All posts filed under: Features

Trump, NATO and the Persistent Myths of International Relations

There’s a German word, which is useful to explain what I, and other political realists felt, after Donald Trump gave his first ever interview as PEOTUS to a British newspaper. Of course, the liberal Twitterati exploded. And yes the word is, as some of you might have guessed, schadenfreude. Most of us are not Trump supporters or fans, nor do we consider Trump to be an elegant statesman or practitioner of realpolitik. But his statements were inevitable and predicatable for anyone — barring the diehard liberal ideologues. The apparent breaking point for the Twitterati was reached when Trump called Merkel’s open gate foreign policy a catastrophe, openly siding with UK against EU with regards to Brexit, and trashing NATO as a Byzantine bureaucracy, calling it “obsolete”. How dare Trump criticise the quite obviously flawed and stagnating liberal global order? The global order paid for and secured by American taxpayers, mind you, and managed by terminally incompetent technocrats, adhering to a radical universalist ideology. How dare he invite the rage of the Davos men (as Samuel …

Attack of the Offendotrons: Tyranny of the Flash Mob

It’s impossible to ignore the story of Greig Tonkins, the Taronga Park zookeeper who punched a giant roo to save his dog. However, the aftermath — where animal activists and offendotrons of various stripes mobbed him and tried to get him sacked, ultimately necessitating police involvement — was, if anything, more extraordinary. These days, it seems people will be sacked from their job — with their life and that of their family ruined — if they do something a big enough and loud enough mob doesn’t like. Somehow, we’ve decided it’s reasonable to consign people to unemployment and poverty over trivialities: how a zookeeper spends his weekends, dressing in bad taste, donations to a charity considered non-U in certain parts. Maybe it’s because tarring and feathering is illegal. We seem to have forgotten that employees are allowed to be ‘ordinary members of the public’ — people are not automatons and not the property of their employers. One of the union movement’s achievements was preventing employers from policing their employees’ extracurricular activities, as long as those activities were legal. Granted, there are …

Reassessing Cultural Divisions in the United States

If there was any doubt before, this election cycle brought home how divided the U.S. is on issues of national identity. It also brought political and cultural tensions to the surface, displayed in acts of outrage and the strident expressions of the partisans of different views. Old ways of dividing the social landscape no longer apply, and some of the events of the last few years are so bizarre it is difficult to believe, had they been scripted as a movie, the plot could have been pitched as anything other than satire even five years ago. Yet this is the world we wake up to every day. Consider arch-progressive Michael Moore’s resounding expression of the popular sentiment in support of Trump, or the fact that we now have a president-elect that was once used as a throw-away joke on the Simpsons in 2000, someone who retweets his fans’ remarks, and who campaigned in large part on his business acumen while his business life reads like the scandalous decline of a B-grade Hollywood starlet. This is …

Tyranny of the Ethnography: How Lived Experience Corrupts the Social Sciences

When Arleen, a single mother of two, was evicted from her Milwaukee apartment, she had one option. It was January of 2008, one of the snowiest years on record. With no safety net, Arleen did the only thing she could. She took her sons — Jori was thirteen, Jafaris was five — to the local homeless shelter. According to Harvard Professor Matthew Desmond, evictions used to be extremely rare. Who dare cast a mother and her children to the streets? When they did occur, evictions caused outrage, riots. But now, when families are evicted, community outcry is nonexistent. Bags are packed. Possessions are scavenged. A family is uprooted. Millions of the American urban poor have faced eviction. In Milwaukee, where Desmond conducted his field research,  a staggering 1 in 8 residents faced formal or informal eviction between 2009 and 2011 alone. This doesn’t just happen in Wisconsin. As Desmond says: “This book is set in Milwaukee, but it tells an American story.” Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is an ethnography that was …

How Will History Remember Obama?

Ta-Nehisi Coates started the revisionism over the most divisive and controversial President in post Cold war history, as Ta-Nehisi Coates is wont to do. Which is unfortunate, because Obama, for good or for bad, deserves a fair, objective, non-linear analysis of his record, and a certainly more nuanced look than the partisan hagiographies that are currently emerging. President Obama, the first biracial leader of the free world, and one of the most gifted extemporaneous speakers of our time, is a textbook example of a young, professorially cynical, cautious, but overall idealistic young leader who was eventually chastened by time. Coates’ essay is a start in what will be the repeated partisan glossing of the legacy of an interesting character, but one who was eventually defeated by personal naiveté and the structural forces that resided outside of his control. He deserves a more thorough scrutiny than terribly worded think pieces focusing on nothing other than one single defining factor, his race. I remember when Obama stood as a smooth-talking Senator against Hillary Clinton in 2008. My rookie journalism …

Monks in High Towers: A Plea to Our Fellow Academics

“The man who knows more and more about less and less is becoming a public nuisance”¹ Emblazoned above the entrance to the religion department at Florida State University is an inscription: The half of knowledge is to know where to find knowledge. The imperative of knowing where to find knowledge cuts deeper than we might imagine in science. Knowledge isn’t quarantined off in a single corner of the academy. Rather, it is dispersed among different fields, much like information is spread across the hard drive of your computer. The sad reality of the modern academy is that many academics work under the assumption that knowledge is proprietary to their field. A great many modern scholars do not even know where to find knowledge. Monks in Many High Towers Academic life involves a menagerie of different fields of study. For a scholar working in any given area, decades of time are invested in understanding her subject with great intensity. The goal is to be an expert in a very particular nook in an increasingly narrow corner. …

Students, Sex, Social Media and Why the Steven Galloway Affair Is so Murky

On a frigid night a few years ago, a friend dragged me to an event at a popular Montreal bar. Students of a local graduate program in creative writing were giving a reading. My friend and I sat close to them. I watched as pitchers of beer came and went and the students danced attendance on an older man, perhaps an instructor or organiser of the event. As the night went on and inhibitions were lowered, evidence of unruly feelings became obvious. Most creative arts departments are proverbial hothouses as far as egos go and this group was no exception. They were living proof of that punk axiom: eventually, love would tear them apart. The emotions I saw guaranteed it. Although I teach literature, I’m wary of university creative writing programs: they may be prestigious and even profitable, but I suspect they are more about buying access to agents and less about incubating talent. The students I heard that night read about relationships — with some texts directed at others in attendance — and yet …

Free Speech and Terrorism – Whatever you do, don’t mention Islam!

Trump will now be president. Thanks a lot, regressive leftists. Whatever you do, decent progressive people, when terrorism comes up, don’t be “Islamophobic” and mention Islam! If Islam comes up anyway, do draw false equivalencies and hobble yourselves, citing Western imperialism as a moral hamartia disqualifying you from taking critical stances about the faith of a beleaguered minority. Studiously ignore freethinkers in that same minority, and, of course, those facing persecution in Muslim-majority countries. And definitely throw ex-Muslims — especially ex-Muslim women — under the bus. After all, they’re inconvenient, defenseless, relatively few in number, and often so harassed and threatened by their own communities that they surely won’t object. Remember, after all, you have the gunmen, machete-wielders, and honor brigades on your side. In fact, you know that all too well. Might that be why you refuse to recognize Islamist ideology as the cause of much of the world’s present mayhem? The above is a preamble to my discussion of the proximate cause of today’s essay — an article published by the Washington Post purporting to provide “guidance” in …

Rehabilitating Feminism

Several years ago, I came across a video of Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz on Youtube where he explained the difference between Islam and Islamism. Islam, he explained, is a personal faith shared by much of the world’s population, and it enriches a person’s life with meaning, purpose, and community. Islamism is the belief that that personal faith should be implemented as law for the rest of the world to follow. It is, in other words, the belief that government should be an extension of Islam. This is what a nuanced and evolving rhetoric can do for us. In making this distinction, Nawaz was able to give me clarity on a subject that I’d previously found incredibly muddy, all by articulating and naming a difference between two groups of people who claimed the same name for themselves. It allowed me to realize that I wasn’t concerned about the religion itself, but with the ideology that attempted to inflict that religion upon on everyone else. I had been conflating and confusing the two, which, when I wasn’t …

The University as a Total Institution

Concentrated Power is Not Rendered Harmless by the Good Intentions of Those Who Create It — Milton Friedman Administrators and staff at Edgewood College were recently called together to discuss a troubling note placed on the door to the diversity office after the election of Donald Trump. The note, which included a smiley face, stated “Suck it up, pussies.” In the hours after the note was found, the diversity office had coordinated with the Title IX office, human resources, the office of student conduct, and the Vice President for Student Development to determine an appropriate course of action. In their joint email to the Edgewood campus, the ad hoc committee said that the note “was hateful and harmful,” and that “it violated every value that this institution considers to be at its core.” If such a condemnation wasn’t enough, they added that “Covert micro-aggressions and overt macro-aggressions appear to have taken on a new fervor” since the election. They promptly determined that the note constituted a hate crime and called the Madison, Wisconsin Police Department. …