All posts filed under: Features

The Neurodiversity Case for Free Speech

Imagine a young Isaac Newton time-travelling from 1670s England to teach Harvard undergrads in 2017. After the time-jump, Newton still has an obsessive, paranoid personality, with Asperger’s syndrome, a bad stutter, unstable moods, and episodes of psychotic mania and depression. But now he’s subject to Harvard’s speech codes that prohibit any “disrespect for the dignity of others”; any violations will get him in trouble with Harvard’s Inquisition (the ‘Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’). Newton also wants to publish Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to explain the laws of motion governing the universe. But his literary agent explains that he can’t get a decent book deal until Newton builds his ‘author platform’ to include at least 20k Twitter followers – without provoking any backlash for airing his eccentric views on ancient Greek alchemy, Biblical cryptography, fiat currency, Jewish mysticism, or how to predict the exact date of the Apocalypse. Newton wouldn’t last long as a ‘public intellectual’ in modern American culture. Sooner or later, he would say ‘offensive’ things that get reported to Harvard and that …

Is Postmodernism Inherently Authoritarian?

College campuses are ostensibly venues for free and open discussion. All ideas should be given an open hearing, and be judged according to their individual merits. Are they supported by good evidence? Are they internally consistent? Will they produce desirable outcomes? That, in any case, is the ideal. More and more, it seems, there is breed of campus activist that disagrees with this view. At Berkeley, protesters rioted to shut down a speech by the right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos. In Middlebury, they shouted down Charles Murray and later assaulted Professor Alison Stanger, who was hosting the talk. At Evergreen State College, they are championing the dismissal of a biology professor who expressed concern over the discriminatory nature of a campus event. Groups like Antifa (short for anti-fascist) adopt curiously jackbooted and signally authoritarian strategies to enforce their political will. They seem to be fighting fascism with something that looks conspicuously like fascism. Largely, the most raucous elements of far-left authoritarianism are part of fringe group. However, there is some cause for greater concern. According to …

Born 100 Years Ago, Anthony Burgess was a Genius who Fought for Free Speech

Anthony Burgess, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2017, is probably best known as the author of novels such as Earthly Powers, Nothing Like the Sun and A Clockwork Orange. Despite his worldwide reputation as the creator of nightmare futures, many people are unaware of Burgess’s credentials as an outspoken opponent of literary censorship. From the beginning, his career as a novelist was plagued by legal difficulties. The second volume of his Malayan trilogy, The Enemy in the Blanket (published by William Heinemann in 1958), was the subject of a successful claim for libel in the High Court in Singapore. The judgement was overturned on appeal, but Burgess gained a reputation for being troublesome. Matters were not improved when another novel, The Worm and the Ring, was also judged to be libellous in 1962. Unsold copies of the book were pulped, and the novel has never been reprinted in its original form. This was the context in which Burgess became a champion of free expression. When, in the early 1960s, his friend William …

Trump’s Warsaw Speech: Defending the West or Defending Illiberalism?

The reaction to Donald Trump’s first major speech in Europe reminds me of the old Jewish joke in which two men ask a rabbi to resolve a dispute. After listening to the first one, the rabbi says, “You’re absolutely right!” Then the second man makes his case, and the rabbi replies, “Yes, you’re quite right!” The rabbi’s wife chimes in: “That makes no sense—how can they both be right?” The rabbi ponders her words and says, “You know what? You’re right, too!” Responses to Trump’s Thursday speech in Warsaw, Poland, which focused on the need to preserve and defend Western civilization and its values, have been sharply polarized along partisan lines. On the liberal side, Sarah Wildman in Vox, Peter Beinart and James Fallows in The Atlantic, and Jeet Heer in The New Republic have argued that it was at best an appeal to tribalism and at worst practically an alt-right manifesto, full of dog-whistles for white nationalists. Conservatives, even Trump’s harshest critics such as Jonah Goldberg, David French, and William Kristol, have mostly praised …

America’s Real Pivot

Trump’s Warsaw speech marks an era defining the rebalancing of Euro-American relations Donald Trump’s speech in Poland, for lack of better words, marks the beginning of a new era in global politics. Speeches change history. Speeches mark the direction a great power is going, a pivot, if you will. That word has become a catchphrase in the last decade, but it can be used for Trump’s Warsaw speech, which marked the solidifying ideological lines of our times. Trump is no great orator. He isn’t linguistically gifted, either due to age, or due to his New York-ish snappy rhetorical style. Notwithstanding those limitations, this speech will possibly go down in history as one of the most important speeches of his presidency. Here’s the full speech in text, for the more academically minded. Everything about the speech was planned pitch perfect. The choice of the venue is Poland, a central European civilizational powerhouse, with immense historical importance. Poland has made cultural contributions and has a scientific legacy that can put any other European country to shame. In …

In Defence of Anonymity

Few recent events have united public opinion more than CNN’s petty, vindictive and astonishingly self-defeating investigation into the life of an anonymous Redditor who had created a mischievous GIF aimed at the station. It had repurposed a clip of Donald Trump clotheslining WWE CEO Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania by putting a CNN logo on McMahon’s face. Many thought it puerile and obnoxious when the President tweeted the GIF out to the world but when the media giant targeted its obscure, anonymous creator—discovering his real-life Facebook page and implicitly threatening that they would expose him if his postings annoyed them again—their bullying angered even Trump’s liberal critics. One did not have to like “@HansAssholeSolo” to dislike the power imbalance. Being so dense as to think that people would side with the multi-billion dollar corporation says something about the delusions of the media classes. Still, some sympathised with the network. Most of them were journalists. David Frum, the Atlantic columnist, proclaimed: Predictably, this did not go down well on Twitter. “Spoken like someone who does not fear for their safety,” wrote “@SaucissonSec”. …

Are the Social Sciences Undergoing a Purity Spiral?

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt, one of the authors of the paper, wrote in a commentary: Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture. While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind: [R]ecent surveys find that 58–66 per cent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 per cent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & …