All posts filed under: Spotlight

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 …

Original Sin: the Sexual Motivation of Religious Extremists

I. In late October of 2014, Iraqi News reported, as ISIS forces rampaged through Diyala province, one of their soldiers found a thirty-year-old woman resting at her home and attempted to rape her. She fought back, wresting away his gun and killing him. This incredibly brave woman was brought before ISIS’s Sharia Court, which promptly condemned her to death and had her publicly beheaded for this defense of her honor, thus laying bare the utter hypocrisy of all claims that draconian laws regarding sex are intended for the protection of women. The gory spectacle of radical Islamism at work that began in the Middle East and has spread its crimson tendrils abroad from there is terrifying to behold. To the eyes of those lucky enough to enjoy a secure place in one of the prosperous modern democracies, the violence unfolding on our television and computer screens has an almost hallucinatory quality. Surely, our brains say, this cannot be real. This sort of thing cannot be happening in this day and age! Recently have I felt …