All posts filed under: Features

The Future of Our Ancient Past

This is part one of a four part series on the Classics. Part two will be published tomorrow. Australian National University’s decision to reject a large donation from the Ramsay Centre has brought the topic of Western civilization to the forefront once again. For me, the most pressing question is about the future of classics, the discipline that has long claimed to deal with the foundations of Western civilizations. I’ve previously helped teach a course called “Origins of Political Thought,” and I’m preparing to teach another with the title “Foundations of Western Political Thought” next year. But should anyone still be teaching courses on “Western Civ”? My answer, in a word, is yes. There’s nothing wrong with teaching Western Civilization or the Western classics alongside other cultural traditions. At the same time, the way Classics used to be taught is gone for good. In many ways, that’s a good thing: the traditional classical education was astonishingly narrow, and often gave the impression that the tradition it dealt with was the only game in town. Luckily, …

Is Religious Belief in Decline?

On January 8, 1697, 20-year-old Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy on the Gallowlee execution ground in Edinburgh. Two weeks earlier, he had been convicted of such grave crimes as questioning the historicity of Jesus Christ and the logic of the Trinity, and the authorities wanted his death to serve as a warning to other would-be dissidents. In The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead: Boundaries of Belief on the Eve of the Enlightenment, Michael F. Graham explains why his subject was taken to an “execution site reserved for those guilty of the most heinous crimes”: For common thieves, murderers and even many witches, the Grassmarket below Edinburgh Castle would do. But this execution was far from typical. On the contrary, it was a smokeless auto-da-fé aimed at placating an obviously angry God, invoking new laws against blasphemy that would never be used with such force again. Aikenhead was the last person executed for blasphemy in Britain, and in the century that followed his death, Edinburgh would become one of the most important intellectual centers of the …

The Posthumous #MeToo-ing of J. D. Salinger

The first day of this year would have been the 100th birthday of J.D. Salinger, the American writer whose 1951 novel of teenage rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye, mesmerized generations and made him a cult figure. The Salinger legend was only enhanced by his reclusive life in rural New Hampshire, where he shunned interviewers and photographers and continued to write but published nothing from 1965 until his death in 2010. Given both Salinger’s literary stature and his mythic aura, the centennial should have been a big deal. And yet it went by almost unremarked—a startling fact that almost certainly has more to do with the cultural and sexual politics of this moment than with Salinger’s place in literature. It is telling that the most prominent essay on Salinger to appear in the American media so far in 2019 has been a Washington Post piece questioning whether the writer is still relevant, given that his best-known work focuses on “the anxieties of a white heterosexual young man expelled from an expensive prep school.” (By that …

Patreon Games

On December 6, crowdfunding service Patreon removed the account of popular YouTuber Carl Benjamin, who is better known by his YouTube moniker Sargon of Akkad. In a statement, Patreon explained that Benjamin was removed for exposing hate speech under its community guidelines, which prohibit: “serious attacks, or even negative generalizations, of people based on their race [and] sexual orientation.” The incident in question was an appearance on another YouTube channel where Benjamin used racial and homosexual slurs during an emotional outburst. (The outburst was transcribed and included for reference as part of Patreon’s statement.) Patreon’s reaction sparked immediate accusations of political bias from many centrists and conservatives, as Benjamin—who identifies as a classical liberal—is a frequent and outspoken critic of contemporary progressivism, receiving hundreds of thousands of views on many of his videos. The fact that Benjamin was removed from Patreon for an outburst on another YouTube channel almost a year ago, when he produces hours of content every week on his own channels and appears regularly on many others, suggested that this was a …

Thoughtcrime and Punishment: A Year Of Shunning and Law Suits at a Canadian University

In late 2017, I found myself at the centre of a controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University, where I was an M.A. student and teaching assistant (TA) in the Communication Studies department. In the class for which I was serving as TA, I played part of a panel discussion that had aired on Ontario public television. As many readers will know, this material featured University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson making the argument against alternative gender pronoun usage, as well as Sexual Diversity educator Nicholas Matte’s arguments encouraging their use. Because I chose not to disavow Peterson’s views before airing the clip, I was brought into a subsequent disciplinary meeting. The supervisor for the course in question, Nathan Rambukkana, as well as the coordinator for my M.A. program, Herbert Pimlott (also known, at times, as “Hillary X Plimsoll”), and Gendered Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention manager Adria Joel accused me of breaking the law by airing a clip of Peterson in a classroom, as well as threatening and targeting trans people, thereby creating a toxic environment. …

Headline Rhymes

So the US gov’s kinda shut As leaders play with their nuts Like squirrels playing chicken In an act of attrition A big, bad obscene blunderbuss Views on the news, delivered so smooth.  Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

60 Years On: Reflections on the Revolution in Cuba

Sixty years ago, as thousands of Cubans celebrated the fall of Fulgencio Batista’s regime, an atmosphere of hype and hatred was also overtaking Havana. Not many people foresaw what was to come, but on January 1, 1959, the Republic of Cuba was murdered. Few tears were shed for her at the time—some were too busy desperately packing their bags, while others were preoccupied with burning cars and smashing storefront windows. The institutions not destroyed by the previous dictatorship were savagely dismembered in the following months and years by the Castro regime. Cuba’s National Congress would never again return to session in the National Capitol building (or anywhere else, for that matter). Christmas, bars and cabaret clubs, independent trade unions, religious schools, private clubs, large and small businesses, any and all vestiges of what was Cuba before communism—all of these were destroyed, expropriated, or otherwise expunged from the lives and minds of the Cuban people. The Cuban Revolution never disguised its contempt for the greatest symbol of the Republican era: Havana itself. The Havana Hilton hotel …

Genes, Environment, and Luck: What We Can and Cannot Control

Social justice activists have issued a challenge to “check your white privilege.” Inasmuch as I oppose the inherent racism ingrained in such expressions of Identity Politics, my initial replies were of a snarky nature, such as “It’s doing just fine, thank you.” But as I engaged the task more seriously it wasn’t my “white privilege” that I discovered so much as it was my good fortune. This led to my November 2017 column in Scientific American, in which I enumerated a few of the ways that luck has favored many people (myself included) that led to their success, much of which was not “earned” in the purist sense that conservatives conceive of it, in which the successful merited it and the unsuccessful deserved it. The deeper I looked into the matter of how lives turn out, in fact, the more I realized how much is out of our control. Let’s begin with a question: Why do some people succeed in life while others fail? Is it because they are naturally smarter and harder working, or …

Malaysia’s Struggle to Preserve Religious Pluralism

For observers of contemporary Malaysia, much has been written about the tropical nation’s creeping Islamization. To define this more specifically, the observable interjection of Islamic morality into its institutions, its legal systems, and its political discourses and practices. The move towards a more puritanical and intolerant Islam has raised alarm bells for a country whose identity is rooted in its cosmopolitan and pluralistic character, raising the ugly specter of ethnic and religious conflict in one of Southeast Asia’s most developed economies. However, the shock victory of an opposition coalition in a historic general election in May 2018 raised hopes of a “New Malaysia.” The incumbent political coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Front), composed of race-based parties, with the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO) component explicitly espousing Malay-Muslim supremacy, was ousted after 61 years of uninterrupted rule since the country’s independence from the British in 1957. With a new administration under the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) coalition, and with veteran leader Mahathir Mohammed back in power in his second stint as Prime Minister (at the …

Glimpsing Our Own Health Secrets: The Coming Revolution in Health-Care Transparency

It was a random flip through an old family binder that changed the course of Selina Brudnicki’s career. Brudnicki’s late mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer eight years earlier. A few months after her mastectomy, she complained to her doctors of new pain—a symptom that Brudnicki, a Program Lead of Digital Patient Experience based in Toronto, had assumed was being properly investigated. Brudnicki’s mother passed away of metastatic breast cancer shortly thereafter. It was in 2015, three years after her mother’s death, that Brudnicki came across that binder, which was tucked away with her mother’s belongings. There were medical test results, pathology and imaging reports, and a few oncologist notes. She also found a note her mother had written herself, commenting on a doctor’s report. It read: “[The doctor’s] report does not seem correct.  I always mention ‘pain’ not discomfort. I kept complaining about a new pain.” “While there are never guarantees, I always wonder: If [my mother] had access to her complete medical records and notes, would she have realized [sooner] that she …