All posts filed under: Features

In Praise of Ignorance

I recently had a discussion with a very intelligent woman, a Ph.D fresh from an Ivy League university. We met after the third Clinton-Trump debate, so the conversation naturally turned to race in America, a topic about which my interlocutor felt strongly. She explained that the United States’ criminal justice system is an oppressive apparatus of state racism. Mass incarceration, she told me, is in large measure the product of a war on drugs that unfairly targets African Americans. She painted a picture of prisons overfilled with African American men locked away for nonviolent drug offenses. She was convinced that the US criminal justice system requires dramatic reform or complete dismantling. My question for her was simple: approximately what fraction of US prisoners are incarcerated for possession — as opposed to pushing or smuggling? She did not know. It is worth pausing to reflect on this. There is hardly a fact about the war on drugs that could be more basic. But my interlocutor did not know the answer to this simple question, despite her …

Are the Gender Wars Just Getting Started?

The Victorian government has delivered an unexpected Christmas present to Australian conservatives: a parting of the ways with Roz Ward, the co-founder of the controversial Safe Schools program. Score one for the cisheteropatriarchy, as the kids call it. It may not be in the spirit of Tiny Tim to gloat over someone’s misfortune and dismissal at this time of year, and many people would resist the impulse. But I am not among such people. Since her emergence in the public spotlight, the problem with the criticism directed against Roz Ward is that it has not been relentless enough. Safe Schools, as most Australians have come to realise, combines a praiseworthy anti-bullying component with more than a few of the fashionably crackpot notions of gender and queer theorists. Originally intended for both primary and secondary school students, the program presents ideas like gender fluidity and the social construction of gender as unshakeable facts, rather than postmodern fads. A few of the program’s pedagogic tools also raised eyebrows. For the four and five year olds, who may …

What is a Sexist?

What kinds of statements about men and women constitute sexism? Is it sexist to say, for example, that on average, men are taller than women or that women live longer than men? Most people already accept the obvious truth that men and women differ in these physiological respects, and it would strain credulity to argue that such statements are sexist. Suggestions about psychological differences, however, can stoke controversy. Pressing the issue further by claiming that psychological and cognitive differences might partly explain wage gaps, employment gaps, and the like, will certainly invite harsh rebuke and likely a charge of sexism. Like “racist”, the definition of “sexist” seems to have ballooned in such a way as to include any claim about average differences between males and females from the neck up. Some feminists, in particular, fear that assertions about differences between men and women threaten the social progress we’ve made over the past few centuries. Perhaps they have a point (as we discuss below). But we should consider whether such an expansive definition of sexism is …

Islam’s Liberal Counter-Insurgency

A review of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, by Sara Khan. Saqi Books (September 2016) 256 pages In his 2004 book The War for Muslim Minds, the French political analyst Gilles Kepel offered a stark review of the ongoing struggle to reconcile Islam with modernity. At the time of writing, the democratic project in Iraq was collapsing into escalating disorder and sectarian terror. More ominously, America’s inability to police the mayhem, the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and the failure to uncover the promised WMD stockpiles were not only damaging American credibility, but also the credibility of Western democratic ideals themselves. In the book’s final chapter, however, Kepel turned his gaze towards Europe and found grounds for optimism. Here, he argued, democratic participation offered Muslim reformers with unprecedented opportunities. Unencumbered by the violence, corruption, and authoritarianism strangling open discussion and progress across the Muslim-majority world, a new generation of activists might succeed in defining and fashioning a secular and progressive Islam, liberated from the retrogressive doctrines that were pulling …

Not My Rights Movement

Currently, LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA is believed to be the world’s longest acronym used to describe human sexual orientations and gender identities. Chances are it’s already been surpassed by an even longer acronym with the self-discovery of yet another person, or group of persons, with a unique gender fixation. It’s probably pointless to try to memorize what all the letters stand for, because theoretically there’s no limit to the proliferation of sexual identities. But some of them come with unique pronouns, and you had better learn those. Otherwise you might run afoul of new federal and provincial human rights and hate crimes laws. How on earth did we get here? Well, in the beginning there was G. And it was good. I’m not talking about God but about Gays. Back in the early 1980s, I joined the fight for gay rights and marched in the Toronto Gay Pride parade. Before G, there was actually H, for Homophile, as in the Queen’s (University) Homophile Association, which I discovered in 1978. I have to admit I welcomed the change from …

Expansion is no Longer the Answer to Improving the Education System

For 50 years, Australia’s policymakers have been persuaded that growth at every level of the education system would be a good thing in itself — and would drive economic growth and social progress. That faith is now under unprecedented pressure. While massive expansion has brought the benefits of education to millions, it has also created new problems, and left old ones unresolved. Human capital theory Belief in the power of education to lift lives and societies is hardly new. But “human capital theory” gave it a new form. Developed by a small group of US economists in the late 1950s, human capital theory arrived in Australia via the OECD in 1964, when L. H. Martin became the first in a long line of Australian policymakers to argue that education was not a necessary expense but an investment. Investment in education would make individuals and economies more productive, triggering a virtuous circle of economic growth, more equal opportunity, higher levels of health and civic-mindedness, and cultural enrichment. The economic rain would follow the educational plough. It followed …

The Hijab and the Regressive Left’s Absurd Campaign to Betray Freethinking Women

Progressives should act like progressives – even when Islam is concerned The first woman in a hijab to anchor a television news broadcast!  To dance as a ballerina!  To fence in the Olympics!  To — cue for gasps at the sheer progressive splendor of the moment — pose in Playboy!   Headlines proclaiming such “firsts” — performed by Muslim women living, nota bene, in the United States and Canada — have appeared often in the press over the past couple of years. Surely by now you’ve seen them.  The associated coverage is frequently gushing, but when it is not, it is not probing, and certainly not critical.  It is, in fact, part and parcel of the regressive left’s insidious attempt at brainwashing well-meaning liberals into lauding what should be, in our increasingly diverse societies, at best a neutral fact: freedom of speech means freedom of religion.  Women should be free to dress as they please.  Some Muslim women wear hijabs and are the first to do so in various endeavors.   By no means does freedom of religion, however, …

The Social Justice Left and the Alt-Right: Our Divided New World

If you have ventured across the World Wide Web much further than cat pictures, recipes and nudie pics you might know of two eccentric movements in modern politics: the “social justice” Left and the “Alt-Right”. Both of them exist largely on the Internet and both of them represent extreme forms of the identitarian elements of left and right wing ideology. Both of them approach the culture war meaning business. The social justice left came first. Fusing anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQ concerns, it is not a particularly coherent ideological or political movement, encompassing both communists as well as liberals. The left wing elements represent the tendency of Marxists, disillusioned by the lack of Western revolutionary potential, to pursue what Rudi Dutschke called a “long march through the institutions of power“. Yet what made social justice so ubiquitous was its potential for subsummation by the capital class. As Rory Ellwood has argued, businesses have financial incentives to support immigration and female labour — and, importantly, one can seem cool and countercultural by endorsing progressive social opinions even if …

Stop Calling People “Low Information Voters”

A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling. He sabotages delicate democratic systems with the blunt exercise of his democratic rights. Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.” In the Washington Post, the low information voter is defined as one who is more likely to respond to emotional appeals about issues such as the economy, immigration, Muslims, race relations and sexism. The Post goes onto explain: Low information voters are those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. In other words, low information people …

Are Internet Memes a New Form of Literature?

Every age has its form of literature, could the Internet meme be ours? In literature, new genres are born because of the ceaseless human quest to find new and improved modes of communication. From Donald Trump to Brexit, some of our most profound, witty and honest observations are communicated through internet memes. Used for humour, therapy, gratification and protests, memes serve the internet generation well for they are free, instantly obvious and loaded with cathartic qualities. If we analyse memes as a genre, we will find that it has more in common with traditional forms of storytelling, like fable and parable, than it has with the novel. Novel is a reflection of Capitalism in literature. It is formal, measured, commodified and portable. There is a standard version of the text, and an author to claim credit and royalties. Memes, on the other hand, are a return to fable in many ways. Just like fable, memes are community-driven, anonymously produced and open to modification. There is no need for a specialized degree or slick linguist skills …