All posts filed under: Top Stories

Why Walls Work

When Constantinople finally buckled and fell in the spring of 1453, it was before the awesome power of the Ottoman siege cannons. A Venetian surgeon, Nicolo Barbaro described the barrage during the desperate final days,  When it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake, and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbor felt the vibrations of it…No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world, and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls. The siege cannons were created by a Hungarian engineer named Orban. He first offered his services to Constantine XI, but the nearly insolvent Emperor couldn’t afford his retainer. He subsequently sought out the young Sultan Mehmet II who immediately understood their potential use in his planned attack on the seat of the dying Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople was the dramatic final chapter of the Middle Ages. Powerful cannons radically changed the value of walled cities, and thus the nature of …

“Hate Speech” Does Not Incite Hatred

The United States Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed that “[s]peech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground” is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, the protections of the First Amendment extend only to government efforts to punish or censor speech. Private entities remain free to take action against people who engage in speech which ostensibly demeans others, and private actors from Harvard University to Facebook and Twitter have punished or censored individuals whose speech they have found to be “hateful.” Those who advocate the censorship of so-called “hate speech” claim that it causes various ills, but perhaps the most common claim is that “hate speech” engenders hatred towards particular groups, and thereby causes violence against members of those groups. Such claims have been particularly common in recent years, and have included allegations that “anti-police hate speech” on the part of Black Lives Matters supporters has led to violence against police officers; that Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric has led to an …

Tinder and the Tyranny of Language

Dating in the modern age can be something of a paradox. Apps like Tinder have delivered untold access to a virtually endless, digitally filtered cohort of eligible partners; while contraception has rendered the evolutionary severe consequences of poor mate selection, null and void. And yet courtship via social media still has a stubborn tendency to function quite awkwardly. My understanding of the human brain, and evolutionary context that produced it suggests to me that in using an emotionless symbolic language to organise our sexual selection—we utilise our brains in all the wrong ways—and bring about pairings that are remarkably conservative in their negotiation; verging on pathological in their outcome. Welcome to the tyranny of language. Relationships end and life goes on. If you are young, that typically involves re-installing an app like Tinder and giving the dice of fate another proverbial throw. I first started using these apps when they were something of a social taboo, but the danger attracted all the right people, and you were always sure to meet somebody open and interesting. …

Racism, Anti-Racism, and Orientalism at LitHub

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Edward Said’s Orientalism, one of the most influential works of our time, and one of the most ubiquitous: scan the bookshelves of any liberal-arts major, and you likely will find the 1978 book with pride of place alongside such contemporaneous post-colonial classics as Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Even those who’ve never opened Orientalism will be familiar with some of its broad themes, especially the idea that Western scholars have systematically denigrated the cultures of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa with insulting stereotypes, depicting the Orient as an exotic “Other” full of backwards, mystical man-children. One sometimes even hears the word used as a verb or gerund — “othering” — as a means to attack arguments perceived to be Eurocentric. The idea of the Other has become a laugh line among conservatives over time. (“Stop Othering me!”) But even right-wing critics should acknowledge that Said’s book offered genuinely valid critiques of the condescending way in which Western writers …

The Failed Hero’s Journey

There is no more quintessential a model of the failed hero than Elliot Rodger. Rodger, a young man who was promised the world, turned against it when it failed to provide him with eros, love, and romance. His open hand reaching for the future became a fist clenched in opposition, an inversion of the successful hero story. Consumed with jealousy, resentment, and a rejection of the very notion of a healthy human being, Rodger indiscriminately murdered three men in his apartment, and three women at a sorority house. At twenty-two years old, he had chosen to end his life in bitter disappointment, choosing malevolent violence and suicide over the hope of continual and incremental improvement. Carl Jung understood that those who ultimately reject life itself have failed to experience the archetypal ‘hero’s journey’. To Jung, every single young person who leaves their parents’ home and forages into the world has taken the path of the hero, whether they know it or not. A hero’s journey is simply the departure from comfort, warring against the chaos …

Freedom of Expression and the Flight from Reason

The last few years have seen acrimonious public clashes about the value of free speech, with activists both on the Left and the Right accusing the other side of trying to silence them. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are, admittedly, not particularly informative terms, since there are significant differences within each camp. But each is concerned that the other is trying to silence it, whether by means of censorship or intimidation. It is hard to be sure of the true extent of this hostility to free speech, since much of the evidence is anecdotal and, of course, the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘compelling data.’ For example, much of the conflict about free speech is focused on university campuses. I have taught thousands of students in the UK, including, more recently, American students studying in London, and I have rarely encountered petulant ‘snowflakes’ crying out to be protected from offence. Nevertheless, there is plenty of credible evidence that my experience is not wholly representative. There is reason to believe that an increasing number of young people regard …

Free Speech Leftists Still Exist

In brighter times, the reprimanding of Lindsay Shepherd at Wilfrid Laurier University would have found strong condemnation among left intellectuals. Instead, left publications largely chose to ignore the issue. You will find no pieces on Vox covering Wilfrid Laurier or Bret Weinstein’s clash with overreaching faculty at Evergreen, nor will the incrimination of BDS activism by US lawmakers find exposure outside of niche outlets like The Intercept. The free speech debate, in other words, has become too partisan. When Lindsay Shepherd revealed that Jordan Peterson’s fears about Bill C16 were well-founded, and that pointing out that sex differences exist was considered by Wilfrid Laurier’s administration to be comparable to Adolf Hitler, the response of left publications was either disinterest or full-throated attacks on Peterson as a reactionary monster. If one sought to hear out Lindsay Shepherd, the outlets willing to speak with her were mainly conservative or libertarian YouTube channels belonging to figures like Stephen Crowder and Stefan Molyneux. The perception, understandably, follows that the right is in favor of free expression, and the left has become wholly illiberal. But the hyper-partisan atmosphere …