Author: Samuel Forster

Fear of a White Joker: When Did the Left Stop Caring About Crime’s Root Causes?

Todd Phillips’s Joker is one of the most culturally significant films in recent memory. It has been praised and attacked with a fervency that is rarely inspired by the mainstream fruits of Hollywood. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a modern blockbuster that has generated such attention and concern. Virtually every major media outlet has published some extended commentary on the work, whether it be a film review of the standard format (which are now rare) or an impassioned op-ed delineating how the film is either the cause or consequence of some terrible social phenomenon. Inevitably, the word “Trump” appears early and often. The film tells the origin story of the Joker, a prominent supervillain in the Batman fictional universe. It traces the tale of a failed comedian named Arthur Fleck who, afflicted by bullying and mental instability, turns to a life of crime and sadism. To progressive members of the literati, the phenomenon of interest is the omnipresent sociopathy of the white male, in all its sexual repression, social ostracization and malignant cruelty. …

Biosocial Criminology and the Lombrosian Paradox

Last October, Quillette published an article by Hal Conick, crisply abridging Robert Sapolsky’s biologically based argument for criminal justice reform. Sapolsky, a neurobiology professor at Stanford University, has spent his career researching a range of topics including neuronal degeneration, infraspecific dominance hierarchies, stress, and violence, especially in relation to the behaviour of primates.  Over the years, Sapolsky has found that much of the antisocial behaviour we see and criminalize in human beings manifests similarly, biologically speaking, in our hominid relatives. Coupled with his extensive training in neuroscience, Sapolsky has used the findings of this simian research to argue for shifts in criminal justice policy—from the current system, which relies on an esoteric conception of ‘free will’ that can be needlessly retributive, to a system emphasizing public safety. In his 2017 book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Sapolsky argues that “you can’t begin to understand things like aggression, competition, cooperation, and empathy without biology,” a caveat he quite rightly issues, “for the benefit of a certain breed of social scientist who …