All posts filed under: Features

Our Age of Empathy

In 2009, the primatologist Frans de Waal published a bestseller called The Age of Empathy, in which he suggested that humanity might be rediscovering its propensity for cooperation and kindness. No longer would we be fooled by the myths of politicians and economists about our apparently selfish nature. He cited as evidence for this the recent election of a man who seemed to speak about empathy more than any other, Barack Obama. As Wordsworth famously wrote about the start of the French Revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” How much older and sadder the West seems today — its conversations about politics and ethics bitter and polarized, all basis for rational disagreement evaporating before our eyes. And yet, de Waal’s claim that we are “pre-programmed to reach out” has not been dispensed with — in fact, many continue to believe that the world is awash with empathy. Only there is now a growing suspicion that this might actually bear some responsibility for our discord. In 2012, a …

On Meaning, Identity Politics and Bias in the Academy — An Interview with Clay Routledge

Meet Clay Routledge, a social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University. Professor Routledge studies such things as intergroup relations and how people create meaning in their lives. He has over 90 scholarly papers and has authored the book “Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource.” I discovered Professor Routledge on Twitter, where he tweets interesting observations about the state of orthodoxy on campus and in the broader culture. I thought it would be useful to capture some of his insights in a more in-depth form — what follows is an interview with Professor Routledge for Quillette. Hi Clay, thanks for chatting to Quillette. Before we get into other topics, what do you research and how did you become interested in that area? I mainly study psychological motives. And much of my work is on the meaning motive. A considerable amount of empirical research indicates that perceiving one’s life as meaningful is important for psychological, social, and physical health. People who feel meaningful are happier, more motivated, more productive, less vulnerable to mental illness, better able to cope with …

Yassmin Abdel-Magied: The Woman On Whom Everything Is Lost

Last week on ABC’s Q&A, Yassmin Abdel-Magied declared Islam to be “the most feminist religion.” It’s a strong field, but this may well be her most idiotic statement yet. As The Australian reported, last year Abdel-Magied took a taxpayer-funded jaunt across the Middle East. The #YasMENAtour, as it was called (her words), took her to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Sudan, and other countries with atrocious records in women’s rights and legal systems that just happen to mention Sharia and its virtues. Unfortunately for Abdel-Magied, none of this led her to an outbreak of coherent thought. On the Q&A program, she spoke highly of Sharia and wouldn’t stand to be told about its faults. In her reading, it’s all about justice and equality, a few optional prayers, and spiritual merry-making. That sounds swell, and who could disagree with it? Well, probably a vast majority of the world’s Muslims, for starters, as well as more than a few Islamic scholars. There may be perfectly benign elements to Sharia, but it also undoubtedly has something to do with the …

The Battle over American “Carnage”

Referring in his Inaugural Address to the crime and gangs plaguing American cities, President Trump declared that “This American Carnage stops right here and stops right now.” How should we understand this statement? Anguished responses to Trump have flooded in. Slate Chief Political Correspondent Jamelle Bowie writes that “`[T]here is no broad `American Carnage.’” That notion is a “fantasy” whose purpose is “to demonize groups and protest movements organized around police reform.” Bowie goes on to report that violent crime has generally gone way down in the United States, although the murder rate rose 17% in the 50 biggest cities in 2015, with the greatest increases recorded in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D,C,. In historical terms, Bowie concludes, “American cities are safer now that at any point since the 1960s.” A New York Times article describes an irenic environment for many black residents of Philadelphia. “Our streets are always clean,” reports one of these, “Our neighbors in our community, we know each other, and we get along. . . We got backyards, man. We go …

A Good Word for the Contemptible Straight White Male

I’m always on the lookout for new writing opportunities, especially with publications funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, as one can usually expect modest remuneration. I was initially pleased, then, to discover the literary magazine called, quite appropriately as you’ll see, SCUM. Its About section notes that it “has filthy feminist leanings and a disregard for propriety.” Terrific, I thought. Perhaps I could pitch an essay or two. I have often detailed the squalid nature of contemporary feminism à la Clementine Ford and the rest of the gang. While I haven’t dipped into her new book, Fight Like A Girl, I’m keeping an open mind, should the opportunity to read it ever come up. To update the old joke, I imagine that Ford’s oeuvre, along with every copy of Fairfax’s Daily Life, will be the only reading material available for borrowing at the single library in hell. There, how’s that for propriety? Of course, a quick glance through its essays and reviews proved that I had badly misread SCUM’s editorial policy — the …

Terrorism Denial on the Left

At the end of last year I attended a large conference of social science academics and researchers in Melbourne. Speaking on a plenary panel in front of hundreds of attendees was the director of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Australia’s primary refugee advocacy organisation. He opened the plenary by describing the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers, decrying the cruelty of Australia’s policy of offshore detention toward refugees, and the need for a more humane approach. He pointed out that funding for refugee services had been cut by a seemingly callous government that was indifferent to the plight of refugees. These are all legitimate — if familiar — points in the debate about this topic. However he then went on to say that all of this was happening whilst we spent billions of dollars on a “fictitious war against terror”. Hold on, ‘fictitious’? A fiction? Made up? I looked around the audience, and no one seemed perturbed by what he’d just said. No one challenged him in the Q&A session afterward. Was I the only one bothered …

Totalitarianism Rising

She walked up the subway stairwell, smiling. Atop the Fifth Avenue sidewalk landing, a crowd had already gathered. Cheers broke out as the first glimpses of her were caught by the impatiently awaiting audience. Once on the sidewalk, she gracefully and confidently approached the prepared lectern and waived to the gathered masses. Her smile slowly faded. “Our country is fallen,” she began. “The legacy of colonialism and racism still haunts our communities. From small towns to big cities, police brutality is destroying lives and ruining families. Hate crimes are on the rise. Our Muslim and LGBTQIA brothers and sisters are traumatized by hate speech on college campuses and in the media. White, straight, cisgender men are bringing racism, they’re bringing sexism, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” These apocalyptic images were followed by a few more depicting rampant bigotry and oppression and the all-consuming fires of capitalism. “But today,” she continued, her voice brightening, “we say no more! Today will be remembered as the day when we all came together and dealt …

Why Growth Most Often Occurs When We Fall Apart

In many ways, our current society is set up to avoid as much pain as possible. Whether it is new technology, new medical or pharmaceutical advancements, or the self help industry, everything is set up to make our lives easier, simpler, and more uniquely tailored to our every individual need. Even the names of products such as the iPhone and iPad nod to the symbiotic merger of products and people. But the question remains, does all of this avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure really make us any happier or more resilient? Obviously, new technological and medical advancements have helped millions of people rise out of poverty or overcome disease, but overall our social levels of happiness haven’t risen. Indeed, studies have shown that use of social media such as Facebook is correlated to depression and unhappiness. Other studies have shown that there is some increase in levels of happiness when individuals rise out of poverty, but material possessions beyond that don’t make much of a difference. Anyway, this avoidance of pain isn’t just relegated …

Negotiating Standpoints Outside the University Classroom

When a protest on a college campus occurs over an issue, an explosion of articles appear, arguing why one position is right and the other is wrong. Tensions rise when no semblance of agreement is reached, and a second wave of essays appear, which take the form of what Michael Sandel calls a “shouting match.” Each side screams at one another instead of engaging with each other. These recriminations shut down any chance of reasonable conversation. How do you react when someone calls you an idiot? In a small hookah lounge in the East Village in New York, I regularly meet with a close friend to discuss all things political and philosophical. Recently, as we sat blowing smoke rings together we found ourselves digging into some of the political correctness controversies arising on college campuses — things like sexual harassment in academia, trigger warnings, and microaggression policing. The two of us had taken a philosophy course together in undergrad, and so naturally we examined these topics through a philosophical lens. We went back and forth debating …

Make Expertise Great Again

A review of  by The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols. Oxford University Press, (1 April, 2017) 272 pages.   The long-awaited book by Professor Tom Nichols, (AKA @RadioFreeTom) The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters is finally out this year. And perhaps no other topic can be as important, given the tectonic shifting year in global politics we just had. Political Scientists don’t often get credit for genuine predictions or trend recognition, although the majority of them invite flak for failed ones. Credit, therefore goes to Nichols. He identified, what is currently one of the most destructive trends in this post-truth world, a disdain towards any sort of acquired knowledge and expertise, and he identified that trend in 2013 in this famous blog post. That blog post was expanded to a full length Op-Ed for The Federalist in 2014, which came out as a complete thesis in the first month of 2017. The book, which  is soon to be …