All posts filed under: Features

Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane

How many people who followed the BBC’s podcast series about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter were startled—or even outraged—when Carter was not triumphantly vindicated in the final episode? In the small hours of June 17, 1966, two black men walked into a late-night Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey and opened fire on the occupants. They left bartender James Oliver and patron Fred Nauyoks dead at the scene and mortally wounded a woman named Hazel Tanis, who would succumb to her injuries a month later. Another customer named Willie Marins lost an eye in the shooting but survived. Neighbors Patty Valentine and Ronald Ruggiero told police that they had seen two black males flee the scene in a white vehicle. This testimony was corroborated by petty thief Alfred Bello who walked past the dead and the dying to empty the cash register after the shooters had fled. Half an hour later, Paterson police stopped middleweight boxer Rubin Carter and his companion John Artis in a car bearing out-of-state plates that matched the eyewitnesses’ description. A search …

In Defense of Scientism

I hear the jury’s still out on science. ~Gob Bluth In science, the jury is always out. This is because science is a methodological approach to the world, not a set of inflexible principles or a catalog of indisputable facts. Truth is always provisional. Science does not hold something to be incontrovertibly true. It says, “This appears to be true according to the best available theory and evidence.” On science, the jury long ago returned a verdict: it is awesome. It has conquered deadly diseases and eradicated oppressive superstitions. It has increased human flourishing and extended life expectancies. It has put humans on the moon and many fathoms under the ocean’s surface. It has uncovered the forces that guide the crudest motions of matter and those that govern the most exquisite processes of life. In short, it has vastly improved human existence while dramatically increasing our knowledge of the universe. Despite all this, skeptical philosophers and pundits continue to forward arguments against scientific “arrogance”—or against what they see as science’s hubristic attempt to crowd out …

How Our Little Humanist Club Got Taken Over by Social Justice Dogmatists

I love living in this Canada of 2019. Just as it’s okay for my 20-year-old grandson to live with his girlfriend without being married, it’s okay for me to live with mine. No big deal, you say? Of course not. But such arrangements were unthinkable when I was 20 and living in South Africa. And in this Canada, I can hang with a gay friend and not think of him or her as “my gay friend,” but simply as my friend. And spend time with my other grandson and his girlfriend, who happens to be of South Asian ancestry, and not think of her as “a person of colour,” or “a Muslim,” but simply as the young woman who she is. And no one feels the tension and fear that such a relationship would have produced in the South Africa I inhabited as a young man—where interracial relationships of this type were prosecuted as crimes. And even though I’m an old white man, I feel at ease and at home in a society that’s moving …

What They Don’t Teach You at the University of Washington’s Ed School

Having decided to become a high school teacher, I was excited to be accepted to the University of Washington’s Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP), which awards a masters degree in teaching and bills itself as a 12-month combination of theory and practice. Cognizant that in just over a year I would be responsible for teaching students on my own, and because of the university’s laudable reputation, I expected the program to be grounded in challenging practical work and research, both in terms of how to develop academic skills in young people, and also in the crucial role public education has in overcoming some of the most grave and intransigent problems in society. I am not interested in politics or controversy, and I derive no pleasure in creating difficulties for the UW out of personal resentment. But whenever family and friends ask me about graduate school, I have to explain that rather than an academic program centered around pedagogy and public policy, STEP is a 12-month immersion in doctrinaire social justice activism. This program is a …

The Scars of Rwanda, 25 Years On

I was home from University for the Easter holidays when the genocide began. April 7, 1994 is a date seared into my family’s psyche. My parents and I were transfixed by the news. They’d been front-line aid-workers for decades. My father was with the UN’s refugee agency. My mother, a child psychologist, worked with child soldiers. Neither were naïve about the world’s darker recesses, but the speed and scale of the savagery in Rwanda left everyone, even the most jaded and battle-hardened of my parents’ colleagues, reeling. The phone rang repeatedly. Meetings ran late. People we knew were dispatched to the region.  Over the next 100 days, an estimated 800,000 Tutsi were hacked to death with machetes wielded by their Hutu countrymen. House by house. Village by village. Town by town. Often it was neighbor killing neighbor. Occasionally, family members butchered their own kin. Two pieces of footage from those days remain clear in my mind. One was shot clandestinely, by someone hiding in some bushes. It filmed a makeshift roadblock with a few Tutsi …

Cambridge University’s Shameful Treatment of Jordan Peterson

On Wednesday, March 20, the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge sent the following tweet: Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review. — Faculty of Divinity (@CamDivinity) March 20, 2019 The circumstances around this event bear careful examination. For they reveal not only a betrayal of the university’s fundamental purpose, but also the loss of something far more wide-reaching, something without which no higher civilization can survive: a shared understanding of ourselves. First, a little background. Jordan Peterson is an academic and clinical psychologist who has taught at two of North America’s most prestigious research universities (Harvard University and the University of Toronto), and whose academic work is prominent, widely-cited, and non-controversial in his field (see a list of his research publications here). His courageous and articulate defense of free speech, of our political, cultural and religious inheritance, of unpopular but incontestable truths of science—especially biology—and his radical opposition to identity politics of any kind, including that of …

When a Question of Science Brooks No Dissent

Back in December 2012, six days after a mass shooting ended the lives of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama seized the opportunity created by our period of national mourning to hold forth on a surprising topic: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The deaths at Sandy Hook, he told a group of foreign diplomats, had elicited from the world community “a fundamental human response that transcends cultures and transcends borders.” The Earth’s rising temperatures, instructed the president, should induce a similar response from world leaders. “This must be our work,” Obama implored the assembled ambassadors and chargés d’affaires regarding the need to forestall climate change. “That, I think, is one of the ways we can honor all these beautiful children and incredible teachers who were lost this past Friday.” Perhaps I should refrain from condemning too harshly a partisan figure’s routine decision to make political hay in the aftermath of a tragedy. For one thing, the president’s remarks may have been prepared by the same inept speechwriting staff who had coached him …

Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee

Many people who genuinely believe that they support freedom of speech exhibit a double standard: One person’s “hate speech” is another person’s belief, opinion or even (as they see it) fact. And opinions about whether there’s a “free speech crisis” on university campuses tend to vary according to these subjective determinations. While I’m not a fan of such “crisis” language, there’s definitely a real decline in support for freedom of expression among young people. In a 2016 Knight Foundation survey, 91% of high school respondents said they supported the “freedom to express unpopular opinions.” But when pressed, only 45% said that people should have the right to publicly express ideas that others find “offensive.” The Knight Foundation’s numbers on college students’ attitudes are similar. In 2016, 78% of college respondents agreed that colleges should expose students to all types of speech and viewpoints. Yet, more than two-thirds said that colleges should be able to enact policies against language that is “intentionally offensive to certain groups,” and more than a quarter said that colleges should even …

Milan Kundera Warned Us About Historical Amnesia. Now It’s Happening Again

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. —Milan Kundera Milan Kundera is 90-years old on April 1, 2019 and his central subject—The Power of Forgetting, or historical amnesia—could not be more relevant. Kundera’s great theme emerged from his experience of the annexation of his former homeland Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1948 and the process of deliberate historical erasure imposed by the communist regime on the Czechs. As Kundera said: The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster. I first read Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) back in 1987, when I was a member of the British Communist Party. The book shook my beliefs and Kundera’s writing became a part of a process of truth-speaking that shook the USSR …

Socialism’s Endless Refrain: This Time, Things Will Be Different

Germany’s socialist left is currently embroiled in a row over the correct stance on Venezuela. The conflict came to the fore at the February conference of Die Linke, the country’s main socialist party, when a group of Nicolás Maduro fans stormed the stage, chanting slogans and waving banners with pro-Venezuela messages. Nicolás Maduro is the successor to Hugo Chávez, and has served as Venezuelan President since 2013. The legitimacy of his presidency has been in free fall in recent years, and many now call him a dictator. As Maduro’s popularity has waned, his tactics have become increasingly brutal. In 2018, a panel of legal experts convened by the Organization of American States recommended that the regime be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Many members of the Die Linke party establishment, however, still side with Maduro, whom they see as a comrade under siege. Others, especially in the party’s youth organisation, take the opposite view—which is why the February conference was contentious. One young member describes the party’s in-house Chavistas as …