Author: Jonathan Kay

Toronto’s Meghan Murphy Meltdown: A Case Study in Media-Driven Social Panic

Speaking on the Quillette podcast last week, David Frum described how his hometown of Toronto sometimes feels unrecognizable to him, having been utterly transformed by waves of successful immigrants. It’s something you hear from many older Torontonians, who remain awestruck by their city’s rapid metamorphosis from a sleepy provincial capital ruled by a clique of moralizing WASP conformists, to a glittering, cosmopolitan hub of entertainment and finance. But every once in a while, one still can catch a glimpse of the city’s old, preachy cold-roast-beef identity. In fact, that is exactly what happened this week, when Meghan Murphy came to town. And who is Meghan Murphy? According to CBC radio host Carol Off, Murphy is someone whose extremism summons to mind comparisons with “a Holocaust denier or a white supremacist.” A Globe & Mail writer dedicated a column to branding Murphy an agent of “fear and meanness.” Toronto Mayor John Tory was so concerned by Murphy’s apparently horrifying message that he publicly called out his city’s chief librarian for permitting Murphy to deliver a speech …

Are Canadians Becoming More Racist? This Week’s Election Proved the Opposite

“Citizens ‘don’t feel safe’ as hate fills Edmonton’s streets,” proclaimed the Toronto Star on April 20, in reference to a gathering of Albertan white supremacists—one of at least two that occurred that month. In the lead paragraph, Star reporter Omar Mosleh grimly noted the ironic nature of a venue, Edmonton’s Churchill Square, “a place named after a world leader instrumental in defeating the Nazis.” The article was widely shared on progressive social media, where tales of Canada’s supposed slide into neo-Nazi extremism are now common currency. But for anyone who looked past the headline, a mere glance at the accompanying photo showed the underwhelming totality of Edmonton’s allegedly epic hate-fest: about a dozen random locals, surrounded by a larger number of counter-protestors and curious onlookers, plus a sizeable detachment of police officers keeping order. Even if one accepts the Star’s generous tally of right-wing protestors at the pictured event—“about 15 people”—the conceit that “hate fills Edmonton’s streets” is ludicrous. There aren’t enough haters here to fill a parking spot. The fact that such an article …

How Boardgames Teach the Limits of Rationalism

For gamers who love the art of the deal, but don’t want to waste precious gaming time rolling dice and pushing tokens around a Monopoly board, Chinatown is the perfect choice. In this real-estate-themed game, created in the late 1990s by German designer Karsten Hartwig, properties are distributed to players randomly at the beginning of every turn. The bulk of the game consists of pure negotiation. While the properties in Monopoly are named after streets in Atlantic City, Chinatown takes its inspiration from the early days of New York City’s Chinese commercial area near Canal Street. The Chinatown playing surface looks something like a giant chessboard, and each player (the fun is maximized with five people) use assigned chessboard squares to erect little cardboard flower shops, restaurants, tea houses, laundromats and other street-level retail businesses. The drive to deal with other players is embedded in the scoring rules, which emphasize economies of scale. Tiny businesses that cover only one or two board squares don’t earn a lot of points (even when calculated on a per-square …

A Black Eye for the Columbia Journalism Review

Ideological polarization has become a growing problem in many sectors of society. But it is especially corrosive to public discourse when it infects organizations whose traditional role has been to hold everyone else to account for the integrity of their reporting. We need those organizations to act as a sort of referee when journalists of any description—including those at Quillette—fail to exhibit high standards. This becomes impossible when they instead act as combatants in the culture wars. Earlier this month, for example, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which describes itself as “the national voice of Canadian journalists,” “committed to protecting the public’s right to know,” and “dedicated to promoting excellence in journalism,” signed on to the claim that Canada is perpetuating an ongoing “genocide” against Indigenous people, and encouraged journalists to take on an activist role by promoting “decolonizing approaches to their work [and] publications in order to educate all Canadians about Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA people.” It hardly needs pointing out that this sort of explicit activist agenda—however well-intentioned—is completely incompatible with …

On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important and Inspiring

Nineteen Eighty-Four is divided into three parts, the second of which is structured around Winston Smith’s love affair with Julia, a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth. Their romance begins with Smith offering Julia the sort of smooth talk that would send any woman’s heart aflutter: “I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” Moments later, he seals the deal by telling Julia that she’d always been in his thoughts. “I hated the first sight of you,” he tells her. “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago, I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” Naturally, Julia is seduced. Several pages later, Winston “pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells.” It is a symptom of George Orwell’s genius that, taken in context, this sequence makes perfect sense. In his life, Orwell seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act. And one can almost see him squirming …

The Ultimate ‘Concept Creep’: How a Canadian Inquiry Strips the Word ‘Genocide’ of Meaning

In 208 AD, the Roman warrior emperor Septimus Severus arrived in Britain with 40,000 soldiers, intent on subduing the tribes inhabiting the northern part of the island. These tribes were part of the Caledonian confederacy, which occupied modern Scotland. But to the Romans, most everyone who lived outside the empire was a barbarian, full stop. So when Severus became frustrated by the Caledonians’ (sensible) refusal to submit to pitched battle, the emperor settled on another strategy, which we would now call genocide. In 210, he assigned the job of extermination to his son Caracalla, a mass-murdering lunatic who would later assassinate his own brother Geta in front of their mother. It likely was only Severus’ death in 211 that cut the operation short and saved Scotland from a complete holocaust. Caracalla always is listed by historians among the worst emperors of Roman history. But tellingly, his attempted annihilation of the Caledonians isn’t typically cited in the historical bill of particulars. In ancient Rome, genocide was seen as an acceptable military tactic if it was directed …

How to Prevent Campus Deplatformings: Lessons from Harvey Mansfield and Concordia University

It’s been a year since Atlantic magazine hired, then abruptly fired, conservative writer Kevin Williamson. Shortly after the story came full circle, I caught up with a friend who then worked closely with the Atlantic. He told me that hiring Williamson had been a mistake from the get go. “So you agreed with the decision to fire him?” I asked. “Not quite,” he replied. “Imagine you have this friend who tells you he’s going to get a puppy. And you say, ‘Don’t do it. I know you. You’re not a puppy person.’ But he gets the puppy anyway. Then the weeks pass, and he comes to you and says, ‘You were right. I shouldn’t have gotten the puppy.’ But now it’s too late. Your friend is stuck with the puppy. That’s how life works.” It’s an allegory I come back to often in this age of deplatforming. Universities have no obligation to invite any particular public figure to speak on campus. But once they’ve promised someone a platform, the stakes are raised: Both speaker and …

The Circular Firing Squad Is Destroying the Left’s Political Brand: A Case Study from Canada

On last week’s Quillette podcast, I asked Marginal Revolution host and Mercatus Center director Tyler Cowen whether socialism could become a mainstream political movement in the United States. Cowen answered in the affirmative, though only insofar as socialism was presented in a constrained form—as “extreme discontent with capitalism, more redistribution, much more government regulation, [and] nationalization [of] the health sector.” I believe Cowen is correct. As a Canadian who travels often to the United States, I often find myself shocked by the vast gulf between haves and have-nots in American society. Even here in Canada, where the class divisions are less stark, I’m a supporter of more aggressive measures aimed at helping people who are disabled, uneducated, mired in poverty, imprisoned (or recently released from prison), or burdened with care for the very old or very young. I believe income inequality is a real problem, and I’m troubled by the self-segregation of populations according to socioeconomic status, a phenomenon that has all sorts of toxic political repercussions. And at election time, I seek out parties …

Giving the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Its Star Turn on Video

When we consider the way video has helped fuel the movement that’s sometimes described as the Intellectual Dark Web, we often think about famous thinkers such as Jordan Peterson delivering speeches or lectures on YouTube and other social media sites. It’s a phenomenon I wrote about back in September, in a Quillette piece entitled Amidst the YouTube Junkies of MythCon, wherein I described the extraordinary popularity of video pundits collecting millions of hits with thoughtful—but often simple and low-budget—monologues delivered from their basement, bedroom or kitchen table. But Washington, D.C.-based documentarian Rob Montz, co-founder and CEO of Good Kid Productions, takes a more ambitious approach. Montz has produced tightly narrated, inventively shot documentaries about American politics and campus life that manage to be both intellectually penetrating and surprisingly funny. One of his 2017 documentaries, published on We the Internet TV, won the 2018 Reason Video Prize. And his work has been covered in The Economist, The New York Times and the Washington Post. In late March, I interviewed Montz for the Quillette podcast—a conversation you …

An Interview With Lisa Littman, Who Coined the Term ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’

In 2018, Lisa Littman, Assistant Professor of the Practice at the Brown University School of Public Health, published an article in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE entitled Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Study of Parental Reports. The article drew attention to a phenomenon that had attracted widespread concern among parents, but which had not yet been studied systematically in the scientific literature. Following publication, Dr. Littman and her study became the subject of intense criticism from some activists, who accused the author of spreading misconceptions about transgender people and employing biased methods. In response to this criticism, PLOS ONE initiated a re-review of Dr. Littman’s paper. This week, following the recent conclusion of that review, a modified version of Dr. Littman’s paper was published by PLOS ONE. And both Dr. Littman and PLOS One have released statements. According to the Notice of Republication, “Other than the addition of a few missing values in Table 13, the Results section is unchanged in the updated version of the article. The Competing Interests statement …