All posts filed under: Features

Unfabling the East—A Review

A review of Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia by Jürgen Osterhammel (translated by Robert Savage). Princeton University Press (June, 2018) 696 pages. Late nineteenth century Europeans were arrogantly certain of the inherent superiority of their civilization. Edward Said’s influential book Orientalism (1978) describes representations of the East as inverted projections of Western superiority. Europeans looked down on the East and created myths that flattered the supposedly more advanced and civilized imperialists. Said’s thesis is controversial, but there’s no question that headstrong imperialism was an intellectual force at the apogee of Empire. The problem is that the critique of representation has itself become dogmatic, losing sight of the diversity of historical sources and unable to reflect critically on its own practices. Postmodern critiques either accuse Europeans of ignoring difference, because they are blinded by universalism, or of the opposite: exaggerating difference and creating the stigmatised ‘Other.’ The diagnoses can be diametrically opposed, but the common theme is that Europeans’ prejudices render them unable to understand Asia. Edward Said’s acolytes have become the new …

Through the Looking Glass at Concordia University

It was in a class called Representations of Minorities in Documentary Film, the last elective I needed to receive my BA at Concordia University in Montreal, that I first realized something was very wrong. The class had just watched Sound and Fury, a 2000 Oscar-nominated documentary about deaf culture. The film follows a 6-year-old deaf girl named Heather and her family (several members of whom also are deaf) as they go back and forth on the issue of cochlear implants, a then-new technology that allows some deaf people to hear. Heather wants cochlear implants so she can talk to people and hear lions. Her mother, too, opts for the implants. But when she discovers the implant will not be as effective for her, she changes her mind, and, without consulting her daughter, decrees that neither of them will be undergoing the procedure. After the film ended, our professor asked students for their thoughts. When called on, I said that parents should try to make their children’s lives easier. If I remember my words correctly, I …

Heterodoxy is Hard, Even at Heterodox Academy

Heterodox thinking requires room to be made for different views, different ideas, and different voices to be heard. With sufficient heterodox thinking, it is hoped, the bonds that blind and bind people into groups of tribal moral warriors might wither and eventually allow for truth to replace ideology. However, if the first Heterodox Academy meeting is any indication, heterodox thinking poses substantially more problems than even the hardworking leaders of Heterodox Academy realized. Entering the meeting I was immediately struck by the fact it was held in the New York Times conference center—a beautiful area replete with wait staff, security, and a professional grade lighting and recording area. Everything was well orchestrated, professional, and deliberate. And as Jonathan Haidt took the stage, I felt a sense of respect for a man who has not only deepened our understanding of humanity but who has also worked diligently to make Heterodox Academy a reality. He has, in many ways and sometimes against scathing criticism, popularized the idea of intellectual diversity—making the case that people like me, who …

Jordan Peterson Rallies Portlandia’s Dissidents

PORTLAND, Ore. — Weeks of effort by activists to get University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson booted from his Portland tour stop ultimately failed as he delivered an uninterrupted speech to a packed-house on Monday at the Keller Auditorium in downtown. Before the event, around 50 protesters gathered across the street to shout at Mr. Peterson’s fans waiting in line. “Say it once, say it again, no excuse for violent men,” they chanted. Many held signs condemning his views on gender pronouns and women. One sign declared, “As many genders as we want.” Another read, “Infinite genders.” The protest comes at a tense time in Portland as activists have shut down the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office nearby for nine straight days. I recognized many of the same protesters, which include self-described anti-fascists, socialists, and anarchists. “We’re out here because there’s a classist, misogynistic, transphobic bigot named Jordan Peterson getting paid to spread his hateful ideology here in Portland,” shouted Rosemary Dodd through a megaphone. “We’re outraged by his words, yes. But …

Free Speech and the Capitulation of the SPLC

Two years ago, when the (once-) venerable Southern Poverty Law Center published a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” there was widespread outrage over the fact that the SPLC’s list included not only bona fide Muslim-bashers but also British liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz—the head of the anti-extremist, reformist Quilliam Foundation. Nawaz later announced his intention to file a crowdfunded defamation lawsuit against the SPLC. Now, he has won an impressive victory. The SPLC, which had already removed the “Field Guide” from its website in April, issued a retraction and an apology—and agreed to pay Nawaz a $3.4 million settlement. This week, Nawaz is scheduled to meet with SPLC president Richard Cohen, hoping both to find out more about the circumstances of his listing and to “educate” Cohen about the conflict between fundamentalism and reform within the Muslim community. A happy ending? Certainly, for Nawaz and his supporters: Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari writes that “it’s good to see the SPLC held to account for at least one of [its] smears” against people who don’t toe the progressive party …

Bill de Blasio’s Plan to Displace Asians In New York’s Top Schools

New York City has eight elite specialized public high schools, which admit students entirely on the basis of their scores on a standardized test called the Specialized High School Aptitude Test (SHSAT).  Only the top 5% of New York students qualify for admission to the specialized high schools, and admissions are very competitive, particularly for Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, and Bronx High School for Science. These schools have also become predominantly Asian over the course of the last several decades.  Today, Stuyvesant’s student body is 72 percent Asian, about 22 percent white, two percent Latino only about one percent black, even though black and Latino students together comprise about 70 percent of public school students in New York City. In an editorial on the education news site Chalkbeat, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted the racial composition of the specialized high schools as a “monumental injustice,” and proposed eliminating the SHSAT and replacing it with a plan he believes is more fair. De Blasio’s plan to purge Asians The mayor’s …

What Jordan Peterson Gets Wrong About the Beatitudes

During an appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Rogan Experience in January, Jordan Peterson turned to the beatitudes offered by Christ in his Sermon on the Mount. The unhelpful notion that the meek would inherit the earth, Peterson explained, rests on a misunderstanding of what Christ actually said: …“Meek” [πραΰς] is not a good translation, or the word has moved in the 300 years [sic] or so since it was translated. What it means is this: ‘Those who have swords, and know how to use them, but keep them sheathed, shall inherit the world’…that’s a big difference.”1 Let it be said at the outset that I like this image of an effective person. It is a very definite image. To paraphrase Peterson, it is a person who has taken the time to become dangerous, who is dangerous, and who won’t be a victim of mayhem because they’ve got a bit of mayhem inside themselves. The problem isn’t with this idea of effectual personhood. The problem is that Peterson is claiming that the Bible endorses the same …

Shibboleths That Exclude in the Name of Inclusion

The Bible can be surprisingly relevant to academic politics. The Book of Judges tells of an internecine clash between the people of Gilead and their faithless brethren from the Ephraimite tribe, who had refused to aid Gilead against a foreign foe. Gilead retaliated mercilessly against the Ephraimites, first smashing their army and then setting a clever trap for Ephraimite survivors seeking to return home from the battlefield. Any man caught crossing the Jordan had to utter the word ‘shibboleth.’ In ordinary Hebrew, this referred to a part on a stalk of grain, but at those checkpoints it meant the difference between life and death. In the dialect of Gilead the first consonant was pronounced like the ‘sh’ in ‘shelter,’ whereas in the Ephraimite dialect it was pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘sinister.’ In this way, a linguistic subtlety became a tool to identify and kill 42,000 enemies. The stakes aren’t as high when universities hire faculty, but rhetorical nuances increasingly do stand watch at the gates of the professorial ranks. Many institutions now require aspiring …

Beware of Root Causes

What does it mean to claim that something is the ‘root cause’ of a problem in society? It’s common, for instance, to hear the assertion that ‘the root cause of terrorism is Western foreign policy’. The implication being that the responsibility for terrorist attacks ultimately lies at the feet of the West since its interventionist foreign policy has destabilized the Middle East – irrespective of any other source of causality. The phrase ‘root cause’ invites us to become privy to society’s underlying pathologies that, if remedied, could improve the world beyond the scope of someone merely observing the surface. Much like a bug in a software program causing a computer to shut down, or a leaky pipe causing subsidence under a house, the language of root causes implies that problems can be traced back through a cascading chain of events to an initial fault. Under this assumption, our goal should be to target that underlying problem rather than the ways in which the problem manifests itself in society. A framework based around root causes is …

‘Cultural Marxism’ Explained and Re-Evaluated

It has become a common trope to decry the prevalence of ‘Cultural Marxism’ in the academy as well as in wider Western culture. Jordan Peterson has gone so far as to say that Cultural Marxism threatens the very bedrock of Western civilization. Although the concept gets thrown around quite a lot in contemporary discourse, it is rarely defined in clear terms. And when it is defined, too often it is caricatured for ideological purposes by both the Left and Right. Although any attempt to explain and evaluate a contested phenomenon like Cultural Marxism is bound to be biased to some extent, a reasoned re-assessment uncoupled from polemic is overdue. Although ‘Cultural Marxism’ is in no sense a monolithic entity (we might be better off speaking of Cultural Marxisms), what defines it as a social theory, essentially, is a certain theoretical presupposition: that culture (ideas, religious beliefs, values, etc.) is in the last instance determined by one’s position in a class or social hierarchy. Or, in Marxist terms, the superstructure (in this case, what I am …