All posts filed under: Top Stories

Skepticism About White Privilege

Privilege, and race-based privilege in particular, occupies a key niche in the rich ecosystem of error that is campus leftism. White privilege is a central theme of the protests at Evergreen State College, University of Missouri, Yale University, and so on. Detecting and eliminating it is the aim of a new method of pedagogy that effectively renders education the handmaiden of activism. Unfortunately the question “what is to be done?” has here, as in other domains, prematurely eclipsed “what is to be thought?” A close look at the notion of white privilege casts doubt on whether the racial disparities that currently exist within the U.S. constitute any such thing. White Privilege as “Invisible Knapsack” Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 paper, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See” is a seminal work on white privilege. McIntosh observes that many men who recognize that women are disadvantaged are reluctant to admit that they are over-privileged. She extends this observation to race, lamenting that “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an …

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 …

Are Liberals Dying Out?

By now there is a huge body of literature in behavioral genetics, which shows that pretty much every psychological characteristic we can measure is to some degree heritable. This raises a question that has received little discussion beyond academia – what about political views? Are they heritable? And if so, what does this mean for the political landscape of future generations? The evidence for the heritability of psychological traits is immense. The authors of a recent meta-analysis published in Nature Genetics looked at 2,748 publications surveying 17,804 traits. They found that “estimates of heritability cluster strongly within functional domains, and across all traits the reported heritability is 49%.” These results shouldn’t be surprising. If offspring didn’t resemble parents to some degree, evolution as we understand it could not occur. Indeed, according to the Darwinian paradigm, evolution takes place through variation and selection. Imagine, for example, that you wanted to domesticate a wild animal. Foxes are cute, so let’s talk about them. One thing we know about foxes is that some of them are naturally aggressive, …

Beauty, Equality, and the Problem with Calling Everything ‘Sexist’

For the literary critic Katie Roiphe, the male sexual passivity depicted by contemporary male novelists masks a “sexism” that is “wilier and shrewder and harder to smoke out” than that of their literary predecessors. “What comes to mind,” she wrote, “is [Jonathan] Franzen’s description of one of his female characters in The Corrections:  ‘Denise at 32 was still beautiful.’ ” Now, for a man, fictional or real, to say of a woman that she is “still beautiful” at a certain age is without doubt to reveal a crass male sensibility and to express a trite sentiment. But such a statement – an aesthetic judgment, actually – is “sexist” only under the greatly expanded meaning this term has acquired since the revolution in consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s. At the heart of this revolution lies the myth of the “authentic self” – the largely or entirely mutable or malleable “self-realizing” person of indifferent gender. This myth was propounded by Charles Reich in The Greening of America, Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch, Theodore Roszak in …

Who’s Afraid Of Jordan Peterson?

Michael Aaron’s article of June 8th, “Evergreen State and the Battle for Modernity” wasted no time honing in on the central problem driving the current climate on many of university campuses – the conflict between modernism and postmodernism, and the beliefs, attitudes and behavior that they spawn (among faculty and students alike.) My only complaint with Aaron’s article is that he only lists instances of on-campus shenanigans in the United States. Meanwhile, to the North, similar events and debates are unfolding, causing national newspapers – The Globe and Mail and The National Post – to take note. At the center of many of these campus controversies is Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, whose outspoken views on Marxism, postmodernism, and the use of gendered pronouns in the classroom have provoked the ire of many social justice warriors across Canada. Indeed, his ideas have been labelled “hate speech” by many who do not share his views, and – depending on who you talk to – he may be …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …

Laci Green, The Matrix, and the Future of Free Speech

Earlier this week, popular YouTuber Laci Green, with almost 1.5 million subscribers, released a video entitled “Taking the Red Pill?” The “red pill,” obviously is an allusion to the famous 1999 film The Matrix, in which one of the lead characters, Morpheus, an infamous leader within the Matrix presents Neo, a hacker seeking to explore the Matrix, with two choices—taking the blue pill or the red pill. According to Morpheus, if Neo takes the blue pill, “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe,” but if Neo picks the red pill, “I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Virtually everyone has seen The Matrix or has heard of the red pill meme; indeed, a Google search for red pill brings up almost 7 million results. However, what makes Green’s video particularly important and distinguishes it from the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of other banal red pill videos is the context around which Green’s red pilling has occurred. As Laci states at the very beginning of her video, …

What Eastern Bloc Dissidents Can Teach Us About ‘Living in Truth’

“Fake news” may be getting lots of headlines, but it is as old as the hills. Propagandists have relied on false evidence for centuries. Of course, not all propaganda campaigns are dishonest; indeed many efforts at persuading people of things are laudable. But the phenomenon of fake news and the “post-truth” culture in which it thrives are clearly a threat to democracy, and to the public sphere that democracy depends on to survive. Everyone has a part to play in pushing back. Most of us probably assume that only other people fall prey to false or exaggerated news stories. This is complacent. Media historians emphasise that propaganda often exploits already-existing trends rather than creating new ones, making subtle use of half-truths as well as outright falsehoods – and it can be much harder to unpick half-truths than to demolish lies. Fortunately, a few decades ago, matters of truth-telling and lying were a major concern for Soviet and Eastern European dissidents living under communism, where propaganda was all-pervasive. Their ideas have long outlasted their times, and …

The De-Professionalization of the Academy

The author of the following essay is a Professor at a top-ranking, metropolitan U.S. university. The names of both university and professor have been fictionalized to protect the professor from retaliation. In the fall of 2005, I began working as a full-time faculty member in the General Studies program at Hudson University. I was promoted to full Professor last year. Thus, the tale I tell does not represent sour grapes. Rather, what follows is a jeremiad decrying the direction that academia has taken in order to underscore the threats posed to academic integrity and institutional legitimacy. Over twelve years, I have watched with increasing dismay and incredulity as academic integrity, fairness, and intellectual rigor have been eroded, with the implicit endorsement of administration and faculty alike. I have witnessed the de-professionalization of the professoriate—hiring policies based on tokenized identity politics and cronyism, the increasing intellectual and ideological conformity expected from faculty and students, and the subsequent curtailment of academic freedom. Just to be clear, most of my faculty colleagues are well-educated, bright, and dedicated teachers. …

Reviving “Essentialism” and Other Scientific Straw Men

Cordelia Fine’s latest attempt at human exceptionalism and biology denial Testosterone Rex has drawn rave reviews from (almost) everyone, from the popular press to Nature. Happy to go against this grain, I would like to suggest that these much-circulated rumours of the death of human nature have been somewhat exaggerated. Most of Fine’s targets are probably quite well deserved chunks of popular science, male chauvinism, and journalistic overreach. However, when she turns her sights on serious science she makes some rather egregious blunders. This is a pity—because there is much in the public understanding of sex differences that could really use some popular explication and myth busting. Let’s start with what is positive about the book. Many will find her anecdotal approach to be engaging and charming. I didn’t, but I’m a miserable old curmudgeon who wants to get to grips with the facts, not be reassured via an anecdote about kangaroo testicles that that the writer “doesn’t hate men really”. On this point: I’m always a little unsettled by people who feel the need …