All posts filed under: Media

Explaining Monogamy to Vox

In the first episode of their new Netflix series, entitled Explained, the folks over at Vox set out to explain monogamy. Or at least, that is what the title (“Monogamy, Explained”) appeared to promise. But by the time it was over, very little seemed to have been explained. The central arguments, as I understand them, are that monogamy didn’t exist until after the invention of agriculture, marrying for love didn’t exist until roughly 1700 AD, and the concept of sexual selection was developed by Victorian scientists like Charles Darwin in part to justify traditional gender roles. Vox interviews four experts for their video: relationship advice columnist Dan Savage, historian Stephanie Coontz, author Christopher Ryan, and evolutionary biologist David Barash. Of these contributors, Barash is given the least screen time. He is allowed to provide a brief description of classic sexual selection theory, noting the problem of paternity uncertainty for males, and that because of differences between sperm and eggs, males can have larger fitness payoffs by being more promiscuous than females generally can. The narrator, however, …

The RedState Firings and the Decline of Viewpoint Diversity on the Right

“If you’re a Republican, that means you’re for free speech.” I used to believe this. I’m not sure I do any more. In late April, several members of the site RedState, including me, were fired en masse in a single day. It was not for poor performance; among those dismissed were some of the top page view earners, and none had published a post that had embarrassed the site in some high-profile way. We had one thing in common, and one thing only: we were all fierce and highly vocal critics of Donald Trump. It later emerged that the RedState firings were part of a larger effort by the site’s owner Salem Media Group to clamp down on criticism of Trump. CNN recently reported that Salem, which is also the largest broadcaster of conservative talk radio in the United States, had complained to some of its conservative talk show hosts during the campaign about the anti-Trump tone of some of their shows. In July 2016, a Salem executive wrote to hosts Ben Shapiro and Elisha Krauss: …

“Tired, Old Myths:” The New Republic Slanders Jung

Recently, in The New Republic, Jeet Heer’s sanctimonious critique of Jordan Peterson led him to one of Peterson’s sources, Carl Jung. Heer is doubtless unaware that, in his dismissive misrepresentation of Jung and his work, he had joined a shameful tradition started by Freud. “So we are rid of them at last,” wrote Freud to his colleague in July 1914, “the brutal holy Jung and his pious parrots.”1 The ignoble tradition of Jung-bashing has had a steady following by lazy minds ever since, most recently evidenced in Jeet Heer’s article, Jordan Peterson’s Tired Old Myths. What was the reason for Freud’s hostility? Jung, previously Freud’s designated “crown prince,” had strayed from Freudian doctrine. Jung’s interest in mythology and religion led him to posit as primary a universal drive for meaning and personal development he called individuation. Freud exhorted him not to abandon Freud’s “scientific” theory that the sexual drive is the basis for human motivation. When Freud asked Jung to make a “dogma and an unshakable bulwark” of the sexual theory, Jung became alarmed, as …

Jordan Peterson and the Failure of the Left

Like most people, I’d never heard of Jordan Peterson until a short time ago. In my case, the first signal of his arrival on the cultural scene was a friend’s series of Facebook posts vividly denouncing him as a reactionary cult-like leader. Seeing a Canadian psychology professor be the subject of such alarm piqued my curiosity. As an American ex-academic, I tend to stereotype Canadians as almost laughably polite, and professors as largely contained in their own hyper-specialized, politically irrelevant bubbles. The vision of a wild-eyed Canadian psych prof with a fanatical alt-right following on YouTube was an intriguing challenge to my priors. Soon, I found myself going down the Peterson rabbit-hole with countless others. I listened to several of his lectures on reinterpreting Bible stories as archetypical myths. Contradicting my friend’s warnings of hate-filled right-wing propaganda, I found Peterson’s discussions intellectually engaging, personally meaningful, and a refreshing departure from the standard discourse on such issues. I read up on Peterson’s battles over Canadian hate speech legislation and watched his infamous Cathy Newman interview. Here again, I found Peterson’s commentary to be largely thoughtful and thought-provoking. I tuned into his podcast discussions with Sam Harris, …

Should the New York Times Hire a Radical?

If you find yourself in a room full of politically minded people and want to get everyone shouting quickly, start talking about the state of prestige-media opinion writing. Progressives and conservatives are both sure that their team is being systematically excluded from the op-ed pages of gatekeeper institutions like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic. Each side thinks the other is grossly over-represented. They can’t both be right—so who is? Lately, a new argument has emerged from the progressive side of this debate: if these publications want political diversity, they should get it by hiring opinion writers from the far-Left, not the Right. The far-Left’s story goes like this: after the Trump election, men like New York Times opinion editor James Bennet and Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg concluded that coastal media elites lived in an echo-chamber that blinded them to the views of many Americans. Seeking to correct this, they hired conservative opinion writers like Bret Stephens and Kevin Williamson—despite the fact that these Never Trumpers don’t actually represent the views …

Libel of Jordan Peterson by the Forward—A Story of Journalistic Failure

On Friday, a left-leaning Jewish magazine, the Forward, published an article by Ari Feldman titled “Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred?” accompanied by a picture of Adolf Hitler giving the Nazi salute next to Peterson. The Forward explains Vox-style: “Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called [him] ‘The Savior of Western Civilization.’” What did Peterson do to become, according to the Forward, comparable to Hitler? In a recent blog post addressing anti-Semitism in the alt-right, Peterson “attributed [Jewish] influence to Jewish intelligence—an old anti-Semitic dog whistle”– Lipstadt said that Peterson’s statements on Jewish intelligence reminded her of Kevin MacDonald, a professor of psychology who the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic.” MacDonald has written several books criticizing Jewish intellectual culture. (Peterson links to a critique of one of MacDonald’s books at the end of his blog post on Jewish intelligence.) Lipstadt said that MacDonald’s academic language obscures the anti-Semitism behind his opinions. She worries the …

The Problem with Candace Owens

Dissent in the ranks of so-called “marginalized groups,” often viewed as natural constituencies for the left, rarely fails to draw a backlash from progressives and sympathy from conservatives. Recently, such a controversy erupted when rap artist Kanye West voiced support on Twitter for Candace Owens, an African-American conservative YouTuber and Donald Trump supporter. West’s tweet—“I love the way Candace Owens thinks”—was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the left and much celebration on the right (partly out of sheer gloating at the left’s dismay). There has also been more thoughtful commentary, including a Quillette essay by Columbia University philosophy student Coleman Hughes looking at the ways in which standard left-of-center politics in America fail to represent the diversity of opinion in the black community. This is a healthy discussion. Unfortunately, in their understandable frustration with the social and racial orthodoxies that currently dominate liberal political culture, conservatives and libertarians risk embracing self-styled dissenters who are (to borrow a term from the social justice left) problematic allies. This is true of West, whose …

Is Political Diversity on the Op-Ed Page Worth Defending?

The Atlantic’s decision to fire the conservative columnist Kevin D. Williamson has occasioned an avalanche of think pieces, the latest of which is a Wall Street Journal article from Williamson in his own defence. All these commentaries swirl around the same question: Exactly how important is political diversity in media? For some, Williamson’s firing is proof that the mainstream media practices something like institutional discrimination against conservatives. For others, Williamson’s views were so beyond the pale that hiring him in the name of ‘diversity’ would be no more justifiable than a university astronomy department hiring a flat-earther. Diverse, yes, but also disqualifyingly wrong. Of the latter group—those who are skeptical of the need for media outlets to pursue political diversity—the ablest pen currently belongs to Osita Nwanevu, who laid out his argument in a piece for Slate entitled “It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.” There are two layers to his critique: firstly, the media actually has plenty of political diversity, but secondly, this diversity isn’t a particularly important value for publications like the Atlantic …

Sam Harris was Right; Ezra Klein Should Know Better

Earlier this week, Ph.D. neuroscientist turned pop-philosopher Sam Harris invited Vox Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein to debate Harris on his popular podcast. The topic: Harris’s decision to feature Charles Murray for the purposes of defending him— from charges of racism, on his show last year. Murray is famous in part for writing The Bell Curve, which included a controversial chapter which mentions racial differences in IQ. But this isn’t Klein’s first flirtation with character assassinations. In case you missed it, Harris and Klein have been feuding publicly since Murray appeared on Harris’s show last year. Vox published a piece attacking Harris for featuring Murray, accusing the two of participating in “pseudoscientific racialist speculation.” Vox then refused to publish a rebuttal written by Richard Haier, respected psychologist and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Intelligence. (It finally found a home at this publication, here.) Next, Harris released his email correspondence with Klein, and that eventually led to this week’s heated podcast. Mid-way through the podcast, Harris says: you appear to be willing to believe people… are not speaking with real integrity about data because it serves political ends, …

Kevin Williamson, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Victimhood Culture

The circumstances of The Atlantic’s recent firing of columnist Kevin Williamson make clear that victimhood culture is rapidly spreading beyond university campuses. Williamson was fired for comments about abortion — comments made in tweets and a podcast before The Atlantic ever hired him. His position, that abortion is murder, is certainly a mainstream position shared by millions of Americans. What is not mainstream is his view that women who have abortions should be subject to the same legal penalties as other murderers — possibly including the death penalty. This is an unpopular opinion that even many pro-lifers find offensive.  Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, in explaining why he fired Williamson, called it “callous and violent.” But to focus too much on the statement itself, and whether or not it’s extreme or offensive, is to miss the point of what’s happening. Williamson isn’t the first columnist to be targeted in this way. Bari Weiss at the New York Times and Megan McArdle at the Washington Post have also faced the wrath of online social justice mobs. And the abortion comments weren’t the only thing of Williamson’s that the mobs were objecting …