Author: Claire Lehmann

At Australian Ballot Boxes, the Left’s Empathy Deficit Came Home to Roost

The result of Saturday’s federal election in Australia is being treated as the most staggering political shocker in my country since World War II. Scott Morrison, leading the Liberal Party, looks to have won a majority government—a result that defies three years of opinion polling, bookie’s odds and media commentary. In the aftermath, analysts on both sides are trying to explain what went wrong for the centre-left Australian Labor Party, and what went right for the centre-right Liberals. Some attribute the result to Morrison’s personal likeability, and his successful targeting of the “quiet Australian” demographic—the silent majority whose members feel they rarely have a voice, except at the ballot box. Others cast the result as Australia’s Hilary-Clinton moment: Bill Shorten, who resigned following Saturday’s loss, was, like Clinton, an unpopular political insider who generated little enthusiasm among his party’s traditional constituencies. In 2010 and again in 2013, he roiled the Labor Party by supporting two separate internal coups, machinations that cast him as a self-promoter instead of a team player. The swing against Labor was …

Cambridge Capitulates to the Mob and Fires a Young Scholar

We live at a time where academic freedom is under threat from ideologues and activists of all persuasions. The latest threat comes from St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where administrators appear to have capitulated to a mob of activists (students and academics) who mounted a campaign to have a young scholar fired for “problematic” research. The back-story was covered by Quillette last December. The norms of academia—which have been built up and preserved by institutions such as Cambridge for centuries—demand that academics engage with each other in a scholarly manner. That is, if one academic has a problem with the methods or conclusions of another’s research, he or she should address those concerns within journals, according to established procedures, which other scholars can then read and respond to, including the academic whose research is being challenged. Today, due to the hyper-specialisation of academic fields, most academics will not be able to judge the quality of scholarship that is published in journals outside their field. That’s why when research is peer-reviewed it is done by experts in the …

A College President Stands Up for Academic Freedom

What happens when university students call on authority figures to censor students or staff at institutions of higher education? At Yale such students have been awarded prizes, at the University of Missouri they’ve been successful in forcing administrators to resign, at Claremont they were able to force their president to implement a long list of demands, and at Evergreen State College a throng of students were allowed to take control of the campus while harassed faculty sought refuge off-campus. At other colleges around America, and even on campuses in the U.K., Canada and Australia, university administrators have met illiberal student mobs with a parade of mealy-mouthed platitudes and prostrations. This pattern of weakness has been dismaying for all people who value academic freedom and open inquiry. This week, however, a line has been drawn by David Yager, President of Philadelphia’s University of Arts (UArts). In response to students calling for the censorship of Camille Paglia—one of the most admired humanities scholars in the world—he articulated a full-throated defence of intellectual freedom, showing administrators of supposedly superior …

After Christchurch, Remember the Victims, But Resist the Urge to Blame

The terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand—the largest terror event in Australasian history—carried out against a migrant community in a place of worship has left us all in shock. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, has described this attack as an attack on all New Zealanders. Part of the shock comes from the feeling that these types of events don’t happen here. Not in Australia, not in New Zealand. We are small, quiet countries, where people feel safe. Random violence is not a feature of everyday life, let alone on this scale. People deal with shock and grief in different ways. Some people mourn. Others get angry. Many of the early reactions to the event have expressed legitimate anger about the lack of action taken over violent, right-wing extremism. Observers have been warning about the toxicity of online echo-chambers and their potential to foment hatred and motivate people to commit violence for some time now. Much of the anger is directed at big tech companies who are seen as making a profit via …

We Must Defend Free Thought

You probably have felt afraid to speak your mind freely at some point. Whether it is in a university class, a meeting at work, or amongst friends online, it’s likely that you have remained silent when you have had ideas or opinions that haven’t conformed to received wisdom. This is not an unusual or maladaptive response. In fact, knowing when to stay quiet and knowing how to avoid conflict is a necessary and important part of being an adult. Most arguments are pointless and there is no reason to get into fights with people whom we otherwise want to cooperate with and build mutually beneficial relationships. Nevertheless, I worry that intellectual self-policing is happening more and more often, particularly for those living in tight-knit and politically homogenous communities. In such environments, challenging the prevailing ideological orthodoxy—even if it’s only to plead for more tolerance of diverse viewpoints—can lead to reputational damage, harassment, and, in some cases, career suicide. Today, these strictly enforced thought codes are pervading spaces where naturally open-minded and liberal people work, such …

Feast and Drink For Our Community’s Health

Earlier this year, for the first time in history, the government of Britain appointed a minister for loneliness. Although not a medical condition, loneliness is starting to be described in such language, with descriptors such as “epidemic” and “public health crisis” bracketing the term. Large-scale studies have found that around ten percent of adults in Western nations experience chronic loneliness. In a letter published this year in The Lancet, two neurologists from the University of Chicago asked readers to “imagine a condition that makes a person irritable, depressed, and self-centred, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality.” They went on to explain that it is not a condition that only affects those with poor social skills, or those who are highly sheltered or introverted. Loneliness is not necessarily about being alone, either—we can feel isolated when surrounded by other people. Somewhat counter-intuitively, social skills training, social support and social contact have all been found to be ineffective as interventions for social disconnection. *  *  * Drawing on the work …

Camille Paglia: It’s Time for a New Map of the Gender World

I discovered Camille Paglia’s work when I was pursuing my undergraduate arts education at The University of Adelaide, South Australia, in the early 2000s. I was deeply disillusioned with the courses in my arts degree and their monomaniacal focus on social constructionism, and was looking for criticism of Michel Foucault on the internet. I stumbled across a 1991 op-ed written by Paglia for The New York Times, in which she described the followers of Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, as “fossilized reactionaries,” and “the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality.” I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I discovered that my university’s library contained each of her books, including the essay collections Vamps and Tramps and Sex, Art and American Culture. For the final year of my arts degree, (before pursuing my studies in psychology) I spent the bulk of my time at the university reading Paglia in the library. She was like a revelation. Her work was subversive but erudite, and she synthesized insights made in the realm of the arts, ancient history and folk biology—something that no other scholar …

Redefining Sexual Harassment

Since the 1960s, women have made sweeping inroads across professions and academic fields, achieving not just excellence but pre-eminence in a wide range of areas. These include medicine, psychology, veterinary science, biology, the law, journalism, and education. This year, the Nobel prize in physics was jointly awarded to Donna Strickland, a Canadian physics professor, for the invention of chirped pulse amplification, and her doctoral adviser Gerard Mourou. Despite these massive gains, however, women have not made sweeping inroads in every field. Some remain stubborn outposts of male dominance. Such fields include mathematics, computer science, and, bringing up the rear, engineering, in which women only make up about 12 percent of the workforce. For advocates of gender equality in the workplace, women’s persistent low representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is a particular concern. Some have sought to blame it on the prevalence of sexual harassment in these fields, in spite of the fact that sexual harassment across all fields is declining. In 1997, the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 16,000 complaints …

From the Editor

Another week, another defenestration. This time it’s Ian Buruma, forced to resign his post as editor of the New York Review of Books after publishing an essay written by Jian Ghomeshi – a disgraced Canadian radio journalist who was acquitted on several charges of sexual assault back in 2016. Buruma said in Slate: I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime. The exact nature of his behaviour — how much consent was involved — I have no idea, nor is it really my concern. My concern is what happens to somebody who has not been found guilty in any criminal sense but who perhaps deserves social opprobrium, but how long should that last, what form it should take, etc. The rate at which such purges are happening now is disquieting. Ghomeshi’s piece was published online just last Friday and Buruma is out the door before the …

From the Editor

Quillette was created with the intention of giving non-journalists — in particular scientists and scholars — a platform to share ideas without unnecessary editorial interference. I used the tagline “a platform for free thought” when the site launched because I wanted to encourage a wide range of contributions, no matter who and where they came from. Since Quillette launched in November 2015, free thought has definitely shown itself to be alive and well. The platform has not only become popular across the English-speaking world, but we receive insightful and bold contributions almost every day. It’s as if, somehow, a dam has burst. Why did I chose the name Quillette? In French, a synonym for quillette is bouture d’osier, which is a type of wood off-cutting used to grow new trees. An off-cutting planted in the ground that grows into a tree — this seemed to me a great metaphor for an essay. An off-cutting just needs the right conditions to thrive. Give it sunlight, water, and fertile soil and it will grow into something majestic, lasting generations. …