All posts filed under: Long Read

A Life of Pretending: Being Egyptian and Atheist

Note: All the names in this story have been changed, aside from those of public personalities. The sun was almost directly overhead as I slipped out from the rambling alleys of the Khan al- Khalili into the open square. Al-Hussein Mosque towered ahead to the north. The call to prayer blasted from its pencil minaret, its solemn strains echoed by a cacophony of loudspeakers across the city. Exhausted and craving coffee, I headed for the strip of tourist-trap cafés lining the square’s western edge, and was barely seated when a young Egyptian couple motioned for me to join them for a game of backgammon. As I’d come to expect after nearly a dozen visits to Egypt over the years, the question of religious identity came up within a minute, and I answered honestly. Just as often I’d opted to lie, claiming to be Christian for civility’s sake, but I told this stylish young couple the truth: I’m not religious. A host of experiences answering the same question across Egypt had me braced for a look …

The Problem of Credulity

What is credulity, and what – if anything – is wrong with it? And if credulity is a fault, might it be a fault not only of judgment but also of character? These questions strike me as important, in the light of certain recent events, but they are also surprisingly hard to answer. We know roughly what credulity is: a tendency to give too much credence to certain claims or appearances; to be too ready to believe things we should not believe. Hence, someone who is habitually taken in by con-artists is prone to believe the stories used to part him from his money. Someone who tends to believe insincere apologies is too ready to believe that those apologising are sorry for what they have done. We could come up with any number of examples. But is there any more to be said, other than that it is a disposition to be irrational? If we want to be pedantic, we could say that these examples also illustrate incredulity. Being too ready to believe that the …

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 …

Diversity: A Managerial Ideology

Diversity is the reigning social and political ideal of our age. It is the public ideology of the country’s most powerful state and business institutions. To many it is the essence of American national identity and, in one of the favorite phrases of President Barack Obama, ‘who we are’ as a country. Rather than simply a recognition of difference, diversity is a cultural, economic, and political project to both generate difference and to manage it. This project traces its ancestry back to the black civil rights and women’s movements of the 1950s-70s. First blacks and then women organized and pressured state and society with demands for equality. Struggles took place in nearly every social arena, from housing to public accommodations to religion to sport. Conflict was especially pointed in employment and education, the country’s key channels for upward social mobility. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 stands as the signature legal culmination of those demands, and its Titles IV and VII set forth society’s new norms on ‘equal opportunity’ in both arenas. By ensuring equal …

The One State Delusion

If you are an ardent champion of globalism, imagining how the economic and cultural interaction across political borders not only makes us more prosperous but also challenges the archaic concept of the nation-state, then Barcelona, Spain, is probably your kind of town. Barcelona, one of the world’s major global cities, is the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union (EU) and the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea, has been transformed from a manufacturing centre, the so-called Manchester from Catalonia, into a knowledge-based economy, a leading tourist and commercial centre, that has been attracting international businesses and skilled professionals. Smart, innovative, cool, hip, with world-class conferences and expositions and many international sport tournaments, and one of the fastest growing economies in Europe Barcelona, the capital of the region of Catalonia, should be a poster boy for globalism. It’s Nationalism, Stupid! Indeed, if you examine much of the evolving conventional wisdom on the current political backlash against international trade, immigration and globalization in general, Barcelona, not unlike New York City and London is one of those “global cities,” where multiculturalism reigns, immigrants are …

Has Liberalism Failed?

Fascism failed. Communism failed. The last of the three major political philosophies that clashed through the twentieth century—Liberalism—still stands. It won, whether by force of arms or argument, but is now in retreat. Regimes once liberal have recently become authoritarian; more ominously, Americans have become impatient with liberal procedures and compromises. Many of its proponents argue that these setbacks are temporary, problems to be solved by certain adjustments of policy, rhetoric, or leadership. In Why Liberalism Failed, however, Patrick Deneen argues forcefully that the problems are congenital. Liberalism was bound to fail in the end as a politics because it was doomed from the beginning by its philosophy. In this dire judgment he agrees with a whole host of present critics. Notable among them are resurgent global rivals to liberalism’s postwar world-order: Xi Jinping’s China, Putin’s Russia, Khameini’s Iran. But the critics are also domestic. In universities sustained by liberal values, ironically, postmodernists have been declaring liberalism a failure since at least 1968—sometimes for the same reasons as the foreign rivals. Deneen agrees with their …

Privilege Checking the Privilege Checkers

Having the privilege conversation is itself an expression of privilege. … It’s not just that commenting online about privilege – or any other topic – suggests leisure time. It’s also that the vocabulary of ‘privilege’ is learned at liberal-arts colleges or in highbrow publications. ~ Phoebe Maltz Bovy, “Checking Privilege Checking,” The Atlantic All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. ~ Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By A couple of years ago, while studying law in western Canada, I took a political science course on environmental issues taught by a renowned professor. Having become alarmed at the lack of legal protections for the environment, I hoped to learn more about the politics behind such flagrant and pervasive oversights. Unfortunately, the class was a bust. Instead of analyzing political thought and behaviour related to our current ecological crisis, the course taught a strange blend of self-help and pseudoscience. We “learned” …