All posts filed under: Activism

A Closer Look at ‘White Fragility’ Theory

Elizabeth* is a progressive activist who signed up for a multi-day racial equity training course. The organizers opened by telling participants—which included white, black, and multi-racial people—that they were creating a safe space to discuss difficult topics. However, white attendees were then informed that, as beneficiaries of institutional racism, they were complicit in racial injustice and that expressions of dismay or guilt were inappropriate and unwelcome. “I’m tired,” announced the course leader, “of white women’s tears.” During the course, Elizabeth—who is white—kept many of her feelings to herself. Morgan, a progressive leader in a voter organizing coalition, also learned over time to hold her tongue. “I can’t disagree publicly with one of my peers of color,” she said, without the risk of being perceived as a racist.” A biologist working on rural land management made a similar comment, noting that several colleagues had moved on as disagreements with a black manager about species at risk got interpreted through a racial lens. Peter, a white male, sat on the board of an environmental organization known for strong …

An Alternative Feminist Perspective on Abortion

Having studied law and worked on the U.S. east coast for three years, I was well prepared for the long-delayed debate about abortion in my native country, Argentina, when it began in March 2018. However, it did not unfold as I expected. Abortion is a crime under Argentine law, except in cases of rape or life/health threatening pregnancies (See Section 86 of the Argentine Criminal Code). Nevertheless, in practice, there are significant differences in how abortion is treated across the country—in some jurisdictions, a woman may find it hard to undergo an abortion in those circumstances exempted by the Criminal Code, while in others, any woman asking for help with an unwanted pregnancy at a public hospital will be advised to declare that it was the result of non-consensual sex or to submit a doctor’s certificate stating that it threatens her mental or “social” health, thereby making her eligible for a free abortion provided by the state. In Argentina, the debate about abortion divides the population, so I expected the discussion to address its philosophical …

My Former Life as a Radical

To understand what it’s like to be a radical, it helps to speak to those once held under the sway of a radical ideology. Broadly defined, radicalism implies a rejection of compromise and incremental progress in favor of radical change, and for years I believed that Western capitalist society was beyond redemption and in need of a sweeping revolution. There were those who perpetuated a system of oppression and exploitation, and those who sought to overthrow it. In The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope, the philosopher Roger Scruton outlines the fallacies underlying this mindset, such as “the best case fallacy,” which “imagines the best outcome and assumes that it need consider no other,” and “the utopian fallacy,” which insists that the perfect is the enemy of the good. These can be summed up under the rubric of “unscrupulous optimism,” a concept originally coined by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Assuming that intentions translate directly into results, radicals tend to be unscrupulous optimists in that they operate on the premise that well-intentioned radical …

Reflections on Intersectionality

Inspired by the fallout from a recent Twitter thread posted by Sarah Haider, I’d like to offer some passing thoughts on intersectionality. Originally conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw as a way of highlighting bias against black women that did not fit neatly into the category of either racism or sexism, intersectionality has since expanded to include oppression based on class, LGBTQ, disability status, and so forth. The basic idea is that when two or more dimensions of oppression coincide in the same person (say, a black woman), she not only faces “double-discrimination” (racism and sexism), but she may also face a third kind of discrimination which is not reducible to the other two. Put simply, oppression is more than the sum of its parts. Crenshaw’s original intent was narrow. She did not mean for intersectionality to become an all-encompassing thought system with its own epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and more. Indeed she has distanced herself from some of intersectionality’s modern purveyors, criticizing those who see it as a “grand theory of everything.” Nevertheless, that is exactly what …

False Humility Will Not Save the Planet

At the root of our climate problem, writes Pope Francis in his ecological encyclical Laudato Si, lies our human pride and arrogance: “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” Coming from a Catholic Pope, such sentiments are hardly surprising. For centuries, Christians thinkers have railed against pride as the first and worst among the seven deadly sins. But Francis is far from alone in his view. Many climate activists today, even though they don’t necessarily believe in a personal deity, share Francis’ diagnosis of our environmental worries. They too believe that our climate crisis is the result of human overreach and arrogance, of overstepping natural boundaries. Indeed, this secular environmentalist worldview comes with its own account of the fall of man from an original state of harmony with Nature. Once upon a time, humans lived as an animal alongside other animals, keenly aware of our proper place within a larger ecosystem. We enjoyed nature’s bountiful resources, but we were respectful …

Accessibility, Ableism, and the Decline of Excellence

For many years, colleges and universities have observed the Americans with Disabilities Act by finding alternate ways for students with disabilities to meet course requirements. For example, a blind student might be accommodated by allowing a university representative to orally read the student questions from a written exam. A student with limited mobility might be allowed some extra time in getting from one class to another. More recently, many universities have expanded accommodations to cover conditions that might have been ignored in the recent past: today, students who can document Attention Deficit Disorder are routinely offered extra time in taking exams. One example of the rapidly changing institutional culture regarding students with disabilities is a new service provided by Blackboard, which is perhaps the most common software platform in American colleges for delivering course content. Through Blackboard, professors post required readings and assignments, grade student work, and even facilitate online discussions among members of the class. This fall, the university at which I teach implemented an additional service offered by Blackboard that is called “Ally.” …

Mark Zuckerberg and the Changing Civil Rights Movement

On October 17, 2019, defending Facebook’s generally hands-off policy with respect to regulating the content of political advertisements, CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the podium at Georgetown University and delivered an eloquent defense of free expression. In his address, he linked speech to the historic pursuit of justice for the powerless, and made reference to his experience as a student immediately following the invasion of Iraq. This fed his later conviction that open forums for discourse are essential to the advocacy of political causes: Back then, I was building an early version of Facebook for my community, and I got to see my beliefs play out at smaller scale. When students got to express who they were and what mattered to them, they organized more social events, started more businesses, and even challenged some established ways of doing things on campus. It taught me that while the world’s attention focuses on major events and institutions, the bigger story is that most progress in our lives comes from regular people having more of a voice. This …

GM Crops Like Golden Rice Will Save the Lives of Hundreds of Thousands of Children

Any day now, the government of Bangladesh may become the first country to approve the growing of a variety of yellow rice by farmers known as Golden Rice. If so, this would be a momentous victory in a long and exhausting battle fought by scientists and humanitarians to tackle a huge human health problem—a group that’s faced a great deal of opposition by misguided critics of genetically modified foods. Compare two plants. Golden Rice and Golden Promise barley are two varieties of crop. The barley was produced in the 1960s by bombarding seeds with gamma rays in a nuclear facility to scramble their genes at random with the aim of producing genetic mutations that might prove to be what geneticists used to call “hopeful monsters.” It is golden only in name, as a marketing gimmick, with sepia-tinged adverts helping to sell its appeal to organic growers and brewers. Despite the involvement of atomic radiation in its creation, it required no special regulatory approval or red tape before being released to be grown by farmers in …

Please Stop Calling Yourself a ‘Feminist Badass’

I am the feminist who gets accused of “pearl clutching” in response to flagrant and reflexive uses of the word “fuck” and endless repeats of the word “vagina.” I don’t own a pair of pearls. But I’ll tell you why this vernacular makes me cringe. It’s not that it’s embarrassing as much as it’s a way of gesturing at being radical without really being radical at all. It’s a kind of shorthand edginess, which means it’s a shortcut to edginess. It’s essentially the ideological version of buying the Ramones’ Hey Ho Let’s Go: Greatest Hits and no other Ramones records and still calling yourself the biggest Ramones fan in the world. Saying “fuck” all the time is meant to convey a resistance to stuffy idiomatic convention. Saying “vagina” again and again is meant to convey body positivity; it’s a standoff with shame. Or at least it’s supposed to be. More often it isn’t. Saying these words all the time doesn’t convey edginess as much as lack of imagination. Posting “fuck Trump” on Facebook every five …

The Free-Speech Problem on Australian Campuses Is More CCP than SJW

For years now, Australia’s conservative media have been awash with dark forebodings about the threat that leftist radicals pose to free speech on campuses. The Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank, published an audit of free speech in 2018 that found a staggering 83% of Australian universities are actively hostile to free speech. My personal experience suggests that such fears are exaggerated by those seeking to import an American-style culture war into Australia. I’m a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Queensland, and I’ve never encountered the kind of ultra-leftist “social-justice warrior” types that apparently make sport out of persecuting conservatives. In truth, the vast majority of students on campus are depressingly apathetic, apolitical and disengaged. No, the real threat to freedom of speech that I’ve observed originates with a corporatized university administration that relies heavily on external sources for funding—and so is inclined to discourage views that may irk those controlling the purse strings. This is reflected in the way Australia’s universities are responding to student criticisms of the Chinese Communist …