All posts filed under: Politics

Islamic Feminism’s Depressing Future

A review of Women, Faith and Sexism: Fighting Hislam, by Susan Carland. Melbourne University Press (May, 2017) 266 pages.   Dr. Susan Carland is an important public figure in the Australian landscape, especially at a time of heightened cultural intolerance. As an academic, a Muslim convert, and the wife of the most widely recognized Muslim in Australia today – journalist and TV presented Waleed Aly – Carland often finds herself in the role of the defender of Islamic faith in Australia. She has personally experienced two different (and currently clashing) cultures closely, has had the privilege of examining them from a social theory perspective, and is blessed with eloquence and charm. Who better to explain what is going on? On the one hand, we keep hearing about and seeing evidence of the unequal treatment of women within Muslim communities the world over. On the other, we find that Muslim women are among the staunchest defenders of Islamic faith and community. So how are we to reconcile these two realities? And to what extent are regressive practices coded …

Academic Journal Publishing is Headed for a Day of Reckoning

Imagine a researcher working under deadline on a funding proposal for a new project. This is the day she’s dedicated to literature review – pulling examples from existing research in published journals to provide evidence for her great idea. Creating an up-to-date picture of where things stand in this narrow corner of her field involves 30 references, but she has access to only 27 of those via her library’s journal subscriptions. Now what? There isn’t time to contact the three primary authors to get copies directly from them. Interlibrary loan will take too long. She could try other sites that host academic papers – such as ResearchGate and Sci-Hub – but access to particular articles isn’t assured and publishers are cracking down on what they call copyright violations. This fictitious example illustrates the quandary in which many researchers find themselves today. Access to journals is crucial for how they do their work. But few research libraries can afford all the journal subscriptions needed by all of their faculty for all occasions. As the dean of …

When Racism is Disguised as Anti-Racism

When I started my graduate education at Portland State in 2015 after a long hiatus from academe, I attended an event titled, “Students of Color Speak Out.” The university president encouraged all students, staff and faculty to attend the event, organized in reaction to alleged racial tensions on campus. As a student of color and the gay son of refugee immigrants, the event’s premise interested me. As I sat in the front, I listened to students detail their daily trauma of existing on a campus that was majority white. Students representing many ethnicities repeatedly shared feeling unsafe. I was confounded because their anecdotes spoke of an experience that sounded similar to those who lived in apartheid-era South Africa or Jim Crow Mississippi — not something I remotely recognized in ultra-progressive Portland. Still, I was sympathetic and recognized that my personal experiences may not be shared by others. My optimism was challenged once I began to pick up on the theme connecting the speeches. It was the visibility of white students, or more broadly white people …

In Defence of Jordan B. Peterson

A few days ago, Canadian author and English professor Ira Wells published an essay expressing concern about popular Canadian psychology professor and social critic Jordan B. Peterson. The essay was written in the wake of an incident at Canadian university Wilfred Laurier, where a teaching assistant was reprimanded for playing a short clip of a televised Peterson debate over the compelled use of gender pronouns. (I analysed the incident in Quillette last week.) Regrettably, Wells’s essay is littered with inaccuracies and casual insults, accompanied by a moralistic undertone that is sure to turn off Peterson’s supporters, and perhaps even neutral observers. Nevertheless, I think he succeeds in condensing many of the common criticisms of Peterson, which makes the essay worth responding to as the foundation for a genuine debate of these issues. I suggest reading it if you haven’t already done so. Wells’s main criticisms, as I understand them, are as follows: Peterson is celebrated in the news media as a champion of free speech and liberal, democratic values, while in fact promoting a far-right …

The Postmodern Misuse of Tolerance

Tolerance is central to the structure of the liberal democratic tradition, and traceable to its inception. If a change has occurred regarding its place in our moral universe, it is the sharp increase in the intensity with which it is invoked as a motivating principle by political leaders, social activists, and citizens. We might be tempted to rejoice in this development as testament to the good health of our institutions if, at the same time, other liberal values that used to be inseparable from tolerance were not being undermined. But this divergence indicates that people increasingly rely upon tolerance because other Enlightenment values such as reason, equality, and liberty have lost the power to inspire. The Fear of Intolerance For liberal societies beset by creeping anxieties about the value of their form of government, it is doubtful that this new emphasis on tolerance constitutes a net benefit. The celebration of tolerance as an end in itself is a symptom of the shift from self-confident modern liberal democracies to the self-doubting postmodern ones. Many of the …

The Politics of Science: Why Scientists Might Not Say What the Evidence Supports

Suppose a scientist makes a bold claim that turns out to be true. How confident are you that this claim would become widely accepted? Let’s start with a mundane case. About a century ago, cosmologists began to realize that we can’t explain the motions of galaxies unless we assume that a certain amount of unknown matter exists that we cannot yet observe with telescopes. Scientists called this “dark matter.” This is a bold claim that requires extraordinary evidence. Still, the indirect evidence is mounting and most cosmologists now believe that dark matter exists. To the extent that non-scientists think about this issue at all, we tend to defer to experts in the field and move on with our lives. But what about politically contentious topics? Does it work the same way? Suppose we have evidence for the truth of a hypothesis the consequences of which many people fear. For example, suppose we have reasonably strong evidence to believe there are average biological differences between men and women, or between different ethnic or racial groups. Would …

Campus Counsellors and the Politicization of Sexual Assault

A few years ago, a student came to my office in tears. Earlier in the day she’d stood in the doorway of the computer lab, telling me she didn’t think she would make it through class. Her face had been swollen and tear-stained. She was a confident young woman, so her appearance surprised me. When I expressed concern, she said she would drop by my office later. It was the last day of the spring semester. When she showed up, she told me she’d been sexually assaulted several days earlier. We’d established a good rapport over the semester, and so I did my best to console her. She seemed convinced her life had been ruined, but did not want to go to the police. A visit to a rape crisis centre had left her shaken. Her new view of herself was distressing. I’m not sure what inspired me, but I asked her how old she was. When she said 21, I asked her if she wanted to do some math. I reached for a pen …