All posts filed under: Top Stories

Smearing Free Thought In Silicon Valley

In the aftermath of the so-called Google memo affair, there has been no shortage of misleading and in some cases downright inaccurate media coverage painting the author, James Damore, and his supporters in a very unfavorable light. The most recent example of this arose this past weekend, when The New York Times printed a hit piece on its front page with the inflammatory headline, “As Inequality Roils Tech World, A Group Wants More Say: Men.”1 In a clear display of narrative-driven journalism, the article attempts to smear those in the technology industry who hold dissenting views on gender issues by associating them with a political movement with which the public has little familiarity while providing little explanation of what that movement is or what it stands for. Like much of the media coverage on this issue, the article misrepresents what Damore said in his memo, claiming that he argued that women “were biologically less capable of engineering.” In reality, Damore’s memo focused on differences between the sexes in interests and personality traits, not abilities, that …

Why Can Comedians Be So Irritating?

I am bored by comedians. Everywhere you turn, people are telling jokes on talk shows, panel shows, sketch shows, stand up specials, sitcoms, podcasts and films. Most of them are worthless. There is “biting” comedy that nibbles; “searing” satire that is tepid; “laugh out loud” humour that is met with weary silence. I am being unfair, of course. One could say with at least as much justice that is one is bored by political commentators and if we can have fresh insights, they can have fresh jokes. Still, I wonder why so many comedians are so unfunny. There are Dave Chappelles and Bill Burrs but these are the exceptions. Some ramble about their sex lives like drunk men in boring pubs. Some drop cultural references, mistaking them for punchlines. Some steal jokes from Twitter about Donald Trump’s hairdo. Some, worst of all, forget they are comedians, posing as authorities on religion, politics and science. So, we are treated to Ricky Gervais on God; Amy Schumer on sexism; Russell Brand on everything. The problem is not so much that …

The Rage Against Selective Outrage

There’s a lot of outrage about selective outrage. If the Left and the Right agree on one thing it is that the other side routinely engages in selective expressions of outrage, and that they are terrible for doing this. To be selectively outraged is to be guilty – of irrationality at least, and probably of moral hypocrisy as well. Social media affords endless opportunities for “calling out” those who seem to exhibit these sins. Here I caution against this unproductive fascination with our opponents’ selective outrage. The standard of avoiding all selective outrage is psychologically unrealistic. And, ironically, most outrage about selective outrage turns out to be selective itself. How much rage is “selective outrage”? What is selective outrage? Sometimes people use it to mean pretend outrage, in which people cry “crocodile tears” over things that don’t really upset them. I think we should reserve the term for displays of outrage that are sincere, though disproportionate and lacking in intellectual integrity. The trouble is that our minds are awash with partisan bias. Partisanship colors perceptions …

Is Sex a Dirty Word?

In Birka, Sweden, Viking bones from grave B581 until recently were categorized as “anomalous” where “…the gender of the skeleton appeared at odds with the martial objects buried with it.” (emphasis added).5,12 Contemporaneously, in Lewes, East Sussex, England, the Priory school has ordered girls to don trousers in order to make the school uniform gender neutral. Piers Morgan, prominent UK TV figure, and Priory school sixth form “Old Boy,” has said, “Let boys be boys and girls be girls, and stop confusing them in this ridiculous way.”30 Commenting upon gendered language, Arwa Mahdawi stated, “We are more aware of the problems of gendered language than ever and, as the use of the singular they demonstrates, we are taking steps to fix it. At the same time, however, we seem to be creating a gendering of language as the popularity of words such as mansplain and girlboss demonstrate.”19 The term “gender” is misapplied, gender neutrality questioned, and “gendered language” on the rise. So what does all of this have to do with sex? This paper will …

Review—The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

A review of The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, by Mark Lilla. HarperCollins, (August 15, 2017) 160 pages.   Like Hillary Clinton, many commentators of all stripes are still looking back at the 2016 presidential election and asking: “What happened?” Mark Lilla’s short book builds on a New York Times editorial claiming liberal identity politics drove voters toward Donald Trump. The problem, Lilla tells us, isn’t just Trump’s victory. Liberals have failed to provide “an image of what our shared way of life might be”, leading to electoral failure across the board: local, state, national. So what is “identity politics”, and who are these “liberals” who have been lost in it? It’s never made clear. “Liberal” seems to mean just “Democrat”, without any explication of what political liberalism should entail. “Identity politics”, Lilla says, is “a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition that is now cultivated in our colleges and universities.” Even those of us who aren’t fans of college students’ shenanigans might want to hear more about why or how the concerns …

Fake News is Old News

“Fake news,” disinformation, and propaganda is saturating social media and driving the content of important political conversations among citizens in otherwise enlightened democracies. News and information thus become weaponized and aimed against the very institutions and values that free speech was supposed to protect. That, at least, is the fear among many politicians and pundits. These fears have been given impetus by the role of alternative and social media in the 2016 American Presidential election and by a number of studies exploring the “eco-system” of alternative media and the misinformation sown, grown, and distributed by such outlets. This scenario has precipitated a collapse of public trust in democratic institutions, and governments fearful of populist nationalism have scrambled to find policies aimed at combatting fake news. Germany recently adopted legislation obliging social media companies to pay fines up to EUR 50 million if they fail to delete illegal content within 24 hours. While ostensibly aimed at hate speech and defamatory slander, German minister of Justice Heiko Maas has blurred the lines between these categories and the ill-defined concept of “fake news.” Italy introduced a bill aimed at “preventing the manipulation …

How I Survived the Title IX Star Chamber

In recent years higher education has been roiled by new challenges. We hear constantly about threats to free speech, typically originating from students protesting right-leaning (or putatively right-leaning) speakers or professors. Fanned by conservative pundits, altercations at Evergreen, Middlebury, and other schools have consumed the lion’s share of media attention. Yet something equally corrosive to higher education has flown under the radar: the wanton abuse of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. This has cost universities and taxpayers untold millions of dollars, and destroyed many lives in the process. Yet institutions of higher education have been largely successful in keeping Title IX cases out of the spotlight. Public scrutiny has finally arrived, most prominently in the work of Northwestern University scholar Laura Kipnis. Her April 2017 book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, is a sweeping indictment of how Title IX, originally intended to remedy campus sexism, has become a blight on American higher education. Most people think of Title IX in relation to women’s access to college sports, but in fact it …