All posts filed under: Social Science

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.  The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. We also trace six explanatory threads—cultural trends and practices that explain why this new moral culture, which we call “safetyism,” seemed to emerge so rapidly between 2013 and 2015: Rising teen depression and anxiety. The damaging effects of overprotection and social media. The loss of play in childhood. The polarization of the country. New ideas about justice. The bureaucratization of higher education. As we compiled story after story, we noticed that rather than making counterarguments to disfavored claims, students (and sometimes professors) seemed to focus on discrediting the speaker or writer instead. They …

‘Post-Truth’ and the Decline of Swedish Education

In the last 15–20 years, Sweden has suffered a downturn in several important aspects of the elementary and secondary education system. To begin to illustrate the state of Sweden’s schools, we can make a comparison with the heavily criticized American education system. It is a common and understandable belief, in the U.S. and elsewhere, that Swedish schools compare favorably with American schools in terms of educational outcomes. But the weakest American students in 8th grade performed significantly better than the weakest Swedish 8th graders in the TIMSS Mathematics assessment in 2011, one of the international comparative tests that have existed since the 1990s. In the latest cycle of the TIMSS Mathematics assessment, conducted in 2015, the weakest U.S. and Swedish students performed identically, but American students outperformed Swedish students in all other percentiles. In contrast, Swedish students outperformed their U.S. peers across the entire distribution in 1995. A similar negative development can be observed in Swedish students’ performance in the PISA. Swedish 9th graders performed above the international average in the first cycle of PISA in 2000, but …

The Dangers of Ignoring Cognitive Inequality

On Sunday 28 April 1996, Martin Bryant was awoken by his alarm at 6am. He said goodbye to his girlfriend as she left the house, ate some breakfast, and set the burglar alarm before leaving his Hobart residence, as usual. He stopped briefly to purchase a coffee in the small town of Forcett, where he asked the cashier to “boil the kettle less time.” He then drove to the nearby town of Port Arthur, originally a colonial-era convict settlement populated only by a few hundred people. It was here that Bryant would go on to use the two rifles and a shotgun stashed inside a sports bag on the passenger seat of his car to perpetrate the worst massacre in modern Australian history. By the time it was over, 35 people were dead and a further 23 were left wounded. Astoundingly, Bryant was caught alive. He was arrested fleeing a fire at the house into which he had barricaded himself during a shootout with the police. He later pled guilty to a list of charges …

Kimmel and Conflict Theory: Sociology Turns Its Lens onto One of Its Own

Michael Kimmel is a Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at SUNY Stony Brook who has recently been embroiled in a controversy regarding sexual harassment complaints. He is well-known in disciplinary subfields as a researcher on masculinity who has written several books, including Guyland and Manhood: A Cultural History. Only very recently has he been accused of sexual harassment and professional misconduct — charges that are currently under investigation by the American Sociological Association. A desire to sort out the charges being levied, which are based on language as opposed to physical contact, prompted Kimmel to request a six-month delay of his receipt of the Jessie Bernard award from the American Sociological Association. The first coverage of the charges against Kimmel was published on August 1 in the Chronicle of Higher Education, through which anonymous complaints about his professional conduct were made public. Then came the August 10 Inside Higher Ed piece, which was based on named complainant Bethany Coston’s medium.com account of her interactions with Kimmel when she was a graduate student. Coston is now …

Why Trans Kids Need Gatekeepers

I’m a transsexual woman in my thirties who transitioned in my early twenties, and I wish I could have done so earlier. Even so, I am wary of today’s Brave New World of transgender activism in which important safeguards of transition are under attack and any counter opinion, even if made by a trans woman such as myself, are labelled as an attack on trans rights. At first it was easier for me to not ruffle the trans activists’ feathers, but my conscience got the better of me, and now I am continuing to speak up in order to help those who deserve better in their own journey of transition. Through talking to other trans people in my life, it has become apparent to me that transition surgeries are an answer but not the answer to the long-term health and well-being of gender dysphoria patients. Unfortunately, many trans people get so fixated on surgery for so long, that they may forget that there is more to life and transitioning than just surgery and other medical …

Burying a Child

But looking back, always the spirit of joyousness rises before me as her emblem and characteristic: she seemed formed to live a life of happiness: her spirits were always held in check by her sensitiveness lest she should displease those she loved, & her tender love was never weary of displaying itself by fondling & all the other little acts of affection.— We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age:—she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her. ~Charles Darwin’s memorial of his daughter Anne, who died at the age of 10. April 30, 1851. In her 2004 book The Afterlife Is Where We Come From detailing her fieldwork among the Beng farmers of West Africa, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb recounts the story of an elderly woman named Afwe Zi. Afwe first came to Gottlieb seeking treatment for a persistent cut she had on her leg. …

Trans Activism’s Dangerous Myth of Parental Rejection

When children and adolescents experience gender dysphoria, our aim should be to provide them with treatment of the highest standard of care. We should be attempting to provide assistance that will result in the best outcomes—in the short-term, as well as the long-term. Unfortunately, treatment of childhood dysphoria is an area not yet well understood. The extreme contentiousness around the topic means that research can be difficult to conduct and is often hampered by ideological agendas. (For example, see here.) Without a clear consensus among researchers about the best way to treat gender dysphoric children and teens, input from parents increases in importance when determining course of treatment, since it can be assumed that most parents know their children well and have their best interests at heart. However, narratives promoted by activists and the media currently undermine the crucial parental role in diagnosing dysphoria and helping to determine the most appropriate treatment. Amid glowing media discussions of brave trans kids and their heroic, supportive parents hangs an ominous specter of ignorant, bigoted parents who coldly …

Political Moderates Are Lying

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Mead is largely correct. Change is wrought by those willing to lead or force others toward it. Which is why we are skeptical that most people truly believe every position they express. Especially in public. Do most people legitimately disagree with one another? Or are they merely conforming to supposedly dominant ideas?  Though there are legitimate disagreements, we contend that modern American political tribalism has been artificially inflated by group-based conformity. That is, the moderate majority’s submission to the demands of dedicated partisans has created a mirage of polarization. Most Americans are not impassioned ideologues, neither coopted by Soros nor swayed by Koch. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 43% of Americans considered themselves “Independents” while 26% and 29% considered themselves “Republicans” and “Democrats,” respectively. In fact, it wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to characterize the average American as a disinterested political observer. A …

Beware of Root Causes

What does it mean to claim that something is the ‘root cause’ of a problem in society? It’s common, for instance, to hear the assertion that ‘the root cause of terrorism is Western foreign policy’. The implication being that the responsibility for terrorist attacks ultimately lies at the feet of the West since its interventionist foreign policy has destabilized the Middle East – irrespective of any other source of causality. The phrase ‘root cause’ invites us to become privy to society’s underlying pathologies that, if remedied, could improve the world beyond the scope of someone merely observing the surface. Much like a bug in a software program causing a computer to shut down, or a leaky pipe causing subsidence under a house, the language of root causes implies that problems can be traced back through a cascading chain of events to an initial fault. Under this assumption, our goal should be to target that underlying problem rather than the ways in which the problem manifests itself in society. A framework based around root causes is …

The Birth of the Narcissism Revolution

Editor’s note: the following is an extract of Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, The Overlook Press; 1 edition (March 27, 2018), 416 pages. In the months leading up to his death, in 1970, the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow began worrying about his legacy. He’d been preparing to write a critique of Esalen ‘and its whole chain’. One of the issues he’d become concerned with was self-esteem. Maslow was famous, most of all, for his hugely influential ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, which said that people are motivated to fulfill certain psychological appetites. At the top of his pyramid was ‘actualization’, which was extremely difficult and had, he thought, only been achieved by a few. But just beneath that was ‘esteem’. It seems that Maslow had been carrying out some tests on high-esteeming people that had been the cause of some concern: ‘High scorers in my test of dominance feeling, or self-esteem, were more apt to come late to appointments with the experimenter, to be less respectful, more casual, more forward, more condescending, …