All posts filed under: Features

ISIS Bride Should Be Judged for What She Did, Not Who She Is

In 2015, Shamima Begum was one of three teenage girls from Bethnal Green, London, who flew to Turkey and then travelled across the border into Syria with the intention of joining ISIS. The girls had done their research, raised funds, and made travel arrangements all (apparently) without the knowledge of their parents, who heard nothing more from their daughters after they entered Syria. It seemed unlikely that they would ever return, even if they wanted to. But then last week The Times published a remarkable story: One of their journalists had found Begum in a refugee camp in Syria, who had fled the collapsing Caliphate and lost contact with her husband, a Dutch Jihadi. Begum was nine months pregnant (she’s now had the child) and, having already lost two children to disease and malnutrition, wants to return to the UK, if only for the sake of her new baby. She has expressed no remorse about her decision to join the terrorist group. In the audio recording of her interview, Begum sounds eerily calm, at one …

Postmodern Philosophy is a Debating Strategy

In a recent article, Matt McManus drew a valuable distinction between postmodern culture and postmodern philosophy. Postmodern culture, he argued, was first theorized by neo-Marxists to refer to what they saw as a new phase of capitalism, characterized by heightened skepticism and a preoccupation with subjectivity. However, one need not adopt Marxist social theory in order to agree with the basic point that the social conditions which characterize twenty-first century liberal democracies make it difficult to take our beliefs for granted. The unprecedented degree of cultural and religious pluralism on offer in developed nations today undoubtedly has an impact on what we can take to be certain. Charles Taylor in his masterpiece A Secular Age called this process “fragilization,” the basic idea of which is that it is more difficult to believe in something wholeheartedly when that belief is not shared by the people one is surrounded by (indeed, we might call this sociology of knowledge 101). So, there is a real sense in which we do in fact live in a post- (or what …

Headline Rhymes

Have you heard ’bout the horrible hate crime? A TV star is beat up by two white guys But the whole thing turns whack When the white guys turn black And YOU are racist for not buyin’ Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by the confusing story of Jussie Smollett as it continues to unspool. As it does, perhaps sober thinking about race is in order:  Racism and Underdetermination by Evidence The Racism Treadmill Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

High Theory and Low Seriousness

Sixty years ago today, just as Henderson the Rain King was going to print, Saul Bellow penned an article for the New York Times in which he warned against the perils of deep reading. Paying too close attention to hidden meanings and obscure symbols takes all the fun from reading, he wrote. The serious reader spends an inordinate amount of energy trying to find profound representations in the most trivial of details. “A travel folder signifies Death. Coal holes represent the Underworld. Soda crackers are the Host. Three bottles of beer are—it’s obvious.” Moreover, deep reading is such an imprecise game that numerous dull and contradictory interpretations arise from the same passage. “Are you a Marxist? Then Herman Melville’s Pequod in Moby Dick can be a factory, Ahab the manager, the crew the working class. Is your point of view religious? The Pequod sailed on Christmas morning, a floating cathedral headed south. Do you follow Freud or Jung? Then your interpretations may be rich and multitudinous.” One man, Bellow wrote, had volunteered an explanation of Moby Dick as Ahab’s mad quest to overcome …

Poetic Injustice and Performative Outrage

On February 13, after almost a two month delay due to the U.S. government shutdown, the National Endowment for the Arts finally announced its recipients for the 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry. For most of the winners, this was an occasion to celebrate on social media. But for Rachel Custer, the elation of finally being able to announce the prestigious grant (one of 35 out of nearly 1700 applicants) came with the dreadful anticipation of the outrage that would (and did) predictably follow. This was nothing new for her. Last summer, when Anders Carlson-Wee proudly announced the publication of his new poem, “How-To,” on Facebook, Custer was at home in rural Northern Indiana, watching as controversy erupted online. “I felt that sick feeling in my stomach,” she says, as the initial joy of Carlson-Wee’s post got quickly sucked out with each hateful comment he received. “I knew so well from the many times I read similar threads about myself. And I just felt immensely bad for him, and so disdainful of anybody who would say …

The Boy Who Inflated the Concept of ‘Wolf’

One of Aesop’s fables is about a shepherd boy who, out of boredom, repeatedly cries “Wolf!” when no wolf is present. As a result, the villagers lose faith in his testimony, and no one listens to his warnings when a real wolf shows up to devour his flock. The story shows why it’s bad to lie and why it’s in our interest to be honest. But lying is not the only manipulation of language that degrades trust. Consider a slightly different story. Suppose that instead of one shepherd boy, there are a few dozen. They are tired of the villagers dismissing their complaints about less threatening creatures like stray dogs and coyotes. One of them proposes a plan: they will start using the word “wolf” to refer to all menacing animals. They agree and the new usage catches on. For a while, the villagers are indeed more responsive to their complaints. The plan backfires, however, when a real wolf arrives and cries of “Wolf!” fail to trigger the alarm they once did. What the boys …

How Social Justice Ideologues Hijacked a Legal Regulator

I have been a Toronto-based litigation lawyer for 30 years. My politics are progressive and strongly egalitarian. About two decades ago, I started my own law firm, specifically so that I could serve disadvantaged individuals and communities. I have sued governments and large corporations, often on a pro bono basis. I have acted for Indigenous clients—including the family of Dudley George, an Ojibway man who was shot and killed by police in 1995 at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. I have represented a regional Cree First Nations tribal council on the James Bay coast for more than 25 years, and for eight years a group of indigenous Mayan women in an ongoing claim against a Canadian international mining company for alleged rape and murder at its facility in Guatemala. I act in a class-action for almost a thousand people who claim to have been wrongfully mass-arrested by Toronto Police at the 2010 G20 Summit. I am a recipient of the Diane Martin Medal For Social Justice Through Law, the Human Rights Award from the Ontario …

The Confessions of a Male, Feminist Sex Addict

I had the privilege of growing up with wonderful females in my life—including my brilliant mother, who remains my hero, and my sister, who earned a PhD. My father has a penetrating kindness for the planet and all its inhabitants, including women, about whom he advised me: “Be their friend. Never cheat them. Love them.” My desire for female companionship started young. As early as sixth grade, I was drawn to intelligent, confident girls. As I grew older, I was fortunate enough to often have these attractions requited. In my teen years, I did not experience the stereotypically male desire for attractive, submissive playthings. I wanted smart, full-spectrum romantic partners who enjoyed sex but were not shy to assert their own needs, thoughts and feelings. My joy was my partner’s joy, and vice-versa. Later in adulthood, I would learn that sex, at its best, is the ultimate expression of intimacy. But I would also learn—at a much earlier stage in life—that sex, at its worst, is toxic, traumatizing, violent and dehumanizing. *     *    …

Public Education’s Dirty Secret

Bad teaching is a common explanation given for the disastrously inadequate public education received by America’s most vulnerable populations. This is a myth. Aside from a few lemons who were notable for their rarity, the majority of teachers I worked with for nine years in New York City’s public school system were dedicated, talented professionals. Before joining the system I was mystified by the schools’ abysmal results. I too assumed there must be something wrong with the teaching. This could not have been farther from the truth. Teaching French and Italian in NYC high schools I finally figured out why this was, although it took some time, because the real reason was so antithetical to the prevailing mindset. I worked at three very different high schools over the years, spanning a fairly representative sample. That was a while ago now, but the system has not improved since, as the fundamental problem has not been acknowledged, let alone addressed. It would not be hard, or expensive, to fix. Washington Irving High School, 2001–2004 My NYC teaching career began …

The Meaning of the Self-Destructive Strike at WSU

On January 22, a portion of the unionized faculty at Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio went on strike. WSU is a regional state university with a medical school, several units that award PhDs, and many that grant master’s degrees. It has many nontraditional students and pockets of true excellence; it is a national leader in educating veterans and the disabled, for example. It is also where I have taught economics for almost a quarter-century. I applied for and received sabbatical for this year some time ago and so, as the strike has dragged on, I have watched this drama unfold at both a physical and emotional distance. The strike has been the culmination of years of bitterness between the faculty union (not, note, the faculty) and the administration. It is widely believed that the root cause of the strike was stark differences between the union and the administration over how to overcome a severe financial crisis earlier in the decade that was unquestionably the fault of previous administrators, yet has impacted the entire …