All posts filed under: Must Reads

Public Education’s Dirty Secret

Bad teaching is a common explanation given for the disastrously inadequate public education received by America’s most vulnerable populations. This is a myth. Aside from a few lemons who were notable for their rarity, the majority of teachers I worked with for nine years in New York City’s public school system were dedicated, talented professionals. Before joining the system I was mystified by the schools’ abysmal results. I too assumed there must be something wrong with the teaching. This could not have been farther from the truth. Teaching French and Italian in NYC high schools I finally figured out why this was, although it took some time, because the real reason was so antithetical to the prevailing mindset. I worked at three very different high schools over the years, spanning a fairly representative sample. That was a while ago now, but the system has not improved since, as the fundamental problem has not been acknowledged, let alone addressed. It would not be hard, or expensive, to fix. Washington Irving High School, 2001–2004 My NYC teaching career began …

How My Toxic Stoicism Helped Me Cope with Brain Cancer

Under normal circumstances—e.g. in a time when the American Psychological Association (APA) has not released guidelines questioning whether norms associated with “traditional masculinity” (e.g. stoicism) are harmful to the mental health of men, and a shaving commercial is not being run that criticizes “toxic masculinity”—I would be reluctant to publicly share a story of personal adversity that, as a sometime aficionado of existentialist philosophy, I know I must ultimately face alone. But in the spirit of opening up, here goes. I have brain cancer. Not the kind that killed John McCain, Ted Kennedy, or Beau Biden. At least not yet. I am afflicted with a low-grade glioma (specifically, a grade-2 infiltrative astrocytoma). My neurosurgeon informs me that experts do not distinguish between benign and malignant brain tumors. Instead, they distinguish between low-grade and high-grade tumors, the point being that all brain tumors naturally progress to death. There is no cure. High-grade simply gets you there faster. In the words of one study, “all low grade gliomas eventually progress to high grade glioma and death.” In …

Anatomist of Racial Inequality: An Interview with Glenn Loury

Glenn Loury has the ability, occasionally displayed by great writers, of articulating his opponents’ arguments fairly while simultaneously exaggerating their claims ever so slightly in order to hint at their fundamental unsoundness. In our interview, he provides an example. Asked whether he believes African Americans should be encouraged to take pride in being citizens of the United States, he offers this characterization of the view espoused by many on the anti-racist Left: America’s overrated. America is a bandit, a gangster nation. America is run by war criminals. American capitalism is rapacious. America is nothing but hypocrites. They dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; they exterminated the Native Americans and they enslaved the Africans. White supremacy rules here. Why should I want to fight and die for such a country? I don’t want to fight and die for it; I don’t even want to stand while the anthem is being played for it! Such a view, dominant though it may be in America’s discourse on racial inequality, is for Loury nothing more than a “posture,” or at …

Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later

You wouldn’t think that a defense of reason, science, and humanism would be particularly controversial in an era in which those ideals would seem to need all the help they can get. But in the words of a colleague, “You’ve made people’s heads explode!” Many people who have written to me about my 2018 book Enlightenment Now say they’ve been taken aback by the irate attacks from critics on both the right and the left. Far from embracing the beleaguered ideals of the Enlightenment, critics have blamed it for racism, imperialism, existential threats, and epidemics of loneliness, depression, and suicide. They have insisted that human progress can only be an illusion of cherry-picked data. They have proclaimed, with barely concealed schadenfreude, that the Enlightenment is an idea whose time has passed, soon to be killed off by authoritarian populism, social media, or artificial intelligence. This month’s publication of the paperback edition of EN in the US and UK is an occasion for me to weigh in on the controversies that have flared up in the year since …

Thoughtcrime and Punishment: A Year Of Shunning and Law Suits at a Canadian University

In late 2017, I found myself at the centre of a controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University, where I was an M.A. student and teaching assistant (TA) in the Communication Studies department. In the class for which I was serving as TA, I played part of a panel discussion that had aired on Ontario public television. As many readers will know, this material featured University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson making the argument against alternative gender pronoun usage, as well as Sexual Diversity educator Nicholas Matte’s arguments encouraging their use. Because I chose not to disavow Peterson’s views before airing the clip, I was brought into a subsequent disciplinary meeting. The supervisor for the course in question, Nathan Rambukkana, as well as the coordinator for my M.A. program, Herbert Pimlott (also known, at times, as “Hillary X Plimsoll”), and Gendered Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention manager Adria Joel accused me of breaking the law by airing a clip of Peterson in a classroom, as well as threatening and targeting trans people, thereby creating a toxic environment. …

“Stop Assuming that Everything You Feel or Think Is Right”—An Interview with Robert Greene

Robert Greene is the author of The 48 Laws of Power and most recently, The Laws of Human Nature. His books, which are popular with many world leaders, celebrities, professional athletes and hip hop stars like Drake, have sold more than 5 million copies and have been translated into over 30 languages. Robert’s raw, “amoral” look at history and the dynamics of power, seduction, and warfare have always been controversial—indeed, his books are banned in many prisons across the United States. This interview about political correctness, the bloody cost of the denial of human nature, and the inner-work required for rational thought was conducted for Quillette by Ryan Holiday, his former apprentice, over the phone from Austin, Texas while Robert recovers in Los Angeles from a near-fatal stroke he suffered in August, 2018. The text has been lightly edited for clarity. *     *     * Ryan Holiday: I thought we’d start with this idea of human nature itself. There are certain people who have almost come to believe that there’s no such thing as human nature. Maybe …

The 2018 Free Thought Awards

Quillette’s success comes from a group of writers compelled to express the truth as they see it. We couldn’t be prouder of our association with so many inspiring, talented free thinkers. From the dozens, we give a special nod to these five for their stellar contribution in 2018. STUART REGES Free Thought Award for Courage Stuart Reges, lecturer in computer science at the University of Washington, made headlines after his essay exploring the gender gap in computer science was published. The follow-up to his original essay documents the institutional blowback he endured for expressing his empirically validated opinion that, on average, men and women tend to have different occupational interests. Reges’ writing reflects a high level of intellectual integrity in the face of opposition. HIS WINNING WORK: Why Women Don’t Code Is It Sexual Harassment to Discuss this Article? URI HARRIS Free Thought Award for Original Contribution Using the analytical tools popular within the humanities and social sciences, Uri Harris has offered original insights on the social justice movement and critical theory itself. Taken together, …

From Astrology to Cult Politics—the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion

If you count yourself among the secularists cheering for the demise of religion, it isn’t hard to find comforting statistics. Nearly every survey of the state of religion in my own country, the United States, presents a similar picture of faith in decline. Compared to their parents and grandparents, Americans are less likely to self-identify as religious, attend religious services, or engage in religious practices such as daily prayer. Full-blown atheism is still a minority position. But the ranks of the “non-religious”—a broad category made up of those who reject traditional conceptions of God and religious doctrines, or who express uncertainty about their beliefs—are growing. Even those who self-identify as Christians are less inclined to talk publicly about God and their faith than their predecessors. Indeed, many Americans are Christian in name only—using the term more as an indicator of their cultural background than as a declaration of a spiritual life committed to the teachings of Christ. And the rest of the Western world is even farther ahead on this same path. But secularism advocates …

PewDiePie’s Battle for the Soul of the Internet

This is a story about the question of who holds power over what we can say, hear, watch and read on the internet—an increasingly urgent issue that many ordinary people have cause to think about every day. And yet the protagonist in this story, the man whose fate symbolizes the future of social media and the corporate web that controls it, is unknown to the vast majority of educated readers. That man is PewDiePie, a Swedish comedian whose real name is Felix Kjellberg. With 77-million subscribers, he has the most popular YouTube channel in the world. Within YouTube’s video subculture, he is regarded as a true celebrity—a sort of Joe Rogan, Kanye West and Ben Shapiro all rolled into one. As of this writing, PewDiePie is closing in on 20-billion total views—roughly equivalent to three views for every human on the planet. Yet describing the actual content that Kjellberg delivers to his viewers can be challenging. When he dropped out of school and began seriously promoting his channel in 2010, his feed was largely devoted …

Confessions of a ‘Soulless Troglodyte’: How My Brooklyn Literary Friendships Fell Apart in the Age of Trump

I became friends with Jamie when I was 13, a few years after my family fled the Soviet Union and settled in what was then one of the most diverse neighborhoods of south Brooklyn. When we first met, Jamie (not his real name) told me that he was a genius—that his Catholic school teachers said so after he wrote a poem about vaginas and read it aloud in front of the whole class. He told me he wanted to be “an author.” In the 1990s, our street was a spontaneous symphony of the working poor, a place where kids bonded by trading ethnic insults in a dozen languages. I had mastered this crude local vernacular. Jamie’s ability to step outside of our street language, speak freely and dream about something larger was transfixing. Unlike Jamie, I churned through the city’s public schools without attracting much notice. My teachers did not seek genius. In high school, they were too busy keeping us from killing each other. I learned nothing and barely graduated. After Jamie went off …