Paul: In Defense of J.K. Rowling

Of note:

“Trans people need and deserve protection.”

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”

“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

These statements were written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, a human-rights activist and — according to a noisy fringe of the internet and a number of powerful transgender rights activists and L.G.B.T.Q. lobbying groups — a transphobe.

Even many of Rowling’s devoted fans have made this accusation. In 2020, The Leaky Cauldron, one of the biggest “Harry Potter” fan sites, claimed that Rowling had endorsed “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” letting members know it would avoid featuring quotes from and photos of the author.

Other critics have advocated that bookstores pull her books from the shelves, and some bookstores have done so. She has also been subjected to verbal abusedoxxing and threats of sexual and other physical violence, including death threats.

Now,  in rare and wide-ranging interviews for the podcast series “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” which begins next week, Rowling is sharing her experiences. “I have had direct threats of violence, and I have had people coming to my house where my kids live, and I’ve had my address posted online,” she says in one of the interviews. “I’ve had what the police, anyway, would regard as credible threats.”

This campaign against Rowling is as dangerous as it is absurd. The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie last summer is a forceful reminder of what can happen when writers are demonized. And in Rowling’s case, the characterization of her as a transphobe doesn’t square with her actual views.

So why would anyone accuse her of transphobia? Surely, Rowling must have played some part, you might think.

The answer is straightforward: Because she has asserted the right to spaces for biological women only, such as domestic abuse shelters and sex-segregated prisons. Because she has insisted that when it comes to determining a person’s legal gender status, self-declared gender identity is insufficient. Because she has expressed skepticism about phrases like “people who menstruate” in reference to biological women. Because she has defended herself and, far more important, supported others, including detransitioners and feminist scholars, who have come under attack from trans activists. And because she followed on Twitter and praised some of the work of Magdalen Berns, a lesbian feminist who had made incendiary comments about transgender people.

You might disagree — perhaps strongly — with Rowling’s views and actions here. You may believe that the prevalence of violence against transgender people means that airing any views contrary to those of vocal trans activists will aggravate animus toward a vulnerable population.

But nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic. She is not disputing the existence of gender dysphoria. She has never voiced opposition to allowing people to transition under evidence-based therapeutic and medical care. She is not denying transgender people equal pay or housing. There is no evidence that she is putting trans people “in danger,” as has been claimed, nor is she denying their right to exist.

Take it from one of her former critics. E.J. Rosetta, a journalist who once denounced Rowling for her supposed transphobia, was commissioned last year to write an article called “20 Transphobic J.K. Rowling Quotes We’re Done With.” After 12 weeks of reporting and reading, Rosetta wrote, “I’ve not found a single truly transphobic message.” On Twitter she declared, “You’re burning the wrong witch.”

For the record, I, too, read all of Rowling’s books, including the crime novels written under the pen name Robert Galbraith, and came up empty-handed. Those who have parsed her work for transgressions have objected to the fact that in one of her Galbraith novels, she included a transgender character and that in another of these novels, a killer occasionally disguises himself by dressing as a woman. Needless to say, it takes a certain kind of person to see this as evidence of bigotry.

This isn’t the first time Rowling and her work have been condemned by ideologues. For years, books in the “Harry Potter” series were among the most banned in America. Many Christians denounced the books’ positive depiction of witchcraft and magic; some called Rowling a heretic. Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church and the author of “Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Extremism,” says that she appreciated the novels as a child but, raised in a family notorious for its extremism and bigotry, she was taught to believe Rowling was going to hell over her support for gay rights.

Phelps-Roper has taken the time to rethink her biases. She is now the host of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.” The podcast, based on nine hours of her interviews with Rowling — the first time Rowling has spoken at length about her advocacy — explores why Rowling has been subjected to such wide-ranging vitriol despite a body of work that embraces the virtues of being an outsider, the power of empathy toward one’s enemies and the primacy of loyalty toward one’s friends.

The podcast, which also includes interviews with critics of Rowling, delves into why Rowling has used her platform to challenge certain claims of so-called gender ideology — such as the idea that transgender women should be treated as indistinguishable from biological women in virtually every legal and social context. Why, both her fans and her fiercest critics have asked, would she bother to take such a stand, knowing that attacks would ensue?

“The pushback is often, ‘You are wealthy. You can afford security. You haven’t been silenced.’ All true. But I think that misses the point. The attempt to intimidate and silence me is meant to serve as a warning to other women” with similar views who may also wish to speak out, Rowling says in the podcast.

“And I say that because I have seen it used that way,” Rowling continues. She says other women have told her they’ve been warned: “Look at what happened to J.K. Rowling. Watch yourself.”

Recently, for example, Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National Party lawmaker who is a lesbian and a feminist, publicly questioned Scotland’s passage of a “self-ID” law that would allow people to legally establish by mere declaration that they are women after living for only three months as a transgender woman — and without any need for a gender dysphoria diagnosis. She reported that she faced workplace bullying and death threats; she was also removed from her frontbench position in Parliament as spokeswoman for justice and home affairs. “I think some people are scared to speak out in this debate because when you do speak out, you’re often wrongly branded as a transphobe or a bigot,” she said.

Phelps-Roper told me that Rowling’s outspokenness is precisely in the service of this kind of cause. “A lot of people think that Rowling is using her privilege to attack a vulnerable group,” she said. “But she sees herself as standing up for the rights of a vulnerable group.”

Rowling, Phelps-Roper added, views speaking out as a responsibility and an obligation: “She’s looking around and realizing that other people are self-censoring because they cannot afford to speak up. But she felt she had to be honest and stand up against a movement that she saw as using authoritarian tactics.”

As Rowling herself notes on the podcast, she’s written books where “from the very first page, bullying and authoritarian behavior is held to be one of the worst of human ills.” Those who accuse Rowling of punching down against her critics ignore the fact that she is sticking up for those who have silenced themselves to avoid the job loss, public vilification and threats to physical safety that other critics of recent gender orthodoxies have suffered.

Social media is then leveraged to amplify those attacks. It’s a strategy Phelps-Roper recognizes from her days at Westboro. “We leaned into whatever would get us the most attention, and that was often the most outrageous and aggressive versions of what we believed,” she recalled.

It may be a sign of the tide turning that along with Phelps-Roper, several like-minded creative people — though generally those with the protection of wealth or strong backing from their employers — are finally braving the heat. In recent months and after silence or worse from some of the young actors whose careers Rowling’s work helped advance, several actors from the “Harry Potter” films, such as Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, have publicly defended the author.

In the words of Fiennes: “J.K. Rowling has written these great books about empowerment, about young children finding themselves as human beings. It’s about how you become a better, stronger, more morally centered human being,” he said. “The verbal abuse directed at her is disgusting. It’s appalling.”

Despite media coverage that can be embarrassingly credulouswhen it comes to the charges against Rowling, a small number of influential journalists have also begun speaking out in her defense. Here in America, Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic tweeted last year, “Eventually, she will be proven right, and the high cost she’s paid for sticking to her beliefs will be seen as the choice of a principled person.”

In Britain the liberal columnist Hadley Freeman left The Guardian after, she said, the publication refused to allow her to interview Rowling. ​​She has since joined The Sunday Times, where her first column commended Rowling for her feminist positions. Another liberal columnist for The Guardian left for similar reasons; after decamping to The Telegraph, she defended Rowling, despite earlier threats of rape against her and her children for her work.

Millions of Rowling’s readers no doubt remain unaware of her demonization. But that doesn’t mean that — as with other outlandish claims, whether it’s the Big Lie or QAnon — the accusations aren’t insidious and tenacious. The seed has been planted in the culture that young people should feel that there’s something wrong with liking Rowling’s books, that her books are “problematic” and that appreciating her work is “complicated.” In recent weeks, an uproar ensued over a new “Harry Potter” video game. That is a terrible shame. Children would do well to read “Harry Potter” unreservedly and absorb its lessons.

Because what Rowling actually says matters. In 2016, when accepting the PEN/Allen Foundation award for literary service, Rowling referred to her support for feminism — and for the rights of transgender people. As she put it, “My critics are at liberty to claim that I’m trying to convert children to satanism, and I’m free to explain that I’m exploring human nature and morality or to say, ‘You’re an idiot,’ depending on which side of the bed I got out of that day.”

Rowling could have just stayed in bed. She could have taken refuge in her wealth and fandom. In her “Harry Potter” universe, heroes are marked by courage and compassion. Her best characters learn to stand up to bullies and expose false accusations. And that even when it seems the world is set against you, you have to stand firm in your core beliefs in what’s right.

Defending those who have been scorned isn’t easy, especially for young people. It’s scary to stand up to bullies, as any “Harry Potter” reader knows. Let the grown-ups in the room lead the way. If more people stood up for J.K. Rowling, they would not only be doing right by her; they’d also be standing up for human rights, specifically women’s rights, gay rights and, yes, transgender rights. They’d also be standing up for the truth.

Source: Paul: In Defense of J.K. Rowling

‘Hip Hip Hooray!’ Cheering News for Free Speech on Campus

Funny but pointed analysis of the Stanford list of banned common words:

The following is a celebration of the cancellation of the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, an attempt by a committee of IT leaders at Stanford University to ban 161 common words and phrases. Of those 161 phrases, I have taken pains to use 45 of them here. Read at your own risk.

Is the media addicted to bad news? It’s not a dumb question, nor are you crazy to ask. After all, we follow tragedy like hounds on the chase, whether it’s stories about teenagers who commit suicide,victims of domestic violence or survivors of accidents in which someone winds up quadriplegiccrippled for life or confined to a wheelchair. We report on the hurdles former convicts face after incarceration, hostile attitudes toward immigrants and the plight of prostitutes and the homeless. Given the perilous state of the planet, you might consider this barrage of ill tidings to be tone-deaf.

Well, I’m happy to report good news for a change. You might call it a corrective, or a sanity check, but whatever you call it — and what you can call things here is key — there have been several positive developments on American campuses. The chilling effects of censorship and shaming that have trapped students between the competing diktats of “silence is violence” and “speech is violence” — the Scylla and Charybdis of campus speech — may finally be showing some cracks.

Matters looked especially grim in December, when the internet discovered the 13-page dystopicallly titled “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative. A kind of white paper on contemporary illiberalism, it listed 161 verboten expressions, divided into categories of transgression, including “person-first,” “institutionalized racism” and the blissfully unironic “imprecise language.” The document offered preferred substitutions, many of which required feats of linguistic limbo to avoid simple terms like “insane,” “mentally ill” and — not to beat a dead horse, but I’ll add one more — “rule of thumb.” Naturally, it tore its way across the internet to widespread mockery despite a “content warning” in bold type: “This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.”

Before you get worked up, know this: A webmaster has taken the site down and the program has been aborted for re-evaluation. Last month, in a welcome display of clear leadership, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Stanford’s president, said the policy, brainchild of a select committee of IT leaders, had never been intended as a universitywide policy and reiterated the school’s commitment to free speech. “From the beginning of our time as Stanford leaders, Persis and I have vigorously affirmed the importance and centrality of academic freedom and the rights of voices from across the ideological and political spectrum to express their views at Stanford,” he wrote, referring to the school’s provost, Persis Drell. “I want to reaffirm those commitments today in the strongest terms.”

Could this be a seminal moment for academic freedom? Consider other bright spots: Harvard recently went ahead with its fellowship offer to Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, which was earlier rejected, allegedly owing to his critical views on Israel. M.I.T.’s faculty voted to embrace a “Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom.” At Yale Law School, which has been roiled by repeated attempts to suppress speech, a conservative lawyer was allowed to appear on a panel with a former president of the A.C.L.U. after protests disrupted her visit the year before. And Hamline University, which had refused to renew an art history professor’s contract because she showed an artwork that some Muslim students may have found offensive, walked back its characterization of her as “Islamophobic.”

Finally, when an office within the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California banned the terms “fieldwork” and “in the field” to describe research projects because their “anti-Black” associations might offend some descendants of American slavery, U.S.C.’s interim provost issued a statement that “The university does not maintain a list of banned or discouraged words.”

It’s hard to know how much these shifting prohibitions distress students, whether freshman or senior, given how scared many are to speak up in the first place.

But we do know two things: First, college students are suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues more than ever before, and second, fewer feel comfortable expressing disagreement lest their peers go on the warpath. It would be a ballsy move to risk being denounced, expelled from their tribe, become a black sheep. No one can blame any teenager who has been under a social media pile-on for feeling like a basket case. Why take the chance.

Yet when in life is it more appropriate for people to take risks than in college — to test out ideas and encounter other points of view? College students should be encouraged to use their voices and colleges to let them be heard. It’s nearly impossible to do this while mastering speech codes, especially when the master lists employ a kind of tribal knowledge known only to their guru creators. A normal person of any age may have trouble submitting, let alone remembering that “African American” is not just discouraged but verboten, that he or she can’t refer to a professor’s “walk-in” hours or call for a brown bag lunchpowwow or stand-up meeting with their peers.

“You can’t say that” should not be the common refrain.

According to a 2022 Knight Foundation report, the percentage of college students who say free speech rights are secure has fallen every year since 2016, while the percentage who believe free speech rights are threatened has risen. Nearly two-thirds think the climate at school prevents people from expressing views that others might find offensive. But here, too, let’s convey some good news: The number of students who say controversial speakers should be disinvited has fallen since 2019. And one more cheering note: The editors of The Stanford Review, a student publication, poked gleefully at the document before it was taken down, with the shared impulse — irresistible, really — of using a number of taboo terms in the process.

Surely my ancestors from the ghettos of Eastern Europe couldn’t anticipate that their American descendants would face this kind of policing of speech at institutions devoted to higher learning. (While we’re on history, per the document, but news to all the Jews I know: “Hip hip hooray” was a term “used by German citizens during the Holocaust as a rallying cry when they would hunt down Jewish citizens living in segregated neighborhoods.”)

Consider what learning can flourish under such constraints. In a speech last fall celebrating the 100th anniversary of PEN America, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie noted: “Many American universities are well-meaning in wanting to keep students comfortable, but they do so at the risk not just of creating an insular, closed space but one where it is almost impossible to admit to ignorance — and in my opinion the ability to admit to ignorance is a wonderful thing. Because it creates an opportunity to learn.”

It is reasonable to wonder whether any conceivable harm to a few on hearing the occasional upsetting term outweighs the harm to everyone in suppressing speech. Or whether overcoming the relatively minor discomforts of an unintentional, insensitive or inept comment might help students develop the resilience necessary to surmount life’s considerably greater challenges — challenges that will not likely be mediated by college administrators after they graduate.

Rather than muzzle students, we should allow them to hear and be heard. Opportunities to engage and respond. It’s worth remembering how children once responded to schoolyard epithets: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” Narrow restrictions on putatively harmful speech leave young people distracted from and ill-prepared for the actual violence they’ll encounter in the real world.

Source: ‘Hip Hip Hooray!’ Cheering News for Free Speech on Campus

Paul: Free to Be You and Me. Or Not.

Of note:

If you grew up in any remotely liberal enclave of America in the 1970s or 1980s, you grew up believing a few things.

You believed that you lived in a land where the children were free,where it didn’t matter whether you were a boy or a girl because neither could limit your choices — not when you were a kid, not when you grew up. You believed it was perfectly fine for William to want a doll and if you were a girl, you might have been perfectly happy for him to take yours.

You believed these things because of “Free to Be … You and Me.” That landmark album, which had its 50th anniversary last month, and its companion book shaped a generation. It took the idealism and values of the civil rights and the women’s rights movements and packaged them into a treasury of songs, poems and stories that was at once earnest, silly and wholeheartedly sappy. It was the kind of thing a kid felt both devoted to and slightly embarrassed by. The soundtrack got stuck in your head. The book fell apart at the seams.

In other words, for a certain generation, “Free to Be” waschildhood.

And that achievement is something to celebrate no matter your age. Alas, marking that achievement — the brainchild of Marlo Thomas and other trailblazers including Carole Hart, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Mary Rodgers — also means grappling with the erosion of those ideas. Is it possible we’ve moved past the egalitarian ideals of “Free to Be … You and Me,” and if so, is that a step forward?

To get to an answer, let’s consider what “Free to Be” had to say — and to sing. The album opened with a title song that proclaimed: “Every boy in this land grows to be his own man. In this land every girl grows to be her own woman.” That doesn’t sound like much now, but at the time, it was revolutionary. No matter how liberated your parents were, the larger culture still typically assumed rigid roles for boys and girls, the latter still very much considered the fragile sex. I can’t count how many times people told me, on finding out I had seven brothers, “How lucky you are to have them to protect you!”

“Free to Be” unshackled boys and girls from these kinds of gender stereotypes. As Pogrebin wrote in the book’s introduction, “What we have been seeking is a literature of human diversity that celebrates choice and that does not exclude any child from its pleasures because of race or sex, geography or family occupation, religion or temperament.” For what now seems like a brief moment, boys and girls wore the same unflattering turtlenecks and wide-wale corduroys. Parents encouraged daughters to dream about becoming doctors and police officers. Boys were urged to express feelings. Everyone was allowed to cry.

Then the pushback began. Some of it stemmed from ongoing conservative resistance to feminism’s gains. Some of it was about money. And some it of it emerged from a strain of progressivism that has repurposed some of the very stereotypes women and men worked so hard to sweep away.

These moves started with an ’80s backlash against the women’s movement and, while much of it was ideological, not surprisingly some of it was about money. When lucrative boomers became parents, the toy industry redivided playthings into separate aisles. In a round table for the 50th anniversary of Ms. magazine, also this year, Pogrebin remarked: “Now I have a stroke when I go through toy stores where still everything is pink and blue. When you order a toy online, they say, ‘Is it for a girl or a boy?’ They don’t say, ‘Is this a child who’s interested in nature or in bugs or in dinosaurs?’ They say, ‘Boy or girl?’ That was gone in the ’70s and ’80s. But that’s all slid backwards.”

Of course, when clothing, toys or books are gendered, companies selling those goods make more money. In their 2012 anthology, “When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made,” Lori Rotskoff and Laura L. Lovett noted with dismay, “When crass commercialism shows its true colors, pink and blue don’t make purple, they make green, multiplying profits every time parents buy into the premise that girls and boys require different playthings, books, websites and computer games.”

Such stereotypes belie the lessons Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas imparted in the beloved sketch “Boy Meets Girl,” featuring a girl baby and a boy baby, the latter of whom thinks he might be a girl because he’s afraid of mice and wants to be a cocktail waitress. Back at Main Street School in 1980, where my third-grade class performed the play version of the book, those were the most coveted roles. Everyone wanted to be one of those babies! I didn’t get the part, but I did get the message. Like other liberated kids, I accepted the reality of biological science that I was a girl — and rejected the fiction of gendered social conventions that as such, I should incline toward pink dresses and Barbies.

Now we risk losing those advances. In lieu of liberating children from gender, some educators have doubled down, offering children a smorgasbord of labels — gender identity, gender role, gender performance and gender expression — to affix to themselves from a young age. Some go so far as to suggest that not only is gender “assigned” to people at birth but that sex in humans is a spectrum (even though accepted science holds that sex in humans is fundamentally binary, with a tiny number of people having intersex traits). The effect of all this is that today we are defining people — especially children — by gender more than ever before, rather than trying to free both sexes from gender stereotypes.

Oh, for the days of “Parents Are People,” when Thomas and Harry Belafonte proposed that mommies and daddies — and by extension, women and men, regardless of whether they are parents — should no longer be held back by traditionalist expectations. That they could, as Rotskoff and Lovett put it, “transcend prevailing norms of acceptable ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ behavior.” That everyone, at base, is free to be “gender nonconforming.” (It’s worth noting that Thomas, when asked in 2015 if “Free to Be” fit in with transgender rights, said its message encompasses everyone.)

As for that land where the children run free, there is little running around now. Despite efforts at free-range parenting, kids tend to be hovered over at all times: In school by surveillance systems like GoGuardian and ClassDojo and the parent portal. In their free time, by the location devices built into their smartwatches and phones. At home, by nanny cams and smart devices. And the children probably are home, socializing on their screens rather than outside riding a bike or playing kick-the-can until someone yells “Dinner!”

We’ve found new ways to box children in.

In 2012, when I interviewed Marlo Thomas on the 40th anniversary of the “Free to Be,” she told me, “The ideas could never be outdated.” But whereas the 35th anniversary got a newly illustrated edition and the 40th anniversary was marked with an anthology of essays and stories in places like Slate and CNN, the 50th anniversary has quietly slipped by, but for a brief segment on NPR in which the host noted subsequent “huge changes when it comes to gender” and called some of the album “dated.”

Let’s not lose the positive changes. Why not open the book again, still widely available? Stream the album for your kids on Spotify. This is one case in which winding the clock back a little would actually be a real step forward.

Source: Free to Be You and Me. Or Not.

Paul: Ninety Years Ago, This Book Tried to Warn Us

Lessons and warnings from history:

The power of some classic realist novels, like Zola’s “Germinal” and Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” lies in the way they wholly capture their era. Others endure because they continue to feel remarkably prescient, like Eliot’s “Middlemarch” and William Dean Howells’s “A Hazard of New Fortunes,” which took on the perils of surviving financially in Gilded Age New York.

Then there are novels that are simultaneously very much of their time and yet almost clairvoyant about the future.

Lion Feuchtwanger’s 1933 novel “The Oppermanns,” which is being rereleased this month with a revised translation of James Cleugh’s original by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Joshua Cohen, is one of those books. It’s been nearly 90 years since its publication, but reading it now is like staring into the worst of next week. It’s all there: The ways in which a country can lose its grip on the truth. The ways in which tribalism — referred to in “The Oppermanns” as “anthropological and zoological nonsense” — is easily roused to demonize others. The ways in which warring factions can be abetted by the media and accepted by a credulous populace.

The novel reads like a five-alarm fire because it was written that way, over a mere nine months, and published shortly after Hitler became chancellor, only lightly fictionalizing events as they occurred in real time. In “Buddenbrooks” fashion, the story follows the declining fortunes and trials of a family, the German Jewish Oppermanns, prosperous merchants and professionals, as they scramble to hold on while fascism takes hold of their country. It’s a book that fairly trembles with foreboding and almost aches with sorrow.

“How do you know when to sound the alarm?” asked Cohen, who also wrote an introduction to the new edition, when I reached him by phone on book tour in Italy. It’s easy to slam someone for overreacting, he explained. But we would do well to remember the instances in which a strong reaction is justified: “There’s an enormous bravery that comes with writing about the present, an enormous risk and an enormous thrill. You have to ask yourself: ‘What if I’m wrong?’ And also: ‘What if I’m right?’”

Feuchtwanger was willing to place that bet, working off fury as well as considerable access to journalistic, governmental and undercover sources within Germany. But unlike much overtly political fiction, his book is imbued with all the humor, humanity and sweep of a 19th-century epic. The result, Fred T. March noted in his 1934 review in The Times, “is addressed to the German people, who will not be allowed to read it, urging them to open their eyes. And it is addressed to the world outside bearing the message, ‘Wake up! The barbarians are upon us.’”

Consider the misbegotten assumptions Feuchtwanger took on then that continue to threaten today:

Populist ignorance cannot prevail in an enlightened world. Just as New Yorkers scoffed at the idea that Donald Trump, lead buffoon of the tabloid ’80s, could be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, so do the bourgeois intelligentsia of “The Oppermanns” chortle over “Mein Kampf,” a work they find impossible to reckon with in the land of Goethe: “A nation that had concerned itself for centuries so intensively with books, such as those they saw around them, could never allow itself to be deceived by the nonsense in the ‘Protocols’ and in ‘Mein Kampf.’”

Direct engagement confers legitimacy. When Edgar Oppermann, a doctor, faces antisemitic attacks in the newspapers, his boss advises silence. “The whole of politics is nothing but a pigsty. Unless one cannot help doing otherwise, one should simply ignore them. That’s what annoys the pigsty crowd most.” To confront the forces of illiberalism is only to sully oneself, Edgar believes. Those in the press who propagate such lies “ought to be put into an asylum, not brought before a court of law.”

Technology will out disinformation. At each turn, the Oppermanns and their milieu have trouble believing that propaganda will take hold. “How could they expect to get away with such a monstrous, clumsy lie?” Gustav Oppermannthe central figure in the novel, asks himself after the Nazis blame the burning of the Reichstag on communists. “Nero might have put over such cheap stuff in burning Rome. But things like that were impossible today, in the era of the telephone and printing press.” Of course, the era of Twitter and TikTok has shown that advances in technology still amplify falsehoods.

If you ignore it, it will go away. In the novel, two bourgeois Germans foresee a grim future but fall back on complacency. One describes the first world war as “only a curtain-raiser” with “a century of destruction” to follow, predicting, as he puts it, “a military power beyond conception, a judiciary power with severe, restrictive laws and a school system to educate senseless brutes in the ecstasy of self-sacrifice.” His companion merely replies: “All right, if that’s your opinion. But perhaps you’ll have another cognac and a cigar before it happens.”

It’s up to the next generation. The novel’s most tragic figure is the teenage Berthold Oppermann, a student guilty only by ethnicity and familial association. Berated by a Nazi schoolteacher for delivering an allegedly anti-German paper, Berthold says he is “a good German” and refuses to apologize. “You are a good German, are you?” his Nazi teacher sneers. “Well, will you be so good as to leave it to others to decide who is a good German and who is not?” While classrooms today are a far cry from those in Nazi-era Germany, one needn’t reach far for contemporary parallels, with students increasingly operating in an atmosphere of fear and conformity — of their peers, depending on location, on the right or the left — while the adults too often abdicate responsibility, whether out of complicity or fear.

The situation was inevitable. In the Oppermanns’ world, escalating problems are viewed as uniquely German, unique to their time and to a particular regime. “Our opponents have one tremendous advantage over us; their absolute lack of fairness,” explains a lawyer at one point. “That is the very reason why they are in power today. They have always employed such primitive methods that the rest of us simply did not believe them possible, for they would not have been possible in any other country.”

Wrong again.

As for Feuchtwanger, the same year that “The Oppermanns” was published, the German Jewish author was stripped of his citizenship and had his property in Berlin seized and his books burned. He was banned from ever publishing in Germany again.

By the time the book was published, Feuchtwanger had already settled in France, where he was later imprisoned following the German invasion. He ultimately escaped to the United States, where he lived for the last 17 years of his life.

Is this still the same country where he’d find refuge?

Source: Ninety Years Ago, This Book Tried to Warn Us

Paul: When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

Useful reminder that minorities are not monolithic in their political perspectives.

In many ways, it is a positive sign of civic integration when all groups participate in different political parties and formations, as is the case in Canada:

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has dominated headlines this month, homages to her reign and dissections of the Harry and Meghan situation unsurprisingly pushing other news aside, especially other stories from Britain.

But even amid all the pomp, one news item out of Britain has attracted curiously little attention. Liz Truss, the new Conservative prime minister, announced her cabinet, and for the first time ever, not a single member of the inner circle — what’s referred to as the Great Offices of State — is a white man.

The home secretary, Suella Braverman, is the daughter of Kenyan and Mauritian immigrants. The mother of the foreign minister, James Cleverly, emigrated from Sierra Leone. The new chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, was born to Ghanaian parents.

Did the left break into applause? Were there hosannas throughout progressive Twitter heralding this racial, ethnic and gender diversity as a step forward for society?

Not exactly.

Instead, the change was dutifully relayed, often with caveats. “Liz Truss’s cabinet: diverse but dogmatic,” noted The Guardian. The new team was criticized as elite, the product of schools like Eton, Cambridge and the Sorbonne. These people aren’t working class, others pointed out. They don’t sufficiently support the rights of those seeking asylum in Britain or policies that address climate change.

“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”

This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.

The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view. Even before Truss’s cabinet was finalized, one member of the Labour opposition tweeted, “Her cabinet is expected to be diverse, but it will be the most right-wing in living memory, embracing a political agenda that will attack the rights of working people, especially minorities.”

Another Labour representative wrote: “It’s not enough to be a Black or ethnic minority politician in this country or a cabinet member. That’s not what representation is about. That’s actually tokenism.”

The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn. Is that fair?

I’m not politically aligned with Truss on most issues. This is not the team I’d choose to lead a country reeling from Covid, an energy crisis and the twin disasters of Boris and Brexit. But it’s Truss’s prerogative to hire people with whom she is ideologically aligned and who support her policies.

And one has to assume those new hires joined her willingly and with conviction. Surely they, like all racial and ethnic minorities, are capable of the same independence of mind and diversity of thought as white people — some people Trumpy, other people Bernie.

Nor are they the first conservative minorities to hold top positions of power in Britain. It was the Conservative Party that, despite widespread antisemitism, first appointed a Jewish-born prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, in 1868. The three women who have served as prime ministers — Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and now Truss — have all been Conservatives. The former prime minister David Cameron was no lefty, yet he made a point of emphasizing ethnic and racial diversity among his leadership appointments.

Black and other ethnic minority voters in Britain aren’t uniformly lefty, either. They cast 20 percent of their votes for Conservatives in 2019.

A similar diversity of political opinion among minorities exists in the United States, and it bewilders the left. An increasing number of Latinos are running as and voting for Republican candidates. Donald Trump got more votes from ethnic minorities in 2020 than he did in 2016. Black men’s support for Trump increased by six percentage points the second time around. And that was after the murder of George Floyd, an event assumed to have galvanized many minority voters on the left.

In his prescient 1991 book, “Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby,” the law professor Stephen Carter decried many of the assumptions around diversity nascent at that time — including the notion that racial or ethnic minorities are expected to think as a group, not as individuals. He bemoaned “the idea that Black people who gain positions of authority or influence are vested with a special responsibility to articulate the presumed views of other people who are Black — in effect, to think and act and speak in a particular way, the Black way — and that there is something peculiar about Black people who insist on doing anything else.”

It’s been three decades since Carter’s book was published, and that lamentable assumption has only gained purchase. As he pointed out then: “In an earlier era, such sentiments might have been marked down as frankly racist. Now, however, they are almost a gospel for people who want to show their commitment to equality.”

It seems odd to have to point out in 2022 that “diverse” hires can be every bit as diverse on the inside as they are on the outside. For every Ketanji Brown Jackson, you’re liable to get a Clarence Thomas. Apparently, we need constant reminders that there’s more to people than meets the eye and that in multicultural societies, an acceptance of diversity must be more than skin deep.

Source: When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

Paul: There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book

Significant and worrisome:

In the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” was banned in France, Britain and Argentina, but not in the United States, where its publisher, Walter Minton, released the book after multiple American publishing houses rejected it.

Minton is part of a noble tradition. Over the years, American publishers have fought back against efforts to repress a wide range of works — from Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” to Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Just last year, Simon & Schuster defended its book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence, despite a petition signed by more than 200 Simon & Schuster employees and other book professionals demanding that the publishing house cancel the deal. The publisher, Dana Canedy, and chief executive, Jonathan Karp, held firm.

The American publishing industry has long prided itself on publishing ideas and narratives that are worthy of our engagement, even if some people might consider them unsavory or dangerous, and for standing its ground on freedom of expression.

But that ground is getting shaky. Though the publishing industry would never condone book banning, a subtler form of repression is taking place in the literary world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression from behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful-sounding rationales. As many top editors and publishing executives admit off the record, a real strain of self-censorship has emerged that many otherwise liberal-minded editors, agents and authors feel compelled to take part in.

Over the course of his long career, John Sargent, who was chief executive of Macmillan until last year and is widely respected in the industry for his staunch defense of freedom of expression, witnessed the growing forces of censorship — outside the industry, with overt book-banning efforts on the political right, but also within the industry, through self-censorship and fear of public outcry from those on the far left.

“It’s happening on both sides,” Sargent told me recently. “It’s just a different mechanism. On the right, it’s going through institutions and school boards, and on the left, it’s using social media as a tool of activism. It’s aggressively protesting to increase the pain threshold, until there’s censorship going the other way.”

In the face of those pressures, publishers have adopted a defensive crouch, taking pre-emptive measures to avoid controversy and criticism. Now, many books the left might object to never make it to bookshelves because a softer form of banishment happens earlier in the publishing process: scuttling a project for ideological reasons before a deal is signed, or defusing or eliminating “sensitive” material in the course of editing.

Publishers have increasingly instituted a practice of “sensitivity reads,” something that first gained traction in the young adult fiction world but has since spread to books for readers of all ages. Though it has long been a practice to lawyer many books, sensitivity readers take matters to another level, weeding out anything that might potentially offend.

Even when a potentially controversial book does find its way into print, other gatekeepers in the book world — the literary press, librarians, independent bookstores — may not review, acquire or sell it, limiting the book’s ability to succeed in the marketplace. Last year, when the American Booksellers Association included Abigail Shrier’s book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” in a mailing to member booksellers, a number of booksellers publicly castigated the group for promoting a book they considered transphobic. The association issued a lengthy apology and subsequently promised to revise its practices. The group’s board then backed away from its traditional support of free expression, emphasizing the importance of avoiding “harmful speech.”

A recent overview in Publishers Weekly about the state of free expression in the industry noted, “Many longtime book people have said what makes the present unprecedented is a new impetus to censor — and self-censor — coming from the left.” When the reporter asked a half dozen influential figures at the largest publishing houses to comment, only one would talk — and only on condition of anonymity. “This is the censorship that, as the phrase goes, dare not speak its name,” the reporter wrote.

The caution is born of recent experience. No publisher wants another “American Dirt” imbroglio, in which a highly anticipated novel was accused of capitalizing on the migrant experience, no matter how well the book sells. No publisher wants the kind of staff walkout that took place in 2020 at Hachette Book Group when the journalist Ronan Farrow protested its plan to publish a memoir by his father, Woody Allen.

It is certainly true that not every book deserves to be published. But those decisions should be based on the quality of a book as judged by editors and publishers, not in response to a threatened, perceived or real political litmus test. The heart of publishing lies in taking risks, not avoiding them.

You can understand why the publishing world gets nervous. Consider what has happened to books that have gotten on the wrong side of illiberal scolds. On Goodreads, for example, vicious campaigns have circulated against authors for inadvertent offenses in novels that haven’t even been published yet. Sometimes the outcry doesn’t take place until after a book is in stores. Last year, a bunny in a children’s picture book got soot on his face by sticking his head into an oven to clean it — and the book was deemed racially insensitive by a single blogger. It was reprinted with the illustration redrawn. All this after the book received rave reviews and a New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award.

In another instance, a white academic was denounced for cultural appropriation because trap feminism, the subject of her book “Bad and Boujee,” lay outside her own racial experience. The publisher subsequently withdrew the book. PEN America rightfully denounced the publisher’s decision, noting that it “detracts from public discourse and feeds into a climate where authors, editors and publishers are disincentivized to take risks.”

Books have always contained delicate and challenging material that rubs up against some readers’ sensitivities or deeply held beliefs. But which material upsets which people changes over time; many stories about interracial cooperation that were once hailed for their progressive values (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Help”) are now criticized as “white savior” narratives. Yet these books can still be read, appreciated and debated — not only despite but also because of the offending material. Even if only to better understand where we started and how far we’ve come.

Having both worked in book publishing and covered it as an outsider, I’ve found that people in the industry are overwhelmingly smart, open-minded and well-intentioned. They aren’t involved in some kind of evil plot. Book people want to get good books out there, and to as many readers as possible.

An added challenge is that all of this is happening against the backdrop of a recent spate of shameful book bans that comes largely from the right. According to the American Library Association, of the hundreds of attempts to remove books from schools and libraries in 2021, a vast majority were made in response to content related to race and sex — red meat for red states, with Texas and Florida ranking high among those determined to quash artistic freedom and limit reader access. Republican politicians, for so long forces of intolerance, are now deep in the book-banning business.

We shouldn’t capitulate to any repressive forces, no matter where they emanate from on the political spectrum. Parents, schools and readers should demand access to all kinds of books, whether they personally approve of the content or not. For those on the illiberal left to conduct their own campaigns of censorship while bemoaning the book-burning impulses of the right is to violate the core tenets of liberalism. We’re better than this.

Source: There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book

Paul: The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count

A plague on both their houses:

Perhaps it makes sense that women — those supposedly compliant and agreeable, self-sacrificing and everything-nice creatures — were the ones to finally bring our polarized country together.

Because the far right and the far left have found the one thing they can agree on: Women don’t count.

The right’s position here is the better known, the movement having aggressively dedicated itself to stripping women of fundamental rights for decades. Thanks in part to two Supreme Court justices who have been credibly accused of abusive behavior toward women, Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 years a target, has been ruthlessly overturned.

Far more bewildering has been the fringe left jumping in with its own perhaps unintentionally but effectively misogynist agenda. There was a time when campus groups and activist organizations advocated strenuously on behalf of women. Women’s rights were human rights and something to fight for. Though the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, legal scholars and advocacy groups spent years working to otherwise establish women as a protected class.

But today, a number of academics, uber-progressives, transgender activists, civil liberties organizations and medical organizations are working toward an opposite end: to deny women their humanity, reducing them to a mix of body parts and gender stereotypes.

As reported by my colleague Michael Powell, even the word “women” has become verboten. Previously a commonly understood term for half the world’s population, the word had a specific meaning tied to genetics, biology, history, politics and culture. No longer. In its place are unwieldy terms like “pregnant people,” “menstruators” and “bodies with vaginas.”

Planned Parenthood, once a stalwart defender of women’s rights, omits the word “women” from its home page. NARAL Pro-Choice America has used “birthing people” in lieu of “women.” The American Civil Liberties Union, a longtime defender of women’s rights, last month tweeted its outrage over the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade as a threat to several groups: “Black, Indigenous and other people of color, the L.G.B.T.Q. community, immigrants, young people.”

It left out those threatened most of all: women. Talk about a bitter way to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

The noble intent behind omitting the word “women” is to make room for the relatively tiny number of transgender men and people identifying as nonbinary who retain aspects of female biological function and can conceive, give birth or breastfeed. But despite a spirit of inclusion, the result has been to shove women to the side.

Women, of course, have been accommodating. They’ve welcomed transgender women into their organizations. They’ve learned that to propose any space just for biological women in situations where the presence of males can be threatening or unfair — rape crisis centers, domestic abuse shelters, competitive sports — is currently viewed by some as exclusionary. If there are other marginalized people to fight for, it’s assumed women will be the ones to serve other people’s agendas rather than promote their own.

But, but, but. Can you blame the sisterhood for feeling a little nervous? For wincing at the presumption of acquiescence? For worrying about the broader implications? For wondering what kind of message we are sending to young girls about feeling good in their bodies, pride in their sex and the prospects of womanhood? For essentially ceding to another backlash?

Women didn’t fight this long and this hard only to be told we couldn’t call ourselves women anymore. This isn’t just a semantic issue; it’s also a question of moral harm, an affront to our very sense of ourselves.

It wasn’t so long ago — and in some places the belief persists — that women were considered a mere rib to Adam’s whole. Seeing women as their own complete entities, not just a collection of derivative parts, was an important part of the struggle for sexual equality.

But here we go again, parsing women into organs. Last year the British medical journal The Lancet patted itself on the back for a cover article on menstruation. Yet instead of mentioning the human beings who get to enjoy this monthly biological activity, the cover referred to “bodies with vaginas.” It’s almost as if the other bits and bobs — uteruses, ovaries or even something relatively gender-neutral like brains — were inconsequential. That such things tend to be wrapped together in a human package with two X sex chromosomes is apparently unmentionable.

“What are we, chopped liver?” a woman might be tempted to joke, but in this organ-centric and largely humorless atmosphere, perhaps she would be wiser not to.

Those women who do publicly express mixed emotions or opposing views are often brutally denounced for asserting themselves. (Google the word “transgender” combined with the name Martina Navratilova, J.K. Rowling or Kathleen Stock to get a withering sense.) They risk their jobs and their personal safety. They are maligned as somehow transphobic or labeled TERFs, a pejorative that may be unfamiliar to those who don’t step onto this particular Twitter battlefield. Ostensibly shorthand for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” which originally referred to a subgroup of the British feminist movement, “TERF” has come to denote any woman, feminist or not, who persists in believing that while transgender women should be free to live their lives with dignity and respect, they are not identical to those who were born female and who have lived their entire lives as such, with all the biological trappings, societal and cultural expectations, economic realities and safety issues that involves.

But in a world of chosen gender identities, women as a biological category don’t exist. Some might even call this kind of thing erasure.

When not defining women by body parts, misogynists on both ideological poles seem determined to reduce women to rigid gender stereotypes. The formula on the right we know well: Women are maternal and domestic — the feelers and the givers and the “Don’t mind mes.” The unanticipated newcomers to such retrograde typecasting are the supposed progressives on the fringe left. In accordance with a newly embraced gender theory, they now propose that girls — gay or straight — who do not self-identify as feminine are somehow not fully girls. Gender identity workbooks created by transgender advocacy groups for use in schools offer children helpful diagrams suggesting that certain styles or behaviors are “masculine” and others “feminine.”

Didn’t we ditch those straitened categories in the ’70s?

The women’s movement and the gay rights movement, after all, tried to free the sexes from the construct of gender, with its antiquated notions of masculinity and femininity, to accept all women for who they are, whether tomboy, girly girl or butch dyke. To undo all this is to lose hard-won ground for women — and for men, too.

Those on the right who are threatened by women’s equality have always fought fiercely to put women back in their place. What has been disheartening is that some on the fringe left have been equally dismissive, resorting to bullying, threats of violence, public shaming and other scare tactics when women try to reassert that right. The effect is to curtail discussion of women’s issues in the public sphere.

But women are not the enemy here. Consider that in the real world, most violence against trans men and women is committed by men but, in the online world and in the academy, most of the ire at those who balk at this new gender ideology seems to be directed at women.

It’s heartbreaking. And it’s counterproductive.

Tolerance for one group need not mean intolerance for another. We can respect transgender women without castigating females who point out that biological women still constitute a category of their own — with their own specific needs and prerogatives.

If only women’s voices were routinely welcomed and respected on these issues. But whether Trumpist or traditionalist, fringe left activist or academic ideologue, misogynists from both extremes of the political spectrum relish equally the power to shut women up.

Source: The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count

Let Actors Act

Good commentary:

Adrian Lester, a British actor from Birmingham and the son of two immigrants from Jamaica, was nominated last week for a Tony Award for his performance in “The Lehman Trilogy” as Emanuel Lehman, one of the German-born Jewish founders of the fallen investment behemoth Lehman Brothers. Lester, like the other actors in the three-man play, takes on several parts, including female characters and at one point, a thumb-sucking toddler.

There has been no outcry about a British actor of African descent playing a German Jew, nor was there any fuss when he played Bobby, a character traditionally performed by white actors, in a London production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” for which he won an Olivier.

And why should there have been? It’s called acting.

There was no protest either about Lester’s co-star Simon Russell Beale, born to British parents in what was then British Malaya and a former chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, playing a German Jew. Adam Godley, the third actor in the play, is Jewish in real life, but he’s also gay — not so in the play. Again, it’s called acting, and Beale and Godley were also nominated for Tony Awards last week.

And yet countless actors have been criticized for playing people they do not resemble in real life.

Earlier this year, Helen Mirren was lambasted for portraying Golda Meir, a former prime minister of Israel, in a forthcoming biopic even though she’s not Jewish — engaging in what is now called “Jewface.” In a recent interview defending Mirren, Ian McKellen (who incidentally has played everything from a wizard to a cat) asked, “Is the argument that a straight man cannot play a gay part, and if so, does that mean I can’t play straight parts?” He went on: “Surely not. We’re acting. We’re pretending.”

Daring to take on parts different from oneself didn’t always kick up a storm. Back in 1993 when Tom Hanks played a gay character in “Philadelphia,” he was hailed as brave for taking on homophobia and won an Oscar. Today, his performance no longer plays so well in some quarters. “Straight men playing gay — everyone wants to give them an award,” the performer Billy Porter complained in a 2019 actor’s round table. Yet many of our best gay, lesbian and bisexual actors — Jodie Foster, Alan Cumming, Kristen Stewart, Nathan Lane — have won awards for straight roles without even a murmur of complaint.

What we are effectively saying here — without ever, heaven forbid, saying it out loud — is that it’s OK for actors from groups considered to be marginalized — whether gay, Indigenous, Latino or any other number of identities — to play straight white characters. But it’s not OK for the reverse.

Such double standards may not trouble you. But if it’s a problem that a “miscast” actor — one who differs in identity from the character — takes a role away from a “properly cast” actor when there are already fewer roles for underrepresented or marginalized groups, then why not condemn Simon Russell Beale for taking a job from a Jewish actor? Why no outcry every time a 40-something actress bends biology to play the mothers of 25-year-old actresses, robbing older actresses who more plausibly fit the part?

If, however, the real problem is actors not being able to understand what it feels like to be part of a demographic group or to have a sexual orientation outside the confines of their own experience, then none of these actors should be able to play anyone unlike themselves. In other words, no one should ever be allowed to play a part.

Hollywood has wisely moved on from the offensive extremes of blackface and Shylock stereotypes, “queeny” stock gay characters and Mickey Rooney’s embarrassing turn as a Japanese landlord in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” There is plenty of room in the middle without ricocheting to the other undesirable extreme.

It’s not that strict typecasting should never happen; it can yield rewarding opportunities for both actors and audiences. Behold the deaf performers in the Oscar-winning “Coda.”

But deaf performers can also act movingly in a musical like the 2015 Deaf West revival of “Spring Awakening,” which featured them in roles that were originally performed as hearing characters and performed simply as characters, neither explicitly hearing nor deaf, but transcendently human in their expression.

Likewise, in a recent revival of “Oklahoma!” Ali Stroker, who uses a wheelchair, was able to fully embody Ado Annie, who spends much of her time in the movie and previous stage versions swishing away from her suitor, Will Parker, just as Daniel Day-Lewis once captured, with extraordinary sensitivity in “My Left Foot,” the wheelchair-bound writer and painter Christy Brown.

Good actors are able to find a way to portray people who are not like themselves, whether on the surface or well below, which is what differentiates them from those of us who could barely remember our lines in a fourth-grade production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Acting is a feat of compassion and an act of generosity. Those capable of that kind of emotional ventriloquy enable audiences to find ourselves in the lives portrayed onscreen, no matter how little they may resemble our own.

Bravo to those actors who do that well. Bravo to the talented Adrian Lester, who makes you forget the color of his skin, his nationality and his religion — and gives himself over entirely to his performance. There is no reason for any actor to apologize for exercising and reveling in his craft.

Source: Let Actors Act