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The UK Labour Party and the System of Diversity

A review of The Tribe: The Liberal Left and the System of Diversity, by Ben Cobley, Imprint Academic, (July 9, 2018) 250 pages.  In February this year, I joined Artists for Brexit. AfB is an umbrella organisation for creatives who either voted Leave or who voted Remain but nonetheless want the best from Brexit for the arts. Its membership ranks were nothing short of a revelation to me. Until joining Artists for Brexit, I’d never met a left-wing Leaver. Of course, anyone looking at a map of the United Kingdom after the vote could see how vast swathes of Labour’s heartland had joined hands with the Shires to vote Leave. I genuinely did not know what mattered to leftie Leavers, something sadly indicative of the social divisions Brexit exposed. So I made a point of finding out, both within AfB’s membership as well as more widely. My suggestion — made somewhat glibly — to some that they ‘just vote Tory’ often generated a stream of unprintable invective. No-bloody-way-were-leftie-Leavers-just-voting-Tory-thank-you-very-much. Of all the ‘leftie Leavers’ I met, none was …

Rejecting Progress in the Name of ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Another week, another set of manufactured outrages. New absurdities have been discovered recently in the UK as the Labour politician, Dawn Butler, has criticised the TV chef, and self-appointed guardian of the nation’s sugar levels, Jamie Oliver, for ‘cultural appropriation.’ His crime? Launching a product called ‘Punchy Jerk Rice,’ which, according to Butler, is ‘appropriation from Jamaica’ and ‘needs to stop.’ Until fairly recently the availability of global cuisines was seen as one of the few marked triumphs of multiculturalism. The idea of curry being a ‘National Dish’ for the UK was, as late as 2015, widely celebrated by left-leaning publications such as The Guardian and The Independent. This week, these publications signalled the illiberal transformation of their thinking by joining Butler in condemning Oliver. One eagerly awaits manufactured outrage from the British Italian community when they discover that Mr Oliver has a chain of restaurants called ‘Jamie’s Italian’ while, shock and horror, not actually being Italian. The very prospect of sudden outrage from once-respectable newspapers at an idea that has been perfectly normal for …

Is There a Future for Human Spaceflight?

On February 6, Elon Musk and his company Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) accomplished the maiden launch of their Falcon Heavy rocket. It was exhilarating to watch, even vicariously through the Internet. The payload, one of Musk’s red Tesla sports cars, is now on a deep space trajectory that will see it reach out beyond the orbit of Mars before swinging back inward on a permanent and repeatable arch about the Sun. This much lauded success brings Musk one step closer to his personal goal of establishing a human settlement on another world. While certainly a happy day for Musk and his space company, other space visionaries wishing to establish a human foothold in space have recently recorded less spectacular progress. This past Fall, XCORE – a company developing a spacecraft to transport tourists to space – announced it had filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. And, not so long-ago, Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic – also a space tourism company – suffered a fatal crash of its SpaceShipOne vehicle during testing, an accident that has significantly …

The Peterson Principle: Intellectual Complexity and Journalistic Incompetence

It was while I was watching Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman’s spectacularly disastrous interview with University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson that what was wrong with much of journalism today crystallized in my brain. I’d been oscillating between anger and frustration watching Canadian media fail again and again – and often in jaw-dropping fashion – in reporting on Peterson and I couldn’t quite establish what was going wrong. Peterson is the teacher and clinical psychologist who burst onto the scene after making a video decrying the government’s Bill C-16 which compelled the use of invented gender pronouns (ze and zir, etc) for non-binary and transgender people. Peterson connected the “compelled speech” of the legislation (and the unscientific instantiation of gender as a non-biologically-correlated social construct) to radical leftist ideology and authoritarian governments. In an admittedly complex and controversial argument, Peterson blamed the spread of postmodernism within the academy for the rise of both identity politics and the emergence of the illiberal left. Many of the stories about him were shallow or missed the point, …

Sex and STEM: Stubborn Facts and Stubborn Ideologies

Many academics in the modern world seem obsessed with the sex difference in engagement with science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields. Or rather they are obsessed with the fact that there are more men than women in some of these fields. There is particular concern about the lack of women in prestigious STEM fields, such as Ph.D.-level faculty positions, but surprisingly there is no concern about the under-representation of women in lower-level technical jobs, such as car mechanics or plumbing. The concerned academics have been especially effective in convincing others, or at least intimidating them, into accepting their preferred interpretations regarding the source of these sex differences (as illustrated in the Google memo debate). These interpretations are not surprising and they include sexism, stereotype threat, and more recently implicit bias and microaggression. Each of these ideas has gained traction in the mainstream media and in many academic circles but their scientific foundations are shaky. In this essay, we’ll provide some background on the STEM controversy and consider multiple factors that might contribute to these …

Nobody’s Victim: An Interview with Samantha Geimer

On the 9th of January, I noticed the French journalist Anne-Elizabeth Moutet report on Facebook that the open letter she had co-signed protesting the excesses of the #MeToo movement had received endorsement from an unexpected source. Samantha Geimer was the girl raped by Roman Polanski when she was 13 years old, and her experience is frequently cited by #MeToo activists and supporters as evidence of Hollywood’s moral turpitude and hypocrisy. Browsing Geimer’s Twitter timeline, I discovered that she is also one of a minority of voices expressing scepticism about the resurrection of child abuse allegations made by the Farrow family against Woody Allen. Intrigued, I read Geimer’s memoir The Girl: Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. Her book is thoughtful, frank, refreshingly matter-of-fact, and offers a counter-narrative that sits uneasily with the use activists and journalists have routinely made of her story. I got in touch with Geimer through a mutual friend, and she kindly agreed to an interview with me to discuss her book, the Polanski case, #MeToo, Woody Allen, and the ongoing …