All posts filed under: Activism

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 …

Science Fiction Purges its Problematic Past

Since 1991, the James Tiptree Junior Award has been given annually to a work of “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” The award was founded by two women science fiction writers, Pat Murphy and Karen Jay Fowler. From next year, it will be called the Otherwise Award. James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon. Born Alice Bradley in 1915, she travelled the world with her parents as a young child. In 1940, after a brief unhappy marriage, she joined the women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and worked in intelligence. She married Huntington “Ting” Sheldon in 1945, and in 1952 they both joined the CIA. She later earned her doctorate and took up writing. She wrote short stories and novels, but it is the former that stand out as truly remarkable. With prose as subtle and precise as the most refined literary fiction, she penned imaginative tales like “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and “The Girl Who was Plugged In,” which became classics of science fiction and also important …

Meet the Gay Activists Who’ve Had Enough of Britain’s Ultra-Woke Homophobes

Are gay people allowed to meet and organise in defense of their interests? A hard yes, you might have thought. But some apparently disagree. Witness the response to the London-based LGB Alliance, a newly created British group that asserts “the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to define themselves as same-sex-attracted.” The group’s creation has sparked vitriol, not from the traditionalist Christians or social conservatives who might have opposed such groups in the 1980s or 1990s, but from the self-described progressive left. Readers who aren’t steeped in the most fashionable iteration of identity politics might now be scratching their heads. Unless you’re taking cues from Leviticus, what could possibly be wrong with saying it’s okay to be gay? The answer is that, in acknowledging the reality of same-sex attraction, you are indirectly acknowledging the reality and importance of biological sex as a driver of attraction. You are also indirectly acknowledging that members of the opposite sex are not members of your dating pool—even if they tell you that they share your gender identity. Which …

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 …