All posts filed under: Politics

What’s Wrong with the American Academy

A colleague of mine in the economics department once said, “when the price of bullshit is zero, demand is inelastic.” A corollary of this principle is that when the price of bullshit is zero, the supply of bullshit is infinite, especially when there are tangible gains for bullshitters.  Last year, I was a visiting scholar at the University of Arizona, which was in the process of starting a new interdisciplinary department (The Department of Political Economy). About a decade ago, the department chair got a grant from the Koch Foundation, which has donated to several universities around the United States. Because Charles Koch has a libertarian bent—he advocates drug legalization, criminal justice reform, and low taxes, among other things—a number of ‘progressive’ and socialist groups have gone after people who receive grants from the Koch foundation.  My point here is not to make a political statement. I don’t have especially strong feelings about Charles Koch, who I disagree with on some issues, and agree with on others. Instead, I want to use my case to illustrate what’s wrong with the …

Are Liberal Democracies ‘Rape Cultures’?

What are we to make of the claim that we inhabit a ‘rape culture’? Those making this claim seldom make it clear if they are being descriptive or expressive. A descriptive claim purports to tell us that something is or is not the case (“The exam is over”) while an expressive claim conveys subjectivity and sentiment (“That exam was torture!”). If the claim that we live in a rape culture is descriptive—that our culture condones or promotes rape—those making the claim must support it with adequate evidence. If they are not being descriptive, then the expressive meaning of the claim is not entirely clear. Let’s begin by considering a passage from an article by Alyn Pearson entitled “Rape Culture: It’s All Around Us,” which appeared in the (now defunct) feminist publication Off Our Backs in 2000: Rape is the common cold of society. […] We have assimilated rape into our everyday culture much as we have the cold. […] There is a silence surrounding the recognition that we live in a cultural environment where rape is endemic, but it is true. …

Robert Kennedy, Improbable Liberal Hero

There is something about middle children, especially in large families. They often struggle to define themselves. Robert Francis Kennedy was the ultimate middle child. Until shortly before his untimely death 50 years ago, he was still embarked on that struggle of self-determination. Kennedy’s early career included working as a Senate staff member for the right-wing demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It would have been reasonable to conclude that as a young conservative he could only move farther right as he aged. Kennedy turned the tables on the conventional wisdom by moving — both by circumstance and by calculation — in a more liberal direction. But it was a distinctive liberalism that was shaped by his origins in a family that, despite their enormous wealth, were regarded as outsiders. I’m a political scientist who studies American government and U.S. legislative politics and I’ve worked as an adviser to Democrats in the Senate and House. It is clear to me that Robert, much more than his older brother John, was shaped by the tribalism of Massachusetts politics in …

At this Portland Bakery, White Guilt Poisons the Batter

The menu at the Back to Eden Bakery in Portland, Ore. features vegan and gluten-free ice cream, cookies and cupcakes, but it might as well itemize its impeccable intersectional credentials. Before hungry customers even set foot in the small shop in north Portland, they are confronted with a battery of progressive signs on a storefront reminiscent of a college equity office. “Safe space,” one of them proudly declares. “Black Lives Matter,” another reminds us. In the name of inclusivity, others carefully list all the different types of identity that are welcome. The bakery is owned by John Blomgren and Garrett Jones, a queer-identified couple. Since their business first opened its doors in 2009 and subsequently expanded, it has unsurprisingly found commercial success among Portland’s (in)famously progressive population. Last month, however, the business’s overzealous politics cost two young employees their jobs at the Alberta Street location after a local activist released a video complaining that she had been denied service for being black. In the wake of the Starbucks scandal in Philadelphia, in which two black men were …

The High Price of Stale Grievances

They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it. ~ Thelonious Monk (Monk’s Advice, 1960) As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. ~ Ekow N. Yankah (New York Times, 2017) In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage. But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at …

The Prison-House of Political Language

Of all the stunningly awful attempts to explain away the reasons why the 2016 US Presidential election did not produce the result that the elites wanted, perhaps the worst – and certainly one of the most persistent – has been the claim that Donald J. Trump is a would-be Hitler leading his Nazi followers to power. Almost two years after Trump’s victory, plans have now been announced to once again adapt Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to the screen but this time with “Trump hanging over it.” So as well as being the embodiment of evil, does President Trump also have an Orwellian Big Brother stranglehold on the media? Let us look at some facts. Of America’s Top 100 newspapers, only two endorsed Trump in 2016. Since January 2017, Trump has not polled higher than 50% with any of the major polling outlets. Major award ceremonies now seem dedicated to venting celebrity hate with the President as Emmanuel Goldstein. At the same time academics (who, remember, tend to be Democrats rather than Republicans at ratios as high …

The Limits of Expertise

“People are sick of experts.” These infamous and much-derided words uttered by UK Conservative parliamentarian Michael Gove express a sentiment with which we are now probably all familiar. It has come to represent a sign of the times—either an indictment or a celebration (depending on one’s political point of view) of our current age. Certainly, the disdain for expertise and its promised consequences have been highly alarming for many people. They are woven through various controversial and destabilising phenomena from Trump, to Brexit, to fake news, to the generally ‘anti-elitist’ tone that characterises populist politics and much contemporary discourse. And this attitude stands in stark contrast to the unspoken but assumed Obama-era doctrine of “let the experts figure it out”; an idea that had a palpable End of History feeling about it, and that makes this abrupt reversion to ignorance all the more startling. The majority of educated people are fairly unequivocal in their belief that this rebound is a bad thing, and as such many influential voices—Quillette‘s included—have been doing their best to restore …

The RedState Firings and the Decline of Viewpoint Diversity on the Right

“If you’re a Republican, that means you’re for free speech.” I used to believe this. I’m not sure I do any more. In late April, several members of the site RedState, including me, were fired en masse in a single day. It was not for poor performance; among those dismissed were some of the top page view earners, and none had published a post that had embarrassed the site in some high-profile way. We had one thing in common, and one thing only: we were all fierce and highly vocal critics of Donald Trump. It later emerged that the RedState firings were part of a larger effort by the site’s owner Salem Media Group to clamp down on criticism of Trump. CNN recently reported that Salem, which is also the largest broadcaster of conservative talk radio in the United States, had complained to some of its conservative talk show hosts during the campaign about the anti-Trump tone of some of their shows. In July 2016, a Salem executive wrote to hosts Ben Shapiro and Elisha Krauss: …

Racism and Underdetermination by Evidence

This week, Starbucks will be shutting down 8000 of its stores for one day. Employees at these locations will undergo anti-discrimination training, including arguably dubious efforts to combat implicit bias. And all of this is a response to the recent arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson—both black men in their twenties—at a Philadelphia Starbucks, which triggered widespread condemnation and accusations that a culture of anti-black prejudice pervades the coffee chain. Slightly different accounts of the incident have been given by different news outlets, but something like the following sequence of events seems to have taken place. Upon arriving at the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, Mr Nelson asked to use the restroom. Permission was refused by the manager, who told him that the facilities were for paying customers only. Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson then took a seat at a table. The manager asked them if she could bring them drinks or water, and they declined, saying they were waiting to meet someone. Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson were then asked to leave by the manager, on …

Behind the Mask: Inside the Black Bloc

One year ago, the City of Roses—Portland, Ore.—was rattled to its core with the shocking murder of two bystanders who intervened in an ugly confrontation on one of its MAX commuter trains. Jeremy Christian will soon stand trial accused of killing two men and almost a third after they objected to his alleged verbal attack on two  female passengers on the train. A Vancouver, Wash.-based conservative free speech group named Patriot Prayer has been labeled guilty by association in the court of public opinion due to Christian’s presence at one of the group’s publicly held rallies in April 2017. Also one year ago, shortly after the stabbings, Patriot Prayer staged a protest in Chapman Square in the heart of the city that attracted both mainstream conservatives and alt-right sympathizers. The rally was met with confrontational antifa counter-protest in an event now legendary among Portlanders for its brazen standoff against police moderation. Portland has long stood as a hotbed of political activism and, more recently, anti-fascist resistance. As one-year memorials for the victims of the MAX …