very slender 11-year-old, behaving as any 11-year-old would after a long and tiring train journey. She asked to sit away from the aisle “so that people don’t come up to me and want to talk”. She woke up about 20 minutes before another change of trains, and asked tetchily if she could sleep some more.
Her “keepers” talked of this and that, for example of how if the Madrid summit didn’t achieve anything it would just be a climate-negative in that 3000 delegates had been flown in.
It all got me thinking of the accusations you hear, of how Greta has just been manipulated by adults around her. Seeing her revert to a “normal”, tired, apparently 11-year-old, after a long train trip, did nothing to dispel that. And her expression later, when getting off the train, anxiously looking to see if there was yet another reception committee to deal with, almost made me think she was on the point of crisis. Absolutely in need of a long rest.
Later I saw she’d posted a picture of herself sitting on the floor of “an overcrowded German train”. This has turned into her “Corbyn moment”, because shortly afterwards the German Railways (DB) issued a curt tweet saying that she could have shown her appreciation to the staff in her first class carriage that had efficiently seen to her needs!
What our correspondent does not tell us here – although he did later – is that Greta’s post had not been “fake news”, as those keen to discredit her would be quick to allege, just as Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s many enemies had done in his very similar case. She really had been on an overcrowded train that day and really had found herself with nowhere to sit but the floor, as journalists travelling on the same train confirmed. But that was one of the earlier trains in the sequence, before Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, sprung into action to help their VIP passenger – and limit the damage to their reputation caused by the breakdown.
That apart, we are left with a more interesting question. Is Greta Thunberg really an exploited child? Or an heroically committed young woman?
A WARRIOR RIDES TO HIS VALHALLA
In July, I reported the death of no fewer than three prominent heretical activists with whom I was well acquainted, within the space of less than six months. And now, still within the same calendar year, I need to mention another sad departure.
Dr Nigel Leigh Oldfield, died on 21 November, aged 59. Along with about a dozen other mourners, mostly relatives, I attended his funeral in a private ceremony at Rawdon Crematorium, Leeds, just before Christmas, on 23 December.
The ceremony had to be private for security reasons. There could have been, if not a riot, then serious disruption and unpleasantness. That is because Nigel, or Leigh as he was called by those who knew him, had been a courageously defiant figure in the face of anti-paedophilic vigilantism in his local area (ominously, that “V” word seems to be rather prominent in more than one of today’s blog items).
Heretic TOC ran a piece about him in 2015 titled Hail, brave warrior, Nigel the Noble! It will be plain enough from that article as to why he attracted vigilante ire and why I found his response admirable.
Less clear, though, was the downside of his personality that played a large part in arguably making himself his own worst enemy – even with so many others – leading to his death at an early age by modern standards.
He had done very well to conquer difficulties in his early life, taking a doctorate in chemistry at Nottingham University; and, as a teacher, he distinguished himself sufficiently to gain a post as a head of department at a big comprehensive school in Buxton, Derbyshire.
But he was depressive. And he drank heavily. Common problems, both, for those of us who are Kind in an unkind society. He fell afoul of the law. He lost his job and his livelihood. He went downhill, from bad to worse, despite the amazingly loving and loyal support of an improbable partner in his final years – that, at least, is an inspirational story; but now is not the right time for its telling.