All posts filed under: Politics

A Surfeit of Empathy and an Absence of Compassion

As a parent of an ROGD teen, it has been so disheartening to see so few mainstream sources publishing balanced views on this topic. We have glowing “protransition” pieces in the left-wing press, and (often) angry, and even anti-trans pieces in the right-wing or religious press. These articles are just what we need to open up a more balance, less hate filled dialogue. More, please.  ~comment from parent, Psychology Today. I am an anthropologist and professor of Psychiatry at McGill University. I have published and been mentioned in the media widely on the study of cultural evolution, social media addiction, new internet subcultures, social dimensions of cognition and mental health, and the impact of recent cultural shifts in gender norms on the wellbeing of young people. As an essayist and popular science commentator, I have written extensively on the evolutionary basis of contemporary issues, from tribalism in politics to cultural paranoia in the wake of #MeToo and nocebo effects in the medicalization of everyday problems. So far, I’ve managed to avoid scandal and outrage almost entirely by …

Orwell and the Anti-Totalitarian Left in the Age of Trump

I In his review of Pascal Bruckner’s new book, An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt, Nick Cohen begins with a denunciation of the contemporary Left’s obsession with identity politics and “willingness to excuse antisemitism, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western.” Cohen acknowledges that Bruckner has been among the most penetrating analysts of the Left’s moral and intellectual decline in the twenty-first century, recalling that he described Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism as a “brilliant defence of liberalism and a deservedly contemptuous assault on all those intellectuals who have betrayed its best values.” However, Cohen now thinks Bruckner’s animus toward the Left has propelled him to the Right, arguing that he fails to “extend his opposition to Islamism to cover the purveyors of anti-Muslim bigotry,” uses the “language of demagogues and civil war,” and displays the “ethnic favouritism and intellectual double-standards of the counter-Enlightenment.” Cohen also laments Bruckner’s sparse commentary on right-wing populist and nationalist movements in Europe and the United States: At …

What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way. This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On …

Take It from Someone Who Has Suffered Real Physical Abuse: Words Aren’t Violence

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) For the fourth time in the space of 30 minutes, the sound of a cell-phone text alert interrupted my college class. The professor, a gifted educator with an infectious passion for his subject, had made his no-phones policy clear on many occasions. These repeated infractions were too much for him, and he lost his temper. He shouted at us about maturity, respect and the convenient proximity of our classroom’s two doors, through which anyone more interested in their phone than his lecture was welcome to depart. One of my classmates said later that the professor had activated his “angry-dad mode.” Back at home, this professor is raising a house full of boys. He’ll talk professional sports with anyone willing to listen. He regularly shows up with a splint, bandage, or brace—always some injury …

The Unsafe Feminist: Rebecca West and the ‘Bitter Rapture’ of Truth

In an era when indulgent university administrators and professors treat students like spoiled children, one longs for intellectuals who address their audience as adults. The British novelist, biographer, literary critic, travel writer and political commentator Rebecca West (1892-1983) is the tonic we need. Like other great authors of the 20th century—including George Orwell and Doris Lessing—West never received a university education. That may help explain her intellectual non-conformism and free-wheeling spirit. West brushed against orthodoxy like barbed wire against chiffon. She was a suffragist who rejected pacifism in the First World War (and the Second); a leftist who fought communism; an internationalist who spoke up for small nations; an individualist who valued authority and tradition. West never crouched in one position. She was unflinchingly realistic. Human conflict, she said, is inescapable. It is as much a feature of art as it is of states. Eros, too, creates antagonism, for sex is dangerous. Yet human co-operation is ubiquitous. Women and men need each other, and can and do love each other. A feminism that treats women …

The Ideology of Corbynism

The stereotype attached to the British of prudence and sobriety has taken a beating in the struggle to hash out a Brexit deal. There is quiet talk of another general election, and the options currently on offer are a chaotic government that has lost two Brexit ministers because they couldn’t agree with the Prime Minister who appointed them, and a Labour opposition led by Jeremy Corbyn. Now is a perfect time, then, for a critical examination of Corbyn’s ideology. Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts’s Corbyn: A Critical Approach analyses Corbynism using what they term “a critical Marxist approach.” As they say in the preface, “This is the first book that sets out to take Corbynism seriously and critically as a semi-coherent set of ideas.” Their final verdict does not paint a rosy picture. Three aspects of their critique, in particular, offer an illuminating perspective on Corbynism: the notion of “two campism,” the moral mythology surrounding the person of Corbyn, and the relationship between Corbynism and conspiracy theories. Corbyn’s foreign policy views are flatly inconsistent with …

Steve Bannon Is Wrong, But Not for the Reasons You Think

If you consume prestige media, then it is likely that you believe a number of things about Steve Bannon on faith. For instance, you might believe that Steve Bannon is a white nationalist and an Islamophobe. And you may well believe that he’s a fascist—perhaps even a Nazi. Each of these propositions has been logged repeatedly in influential outlets, and each has self-replicated its way into received wisdom, greeted by little more than eager nodding if said aloud at a book launch party. Zack Beauchamp at Vox called Bannon “a leading light of America’s white nationalist movement.” Omer Aziz in the New Republic said that Bannon believes “a war between the West and the Muslims is inevitable.” Kira Lerner at ThinkProgress reported that Bannon “direct[ed] white supremacist and Nazi beliefs into the mainstream.” So naturally, when the Oxford Union announced that it would be hosting Bannon for a speaking event on November 16, they were accused of “legitimizing racism and fascism” by hosting a man who was “build[ing] an Islamophobic international” and served as “the …

What We Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

My father moved to the UK from Iran in the 1970s to study engineering when he met and married my mother, who is from a small town in the Welsh valleys. Many people from that town would not have met a non-white person before they met my father. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, my parents made the eminently sensible decision that they would build their life together in Wales and not Iran. To this day my father remains the hardest working person I know. He always worked two jobs, became a successful engineer and I recall watching him take part in publicity photos in the 1990s as the first non-white retained fireman in Wales, which he went on to do for 25 years. He is by any measure a credit to his community and can easily be held up as a model for “integration.” However, he is just one person. I sometimes wonder how different things might have been if there had been even one or two other Iranian families living on our street. …

Writing for Quillette Ended My Theater Project

It was suggested that I apologize, and that an apology might help. This wasn’t an assurance, but an idea—if I walked back what I had written, there might be a way forward. I looked around the table at these four women who knew me too well to believe that I would apologize for something I had written. Before each of us sat the full length script on which we’d spent several months collaborating. I’d formed this theater collective precisely to make a play based on a killer idea I’d had, and I’d asked each of these talented, thoughtful, intelligent, creative women to work with me. We were only in the first few months of what was meant to be a year-long residency in a theater space in downtown Manhattan. What I wanted most of all was to develop this project. By the time it was suggested that I apologize, I knew full well that I wouldn’t, and that the project, the theater company, and the residency were all dead in the water. At issue was …

The Institutionalization of Social Justice

Over the past few years, social justice activists have demonstrated an increased ability to suppress controversial viewpoints. To take a few examples: A few months ago, mathematician Theodore Hill described in a Quillette essay how progressive groups were able to get a research paper of his on a biological phenomenon known as the “Greater Male Variability Hypothesis” removed from two separate journals, as well as to intimidate his co-author into silence. Hill’s article was published just a week after another article by endocrinologist Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, who described how social justice activists had managed to get an academic journal to initiate a review of an already-published research paper by Brown University medical researcher Lisa Littman on gender dysphoria. Brown also deleted a reference to the paper from its website. Both Hill and Flier point out that they’ve never experienced anything like this before. Hill wrote: “In my 40 years of publishing research papers I had never heard of the rejection of an already-accepted paper.” Flier noted: “In all my years in …