All posts filed under: Features

On Moral Outrage and Humility

The recent #DeleteUber campaign provides a useful example of moral outrage. As Matthew Dessem details at Slate, amid protests to the Trump administration’s refugee ban at JFK International Airport, The New York Taxi Workers Alliance stopped service for an hour in a show of solidarity. When Uber subsequently announced its surge pricing at JFK had been turned off, many interpreted this as a move to break up the strike, and thus, as anti-refugee. The #DeleteUber hashtag then began trending on Twitter, with people encouraging others to delete the app from their phone. Brand protests are nothing new, of course and as Dessem prefaces his piece by noting “a lot of reasons to not use the ride-hailing app Uber,” among them “shoddy labor practices” and “attempts to strong arm local governments.” For those inclined to #DeleteUber, I wonder why these did not provide the imperative to moral outrage? But from a logical point of view, I could also question why they have smartphones at all, given the likelihood that their phone manufacturer uses component parts that …

Feminism Needs to Talk About Responsibility — Not Just Rights

At the age of 47 I suffered what I now like to think of as “The Year of Living Stupidly.” Unlike Sigourney Weaver in the film that inspired me, I did not live dangerously, although there was certainly a lot of drama. That was the year I suffered my last serious crush. The man was a volunteer at an organisation I feel passionately about. He was also an artist and writer, a fellow seeker in the creative arts. He was also a schmuck, although it took me almost a year to see that. My knowledge of unruly passions, which I joyously cover in my poetry classes, did give me some insight into my condition. However, managing it outside the classroom was something else entirely. I’m bringing that year out of the darkness and into the light because it’s time for the conversation around women’s rights and responsibilities to change. It’s especially time for those of us who can claim elder feminist statesmanship to ask tough questions of younger women who are dragging bewildered men into court, all in the name of micro-regulating the sex …

Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson: Heroes for Moral Realism?

In his recent Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris, by very popular demand, engaged in discussion with the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. The bulk of their conversation centered on epistemology, and the concept of truth in particular. The hope on Harris’s end was that they could profitably discuss their respective views on big and important topics such as morality, science, religion, and atheism if they could establish a shared frame of reference with regard to how to conceptualize truth. It quickly became apparent, however, that they had fundamentally different ways of approaching the matter, if not simply different terms to refer to the same terrain. And so the discussion amounted to something of a friendly debate. Very roughly speaking, Peterson’s view of truth holds that a given proposition, ultimately speaking, cannot in fact be true if, say, it turned out to have very adverse effects on an individual or society at large. Accordingly — and to use an example — this might imply that our understanding of physics is fundamentally flawed (perhaps utterly false) if our …

Diversity for the Sake of Democracy

“Stand up if you identify as Caucasian.” The minister’s voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn’t be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. “Look at your community,” he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you,” the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of “Caucasian”: black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University’s freshman class had been branded with a demographic. This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every …

Saints & Sinners: A Dialogue on the Hardest Topic in Science

 “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall” – Escalus; in ‘Measure for Measure’ by William Shakespeare There is arguably no topic more incendiary (about which scholars say less, ironically) than race differences in general, and in particular, race differences in behavior and achievement. There are certain subjects that are so politically charged and fraught with consequences that any scientific research on the topic is instantly applauded or demonized (depending on your viewpoints), no matter the findings. The subject of race differences, broadly defined, falls squarely in this category. For the purposes of this discussion, and because we are behavioral scientists, we focus on the issue of race differences in behavior. In our experience, the perception seems to be that two camps exist for the study of race differences in behavior. In the first camp, race is seen as a social construction, one that, if it is consequential, is so because of the way people react to individuals on the basis of race. Any race or ethnicity differences that emerge — for behavior, intelligence, …

Trump, NATO and the Persistent Myths of International Relations

There’s a German word, which is useful to explain what I, and other political realists felt, after Donald Trump gave his first ever interview as PEOTUS to a British newspaper. Of course, the liberal Twitterati exploded. And yes the word is, as some of you might have guessed, schadenfreude. Most of us are not Trump supporters or fans, nor do we consider Trump to be an elegant statesman or practitioner of realpolitik. But his statements were inevitable and predicatable for anyone — barring the diehard liberal ideologues. The apparent breaking point for the Twitterati was reached when Trump called Merkel’s open gate foreign policy a catastrophe, openly siding with UK against EU with regards to Brexit, and trashing NATO as a Byzantine bureaucracy, calling it “obsolete”. How dare Trump criticise the quite obviously flawed and stagnating liberal global order? The global order paid for and secured by American taxpayers, mind you, and managed by terminally incompetent technocrats, adhering to a radical universalist ideology. How dare he invite the rage of the Davos men (as Samuel …

Attack of the Offendotrons: Tyranny of the Flash Mob

It’s impossible to ignore the story of Greig Tonkins, the Taronga Park zookeeper who punched a giant roo to save his dog. However, the aftermath — where animal activists and offendotrons of various stripes mobbed him and tried to get him sacked, ultimately necessitating police involvement — was, if anything, more extraordinary. These days, it seems people will be sacked from their job — with their life and that of their family ruined — if they do something a big enough and loud enough mob doesn’t like. Somehow, we’ve decided it’s reasonable to consign people to unemployment and poverty over trivialities: how a zookeeper spends his weekends, dressing in bad taste, donations to a charity considered non-U in certain parts. Maybe it’s because tarring and feathering is illegal. We seem to have forgotten that employees are allowed to be ‘ordinary members of the public’ — people are not automatons and not the property of their employers. One of the union movement’s achievements was preventing employers from policing their employees’ extracurricular activities, as long as those activities were legal. Granted, there are …

Reassessing Cultural Divisions in the United States

If there was any doubt before, this election cycle brought home how divided the U.S. is on issues of national identity. It also brought political and cultural tensions to the surface, displayed in acts of outrage and the strident expressions of the partisans of different views. Old ways of dividing the social landscape no longer apply, and some of the events of the last few years are so bizarre it is difficult to believe, had they been scripted as a movie, the plot could have been pitched as anything other than satire even five years ago. Yet this is the world we wake up to every day. Consider arch-progressive Michael Moore’s resounding expression of the popular sentiment in support of Trump, or the fact that we now have a president-elect that was once used as a throw-away joke on the Simpsons in 2000, someone who retweets his fans’ remarks, and who campaigned in large part on his business acumen while his business life reads like the scandalous decline of a B-grade Hollywood starlet. This is …

Tyranny of the Ethnography: How Lived Experience Corrupts the Social Sciences

When Arleen, a single mother of two, was evicted from her Milwaukee apartment, she had one option. It was January of 2008, one of the snowiest years on record. With no safety net, Arleen did the only thing she could. She took her sons — Jori was thirteen, Jafaris was five — to the local homeless shelter. According to Harvard Professor Matthew Desmond, evictions used to be extremely rare. Who dare cast a mother and her children to the streets? When they did occur, evictions caused outrage, riots. But now, when families are evicted, community outcry is nonexistent. Bags are packed. Possessions are scavenged. A family is uprooted. Millions of the American urban poor have faced eviction. In Milwaukee, where Desmond conducted his field research,  a staggering 1 in 8 residents faced formal or informal eviction between 2009 and 2011 alone. This doesn’t just happen in Wisconsin. As Desmond says: “This book is set in Milwaukee, but it tells an American story.” Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is an ethnography that was …

How Will History Remember Obama?

Ta-Nehisi Coates started the revisionism over the most divisive and controversial President in post Cold war history, as Ta-Nehisi Coates is wont to do. Which is unfortunate, because Obama, for good or for bad, deserves a fair, objective, non-linear analysis of his record, and a certainly more nuanced look than the partisan hagiographies that are currently emerging. President Obama, the first biracial leader of the free world, and one of the most gifted extemporaneous speakers of our time, is a textbook example of a young, professorially cynical, cautious, but overall idealistic young leader who was eventually chastened by time. Coates’ essay is a start in what will be the repeated partisan glossing of the legacy of an interesting character, but one who was eventually defeated by personal naiveté and the structural forces that resided outside of his control. He deserves a more thorough scrutiny than terribly worded think pieces focusing on nothing other than one single defining factor, his race. I remember when Obama stood as a smooth-talking Senator against Hillary Clinton in 2008. My rookie journalism …