All posts filed under: Features

Are Women Really Victims? Four Women Weigh In

Helen Pluckrose Helen Pluckrose is a writer for Areo Magazine and has research interests in late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. Her writing is often critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities. Women can be victims. In this world, there are violent, exploitative people willing to use and abuse their fellow human beings. Sometimes those human beings are women and sometimes they are abused and sexually exploited by powerful men because they are women. But women are not a class of victims. We cannot be victimised by actions and words that men can simply shrug off – an unwanted sexual advance, a strong criticism, an unkind comment, a tasteless joke, a call, a whistle, a wink. We are competent adults, fully equipped to deal with difficult, unpleasant, annoying or simply gauche behaviour. We are possessed of humour, empathy, reason, perspective and charity by which we can evaluate the behaviour of the men around us without developing a siege mentality or constructing a war zone. When …

Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory

The social justice movement is known for routinely staging demonstrations, shouting down (and shutting down) speakers, and issuing demands. More significantly, however, its ideas and terminology have become part of the fabric of university culture. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt said in an interview earlier this year: This is all so new. There’s been, I believe, a kind of a moral revolution, a new moral culture emerging on campus but it really is only in the last two years. If any of your viewers graduated from college in 2013, they probably haven’t seen it. … [I]t’s organized around victims of oppression, it’s a vertical metaphor of privileged and oppressor people, and victims. This idea that everything is power. To make way for this moral revolution, values that historically have defined secular universities are increasingly being swept aside. The most recent example is perhaps the most chilling. Lindsay Shepherd, a young teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, was reprimanded for screening a five-minute clip from a televised debate on public education channel TVOntario between …

The Poverty of Cosmopolitan Historicism

When the Soviet Union fell, Marxist utopianism came to an end. In the decades since, a new breed of utopianism has gripped the collective imagination. Cosmopolitanism dreams of a borderless world united in peace and understanding, and it is underpinned by a powerful narrative of historical progress that has much in common with its Marxist cousin. Its name is cosmopolitan historicism. In The Open Society and its Enemies, Karl Popper wrote that “we may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets”. In Popper’s view, historicism was defined by its simplistic understanding of history, viewed as an unfolding of inexorable iron laws. Based on what they saw as their unique insight into these presumed laws, historicists issued wild prophecies about the future of human society. For this they were mercilessly critiqued by Popper. In his eyes, dogmatic attachment to a utopian blueprint provided by what was understood as history’s ultimate destination caused historicist zealots to doggedly push ahead toward the end of history while ignoring signs that their …

Pursuit of Injustice: Further Adventures Under Title IX

A specter is haunting American colleges and universities, the specter of Title IX. Originally the portion of the Civil Rights Act concerned with gender equity on campus, the previously laudable Title IX was twisted beyond recognition by the infamous 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter and the new regime of federal compliance it created. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued the DCL with the intent of reducing sexual harassment and assault, but instead it ushered in ivory tower McCarthyism. Last year, I endured a Title IX investigation (detailed in a previous article for Quillette) over trumped-up allegations made by a colleague seeking to settle a decades-old score. I was acquitted, but the ensuing investigation led to an entirely new set of administrative charges originating from a different office on my campus, the University of Utah. This article tells the story of how a Title IX case metastasized into a protracted and expensive ordeal. So, how did the Dear Colleague Letter turn universities into star chambers? It lowered the burden of proof for a guilty finding …

The Problem with Public Art

This is a good example of bad public art. It’s not new—it’s from 2011—but the design is still printed onto seats on the Tube in London, and I found myself staring at it the other day with appalled fascination. It’s called Acts of Kindness, by Michael Landy, and the public were meant to go to a website to share stories of people being nice to one another. What’s wrong with that? Almost everything. One thing to notice is that the figures are all adult men: they have broad shoulders and narrow hips. Presumably the artist wanted to be inclusive, yet it didn’t occur to him to draw a gender-neutral figure, or a mix of men, women and children. And what does the image mean? Self? Other? Who talks that way? No one. The natural word choice would have been me and you—but that would have sounded cute and childlike, and exposed the vapid sentiments for what they are. ‘Be nice.’ It is insincere, trite and patronising. If I see someone in need on public transport …

Academic Freedom Under Threat in Sweden

“You will include Judith Butler in your course.” That was announced to Erik Ringmar, senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Lund University, after the September meeting of the department’s board of directors. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading the queer studies feminist Butler. It’s just that the course Ringmar teaches is primarily about the reaction to modernity at the turn of the last century, with a focus on fascism. During earlier semesters it included a part about postmodernism, and within it Butler, but it was removed because it didn’t fit in with the rest of the course. “There is not a course committee in the world which can force me to teach Judith Butler unless I want to,” Ringmar wrote on his blog. This has led to strong protests from student activists, the board, the director of studies and the dean. Of course, this is no great catastrophe in and of itself. It’s just a literature list, after all. But it is part of a much larger process by which academic …

Populism and Nostalgia’s False Promise

Yuval Levin’s book The Fractured Republic and Andrew Brown’s essay on Trollhätten in Granta recount how Western societies have moved from a conformist and consolidated culture to a diffuse but bureaucratically centralised one, paralysed by gauzy nostalgia for a time that is never coming back. Such nostalgia has helped fuel the populist surge seen across the West today. The present poses challenges to who we are, how we behave, what we believe and how we act out those beliefs in everyday life. But the wish to return to the past is perhaps an inherent part of the human condition, and one that must be resisted lest it disfigure our perceptions and control our actions too greatly. The populist revolt symbolised by the surge across Europe by parties like the Sweden Democrats and in America by Donald Trump is both a product and driver of a kind of nostalgia that risks trapping us in a spiral of longing and bitter disenchantment. It represents a backlash against an ossified establishment nostalgia that has failed to deliver on its …