All posts filed under: Activism

My Unpopular Opinion: There Are Too Many Mediocre Artists

Every now and again, a friend of mine holds a ‘what’s your unpopular opinion?’ discussion in a club we jointly run. Everyone takes turns to say something not so much outrageous or contrarian (debates are seldom about politics) but bitter – as in ‘bitter truth’. People argue, say, that colonialism is a good idea (when done by the British, of course), or that sometimes historic buildings and artefacts are more important than people (and should by preference be preserved in wartime), or that corporal punishment is probably not such a bad idea for certain sorts of crimes (and criminals). He imposes the Chatham House rule so people aren’t set upon afterwards by mobs of offendotrons trying to get them sacked for wrongthink. Well, I’ve decided to go public with one of my unpopular opinions. There are too many artists, too many people who want to be artists, most of them aren’t very good, and schools should focus on inculcating self-discipline rather than dopey ‘all must have prizes’ creativity. Most people are only ever going to …

The Forgotten Story of How “Punching Up” Harmed the Science-Fiction/Fantasy World

The recent blowup over New York Times editorial board hire Sarah Jeong and her racially charged Twitter trail turned into a brawl over a key question in today’s cultural polemics: Whether derogatory speech about whites should be considered racist and, more generally, whether there is such a thing as anti-white racism. Most of Jeong’s defenders on the left not only argued that she shouldn’t lose her job but insisted that there was nothing particularly wrong with her white-bashing tweets, whether they were meant to mock racist trolls or criticize “white privilege.” “To equate ‘being mean to white people’ with the actual systemic oppression and marginalization of minority groups is a false equivalency,” wrote Vox reporter Aja Romano in a supposedly objective “explainer.” As the Jeong drama demonstrates, the view that “woke” white-bashing is a harmless, justified, and perhaps even commendable form of “punching up” is now mainstream in liberal/progressive culture in North America (and some other Western countries). And yet another culture-war episode from four years ago—one that, as it happens, Romano also covered in …

The Rise and Decline of Black Lives Matter: A Toronto Case Study

In July 2016, the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter brought the city’s world-famous Pride parade to a halt. BLM supporters staged a sit-in to protest Pride Toronto’s alleged ‘anti-blackness.’ The parade restarted only after the organizer hastily signed a document containing a long list of demands, including the removal of official police floats from future parades. BLM had taken on one of the most prominent civic events on Toronto’s annual calendar, and won. Two years later, it’s a different story. During the 2018 Pride festivities, BLM did not take part in the main parade, opting instead for the less popular, more overtly political Dyke March and Trans March. The move symbolizes a larger trend. Scan BLM’s media mentions across North America, and a pattern emerges: a spike in mentions during the group’s early protests in 2015 and 2016, followed by a steep decline in 2017, which has continued into 2018. This is a group that, not so long ago, could force politicians to walk back declarations that “all lives matter” (a slogan that was …

Jordan Peterson Rallies Portlandia’s Dissidents

PORTLAND, Ore. — Weeks of effort by activists to get University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson booted from his Portland tour stop ultimately failed as he delivered an uninterrupted speech to a packed-house on Monday at the Keller Auditorium in downtown. Before the event, around 50 protesters gathered across the street to shout at Mr. Peterson’s fans waiting in line. “Say it once, say it again, no excuse for violent men,” they chanted. Many held signs condemning his views on gender pronouns and women. One sign declared, “As many genders as we want.” Another read, “Infinite genders.” The protest comes at a tense time in Portland as activists have shut down the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office nearby for nine straight days. I recognized many of the same protesters, which include self-described anti-fascists, socialists, and anarchists. “We’re out here because there’s a classist, misogynistic, transphobic bigot named Jordan Peterson getting paid to spread his hateful ideology here in Portland,” shouted Rosemary Dodd through a megaphone. “We’re outraged by his words, yes. But …

The Folly of a Racialized Criminal Justice Reform Debate

In the wake of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent upheavals in Ferguson, Missouri, a number of political pundits implored Americans to engage in a “national conversation about race,” particularly as it pertained to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. These exhortations were understandable. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and—in state prisons—blacks are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. America has a well documented history of subjecting blacks to police brutality, and reform advocates will often claim that this racially motivated mistreatment persists today. Well intentioned activists seek to rectify this state of apparent racial injustice. However, almost four years after Ferguson, no federal legislation has been passed. While several states have enacted meaningful reforms, the system as a whole remains unaltered. What explains this failure? By all reasonable accounts, we have had the demanded ‘national conversation’ about race in the intervening years since Ferguson. Apparently, and perhaps predictably, that discussion has been unproductive. Race as a Distraction and Means of Alienation After high-profile incidents …

Against the Politicisation of Museums

“Museums,” declares Jillian Steinhauer in a recent OpEd for the Art Newspaper, “have a duty to be political.” A lot of her colleagues agree. It’s not enough for museums to entertain, inspire, and educate; they must change the world, too. Needless to say, ‘Make America Great Again’ isn’t what they mean. Worcester Art Museum calls out slave owners in labels on historic portraits. “Honestly, the catalyst for the project was the 2016 Presidential election,” curator Elizabeth Athens explained to Hyperallergic. Queens Museum closed for Trump’s inauguration and held a protest sign-making workshop instead, explaining that, “at a time when the status quo in the US is government-sanctioned racism and xenophobia, it is all the more urgent that museums acknowledge their political histories and adopt stances on contemporary issues.” Radical criticism of museums has a pedigree. Pierre Bourdieu thought museums were places for elites to develop and flaunt their ‘cultural capital,’ a way of distinguishing themselves from hoi polloi. In his 1979 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Bordeau defined the museum in …

Escaping Conformity

Recently, the following screenshot of a 2016 Tumblr post showed up in my social media feed, with a lot of responses in various states of violent agreement and disagreement gathering beneath it. The person who reposted the screenshot also included their own message about not wanting “those” kinds of allies anyway, and adding for good measure that people who felt insulted by such sentiments should go fuck themselves. This isn’t a new kind of public attitude, particularly among identitarians. One doesn’t have to look too hard to find hundreds of additional examples of people demanding only the ‘right’ kind of allies for their cause. My initial response to this post was not disagreement (although there’s the obvious vilification and over-simplification of people turned off by this kind of thing), but a familiar kind of frustration. Of course ugly rhetoric shouldn’t change whether or not I hold an ideological stance. Of course the behavior of some people who hold that ideological stance should not change my thoughts on its validity. Of course. But, unfortunately, we simply …

When Two Tribes Go To War

I found the theatrics almost comical at the Freedom Rally at the University of Washington on February 10, but I couldn’t ignore the disturbing breakdown of the social bonds that normally allow us to explore a controversy rather than create one. Our official motto is “lux sit” (“let there be light”) and, back in 2016, our university president Ana Mari Cauce wrote, “Let us strive to create light, not just heat, even when our dialogues are heated and positions passionately held.”  Unfortunately, we failed. Our university gained notoriety in January of 2017 when the UW College Republicans invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak and a melee between protestors and counter-protestors got out of hand, leaving one person shot and several others injured. The university was understandably concerned about potential problems when the College Republicans invited a group called Patriot Prayer to speak at a rally on Red Square (so named, as legend has it, primarily for the red brick tile but also perhaps a nod to political leanings on campus). In the days leading up to …

High Times in Southern California

Feeling a little bleary eyed but excited after a long flight, I took an Uber to one of the few dispensaries in Los Angeles that has managed to get a temporary license for the sale of recreational marijuana. Not everyone managed to get one on 1 January 2018. This particular dispensary in West Hollywood has been operating since the 1990s, when medical cannabis gained a foothold as a potent painkiller used by victims of AIDS. The driver slowed down as we approached the dispensary. There was a sign but it wasn’t very clear and the shop windows were tinted black. “It looks closed,” I said. “That’s what they all look like,” my driver replied. I got out of my ride and joined the back of a small queue. “How long do you think this will take?” I asked a guy in a black t-shirt who looked like a staff member. “About an hour from where you are now? We’re going as fast as we can ma’am.” “No worries. Some people have been waiting for this …

Stigmatizing Legitimate Dissent: A Response to J. Oliver Conroy

Editor’s note: this is a reply to an article published on October 29 titled Get on the Bus or Get Under It: Shouting Down Free Speech at Rutgers by J Oliver Conroy. In the spirit of constructive disagreement we have published this formal reply here, but it will also be posted at the Heterodox Academy. If you would like to join the debate please email claire@quillette.com.   Can a threat to free speech masquerade as a defense of free speech? We believe it can, if that self-styled defense denounces and stigmatizes legitimate dissent by unjustly framing it as illegitimate. Just as a false accusation of abuse or harassment can itself be a form of abuse or harassment, falsely tarring dissent as a threat to speech when it is not can itself be a threat to free speech. Unfortunately, many people seem to be highly sensitive to such threats from their political opponents and entirely tone deaf to such threats from their political compatriots. When someone on the Right condemns leftwing threats to speech, they may be correct …