All posts filed under: Politics

Journalism in the Age of the Populist Right

Yesterday, Steve Bannon was dropped from a headliner at the New Yorker’s yearly ideas festival after a backlash from readers, potential audience members and other speakers who were also slated to attend. Bannon was headlining the festival, with Jim Carrey, Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith and Jimmy Fallon also on the bill. In explaining Bannon’s inclusion on the line-up, the New Yorker’s editor David Remnick told the New York Times that: “I have every intention of asking him difficult questions and engaging in a serious and even combative conversation.” But the opportunity for a combative conversation did not come to pass. After a backlash online, with several celebrities declaring that they would no longer attend the festival, Remnick reversed his decision. In his announcement he wrote “I don’t want well-meaning readers and staff member to think that I’ve ignored their concerns”. Bannon is still slated to appear at The Economist’s yearly festival and was recently interviewed by Australia’s national broadcaster, which aired on Monday night. In the past, Bannon has expressed opposition to immigration to the United States, …

Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Reply To Aaron Hanlon

“Truth is Not Truth” ~Rudy Giuliani, Meet the Press, August 20, 2018 On August 31, the Washington Post published an interesting opinion piece entitled “Postmodernism Didn’t Cause Trump. It Explains Him” by Professor Aaron Hanlon, an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College. In his article, Professor Hanlon referred to my May 17 article for Quillette, “The Rise and Emergence of Postmodern Conservatism” as an example of a prominent tendency on to “blame” postmodernism for the rise of Trumpism. Hanlon describes this tendency at length midway through the article. I will quote him in full to avoid misrepresenting his position: Today, critics on both Left and Right are happy to wave their fingers at postmodern theory, so long as they can blame it for the Trump electorate’s unprecedented disregard for the truth. In Quillette—an online magazine obsessed with the evils of ‘critical theory’ and postmodernism—Matt McManus reflects on “The Emergence and Rise of Postmodern Conservatism.” From the Right, David Ernst contends that “Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself .” And from the Left, Kakutani recently wrote in the Guardian: “Relativism has …

In Defence of Combat Robots

Next week in Geneva, diplomats will assemble to discuss Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). The precise definition of LAWS is contested but the Pentagon speaks of “weapons that once activated can select and engage targets without further human intervention.” Activists striving for a ban on LAWS call them ‘killer robots,’ language some find emotive but which is nevertheless useful for grabbing headlines. To illustrate, Disney/Lucasfilm’s K2SO is a ‘killer robot’ as is R2D2. In the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, K2SO—a reprogrammed Imperial droid fighting for the Rebel Alliance—kills about a dozen Imperial Stormtroopers with a grenade, a blaster, and his bare robot hands. More pertinently, existing systems like Aegis and Patriot running in ‘auto-fire’ mode also qualify as LAWS under the Pentagon’s definition.  Unsurprisingly, nations fielding Aegis and Patriot think that banning LAWS would be premature. Some analysts have suggested that we drop the word ‘lethal’ and speak instead of non-lethal as well as lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS). In what follows I will discuss AWS or ‘combat robots’ that can deter, capture, wound, or kill. A …

Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind

What is the difference between leftists and cannibals? Cannibals don’t eat their friends. ~attributed to Lyndon Johnson I am liberal to my core and like many liberals I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the escalation of totalitarian impulses on the Left. For the past six years I’ve been exploring the phenomenon and teasing out its underlying dynamics. While many writers and thinkers have been going head-to-head with extremists and confronting their ideological inconsistencies, the book I’ve found most helpful is Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Unlike other writers, Felski approaches the dynamic obliquely and her foundational point is more subtle. How we feel is almost always the first signal we have about the nature of our surroundings. For example, all of us have had the experience of walking into restaurant with a friend; all of us engage in some form of the following when we do: We stop just inside, pause a moment, and get a feel for the place. And every one of us has, at one time or another, …

Banning Bitcoin to Complete Big Tech Censorship

Bitcoin’s survival might prove intolerable to our Internet gatekeepers. To rid the web of troublesome opinion makers you ban them from online platforms while terminating their ability to raise funds from supporters.  Corporate giants can use their control over Internet and financial chokepoints to almost accomplish this, but Bitcoin’s decentralized network means that regardless of how much corporate America hates some commentator, it can’t stop you from sending her cryptocurrency.  If a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2020, I predict a serious attempt to close this loophole by criminalizing Bitcoins. Big tech has awoken to its power and started suppressing views it deems hateful.  The Nazi website Stormfront was kicked off the Internet.  Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify all decided, on the same day, to deplatform Alex Jones.  Islam critic Lauren Southern has been kicked off Pateron, a service many use to raise funds from supporters.  YouTube has demonitized and restricted videos from Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Gad Saad.  President Trump has accused social media of “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.” Big tech wants …

My Unpopular Opinion: There Are Too Many Mediocre Artists

Every now and again, a friend of mine holds a ‘what’s your unpopular opinion?’ discussion in a club we jointly run. Everyone takes turns to say something not so much outrageous or contrarian (debates are seldom about politics) but bitter – as in ‘bitter truth’. People argue, say, that colonialism is a good idea (when done by the British, of course), or that sometimes historic buildings and artefacts are more important than people (and should by preference be preserved in wartime), or that corporal punishment is probably not such a bad idea for certain sorts of crimes (and criminals). He imposes the Chatham House rule so people aren’t set upon afterwards by mobs of offendotrons trying to get them sacked for wrongthink. Well, I’ve decided to go public with one of my unpopular opinions. There are too many artists, too many people who want to be artists, most of them aren’t very good, and schools should focus on inculcating self-discipline rather than dopey ‘all must have prizes’ creativity. Most people are only ever going to …

Why Politics Needs the Futuristic Perspective

Politicians are constantly fighting for policies that future generations will find laughable at best, morally atrocious at worst. Just consider “Jobs for Everyone!” or “Build the Wall!”—except imagine it’s 100 years from now and there are no jobs or national borders…  Taking this 100-year view, many of the best-known politicians quickly fade into irrelevance. There is one political figure who comes prominently into focus in this view, however. That’s Zoltan Istvan, the unsuccessful but often newsworthy former candidate for US president and California governor. Even if you’re opposed to libertarianism (Zoltan’s adopted political platform) and uninspired by tranhumanism (Zoltan’s political hobbyhorse), still, it’s worth considering the unique perspective Zoltan Istvan brings to our chronically shortsighted political landscape. Unlike any other political figure, he champions long-view causes like you’d never believe. Unapologetically, he’s one-hundred percent all-in for long-view causes. Here’s a taste. If you were an interviewer, you’d likely want to ask Mr. Istvan about some hot button issue, like…abortion. Well—that’s an easy one! He’s a libertarian, so he’ll likely just begin by vocalizing libertarian standardisms. …

The Forgotten Story of How “Punching Up” Harmed the Science-Fiction/Fantasy World

The recent blowup over New York Times editorial board hire Sarah Jeong and her racially charged Twitter trail turned into a brawl over a key question in today’s cultural polemics: Whether derogatory speech about whites should be considered racist and, more generally, whether there is such a thing as anti-white racism. Most of Jeong’s defenders on the left not only argued that she shouldn’t lose her job but insisted that there was nothing particularly wrong with her white-bashing tweets, whether they were meant to mock racist trolls or criticize “white privilege.” “To equate ‘being mean to white people’ with the actual systemic oppression and marginalization of minority groups is a false equivalency,” wrote Vox reporter Aja Romano in a supposedly objective “explainer.” As the Jeong drama demonstrates, the view that “woke” white-bashing is a harmless, justified, and perhaps even commendable form of “punching up” is now mainstream in liberal/progressive culture in North America (and some other Western countries). And yet another culture-war episode from four years ago—one that, as it happens, Romano also covered in …

A Closer Look at Anti-White Rhetoric

Online controversy erupted earlier this month when The New York Times announced that technology writer Sarah Jeong would be joining its editorial board. Almost immediately, old tweets from Jeong containing derogatory remarks about white people were being shared widely on twitter. The next day, The Times issued a statement defending Jeong’s tweets as a response to online harassment in which she was “imitating the rhetoric of her harassers,” reflecting Jeong’s own statement that she was “counter-trolling” and would not do it again. The Times further claimed it had reviewed Jeong’s social media history as part of the vetting process and affirmed that her hiring would not be affected by the controversy. The following day, journalist Nick Monroe searched Jeong’s twitter history for the term “white” and found hundreds of tweets from 2013 to 2017. He posted the result in a long twitter thread, also widely shared. Some of the tweets were highly inflammatory, such as: “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men;” “Dumbass …

Norms of Good Governance: Where Do They Come From?

Some countries exhibit good governance while others do not. Even wealthy countries, with strong cultural norms of industriousness and excellence in education, can flounder when it comes to maintaining liberal democracy. For personality psychologists, such as myself, this presents an intriguing question: what is it about humans that makes democratic norms stick? What are the traits that facilitate honesty and transparency in administration at the highest levels? Whatever the answer turns out to be, new insights from personality psychology can help shed some light on how good governance can be both developed and maintained. Those of us who live in the Anglosphere (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) might be forgiven for thinking that our societal norms such as individualism, freedom of expression and public service are standard issue for humanity. They aren’t, they are WEIRD. That acronym stands for Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic. And the name fits – WEIRD countries are rare, comprising only about 12% of the global population. This observation is usually viewed in the scientific literature as …