Home >Opinion >Columns >Let everyone speak but logic should ultimately prevail

Here is the latest from the woke world. Some hospitals in the United Kingdom have begun using the term “chestfeeding" instead of “breastfeeding" in an attempt to be more inclusive of transgender people. The original cue came from a study published in 2016 in the journal Pediatrics by two medical researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University, who argued that the promotion of breastfeeding as the “natural" way to feed a child has many negative societal effects: “(It) may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that ‘natural’ approaches are presumptively healthier".

Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reaffirmed that “breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition" and that “infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice", but who cares? When doctors spend more time pondering about how to be woke than about health, science retires hurt.

Woke-ism seems to have blasted the floodgates of Western academia—especially the humanities—to smithereens. In media and other public spaces, a brutal cancel culture and a whiny victimhood appear to be—paradoxically—going hand in hand and doing very well. An example. Last July, Niel Golightly, the communications chief at Boeing, resigned after outrage over a 33-year-old article arguing that women should not serve in the military. Should we be applying today’s standards to 1987? Surely, freedom of expression can be stretched that little bit?

But then again, who cares?

The very fact that someone did something at sometime in life seems enough for mob justice. And this is only one instance from a continuing purge.

As we know, the woke tsunami has crashed on Indian shores too, certainly among young people from privileged urban English-speaking households. I am sure the vast majority of them are perfectly well-meaning, but sometimes their lack of logical thinking is troublesome. Take the case of Disha Ravi, the 22-year-old arrested on sedition charges related to the ongoing farmers’ agitation in India. We must presume her to be innocent unless proven guilty, but her story raises some other questions.

She has been described as a “climate activist" across global media. Her cause is undoubtedly good, but does she really understand the ground issues? If she did, she should possibly have been more concerned about the climate havoc that reckless farming is wreaking. For instance, all studies have shown that with free power and water in Punjab, its water table is being dangerously depleted; some experts predict that if this trend continues, the state could turn into a barren desert in another two decades.

Every year, at the onset of winter, farmers burn vast quantities of crop stubble in north India, creating a toxic haze that smothers the National Capital Region, causing untold damage to the economy and public health. At its peak phase last November, this inferno accounted for 42% of Delhi’s air pollution, according to an environment ministry report. These practices—irresponsible use of natural resources, stubble burning, excessive deployment of pesticides—are exactly what a climate activist should be fighting against, and not laws that give us a chance to set things right and, indeed, help farmers in the long run. The best of intentions cannot justify illogic.

In the West, the slightest slip—real or imagined—can draw thunderous ire; people lose their jobs and are forced to issue abject apologies. At Boeing, Golightly announced his departure in a mea culpa email to company staff, which he shared with the media. “The article I wrote—with arguments I disowned soon after—makes for painful reading," he wrote. “Painful because it is wrong. Painful because it is offensive to women. Painful because it reminds me of the sharp and embarrassing education the uninformed and unformed ‘me’ of that time received as soon as the piece appeared."

Does this “social justice" movement remind one of Stalinism, with its social media show trials followed by the rites of confession and penance? Where words either lose meaning or are trashed? Like “breastfeeding".

Much of this is derived from the “post-modern" cultural theories propagated by French philosophers like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, who called for a rejection of logic. Apparently, logic itself is a form of oppression. But the fact that this conclusion has been reached through some sort of logic seems to have escaped them.

So it was all the more interesting when, last October, French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer spoke about an “out-of-control leftism and cancel culture that is threatening French identity". He was supported by 100 eminent intellectuals and academics in an open letter; president Emmanuel Macron too warned against “certain social science theories entirely imported from the US". This should have been funny, but is not.

Hopefully, in dinful India, we will never come to that stage, but we do seem to be inexorably headed that way, at least among the privileged elite. Let everyone speak, but let healthy logic rule.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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