All posts filed under: Must Reads

Neutralizing Ngo: The Apologetics of Antifascist Street Violence

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell observed that “political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He detailed how certain manners of diction are employed to that end—dying metaphors, verbal false limbs, pretentious and otherwise meaningless words all work to constitute a kind of inflated, euphemistic style of expression. This divests language of plain meaning in order to obscure brutal realities and to hide the “gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims.” As these habits are adopted and spread, clear thinking and good communication become more difficult and the process self-perpetuates. Stupid, ugly, and oppressive ideas actively distort language to create a semblance of reason and respectability; in turn, the corruption of language further predisposes people to uncritically accept and conform to the same sorts of orthodoxies. In a vein similar to Orwell’s lexicology of apologetics, criminological theory may help inform an understanding of how speech is used in defense of the indefensible at another level of analysis—that of rhetorical strategies. Specifically, what follows is a look at the …

Stonewall’s LGBT Guidance is Limiting the Free Speech of Gender Critical Academics

In 2015, the main trade union for UK academics, the University and College Union (UCU), objected to the government’s newly announced counter-terrorism strategy—specifically, the part concerned with universities’ legal duty to attempt to prevent student radicalisation. A central aspect of UCU’s highly critical response concerned the use of ill-defined, imprecise words in the strategy. One UCU briefing noted that (my italics): it is important that branches become familiar with how the government defines ‘extremism’.. as follows: ‘Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’ Branches should note the somewhat nebulous nature of so described ‘British values’ and the potentially very broad range of individuals and groups who may at some point fall foul of such a negatively constructed definition. In a similar vein, a Professor and a senior lawyer expressed their concern that that the vagueness and lack of definition of terms like “terrorism,” “non-violent extremism,” “radicalisation,” and “fundamental British values” could be understood to mean that…academics and …

Antifa’s Brutal Assault on Andy Ngo Is a Wake-Up Call—for Authorities and Journalists Alike

All revolutionary movements seek to sanctify their lawless behaviour as a spontaneous eruption of righteous fury. In some cases, such as the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, this conceit is justified. But usually their violence is a pre-meditated tactic to intimidate adversaries. Or as Bolshevik theorist Nikolai Bukharin put it, “In revolution, he will be victorious who cracks the other’s skull.” The Antifa thugs who attacked Quillette editor and photojournalist Andy Ngo in Portland yesterday did not quite manage to crack his skull. But they did manage to induce a brain hemorrhage that required Ngo’s overnight hospitalization. (For those seeking to support Ngo financially as he recovers, there is a third-party fundraising campaign.) The scene was captured by local reporter Jim Ryan, whose video can be accessed at the link below. We caution readers that it is an unsettling spectacle—by which we mean not only the violence itself, but the unconstrained glee this pack of mostly young men exhibit as they brutalize a journalist whom they’d spent months demonizing on social media, and whom they’d explicitly …

Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders. This can make it difficult to figure out what is going on in a story and to distinguish fact from partisan or ideological bias, especially when those biases flatter our own. The recently concluded libel trial involving Oberlin College offered a demonstration of this phenomenon on the part of both the defendants and much of the media covering the case. On June 7, an Ohio jury found that Oberlin College had libelled a local shop, Gibson Bakery and Market, as racist, and awarded the family business hefty damages. The case aroused a great deal of interest in legal, academic, and civil rights communities, which in turn produced a great deal of commentary, much of which was tendentious, speculative, and/or uninformed. The news coverage of this case was puzzling from the beginning. It was a case that involved college student protests, a liberal arts college with a history of progressive activism, free market economics, free speech, defamation, accusations of …

What Do the Oligarchs Have in Mind for Us?

There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown. ~Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited The recent movement to investigate, and even break up, the current tech oligarchy has gained support on both sides of the Atlantic, and even leapt across the gaping divide in American politics. The immediate concerns relate to such things as the control of key markets by one or two firms, the huge concentration of wealth accruing to the tech elite and, increasingly, the oligarchy’s control over and manipulation of information pipelines. What has not been discussed nearly as much is the end game of the oligarchs. What kind of world do they have in mind for us? Their vision of what our society should look like is not one most people—on the Left or Right—would like to see. And yet, unless unchecked, it could well be the world we, and particularly our children, will inhabit. Almost 40 years ago, in his book The Third Wave, the futurist Alvin Toffler described technology as “the …

On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important and Inspiring

Nineteen Eighty-Four is divided into three parts, the second of which is structured around Winston Smith’s love affair with Julia, a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth. Their romance begins with Smith offering Julia the sort of smooth talk that would send any woman’s heart aflutter: “I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” Moments later, he seals the deal by telling Julia that she’d always been in his thoughts. “I hated the first sight of you,” he tells her. “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago, I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” Naturally, Julia is seduced. Several pages later, Winston “pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells.” It is a symptom of George Orwell’s genius that, taken in context, this sequence makes perfect sense. In his life, Orwell seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act. And one can almost see him squirming …

When the Authorities Tell You to Dissent

The University of Melbourne advertises itself as Australia’s best university—the first and only member of the Australian Ivy League. This isn’t an unreasonable claim. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2019 put the University of Melbourne 32nd in the world, 17 spots ahead of Australian National University, its nearest Australian rival. Numerous other figures seem to demonstrate the school’s excellence at preparing students for prosperous employment and at developing their critical thinking skills. Naturally, I was pleased and even proud to have been accepted into the University of Melbourne’s 2017 Master of Journalism program. I believed, without really thinking about it, that I was in for a challenging year and a half at a school far more rigorous than the one from which I received my baccalaureate. (The University of Oklahoma consistently lands somewhere in the 400s on the Times Higher Education index.) Of course, I was aware of the complaints directed at Australian universities—that the integrity of their curricula had gradually been compromised to appease social justice activists. Ubiquitous Canadian psychologist Jordan …

Bearing Witness: My Journey Out of Mormonism

My parents named me after Spencer W. Kimball, who was the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at the time I was born. The church derives its informal name, Mormonism, from the Book of Mormon, which is purportedly the work of Hebrew prophets in the ancient Americas (though it’s not clear where, exactly). Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, the church’s founder, translated the Book of Mormon from golden tablets that the angel Moroni helped him discover. Near the end of the Book of Mormon is a passage known as “Moroni’s promise”: And when you should receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:4). Many people say that God has fulfilled this promise to them. What it’s like to receive …

A Victory for Female Athletes Everywhere

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week upheld the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations governing eligibility for the women’s category in international elite athletics competition. In effect, CAS decided the question “who is a woman” for purposes of elite sport. And it ratified the IAAF’s preferred answer: A woman in sport is anyone whose legal identity is female—whether they personally identify as such or not—and who has testosterone (T) levels in the female range. That may seem like a mere technical ruling. But as I’ll explain in this article, the ramifications are profound for female athletics everywhere—a cause that has been central to my life and to the lives of millions of girls and women worldwide. The female range for testosterone is categorically different from the male range. In general, males have 10 to 30 times more T than females. Most females, including most elite female athletes, have T levels in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). For men, typical values are 10 to 35 nmol/L. The …

Meaning Matters

Everyone seems to be talking about meaning at the moment. Many appreciate that our lives need some kind of existential structure—cultural worldviews, social roles, and goals that give us purpose. Some speculate that we are suffering a crisis of meaning in the modern Western world for a variety of reasons including increased social alienation, automation, and the decline of religion. Others believe that meaning comes from within the individual, that we can abandon traditional beliefs, duties, and attachments and fashion our own existential framework. Some argue that meaning isn’t really that important at all and that we should instead focus solely on practical concerns such as physical health, economics, education, and the environment. As a behavioral scientist who has spent nearly two decades conducting research in existential psychology, I have some thoughts on why we should care about meaning and how modern life challenges our search for it. First, meaning is important. Perceptions of meaning in life influence a wide range of life outcomes. People who have a strong sense of meaning in life, compared …