All posts filed under: Spotlight

Does Religion Cause Violence?

The streets of small rural towns in United States are typically tranquil places, but they are especially still on Sunday mornings. On those mornings, people dutifully report to their local places of worship, pay their tithes, listen to the sermon, sing the hymns, and bow their heads for the prayers. Religion is a cultural bulwark; it is a glue of the community. But southern piety, like all incarnations of faith, harbors a dark history. One spotted with racism and contempt for minorities, and incredulity that women might do much else than sing in the choir. What’s worse is that there is no shortage of scripture from which to justify these iniquities. And God, at least in the past it seems, provided ready dispensation. More insidious are the acts of violence and aggression committed under the auspices of religion: the crosses burned, the houses of worship destroyed, and the lives taken, all with the apparent sponsorship of no less than the “creator of the universe“. Religion, it would seem — all brands included, but some more …

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 …

Liberalism’s Great Challenge: How Can We Critique Ideas while Protecting People?

Secular and reformist Muslims plead that we learn to tell the difference between critiquing ideas and attacking people. When Islam is at question, members of the American Left and Right race into opposite corners. After the Orlando nightclub massacre, to cite one recent example, conservatives spewed anti-Muslim invective to the point that ordinary American Muslims were afraid to leave home. Donald Trump implied that Muslims, broadly, know when a fellow believer is going to shoot up a nightclub or government office but fail to act (as if gun-loving men, broadly, know when one of their fellows is going to shoot up a political rally or Black church or abortion clinic). From their corner, liberals denied that Allah-blessed homophobia, or Islam’s concept of martyrdom, or the rallying cries of Jihadis might inspire a self-loathing, bipolar believer to redeem his soul through mass murder. Staff for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch actually edited the shooter’s words of Islamic fidelity out of audio recordings for fear of inciting racist reprisals. In the weeks that followed, as men claiming …

On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism

Most people believe that race exists. They believe that Denzel Washington is an African American, that George Clooney is a Caucasian, and that George Takei is an Asian.* Many intellectuals, however, contend that this belief results from an illusion as dangerous as it is compelling. “Just as the sun appears to orbit the earth”, so too do humans appear to belong to distinct and easily identifiable groups. But, underneath this appearance, the reality of human genetic variation is complicated and inconsistent with standard, socially constructed racial categories. This is often touted as cause for celebration. All humans are really African under the skin; and human diversity, however salient it may appear, is actually remarkably superficial. Therefore racism is based on a misperception of reality and is as untrue as it is deplorable. With appropriate qualifications, however, we will argue that most people are correct: race exists. And although genetic analyses have shown that human variation is complicated, standard racial categories are not arbitrary social constructions. Rather, they correspond to real genetic differences among human populations. …

The Article About Trump Nobody Will Publish

[Editor’s Note: This article was rejected by 45 different magazines, periodicals, and journals across the political spectrum: Far left, left, center, unaffiliated, right, far right, and libertarian.] Trump is a monstrous choice for president. Monstrous. He’s a demagogue with a clear bent to authoritarianism. He’s completely politically inexperienced and has no clear idea what constitutes successful, appropriate, or even legal behavior for an elected official. He has repeatedly proven himself to be virtually incoherent on foreign policy, economics, diplomacy, and the military. His only true assets are self-promotion, juvenile tweets, and belittling his enemies. He’s barely qualified to be president of anything, especially anything with a military. It goes without saying, then, that essentially no one in their right mind should want him as President of the United States of America. The problem, however, is that America is no longer in its right mind. Major political cancers are driving it to madness. But what would happen should Trump get elected? On the Right, President Trump would force the GOP to completely reorganize—and fast. It would …

Thiel vs Gawker: Why a Defensive Media is the Real Threat to Free Speech

In March this year, Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan), was awarded $140 million in damages in an invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media. Gawker Media is an online media company owned by Nick Denton, based in New York City and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. It is the parent company of several different blogs including the infamous pop-feminist rag Jezebel and the much maligned Valleywag and Kotaku. Gawker Media has tormented both powerful and not so powerful people for some time now. In 2015, The Daily Beast reported that the online magazine belligerently hounded actor James Franco for years even going so far as to accuse him of being a “gay rapist”. Less than a year ago, Gawker ran a bizarre expose about a thwarted tryst between an unknown business executive and a male escort. It turned out that the escort had attempted to blackmail the executive. When that failed, he went to Gawker, and Gawker ran the story. In Hulk Hogan’s court case, details emerged of Gawker’s editor-in-chief Albert J Daulerio mocking a college …

Free Speech and Islam — In Defense of Sam Harris

The controversial atheist needs a fair hearing “It’s gross!  It’s racist!” exclaimed Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Real Time in October 2014, interrupting the neuroscientist “New Atheist” Sam Harris.  Harris had been carefully explaining the linguistic bait-and-switch inherent in the word “Islamophobia” as “intellectually ridiculous,” in that “every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.”  The result: progressives duped by the word shy away from criticizing the ideology of Islam, the tenets of which (including second-class status for women and intolerance toward sexual minorities) would, in any other context, surely elicit their condemnation. Unwittingly, Affleck had confirmed Harris’ point, conflating religion with race.  In doing so, the actor was espousing a position that can lead to a de facto racist conclusion.  If you discount Islamic doctrine as the motivation for domestic violence and intolerance of sexual minorities in the Muslim world, you’re left with at least one implicitly bigoted assumption: the people of the region must then be congenitally inclined to behave as they do. There was a disturbing irony in Affleck’s outburst.  Few public intellectuals have done …

The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit

Science and medicine have done a lot for the world. Diseases have been eradicated, rockets have been sent to the moon, and convincing, causal explanations have been given for a whole range of formerly inscrutable phenomena. Notwithstanding recent concerns about sloppy research, small sample sizes, and challenges in replicating major findings—concerns I share and which I have written about at length — I still believe that the scientific method is the best available tool for getting at empirical truth. Or to put it a slightly different way (if I may paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous remark about democracy): it is perhaps the worst tool, except for all the rest. In other words, science is flawed. And scientists are people too. While it is true that most scientists — at least the ones I know and work with — are hell-bent on getting things right, they are not therefore immune from human foibles. If they want to keep their jobs, at least, they must contend with a perverse “publish or perish” incentive structure that tends to reward flashy …