All posts filed under: Top Stories

Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell us About Victimhood Culture

When Carl Jung was a 12-year-old schoolboy, he was shoved to the ground by another child, hitting his head on the pavement, and nearly losing consciousness. Instantly, he grasped the opportunities created by this attack. At the moment I felt the blow, the thought flashed through my mind: “Now you won’t have to go to school anymore.” I was only half unconscious, but I remained lying there a few moments longer than was strictly necessary, chiefly in order to avenge myself on my assailant…. From this point forward, Jung began having fainting spells whenever he returned to class or attempted homework. For six months, he did not attend school. His worried parents consulted doctors, and sent him away to convalesce. Jung described this period as “a picnic.” Beneath the giddiness, however, he sensed something was amiss. I frittered away my time with loafing, collecting, reading, and playing. But I did not feel any happier for it; I had the obscure feeling that I was fleeing from myself. Eventually, Jung forgot how his infirmity arose. His …

Premodernism of the Future

Modernism and Postmodernism are at an impasse. This was the conclusion of yesterday’s essay. Without its argument, though, you are unlikely to agree. Most people aware of this debate—whether in the hallways of academia, the online magazines, or the corridors of power—are partisans of one side or the other. For them, there is no impasse, only a conflict between the reasonable and the foolish, the duped and the woke. Most readers of this site favor modernism, and there are many reasons to do so. Yesterday’s essay catalogued the main ones, especially universal rights and empirical science. But it also presented some scientific reasoning about reason, showing the limits of the modernist approach, including science itself. Yesterday’s essay began with Michael Aaron’s division of our culture wars into three camps: postmodernists, modernists, and traditionalists. After quickly knocking down a straw-man of traditionalism, Aaron reproduced the critiques of postmodern political excesses that are familiar to every reader of this site. Modernism was the winner by default. What he failed to consider, and in this failure he is …

The Impasse Between Modernism and Postmodernism

Buying textbooks, writing syllabi, and putting on armor. This is how many students and teachers prepared to return to campus this past fall. The last few years have witnessed an intensifying war for the soul of the university, with many minor skirmishes, and several pitched battles. The most dramatic was last spring at Evergreen State, shortly before the end of the spring semester.1 Perhaps the most dramatic since then have been at Reed College and Wilfrid Laurier University.2 There is no shortage of examples, filling periodicals left and right. Wherever it next explodes, this war promises more ferocity, causing more casualties—careers, programs, ideals. What’s at stake? According to Michael Aaron, writing after the battle at Evergreen, the campus war is symptomatic of a broader clash of three worldviews contesting the future of our culture: traditionalism, modernism, and postmodernism.3 The traditionalists, he writes, “do not like the direction in which modernity is headed, and so are looking to go back to an earlier time when they believe society was better.” Whether they oppose changes to sexual …

On the Demise of Our Public Language

A review of Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?, by Mark Thompson. Vintage (September 7, 2017) 432 pages. You dislike the revolution in party-political communications ushered in by New Labour in the 1990s – though you may console yourself with the fact that it prompted Armando Iannucci to produce his best work. You are sick to death with the unrelenting abuse of language in public life. You nervously watch the fortunes of European nativist politicians and you appreciate the significance of the election of Trump. You look to media and news and current affairs to help you to make sense of public language, replete as it is with instances of hocus-pocus, weasel words, sleight of hand, euphemisms, bare-faced lying, and a battery of other techniques which debase public life. You shake your fist at the radio and television when you feel that broadcasters are falling down on the job – such is the importance of their role. You know that Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language is a classic study of …

Cakeshop Conflicts: Let Them Eat Rights

In her essential 1993 book Rights Talk, Mary Ann Glendon worried that the language of legal rights was displacing the pleasantries of everyday social interactions. Glendon wrote that “the highly colored language of advocacy flows out to the larger society through the lips of orators, statesmen, and flamboyant courtroom performers.” Since the language of legal rights is often absolutist, Glendon predicted that its adoption for everyday use increases “the likelihood of conflict and inhibits the sort of dialogue that is increasingly necessary in a pluralist society.” Glendon wasn’t the first to observe this phenomenon. In his journeys through the United States, Tocqueville wrote that the discourse of lawyers seems to “infiltrate through society right down to the lowest rank.” A quick glance at this year’s Supreme Court docket – and the accompanying legal and cultural commentary – makes it hard to dispute Glendon’s and Tocqueville’s observations. Exhibit A is Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. A conflict between customer …

In Defence of Jordan B. Peterson

A few days ago, Canadian author and English professor Ira Wells published an essay expressing concern about popular Canadian psychology professor and social critic Jordan B. Peterson. The essay was written in the wake of an incident at Canadian university Wilfred Laurier, where a teaching assistant was reprimanded for playing a short clip of a televised Peterson debate over the compelled use of gender pronouns. (I analysed the incident in Quillette last week.) Regrettably, Wells’s essay is littered with inaccuracies and casual insults, accompanied by a moralistic undertone that is sure to turn off Peterson’s supporters, and perhaps even neutral observers. Nevertheless, I think he succeeds in condensing many of the common criticisms of Peterson, which makes the essay worth responding to as the foundation for a genuine debate of these issues. I suggest reading it if you haven’t already done so. Wells’s main criticisms, as I understand them, are as follows: Peterson is celebrated in the news media as a champion of free speech and liberal, democratic values, while in fact promoting a far-right …

Pursuit of Injustice: Further Adventures Under Title IX

A specter is haunting American colleges and universities, the specter of Title IX. Originally the portion of the Civil Rights Act concerned with gender equity on campus, the previously laudable Title IX was twisted beyond recognition by the infamous 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter and the new regime of federal compliance it created. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued the DCL with the intent of reducing sexual harassment and assault, but instead it ushered in ivory tower McCarthyism. Last year, I endured a Title IX investigation (detailed in a previous article for Quillette) over trumped-up allegations made by a colleague seeking to settle a decades-old score. I was acquitted, but the ensuing investigation led to an entirely new set of administrative charges originating from a different office on my campus, the University of Utah. This article tells the story of how a Title IX case metastasized into a protracted and expensive ordeal. So, how did the Dear Colleague Letter turn universities into star chambers? It lowered the burden of proof for a guilty finding …