All posts filed under: Features

‘If I Want to Hold Seminars on the Topic of Empire, I Will Do So Privately’: An Interview with Nigel Biggar

“Crete, unfortunately, made more history than it can consume locally,” Saki once wrote. The same can be said about the University of Oxford. Perhaps England’s last struggling bastion of meritocracy and intellectual hierarchy, Oxford is lately under relentless attack from equity activists trying to install affirmative action, and historical revisionists and ideologues trying to wreck Western canon in the name of ‘decolonization.’ I was invited at Christ Church College to take part in a private and secret colloquium and roundtable (a lot of the participants didn’t want their name and photos out because their careers might be jeopardized), on colonialism and imperialism. The chief speaker was Portland State professor Bruce Gilley, whose article argued that colonialism was much more nuanced than presented in modern Marxist and post-colonial discourses, and was then predictably retracted by Third World Quarterly, after protests by social justice activists. Somewhat similarly, at Oxford, professor Nigel Biggar was targeted immediately after his project “Ethics and Empire” was launched.  The colloquium itself went smoothly without protests perhaps because it was a secret, with …

What’s Wrong with the American Academy

A colleague of mine in the economics department once said, “when the price of bullshit is zero, demand is inelastic.” A corollary of this principle is that when the price of bullshit is zero, the supply of bullshit is infinite, especially when there are tangible gains for bullshitters.  Last year, I was a visiting scholar at the University of Arizona, which was in the process of starting a new interdisciplinary department (The Department of Political Economy). About a decade ago, the department chair got a grant from the Koch Foundation, which has donated to several universities around the United States. Because Charles Koch has a libertarian bent—he advocates drug legalization, criminal justice reform, and low taxes, among other things—a number of ‘progressive’ and socialist groups have gone after people who receive grants from the Koch foundation.  My point here is not to make a political statement. I don’t have especially strong feelings about Charles Koch, who I disagree with on some issues, and agree with on others. Instead, I want to use my case to illustrate what’s wrong with the …

At this Portland Bakery, White Guilt Poisons the Batter

The menu at the Back to Eden Bakery in Portland, Ore. features vegan and gluten-free ice cream, cookies and cupcakes, but it might as well itemize its impeccable intersectional credentials. Before hungry customers even set foot in the small shop in north Portland, they are confronted with a battery of progressive signs on a storefront reminiscent of a college equity office. “Safe space,” one of them proudly declares. “Black Lives Matter,” another reminds us. In the name of inclusivity, others carefully list all the different types of identity that are welcome. The bakery is owned by John Blomgren and Garrett Jones, a queer-identified couple. Since their business first opened its doors in 2009 and subsequently expanded, it has unsurprisingly found commercial success among Portland’s (in)famously progressive population. Last month, however, the business’s overzealous politics cost two young employees their jobs at the Alberta Street location after a local activist released a video complaining that she had been denied service for being black. In the wake of the Starbucks scandal in Philadelphia, in which two black men were …

The High Price of Stale Grievances

They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it. ~ Thelonious Monk (Monk’s Advice, 1960) As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. ~ Ekow N. Yankah (New York Times, 2017) In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage. But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at …

Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case Against Education’ — A Review

A review of The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan. Princeton University Press (January 2018) 416 pages.  Almost no issue unifies commentators across the political spectrum as support for education, though their motivations strongly differ. For the left, affordable education is a great leveler for disadvantaged groups and also a force for cosmopolitanism. For the right, it represents an equality of opportunity that can substitute for a generous welfare state. But almost everyone seems to believe that more people with high-quality education means better and more productive workers.  Among the exceptions are a minority of economists studying education. Beginning with Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow and Michael Spence in the 1970s, these economists proposed that people with more years of education earn more not merely because of the skills and knowledge they accumulated during their time in school (“human capital”) but largely as a function of the information their degree signals to employers. The Case Against Education  by George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan is the most thorough …

Racism and Underdetermination by Evidence

This week, Starbucks will be shutting down 8000 of its stores for one day. Employees at these locations will undergo anti-discrimination training, including arguably dubious efforts to combat implicit bias. And all of this is a response to the recent arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson—both black men in their twenties—at a Philadelphia Starbucks, which triggered widespread condemnation and accusations that a culture of anti-black prejudice pervades the coffee chain. Slightly different accounts of the incident have been given by different news outlets, but something like the following sequence of events seems to have taken place. Upon arriving at the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, Mr Nelson asked to use the restroom. Permission was refused by the manager, who told him that the facilities were for paying customers only. Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson then took a seat at a table. The manager asked them if she could bring them drinks or water, and they declined, saying they were waiting to meet someone. Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson were then asked to leave by the manager, on …

“Tired, Old Myths:” The New Republic Slanders Jung

Recently, in The New Republic, Jeet Heer’s sanctimonious critique of Jordan Peterson led him to one of Peterson’s sources, Carl Jung. Heer is doubtless unaware that, in his dismissive misrepresentation of Jung and his work, he had joined a shameful tradition started by Freud. “So we are rid of them at last,” wrote Freud to his colleague in July 1914, “the brutal holy Jung and his pious parrots.”1 The ignoble tradition of Jung-bashing has had a steady following by lazy minds ever since, most recently evidenced in Jeet Heer’s article, Jordan Peterson’s Tired Old Myths. What was the reason for Freud’s hostility? Jung, previously Freud’s designated “crown prince,” had strayed from Freudian doctrine. Jung’s interest in mythology and religion led him to posit as primary a universal drive for meaning and personal development he called individuation. Freud exhorted him not to abandon Freud’s “scientific” theory that the sexual drive is the basis for human motivation. When Freud asked Jung to make a “dogma and an unshakable bulwark” of the sexual theory, Jung became alarmed, as …

Behind the Mask: Inside the Black Bloc

One year ago, the City of Roses—Portland, Ore.—was rattled to its core with the shocking murder of two bystanders who intervened in an ugly confrontation on one of its MAX commuter trains. Jeremy Christian will soon stand trial accused of killing two men and almost a third after they objected to his alleged verbal attack on two  female passengers on the train. A Vancouver, Wash.-based conservative free speech group named Patriot Prayer has been labeled guilty by association in the court of public opinion due to Christian’s presence at one of the group’s publicly held rallies in April 2017. Also one year ago, shortly after the stabbings, Patriot Prayer staged a protest in Chapman Square in the heart of the city that attracted both mainstream conservatives and alt-right sympathizers. The rally was met with confrontational antifa counter-protest in an event now legendary among Portlanders for its brazen standoff against police moderation. Portland has long stood as a hotbed of political activism and, more recently, anti-fascist resistance. As one-year memorials for the victims of the MAX …

Silence Around Test Scores Serves the Privileged

Right-wing podcaster Stefan Molyneux recently advised his teenage fans that they should append their IQ scores to job applications. This idea was widely and deservedly ridiculed on Twitter. It’s a serious faux pas to include test scores of any kind — IQ especially, but also SAT or graduate admissions tests like LSAT, MCAT or GMAT — on a resume.  Including test scores will cause many employers to draw negative assumptions about an applicant, and thus reduce the applicant’s chances of being hired, regardless of how good the scores are. But why is there such a taboo against sharing scores, that including them on a resume would cause an employer to draw negative inferences about an applicant’s character? Why is it considered extreme and risible to suggest that a job candidate with a high IQ or a high SAT score should treat that as a qualification? And who benefits from this norm of keeping this data secret? Proxies for aptitude While it is bad advice for a job applicant to share test scores with an employer, nearly every …

A Different Kind of Privilege

If you live your life in and around higher education (including Christian higher education, as I do), then you see and hear a lot of discussion of the topic of white privilege. White privilege refers to the many things white people supposedly don’t have to think about (such as how they are perceived in a retail environment, how they interact with law enforcement officers, etc.), but which are bigger issues for African-Americans and perhaps other non-white persons. At the same time, there is a growing critique of the slice of Americans (a recent Atlantic essay characterized them as the 9.9 percent) who dominate American life as the winners of a meritocracy. Americans have typically been friendly to the idea of aristocracies of talent as opposed to aristocracies based on blood and family, but increasingly there are fears of a ‘cognitive elite’ that is becoming increasingly cohesive through geographic, educational, and marital clustering. The worry is that this group is driving economic stratification faster and further than old aristocracies ever could. Against this backdrop of ideas …