All posts filed under: Features

Big Tech and Regulation—A Response to the Quillette Editors

Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter. And Facebook, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, Snap, Stripe, Discord, and—most crushingly of all—Pinterest. This was swiftly followed by a swathe of account purges across various platforms, ostensibly on the grounds that terms of service had been violated. Bizarrely, conservatives reacted to this development by lamenting the lack of arbitrary government intervention in private enterprise, while their liberal opponents celebrated corporate squashing of individual expression. If you don’t like it, build your own app. Arguably more important, if less sensational, has been the coordinated nuking of the efforts of those Trump fans who did, in fact, build their own app. Google and Apple banned conservative social media aspirant Parler from their app stores, effectively throttling its only viable distribution channels. Amazon then went a step further and revoked Parler’s right to host its site on its web service, AWS. For good measure, authentication service Okta and internet-to-telecoms interface platform Twilio withdrew their infrastructure too. If you don’t like it, build your own internet. The fallout has been intense and …

Why We Should Read Martin Amis

Written after his father’s passing, Martin Amis’s memoir Experience highlighted my project in the first chapter in the second footnote: When you review a film, or appraise a film-director, you do not make a ten-minute short about it or him (or her). When you write about a painter, you do not produce a sketch. When you write about a composer, you do not reach for your violin. And even when a poet is under consideration, the reviewer or profilist does not (unless deeply committed to presumption and tedium) produce a poem. But when you write about a novelist, an exponent of prose narrative, then you write a prose narrative. So, when a reviewer drafts a poor review, he or she is subject to the following question, “And was that the extent of your hopes for your prose—bookchat, interviews, gossip?” Answering his own question, Amis writes, “Valued reader, it is not for me to say this is envy. It is for you to say that this is envy.” Amis is a British novelist and essayist, who, …

COVID Has Forced Teachers to Confront Longstanding Problems—And Education Will Never Be the Same

The halls are eerily silent. No slamming lockers, talkative teens, or stairwell make-out sessions. Right about now, I’d gladly take a student yelling an obscenity in the hallway—even one directed at me. Or maybe even a fight to break up. Teaching this year is a lonely, ghost-town experience. In my physical in-person classrooms, I see fewer students in a whole day than I would normally teach in a single class. Visually, these spaces look like crime scenes, with caution tape delineating social-distancing sectors, and masks worn at all times. I’m told that Plexiglas dividers will soon be installed as well. I’m not here to critique the effectiveness of these measures. Rather, I’m focused on some of the lessons we’re all receiving as educators. Yes, COVID-19 is creating new problems for public schools. But it’s also exposing old ones, much as low tide shows us what debris lies under the waves. * * * Last spring, when the first round of COVID-19 lockdown orders went out, we went old-school—distributing hard-copy, distance-education “student learning packets.” As was …

Three Plane Rides and the Quest for a Just Society

In the paper that started the concept of “microaggressions” on its path to prominence, lead-author Derald Wing Sue recounts an incident that happened to him (an Asian American) and an African American colleague on a short plane ride from New York to Boston. Being a small plane with few passengers, Sue and his colleague were asked by a flight attendant (who happened to be a white female) to help balance the weight by moving to the back of the plane. They complied, but wondered why they had been asked to move instead of the three white men who were last to board, and who seated themselves directly in front of Sue and his colleague. “Were we being singled out because of our race,” Sue wondered, or “was this just a random event with no racial overtones?” Sue and his colleague—who was having the same thoughts—discussed the matter: Were we being oversensitive and petty? Although we complied by moving to the back of the plane, both of us felt resentment, irritation, and anger. In light of …

Degree Requirements for Police Officers Will Not Make Us Safer

On December 7th, 2020, California State assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), introduced a bill that sought to codify a condition for police hires in the state that has already become de rigueur in so many other fields—to require that all new officers have a university degree. Jones-Sawyer is not unique amongst middle class persons in recommending such prerequisites, nor is he even the first politician to propose such a requirement for police officers explicitly; several such bills have been introduced throughout the country during the last few years and some jurisdictions already require that new police officers be university-educated. Indeed, the argument that police officers should be mandated to be university-educated extends to the 1960s, after successive racial riots in American municipalities were blamed in part on police-community tensions.1 Despite the fact that university degrees are not yet explicitly mandatory, slightly more than half of all American police officers hold an associate’s degree and nearly a third hold a bachelor’s degree.2 Yet while many individual police officers have taken it upon themselves to earn degrees, …

Republicans’ Lyceum Moment—and America’s

The assault on the US Capitol, not by foreign invaders but a domestic mob, left the American public (outside the most hardened and credulous pro-Trump precincts) bewildered and alarmed. The ubiquitous refrain from reporters on the scene struck a note of incomprehension: “This is happening in the United States of America.” The unspoken subtext was clear: such an outbreak of fanaticism was the stuff of banana republics, and no part of the American tradition. But this attitude served only to remind viewers of Gore Vidal’s quip that U-S-A stands for the United States of Amnesia. For the Trump mob’s invasion of Congress was scarcely the first time Americans have surrendered to mass frenzy. Almost two centuries ago, a spirit of anarchy seized the people, and the country began degenerating into bedlam. The source of mob violence in that day lay not with any particular partisan social or political cause. There were mobs motivated by religious sectarianism, hostility to gambling, and naked xenophobia. The passions loosed by the “peculiar institution” of slavery, of course, helped propel …

Philosophers Smear One of Their Own for Gender Heresy

The appointing of Kathleen Stock—who advocates some pre-2015 views on gender identity—as an Officer of the Order British Empire last month mobilized woke philosophy Twitter like a five-alarm fire. The philosophers drew up a petition, now with more than 700 signatories, condemning Stock for her “transphobia.” The open letter regarding transphobia in philosophy that some of us organized this week has now stopped taking new requests to be added. Over 700 philosophers signed. I haven't been tweeting a lot about the controversy, but here are a few closing thoughtshttps://t.co/lLjrSFe3t6 — Jonathan Ichikawa (@jichikawa) January 9, 2021 They describe her as “best-known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to the UK Gender Recognition Act.” Critics pointed out that this is wrong: Stock supports the UK Gender Recognition Act. One prominent signatory—a professor emeritus at the University of Bristol—complained about people who are “fussy about whether particular details are right.” The petition now has an erratum acknowledging the error, but explaining that “[s]ince it is the …

The Wisdom of a Slave: A Defence of Stoicism

We all have desires. We feel frustrated when we don’t get what we want and pleased when we do. Is this the secret to a happy life during times of turmoil and frustration? Maximizing our pleasure by satisfying our desires? A former slave thought not. There is more to a good life than just the passive acceptance of pleasure. * * * We don’t know his name, at least not the name given to him by his parents. Instead, we know him only as Epictetus, the name given to him by his owner, a word that is usually translated into English as acquired or owned. We also don’t know why he walked with a limp. According to Simplicius of Cilicia, a pagan philosopher, Epictetus (AD c.50–c.135) was born lame. According to the early Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria, his leg was deliberately twisted by his owner until it broke. What we do know is that Epictetus was among the most influential stoic philosophers of all time. Born in the Greek outpost of Hierapolis in modern-day …

Ray Russell’s Incubus: A Lost Gem from America’s Twentieth Decade

Hard as it might be to believe, the years that stretched from roughly 1967 through the bicentennial year of 1976 brought even more foment, outrage, unrest, and upheaval to America than the most recent decade has managed. The escalation of the Vietnam War, the student protests against that war, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., psychedelia and the sexual revolution, Woodstock, the political resurrection of Richard Nixon, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the moon landings, the Manson murders, second-wave feminism, the Pentagon Papers, the shootings at Kent State, Watergate, the fall of Nixon, the rise of the summer blockbuster film—it was an era of almost unprecedented social and cultural turmoil. Perhaps that explains why so many remain fascinated by that era today. All sorts of recent cultural properties have revisited it: the 2020 Amazon Prime TV series Hunters (set in 1970s New York City and starring 1970s icon Al Pacino), How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (the recent HBO documentary about the Bee Gees), Emma Cline’s 2016 novel The …

Songs from Orwell’s Glass Asylum

In 1947, the year David Bowie was born, a tubercular George Orwell shuffled over to the bedroom window of his cottage on the storm-lashed Scottish island of Jura and thought about London. He was always thinking about London. The ailing Orwell—moustache and cigarette drooped downward, clad most of his days in just the same old raggedy dressing gown as he propped himself up in bed with a typewriter—was in a race against time to polish off the manuscript of what would be his ninth and final book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian satire about totalitarianism and the cynical manipulation of language set in the British capital in the not-too-distant future. Orwell later said that the book was about his fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” This he fleshes out by way of a doomed romance between Winston Smith, a wavering individualist who has begun to doubt the wisdom of the media that ceaselessly broadcasts the Party’s bizarre slogans, and a freckle-faced young sensualist named Julia. Both characters meet …