All posts filed under: Features

Evergreen State and the Battle for Modernity

Last week, tiny public liberal arts college Evergreen State in Olympia, Washington became the focus of national attention when progressive biology professor Bret Weinstein attracted the ire of a student lynch mob for refusing to leave campus due to being white. I won’t delve into the full timeline, which can be readily found elsewhere, but basically the university has celebrated a long standing tradition starting in the 70s, called Day of Absence, in which black students consensually left campus in order to leave “those left to reflect on the meaning of their community without these essential members.” On this particular occasion, they requested that whites leave instead, and when Weinstein wrote an email protesting, describing the event as “a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself,” chaos shortly ensued. Online videos surfaced displaying student activists menacing, cursing, and chanting at white professors, even demanding that president George Bridges keep his hands to his side. Currently, news reports indicate that vigilante groups are roaming the campus with bats, seeking out Weinstein …

Manchester’s Children and the Regressive Left

Editor’s note: This goes to publication on the same day that the London Attacks have occurred on London Bridge and at Borough Market. This latest attack comes less than a fortnight after the Manchester bombing.   Are the enlightened losing the battle of ideas? It would certainly seem so. Moral decay, hypocrisy, ginned-up hysteria, and denials of verifiable fact are suffusing our public discourse. Atavism, nativism, undue respect for religion (and one religion in particular, about which more below) are now ascendant; a childishly intolerant, tantrum-like brand of Leftist militancy has emerged, with intersectionality, cultural appropriation, and “privilege” being the fashionable catchwords, and de-platforming controversial speakers a common manifestation. (The specter of postmodernism hovers over all the above.) This militancy displays a strain of ideological derangement so outlandish that it resembles the most vicious of nuthouse satire and would be risible if it weren’t so dangerous. We can safely say that we’re teetering on the brink of civilizational suicide—a suicide assisted by those of the illiberal left. Nowhere is this more evident than on university campuses. In mid-May at …

Paranoid Paleoconservatives

On Saturday 19 November 2016, less than two weeks after Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, the National Policy Institute held its annual conference in Washington DC. Ordinarily an obscure talking shop noticed by no-one, this year the mood among the 200 or so attendees was buoyant and the event had attracted a handful of curious journalists and angry protesters. Trump’s populist campaign had energized a political fringe tendency now known as the alt-right (or ‘alternative right’), and the NPI’s director Richard Spencer had enjoyed some exposure as one of movement’s more articulate spokesmen. But the alt-right was still, on the whole, an unknown quantity. Media interest during the election had been fitful as attention focused on Trump’s pugnacious and apparently chaotic campaign. If the movement was understood at all, it was generally thought to be an epiphenomenon; a strange byproduct of the Trump candidacy and a racist internet subculture, notorious for the harassment campaigns it directed against anti-Trump conservatives and Jewish journalists on social media. As for alt-right ideology, if such a thing existed it …

Cultural Appropriation Sold Out When It Went Mainstream

It’s not the bloodbaths I mind so much as the tedium. Some of us survived the sub/dub wars; we should feel proud to see new generations hammering their keyboards with a violent passion, endlessly disputing the details of how to appreciate foreign culture. Unfortunately this turned out to be simultaneously the age in which everyone is expected to acknowledge the politics of cultural appropriation, and the age of trending topics and viral clicktivism. Public criticism of cultural appropriation, even in its more sober and reflective manifestations, duly narrows to a couple of apparent trends. One is a prominent concern with offensiveness, though the fact that so many things are now discovered to be offensive tends to dull its effect. Some appeals to offence do have a further dimension: objections to profane imitation of what a people holds to be sacred. The catch is that appeals to sanctity don’t fit neatly into a wider category of cultural appropriation: they won’t credibly work for sushi or sombreros, so if cultural appropriation per se is morally suspect then …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part II: A review of The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century by Jeffrey Duban. Clairview Books (30th June 2016). The classical tradition in literature is essentially dead. The English poet Alice Oswald may be the only prominent contemporary writer who has read deeply in Latin and Greek poetry. A few other poets (Ruth Padel, Anne Carson, Alice Stallings) have made names for themselves as classicist-poets; though their contributions to literature and scholarship have been uninspiring; their work is more often praised than read. Most of the praise comes only from Classics teachers, or others easily impressed by a thin veneer of learning. It is impossible to name a novelist, short-story writer or playwright active today who engages seriously with classical history, myth or literary form. Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the Twenty-First Century. This is not all Duban tries to do: he also provides a learned introduction to ancient Greek lyric poetry, offers translations of …

What Philosophers Must Learn from the Transracialism Meltdown

“Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all” ― Theon, father of Hypatia of Alexandria (Quoted in Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers by Elbert Hubbard)   For years we have been hearing that political correctness is cresting, that this-or-that campus outrage represents the last straw, the turning point. Each time, however, political correctness not only does not decline, but actually gains ground. Again and again, those who prophesy the imminent decline of political correctness are exposed as false prophets. Now we hear that the Hypatia kerfuffle will be remembered as the moment at which academic philosophers finally turned against the excesses of identity politics. Whether or not this is so depends upon whether philosophers seize the opportunity to challenge the dogmas that made it possible. The Hypatia Affair In its most recent issue (Spring 2017), the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia published an article by Rebecca Tuvel entitled “In Defense of Transracialism.” Tuvel, an untenured philosopher at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, argues …

When Accusations Lose Their Bite

About a week ago, ABC canceled one of its most popular shows, “Last Man Standing” starring conservative comedian Tim Allen. This appears to be the belated consequence of a smear campaign directed against Allen in March, after he explained to Jimmy Kimmel why he was nervous talking about his involvement in Trump’s inauguration: “You gotta be real careful [in Hollywood]. You know, you get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes. It’s like 30s Germany.” Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, spearheaded the backlash. He asked: “Tim, have you lost your mind?” Apparently Allen’s comment “trivializes the horrors imposed on Jews in Nazi Germany,” and he needs to “leave [his] bubble to apologize to the Jewish people.” Just two months before Allen’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel, however, we find an interesting report in the Huffington Post: “Goldstein told HuffPost it would be hyperbolic and irresponsible to compare Trump’s actions to the Holocaust’s mass murders. ‘However, it would be equally irresponsible not to point out the similarities between …

Inverted Nationalism and Orwellian Patriotism

National loyalty is a bit like iodine: poisonous in large quantities yet salubrious in limited amounts. Dangerous nationalism, defined as morally unbalanced national loyalty, is obvious to Western intellectuals. But educated people, keen to give chauvinism the widest possible clearance, may adopt attitudes of indifference, or even contempt, toward their own societies. This goes hand-in-hand with an impulse to glorify foreign cultures. Roger Scruton coined the word “oikophobia” (Greek for “fear of home”) to describe this unhealthy state of mind. I shall call it “inverted nationalism.” In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argued that virtue is a mean between extremes. Courage, for example, is supposed to be the mean between cowardliness and rashness. One upshot is that moral improvement can itself be a morally perilous enterprise. When groups of people attempt to improve themselves and society, the propensity toward groupthink exacerbates the danger of over-compensation. Hence university students, eager to reject the easily perceived evils of racism and sexism, leave the golden mean in the dust as they stampede toward zealotry and sanctimony. The same purity-seeking mentality …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …

Who Will Make Our Coffee in Pret?

When a BBC Question Time audience member asked “Who will make our coffee in Pret?” she sincerely believed herself to be making an argument in favour of open borders and globalism. Her question is valid. Who would make the coffee in Pret? In London last summer I ate at a couple of Pret A Mangers (for those unfamiliar, Pret is a popular British coffee and sandwich chain), and after seeing the Question Time clip I recalled noting at the time a dearth of London accents in the stores. Not only at Prets; an absence of white Londoners was the norm in all the coffee shops and fast food restaurants I patronised. Not content with having caused a swell of murmured disapprovals in the audience the woman doubled down: “You’re not going to get English people to take those jobs.” On this point she is correct. But why? Why are there, relatively speaking, hardly any white Londoners serving coffee in Pret or flipping burgers at McDonald’s? With mass migration to the west everything works in a …