All posts filed under: Spotlight

Laura Kipnis, Camille Paglia and the Redefinition of Sex

Reading Laura Kipnis’ Unwanted Advances is challenging. Not because Kipnis isn’t a gifted writer, but because her experience with Title IX administrators, today’s campus equivalent of a morality squad, is downright noxious. What landed her in trouble was an article she wrote, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” (Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2015). Many of us who remember the heady days of 70s and 80s campus life appreciated her candour about sex, especially when it came to the empowerment we felt then. Young campus feminists today, groomed to see themselves as victims disagreed, claiming they found the article “terrifying.” A campus petition to sanction Kipnis at Northwestern followed, as did a Title IX inquiry. Kipnis’ cautionary tale dovetails with Camille Paglia’s collection of essays, Free Women, Free Men. Paglia also draws inspiration from her own life, although her analyses focus more on shifting cultural Zeitgeists, the kind that empower or disempower women. Loosely, both books form a subjective (Kipnis) and objective (Paglia) look at how current iterations of feminism are curbing freedoms and diminishing the quality …

Social Justice and the End of Moral Certainty

From the perspective of ‘Social Justice Warriors’, resistance to their demands—no matter how respectable the speaker or moderate the tone—is further evidence that they are fighting the good fight. For many of them, the basic format of moral progress has from day one been taught as follows: the status quo has gaping moral blind spots, the amelioration of which will come only after, and by virtue of, energetic protest. As Steven Pinker has argued, however, moral blind spots have until now been relatively low-hanging fruit, despite their being unacknowledged by most people at the time. Indeed, most intellectual pursuits begin with low-hanging fruits, with objects of inquiry whose discovery does not necessarily require an aberrational stroke of unprecedented genius, but rather someone with an impressive intellect and time on their hands. In mathematics, for instance, many foundational concepts were co-discovered independently in different parts of the world. History reveals that foundational advances are few, and that subsequent to them spawn—in hydra-like fashion—many more, often arcane corollary branches of inquiry. In accordance with this general characteristic …

Sociology’s Stagnation

Emile Durkheim is the father of modern sociology; he is a titan. Over a century ago the great man issued an edict that would forever alter — or you could say, forever derail — the course of the discipline that he established. His proclamation, paraphrased loosely, was that any social occurrence was a product of other social occurrences that came before it. Society and culture were “prime movers”, an ultimate cause of things in the world that, for its own part, had no cause. Social facts orbited in their own solar system, untethered from the psychology and biology of individual humans. It’s almost as if this idea originated from a burning bush, high on some ancient mountain, as it would to this day steer the direction of much social science thought. Durkheim’s insight would be a hall pass for social scientists to spend decades ignoring certain uncomfortable realities. Let me try and give you an idea of just how fetid the waters really are. In 1990 (over two decades ago) the sociologist Pierre van den …

Diversity for the Sake of Democracy

“Stand up if you identify as Caucasian.” The minister’s voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn’t be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. “Look at your community,” he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you,” the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of “Caucasian”: black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University’s freshman class had been branded with a demographic. This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every …

Free Speech and Terrorism – Whatever you do, don’t mention Islam!

Trump will now be president. Thanks a lot, regressive leftists. Whatever you do, decent progressive people, when terrorism comes up, don’t be “Islamophobic” and mention Islam! If Islam comes up anyway, do draw false equivalencies and hobble yourselves, citing Western imperialism as a moral hamartia disqualifying you from taking critical stances about the faith of a beleaguered minority. Studiously ignore freethinkers in that same minority, and, of course, those facing persecution in Muslim-majority countries. And definitely throw ex-Muslims — especially ex-Muslim women — under the bus. After all, they’re inconvenient, defenseless, relatively few in number, and often so harassed and threatened by their own communities that they surely won’t object. Remember, after all, you have the gunmen, machete-wielders, and honor brigades on your side. In fact, you know that all too well. Might that be why you refuse to recognize Islamist ideology as the cause of much of the world’s present mayhem? The above is a preamble to my discussion of the proximate cause of today’s essay — an article published by the Washington Post purporting to provide “guidance” in …

No, the Syrian Civil War is Not Like Jews fleeing Nazi Persecution

It is a cynical obfuscation and hypocritical false equivalence to equate the Middle East now with Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution before and during the Second World War. It is a ploy, one carefully constructed to hammer the reasoned arguments against mass-migration from the Middle East and endless military intervention into submission. The latest in this long rhetorical trope was written by Rula Jebreal, in Foreign Policy. In an article predictably overdosing on appeals to emotion, she starts off by proclaiming that she’s reporting from the Syrian-Lebanese border, “a mere 150 KMs from Aleppo”. (That’s almost like being in Belgrade and reporting about Srebrenica, if you get what I mean). She then continues to hand-wring about how terrible Assad is and ends with this curious statement: Our generation looks back today and asks how the world could have allowed the horrors of the Nazis. In Syria, we have found the answer, and history will judge us harshly for it. Well, no. History, will judge a handful of career pundits, falsely equivocating on human tragedies and advocating perpetual …

Stop Calling People “Low Information Voters”

A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling. He sabotages delicate democratic systems with the blunt exercise of his democratic rights. Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.” In the Washington Post, the low information voter is defined as one who is more likely to respond to emotional appeals about issues such as the economy, immigration, Muslims, race relations and sexism. The Post goes onto explain: Low information voters are those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. In other words, low information people …