All posts filed under: Politics

Between Discipline and Chaos

“Anyone capable of living outside a city,” wrote Aristotle, “must either be a beast or a god.” Before taking offense or pride in that aphorism, the rural should know that the Greek for “city” here is polis, and the polis of classical Greece was not a city in our sense. It was smaller than a nation, to be sure, but unlike London or Washington, it was a sovereign state. Every human individual, Aristotle is saying, must live within such a group—whether it be a tribe or an empire. To lack such a polis, to live truly alone, would require the independence of a wild animal or the self-sufficiency of a god. We need groups to survive; we need someone else to do our hunting or growing, someone else to make our clothes and build our houses, someone else to fix our furnace and perform our surgeries. But the polis does more than help us survive. It encompasses the family, the school and the broader culture, all of which shape who we become. Without such groups, …

Younger Women Are More Left-Wing Than Men, While Older Women Are More Right-Wing Than Men

Young women across Western Europe and Canada are more left wing than their male counterparts, according to new research I carried out that also shows among older voters women more likely to be right wing than men. We already know that younger people are often more likely to vote for left-wing parties than their older peers, but it seems this trend is particularly pronounced among women. Younger women are the most left wing in their voting habits and older women the most right wing when we compared voters by age and gender. This is shown in a study using data on over 40,000 people from the World Values Survey/European Values Study in Western Europe and Canada, 1989-2014. This trend is summarised in the graph below. Negative numbers indicate more men voting for a left-wing party in a given country. Positive numbers indicate more women voting for a left-wing party. In almost all countries, women born after 1955 are more likely to vote for left-wing parties than men of the same age group. Conversely, in many …

Reversing the Descent of Man

On virtually every indicator that anyone might want to consider, men in Britain and various other Western states seem to be performing very badly at the moment, both for themselves and for the communities in which they live. Not that this is particularly unusual. Throughout history, men have been inclined towards being social outsiders. Their usefulness to communities varies much more than women’s, and depends greatly on the way in which social institutions define and reward their roles. Whereas most cultures seem to recognize this, in the West we have increasingly pretended that it is not the case. And we are now paying for our mistake. Many people are asking themselves whether some of the radical social experiments attempted in recent generations are viable in the long term, or should now be ditched. It is not too late to face up to the problem. But we have such an accumulation of policy errors to deal with that we require a thorough re-orientation of public discourse before we can expect any specific measures to have much …

What PETA Has Cost the Animal Rights Movement

Animal advocates constantly complain about the reputation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). They frequently see their cause dismissed because of the strong associations with this rambunctious organization. Earlier this month was no exception, as PETA made major headlines by asking the internet to stop using idioms like “bring home the bacon”: In fact, the word “PETA” has become a pejorative for stunts, gimmicks, and putting feelings over facts when it comes to animal issues. I argue in my new book, The End of Animal Farming, that animal rights will succeed in building a food system where we eat meat, dairy, and eggs without the use of animals, but it’s a tragic irony that one of the biggest obstacles for activists might be the bad reputation of its best-known advocates. I should clarify. This isn’t to say PETA hasn’t done a lot of good. The first modern undercover investigation of farmed animal abuse was conducted by the pioneering organization in 1983 at a Texas horse exporter, shortly after PETA’s famous lab animal investigation …

“Heroic Guerrilla”—From Revolutionary Militant to Saint

In 1954, my father was working for the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture as a veterinarian in charge of the artificial insemination of cattle. He was asked if he would like to meet a fellow Argentine—another recent graduate from the University of Buenos Aires, an M.D. named Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. He said sure. They met “almost daily to talk and drink un cafesíto.” Guevara was broke; my father always paid. They talked politics, as any university-educated Argentine of the period would; of the injustice, the poverty, and the callous indifference of the elites to the suffering of the poor. Nothing out the mainstream for the time and place. My father said there was no talk of Marx or guerrilla warfare. Guevara mentioned that he wanted to practice medicine in the countryside, but the Ministry of Health insisted that he join the Communist Party. Ernesto refused and told them that he would not join the Party in order to practice medicine. My father was not required to join the Party, I assume because livestock are not in need …

Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet

The 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth on December 11 was an occasion for many tributes. A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated. But his legacy also continues to be the subject of intense debate among people who share his loathing of that regime—and those controversies, which have to do with freedom, traditional morality, and nationalism, are strikingly relevant to our current moment. Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been …

Feminism’s Dependency Trap

Reading the news stories about #MeToo and sexual harassment, and the barrage of social media posts that accompanied these headlines, I became saddened but also increasingly frustrated. It wasn’t the reports of men behaving badly that angered me, but the despair that seemed to be the expected response to these stories, and the helplessness that my female friends appeared to attach to femininity itself that I found troubling. The unintended and painful irony of recent feminism’s preoccupation with overcoming male oppression has been to place men at the centre of female identity. This makes the feminine experience something like an echo; women’s voices seem to be little more than a response, or a rebuttal, to men’s voices, which are taken to be primarily an instrument of patriarchal oppression. But, in my own experience, men aren’t interested in maintaining power and control over women—they simply don’t see women as a group that they are oppressing, or that they would like to oppress. We hear a lot about “male privilege” but historically it has been the “privilege” of …

The Children of the Revolution

“Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart,” wrote James Baldwin, “for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.” This observation has been confirmed many times throughout history. However, China’s Cultural Revolution offers perhaps the starkest illustration of just how dangerous the “pure in heart” can be. The ideological justification for the revolution was to purge the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the nation more broadly, of impure elements hidden in its midst: capitalists, counter-revolutionaries, and “representatives of the bourgeoisie.” To that end, Mao Zedong activated China’s youth—unblemished and uncorrupted in heart and mind—to lead the struggle for purity. Christened the “Red Guards,” they were placed at the vanguard of a revolution that was, in truth, a cynical effort by Mao to reassert his waning power in the Party. Nevertheless, it set in motion a self-destructive force of almost unimaginable depravity. The Cultural Revolution commenced in spirit when Mao published a letter indicting a number of Party leaders on May 16, 1966. But it was a seemingly minor event nine days later …

The Pitfalls of Too Much Security

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. —Benjamin Franklin Earlier this year, my mother fell and broke her hip, requiring emergency surgery. The hospital at which the operation would take place was one to which I was no stranger. One of the specialists whom I saw as a child had been located there, so I had visited it many times growing up. This time, though, the sight that awaited me when I walked in the front door was very different from all those times before. What had once been a spacious corridor was now blocked off by gates. Visitors (and presumably outpatients) waited in line at a security desk where they stated their business at the hospital, showed their drivers’ licenses, and were issued temporary ID cards that they scanned at the gates to gain entry. Being familiar with the arguments made by Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I knew that it was highly …

Video Games and the (Male) Meaning of Life

Virtual worlds give back what has been scooped out of modern life . . . it gives us back community, a feeling of competence, and a sense of being an important person whom people depend on. —Jonathan Gottschall When I was seven, my parents bought me and my brother an Atari 2600, the first mass game console. The game it came with was “Asteroids.” We played that game an awful lot. One night, we snuck down in the middle of the night only to discover my Dad already playing. My brother and I loved going to local arcades and try to make a few quarters last as long as possible. It was the perfect set of incentives—you win, you keep playing. You lose, you’re forced to stand there and watch others play, hoping that someone is forced to leave their game in the middle so you can jump in. We became very good at video games. My favorite was “Street Fighter II.” I memorized the Mortal Kombat fatalities to inflict graphic harm on defeated enemies. …