All posts filed under: Social Science

It’s Time for Evidence-Based Gender Policy

For decades, it was fashionable to call the concept of truth – even scientific truth – into question. For those who considered modernity to be completely surpassed, reality was a simulacrum, everything was relative, there was no such thing as objective references but “texts”, and “truth” was nothing but masked oppression. This intellectual trend, despite facing some resistance and ultimately being ridiculed by the Sokal Affair, is alarming. It coincides with the rise of the term “post-truth”, which was proclaimed “Word of the Year” by Oxford Dictionaries in 2016. In a world living in peace with relativism, or at most with “liquid” and “weak” truths, the preoccupation with truth is back. What was long considered a topic for philosophers or theologians is now reaching newspapers’ op-eds and the political and legislative agenda. Everyone in a position of power and influence seems concerned by the dissemination of so-called “fake news” and illiberal extremism. But this strong revival of populism and irrationality is provoking a reaction. There is much talk nowadays about fact-checking, Big Data, or mechanisms …

The Political Chimp

As of January 2018, the symbolic Doomsday Clock reads two minutes to midnight. The current age of global instability and uncertainty has revived discussion of an age-old question: is war ingrained in human nature? Warfare has been studied for centuries, by everyone from historians of ancient Greece to primatologists. But something strange is happening to the way we consider the subject, especially with respect to the study of chimp-on-chimp violence. Conspecific killing among chimpanzees (i.e. when chimps kill one another) has become a particularly political and controversial topic, and contending arguments seem to reflect the ideological preferences and outlook of the researchers on either side of the debate. At issue are the implications data about primate warfare might have for our understanding of human violence. A link between chimpanzee and human warfare has been stated outright by leading primatologists, who suggest that it demonstrates humans’ innate predisposition for violence. I first encountered this controversy during graduate school. Steven Pinker had just published The Better Angels of Our Nature which provoked heated discussion of war-like behavior as an evolutionary mechanism in humans. Then, two …

The Case for Diversity

Editor’s note: this piece is part of an ongoing series on the subject of diversity. If you would like to join the diversity debate please comment below or send a submission to pitch@quillette.com. The issue of racial and gender diversity in our schools, companies, and communities has become highly politicized. While one tribe sees diversity as an imperative cure-all for many of the world’s problems, another tribe sees diversity as a form of tokenism at best, and a nefarious conspiracy at worst. Even political moderates can have a visceral reaction to the term “diversity” and may accept any line of thinking that validates their reaction, leading to shallow reasoning on all fronts. Rather than advocate for a particular position in this essay, I hope to add some nuance to the conversation and show that the truth is much more complicated than many are willing to admit. The business case for diversity What are the arguments for and against diversity? It’s often claimed with certainty that a diverse workforce is good for a business’s bottom line, but …

“Equalitarianism” and Progressive Bias

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.” –Friedrich Nietzsche   “I want to understand how a normal brain becomes conservative,” my professor said. “That is the thing that most puzzles me.” At the time (I was in my early twenties) I completely agreed*. That was the question. Sometimes I would stare at a picture of G. W. Bush like Hamlet staring at a skull, pondering how any sane human could have voted for him. It just didn’t make sense. Progressivism was so obviously correct that it baffled me that anyone could deviate from its basic principles. I didn’t hate conservatives. I even knew one or two. I was just befuddled by them. Most social scientists feel today about conservatives as my professor and I did then. Almost all social scientists (especially social psychologists) are socially liberal, and most of them voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. To many of these scientists, conservatives are like eccentric antiquities that belong in a museum, where they can be …

The Spanking Debate is Over

Many years ago, during one of the first college classes I ever taught, I asked my students to raise their hands if they were spanked as children. I was quite new to America at the time, and knew little about the lives of American families. On the Israeli kibbutz where I grew up, spanking children was practically unheard of. My own parents had never so much as raised their voices at me (except for that one time when I called my mother ‘whore,’ not knowing the meaning of the word but realizing it was forbidden. She slapped me, and then proceeded to apologize tearfully). What’s more, growing up in Israel in the 1960s and ’70s, we got our ideas about America from music and movies and the young volunteers who showed up after the Six Days War to help the then-fashionable Israeli cause. The America we imagined was therefore a liberal haven of wealth, freedom, and opportunity, where people got high, made love, and could pursue their dreams unbounded. Little wonder I wanted to go …

A Deep Dive into Jordan Peterson’s Channel 4 Interview

When Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson was interviewed on Britain’s Channel 4 last month, gender was the main topic of discussion. The first question set the tone for the rest of the interview: “Jordan Peterson, you’ve said that men need to, quote, ‘grow the hell up.’ Tell me why.” This led to questions about the percentage of men among Peterson’s followers, about whether parts of academia are hostile to men, about the gender pay gap, about the number of women running FTSE 100 companies, about an underlying threat of physicality in discussions between men, about whether the market is driven by men, about whether companies should adopt more female traits, and about why free speech rights should trump transgender people’s rights to not be offended. Even the last few minutes’ talk about lobsters related indirectly to the gender issues they had discussed previously. The interviewer, Cathy Newman, had clearly picked out the parts of Peterson’s new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, that could form the basis for a discussion on gender, …

Becoming What One Is

The predicament of the individual living in a modern Western society is a strange one. Events that transpire around the world and large-scale societal changes seem to be far beyond the control of any single person. This leaves the individual in a situation where he, because he is unable to affect the course of current events, is left wondering what is happening to the society he lives in. I am one of those individuals. I live in the small country of Finland. Finland has traditionally been resistant to changes in the outside world, which tend to reach us much later compared to our Western neighbors, and with diminished strength. There are exceptions, however. Thanks to the wonderful powers of the Internet, events that transpire thousands of miles away can sweep across national borders and oceans in no time at all. The #MeToo movement is a good example. It is also an example of how strange the world has become thanks to the power of social media, not just socially and politically, but psychologically as well. …