All posts filed under: Features

Browsing the Tate Bookshop

In the last week of April 2017, a light squall of controversy hit the majestic ship that is Tate, Britain’s state-sponsored multi-gallery institution for British and modern art. Its Director, Nicholas Serota, was moving on (to another public art satrapy, as chair of Arts Council England) and, according to reports, staff were being asked to contribute to a leaving present, despite their low-pay, casualization and the removal of a canteen discount.  And not just any leaving present, but a sailing boat. For the staff union, it was proof that Tate management had become divorced from reality. That same week I visited Tate Britain, Tate’s original neo-classical edifice, just down the Thames from Westminster. Looking for a present for a friend I stopped off in the (extensive) shop. It would be an exaggeration to say that I felt like I’d stumbled into the Socialist Workers Party’s Bookmarks which, after all, is in the more salubrious Bloomsbury. However, the experience was striking enough for me to feel guiltless in at least suggesting the parallel. Several factors clearly …

Laci Green, The Matrix, and the Future of Free Speech

Earlier this week, popular YouTuber Laci Green, with almost 1.5 million subscribers, released a video entitled “Taking the Red Pill?” The “red pill,” obviously is an allusion to the famous 1999 film The Matrix, in which one of the lead characters, Morpheus, an infamous leader within the Matrix presents Neo, a hacker seeking to explore the Matrix, with two choices—taking the blue pill or the red pill. According to Morpheus, if Neo takes the blue pill, “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe,” but if Neo picks the red pill, “I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Virtually everyone has seen The Matrix or has heard of the red pill meme; indeed, a Google search for red pill brings up almost 7 million results. However, what makes Green’s video particularly important and distinguishes it from the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of other banal red pill videos is the context around which Green’s red pilling has occurred. As Laci states at the very beginning of her video, …

Why We Should Stop Using the Term ‘Gender’

Likely, we’ve all noticed that within each of the two human sexes there is a range of phenotypes stretching from masculine to feminine. We have distinctly feminine men and distinctly masculine women. The precise recipe for these phenotypes remains unclear, though there seems to be some combination of genetics and in utero endocrinology at work, interacting with ecological conditions. Certainly, while cultural attitudes have played some role in suppressing or encouraging the display of these differences at various times and places, their foundation is partly biological. As soon as this is said, it must be acknowledged that this biological basis has not always had the degree of scientific evidence it does today, and there have long been people hostile to such biological explanations. The latter group were among those who latched onto the term “gender” to identify this sexual phenotypic diversity. One might ask what was wrong with the more precise “sexual phenotype diversity.” Well, certainly “gender” was shorter and catchier. What I’d suggest here, though, is that there was something more involved in this …

Cultural Appropriation Isn’t Real

Just over 20 years ago, my first novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper won the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s premier literary prize. This is an anniversary edition of sorts—although not quite. Had Ligature published it in 2015, it would have appeared while I was working as Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Senior Adviser, and provided an unwelcome distraction from my day-job (as well as a vector for more abusive letters and phone calls to make their way to David’s Sydney Electoral Office; both of us already got enough of those). However, my publisher explained that it wasn’t ideal to have a Miles Franklin Award winner out-of-print. I was unaware of the extent to which schools and universities were relying on second-hand copies. Worse, there was no electronic version available. I was effectively squatting on my own copyright. When the book first came out, I pretended to be someone I’m not: Helen Demidenko, from a Ukrainian family with links to the Nazis. In hindsight, trolling the literary establishment (and I mean trolling in the original sense — …

A Line in the Sand for Academic Philosophy

Academic philosophers have finally found a line they’re willing to hold against the discipline’s social justice contingent. They hadn’t reached the line yet when bloggers started brigading against conferences where only male invitees had accepted invitations. They hadn’t reached the line yet when critical theorists derided top programs as “hostile to women” while making excuses for covering up sexual harassment in purportedly more progressive departments. They hadn’t reached the line yet when the American Philosophical Association advised professors at the University of Colorado not to criticize feminist philosophy on campus or at off-campus department events. They hadn’t reached the line yet when academic “advocates” cowed prominent philosophers into writing struggle-session apologies or including phrases like “I think I am a good ally” – in papers about fundamental metaphysics. But now Hypatia, a journal of feminist philosophy with explicitly activist goals, has seemingly disavowed a paper comparing claims about racial identity to claims about gender identity, and philosophers seem to have had enough. *** Rebecca Tuvel is an assistant professor at Rhodes College; she received a bachelor’s …

A Hundred Years of Communism

We must give the Bolsheviks their due. Their success in gaining power was astonishing. A ragtag gang of activists and intellectuals, they seized control of Russia in October, 1917, and defended their rule in a vicious, bloody civil war. No one can deny the force of their conviction, or the scale of their courage, or the keenness of their talents. But wielding power was a different matter. Revolutionaries dream that crops will grow out of their fire but in most cases it leaves scarred and arid earth instead. Collectivisation, with its monstrous violence and inefficiency, left millions dead in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Paranoia and persecution, all too evident in Lenin’s “cleansing” of “harmful insects” — landowners, dissidents and priests the Bolsheviks interned, starved, tortured and killed — reached its absurd apotheosis in Stalin’s purges. Stalin killed so many people in the Great Purge that it is remarkable that anyone was left to do the killing. Former comrades, artists and intellectuals, military officers, clergymen, dissidents, outcasts and normal Russian men and women were slaughtered in a …

“Have You Found the Place that Makes You Want to Swallow Its Rhetoric Whole?”

The line above is drawn from a Facebook post entitled “To Any Folks Who Ever Want to Date Me: an anthem for 2017 singles.” Written by an apparently earnest young leftist activist feminist, the anthem begins with a list of verboten statements and actions that a prospective (non-social-justice-activist) mate may err in saying or doing. It then moves onto the preferable approaches that appropriate types might undertake, inclusive of the line that is the title of this piece: Do not dare to comment on my body. Do not stare. Do not tell me all the things you want to do to me. Do not force me to bear the weight of your assumptions. Do not waste both of our time with things so hollow as this. Do not make wishes on my freckles. Do not touch my waist. Do not tell me I am precious, or pretty. Do not seek to make me smaller. Do not ask me to fit. Instead, tell me a story. Tell me a secret. Tell me where you come from. …

What Eastern Bloc Dissidents Can Teach Us About ‘Living in Truth’

“Fake news” may be getting lots of headlines, but it is as old as the hills. Propagandists have relied on false evidence for centuries. Of course, not all propaganda campaigns are dishonest; indeed many efforts at persuading people of things are laudable. But the phenomenon of fake news and the “post-truth” culture in which it thrives are clearly a threat to democracy, and to the public sphere that democracy depends on to survive. Everyone has a part to play in pushing back. Most of us probably assume that only other people fall prey to false or exaggerated news stories. This is complacent. Media historians emphasise that propaganda often exploits already-existing trends rather than creating new ones, making subtle use of half-truths as well as outright falsehoods – and it can be much harder to unpick half-truths than to demolish lies. Fortunately, a few decades ago, matters of truth-telling and lying were a major concern for Soviet and Eastern European dissidents living under communism, where propaganda was all-pervasive. Their ideas have long outlasted their times, and …

It’s Time to Retire the Political Spectrum

American culture is dominated by the idea that politics is a contest between two philosophies that occupy opposite sides of a unidimensional spectrum. People can be placed on either the “left” side (with “liberals” or “progressives” leaning that direction), or the “right” side (with “conservatives” leaning that direction). This paradigm rules in the media, scholarship, punditry, informal conversation, social networking, and virtually every other site of political discourse. Here’s the problem: it’s completely wrong. Humans create models to simplify and impose order on experience, but the models are only valuable if they improve, rather than distort, understanding of reality. Some theories—such as the germ theory of disease—are valuable and accurate, while others—such as the ‘four humors’ theory of disease—are harmful and inaccurate. The political spectrum is one of the inaccurate and harmful models. Just as the four humors theory led doctors to bleed their patients to death in previous centuries, the political spectrum is bleeding our republic to death today in three ways. 1. Confusion The political spectrum creates confusion. It tells us, for example, …

Creationism By Another Name

Creationism is the belief that a superior being, unbound by the laws of nature, created the universe. Unsurprisingly, this belief is adopted by all sorts of religious cults; if you believe in the existence of one or more gods, the most parsimonious way to face the mystery of the origin of the universe is to attribute it to this extraordinary being. Creationism is obviously opposed to the theory of evolution, although, by virtue of the undoubted prestige of the evolutionary paradigm, and science in general, some religions are attempting to combine the two positions. They now claim, instead, that God simply created the basic conditions of the universe and life on Earth (which is usually the focus of attention). In academic environments it is very difficult to find someone who will openly and explicitly deny the principles of evolutionary theory. Professors and researchers from any scientific discipline will endorse, more or less accurately, the principles of natural selection, and everyone has a rough idea about what genes, chromosomes, and DNA are. Certainly, nobody will deny that …