All posts filed under: Features

A Good Word for the Contemptible Straight White Male

I’m always on the lookout for new writing opportunities, especially with publications funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, as one can usually expect modest remuneration. I was initially pleased, then, to discover the literary magazine called, quite appropriately as you’ll see, SCUM. Its About section notes that it “has filthy feminist leanings and a disregard for propriety.” Terrific, I thought. Perhaps I could pitch an essay or two. I have often detailed the squalid nature of contemporary feminism à la Clementine Ford and the rest of the gang. While I haven’t dipped into her new book, Fight Like A Girl, I’m keeping an open mind, should the opportunity to read it ever come up. To update the old joke, I imagine that Ford’s oeuvre, along with every copy of Fairfax’s Daily Life, will be the only reading material available for borrowing at the single library in hell. There, how’s that for propriety? Of course, a quick glance through its essays and reviews proved that I had badly misread SCUM’s editorial policy — the …

Terrorism Denial on the Left

At the end of last year I attended a large conference of social science academics and researchers in Melbourne. Speaking on a plenary panel in front of hundreds of attendees was the director of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Australia’s primary refugee advocacy organisation. He opened the plenary by describing the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers, decrying the cruelty of Australia’s policy of offshore detention toward refugees, and the need for a more humane approach. He pointed out that funding for refugee services had been cut by a seemingly callous government that was indifferent to the plight of refugees. These are all legitimate — if familiar — points in the debate about this topic. However he then went on to say that all of this was happening whilst we spent billions of dollars on a “fictitious war against terror”. Hold on, ‘fictitious’? A fiction? Made up? I looked around the audience, and no one seemed perturbed by what he’d just said. No one challenged him in the Q&A session afterward. Was I the only one bothered …

Totalitarianism Rising

She walked up the subway stairwell, smiling. Atop the Fifth Avenue sidewalk landing, a crowd had already gathered. Cheers broke out as the first glimpses of her were caught by the impatiently awaiting audience. Once on the sidewalk, she gracefully and confidently approached the prepared lectern and waived to the gathered masses. Her smile slowly faded. “Our country is fallen,” she began. “The legacy of colonialism and racism still haunts our communities. From small towns to big cities, police brutality is destroying lives and ruining families. Hate crimes are on the rise. Our Muslim and LGBTQIA brothers and sisters are traumatized by hate speech on college campuses and in the media. White, straight, cisgender men are bringing racism, they’re bringing sexism, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” These apocalyptic images were followed by a few more depicting rampant bigotry and oppression and the all-consuming fires of capitalism. “But today,” she continued, her voice brightening, “we say no more! Today will be remembered as the day when we all came together and dealt …

Why Growth Most Often Occurs When We Fall Apart

In many ways, our current society is set up to avoid as much pain as possible. Whether it is new technology, new medical or pharmaceutical advancements, or the self help industry, everything is set up to make our lives easier, simpler, and more uniquely tailored to our every individual need. Even the names of products such as the iPhone and iPad nod to the symbiotic merger of products and people. But the question remains, does all of this avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure really make us any happier or more resilient? Obviously, new technological and medical advancements have helped millions of people rise out of poverty or overcome disease, but overall our social levels of happiness haven’t risen. Indeed, studies have shown that use of social media such as Facebook is correlated to depression and unhappiness. Other studies have shown that there is some increase in levels of happiness when individuals rise out of poverty, but material possessions beyond that don’t make much of a difference. Anyway, this avoidance of pain isn’t just relegated …

Negotiating Standpoints Outside the University Classroom

When a protest on a college campus occurs over an issue, an explosion of articles appear, arguing why one position is right and the other is wrong. Tensions rise when no semblance of agreement is reached, and a second wave of essays appear, which take the form of what Michael Sandel calls a “shouting match.” Each side screams at one another instead of engaging with each other. These recriminations shut down any chance of reasonable conversation. How do you react when someone calls you an idiot? In a small hookah lounge in the East Village in New York, I regularly meet with a close friend to discuss all things political and philosophical. Recently, as we sat blowing smoke rings together we found ourselves digging into some of the political correctness controversies arising on college campuses — things like sexual harassment in academia, trigger warnings, and microaggression policing. The two of us had taken a philosophy course together in undergrad, and so naturally we examined these topics through a philosophical lens. We went back and forth debating …

Make Expertise Great Again

A review of  by The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols. Oxford University Press, (1 April, 2017) 272 pages.   The long-awaited book by Professor Tom Nichols, (AKA @RadioFreeTom) The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters is finally out this year. And perhaps no other topic can be as important, given the tectonic shifting year in global politics we just had. Political Scientists don’t often get credit for genuine predictions or trend recognition, although the majority of them invite flak for failed ones. Credit, therefore goes to Nichols. He identified, what is currently one of the most destructive trends in this post-truth world, a disdain towards any sort of acquired knowledge and expertise, and he identified that trend in 2013 in this famous blog post. That blog post was expanded to a full length Op-Ed for The Federalist in 2014, which came out as a complete thesis in the first month of 2017. The book, which  is soon to be …

The Truth About Propaganda

“If you can’t find the sucker at the poker table,” goes the saying, “you’re it.” Extrapolating that axiom to the present political moment, we may say: “If you don’t hear much about propaganda, that’s what you’re hearing.” The term propaganda has its origins in the 17th century efforts of the Catholic Church to propagate its views and stem the rise of Protestantism. It has gone through various permutations since. By the time Hitler was dead and the Cold War underway, the word had lost its Godly associations and became a pejorative, connoting mostly the self-serving lies of nefarious tyrannical regimes. Yet propaganda properly understood is non-discriminating, inclusive with regard to its users, contents, and ends. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines propaganda as: “The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” Propaganda, in other words, is manipulative persuasion in the service of an agenda. The word itself doesn’t imply truth or falsehood in the content or pass judgment on the agenda. Understood as such, …

Stereotypes Can Hold Boys Back in School, Too

By age six, girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as brilliant and express interest in activities described as for “really, really smart” children, according to new research published in Science. Many major media outlets reported these findings. Most of the coverage, however, overlooked another key finding from the same study: Boys were less likely to say their own gender gets top grades in school. The beliefs of children matter because they could shape students’ interests and achievement over time, other research suggests. For instance, one 2013 experiment found that telling elementary school children “girls do better than boys” in school made boys — but not girls — perform worse on a series of academic tests. These expectations can work both ways: When researchers told children that boys and girls would perform the same, boys’ academic performance improved. There are real and persistent gender achievement gaps in the U.S. For instance, boys tend to get worse grades than girls, but girls are few among top scorers on standardized math tests. While much research …

The Rise of the Right and the Triumph of Rhetoric

The great conservative historian Maurice Cowling was once criticised in the London Review of Books for being unable to defend his opinions with arguments. Cowling, who was famously sardonic, wrote in his response: Given that I have a certain articulateness, it is, it seems to me, quite likely that I can argue them. Argument, however, is not what it seems to me suitable to do with opinions. What one does with opinions — all one needs to do with them, having found that one has them — is to enjoy them, display them, use them, develop them, in order to cajole, press, bully, soothe and sneer other people into sharing (or being affronted by) them. To argue them is, it seems to me, a very vulgar, debating-society sort of activity. As amusing as this is, he did not write in jest. Cowling taught in Peterhouse college, the oldest college of the University of Cambridge, and formed around himself a sort of conservative mafia through which to preserve and promote his cynical elitist traditionalism. Members of the “Peterhouse …

Free Speech and the Regressive Left — the Road Back to Reason

What’s a peeved leftist to do when ill-considered aspects of his creed so undermine his candidate’s credibility that the candidate loses the most consequential presidential election in history? Why, vent his frustration on those of his fellows who tried to set him straight! With the recent inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, progressives need to pause, take a deep breath, assess the peril facing the republic — indeed, the West as a whole, even the planet — and find a basis for common ground that will permit the formation of an effective opposition. We should recall that the White House is now more powerful than ever; Obama signed almost as many executive orders (279) as his predecessor (291). Executive overreach, pursued by presidents of both parties, seeks to thwart the constitutional checks and balances that prevent rule by fiat and, thus, the potential for tyranny. With Trump, the danger is especially acute and grows more apparent by the hour. Now is not the time for those on the left, however upset they may be, to vent and …