Dr. Dawg

My (increasingly) reluctant defence of Lindsay Shepherd

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Lindsay Shepherd.jpg

As I predicted, the subject of a recent Wilfrid Laurier University inquisition, a 22-year-old teaching assistant named Lindsay Shepherd, had been quickly adopted as a mascot by the Right, and has been—as we “cultural Marxists” might put it—interpellated) into their discourses. In plain English, she’s had her head turned. She might have gone into her interview with no particular ideological fix on things, certainly not as a dogmatic ideologue, but she emerged ripe for the plucking by Postmedia columnists and the usual “free speech” suspects.

I recall being 22, and the memories are cringeworthy. I strongly doubt that I’m alone in this. My brain was mush. I was giddy with ideas. I had neither the wisdom nor the analytical ability to make them cohere. I knew a lot more then than I do now.

I have also been a TA, in 1970 and then again in 2008-9. My job was to get the students thinking about the course material. It was not to impose a point of view, although I was clear what my own was. I gave deserved top marks in my more recent Anthropology sections to a) a niqabi, and b) a young woman who was fiercely opposed to feminism. So far as I know, I never “triggered” anyone. We had class discussions, and nobody was looking over their shoulders.

None of us know to this day what went on in Lindsay Shepherd’s classroom. We know only that on one occasion she showed a short video clip of alt-right cult hero Jordan Peterson being quizzed by host Steve Paikin on the issue of new pronouns for “non-binary” people. This resulted in her being called on the carpet.

Shepherd’s recorded audio of her inquisition-by-committee became, as we know, public property: she slipped it to Postmedia’s Christie Blatchford, first off, knowing an opportunity for maximum publicity when she saw one. She had been badly treated, and like most folks who have been wronged and arguably bullied by people in authority, she wanted to hit back.

Some fellow progressives proceeded to take her far too seriously, representing her as a fully-fledged, cunning right-wing spokeskook who possessed a developed agenda from the very start. She was held to have “denied the humanity” of transpeople, of having tossed the Peterson cat amongst naive student pigeons with malign intent, of poor and/or tendentious pedagogy, of “weaponizing tears,” even of wilfully inciting hatred and violence. To repeat, none of us has a clue what her classes were like, what the post-clip discussions were, or what role she played in them. But to go on like this about an unfledged graduate student was outrageous.

Her superiors didn’t argue against whatever discussion took place, in any case: they objected to the very mention of the person whose video-presence sparked one or more complaints. Another unknown: we have no idea whether the complaint(s) came from transpeople, or (as is statistically far more likely) from politically outraged white knights. Whatever, the ad hoc committee’s comments were embarrassing and painful to listen to.

Things went haywire very quickly after that. The released audio chummed the waters for legions of trolls eager to push the narrative of universities as left-wing indoctrination camps. The Right extended a pseudopod, in the person of Postmedia’s Jonathan Kay (who messaged her as soon as she got herself a Twitter account), and she was quickly engulfed. He was one of the first two people she followed: the second was Jordan Peterson.

Shepherd found herself a celebrity, and she began to revel in it, as any 22-year-old would be likely to do. She Tweeted, addressed rallies, appeared on TV, and generally assumed the mantle of a “free speech rockstar,” a latter-day libertarian Pasionaria, champion of the politically-incorrect. She became an increasingly polarized and polarizing figure. There are, for instance, obvious parallels between her case and that of Masuma Khan, a Dalhousie University student who made social media comments about “white tears” and soon faced, not a mere meeting, but the full weight of a university disciplinary process. But Shepherd casually dismissed Khan as “insolent,” an airily offensive choice of word. She gratuitously attacked her university’s Rainbow Centre. She claimed that she was being “racially harassed.”

Over-the-top responses to over-the-top attacks; exaggeration; borrowed ideas used as weapons; those of us with a few miles on us should really try to think back. The best thing for Shepherd right now might be a year in a Zen monastery, to catch her breath and reflect. Right now, without denying her own agency, it is obvious that she has become a prisoner. To take Oswald Spengler completely out of context, “All that wells up from the depths of the young soul is cast in the old moulds, [and] young feelings stiffen in senile works.”

It’s going on before our eyes. And perhaps I’m the only one left who presently feels a bit sorry for her.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on December 2, 2017 2:22 PM.

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