All posts filed under: Must Reads

How David Graeber Cancelled a Colleague

At the height of the #MeToo scandal in 2018, when dozens of actresses were coming forward with sordid testimonies about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation, a much more obscure scandal was unfolding around an academic journal involving the anthropologist David Graeber. The journal—HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory—was imploding after Graeber, a former editor-at-large, alleged that members of staff had been treated in “shocking ways” and made a public apology, distancing himself from the enterprise. No specifics were given, but accusations spread like wildfire on social media. Many treated the scandal as a pretext to demand that the discipline of anthropology itself undertake a period of introspection and soul-searching. Some said that this was anthropology’s #MeToo moment. HAU was set up as a digital publication by the Cambridge PhD student Giovanni da Col in 2011, while he was working in the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit under the supervision of Caroline Humphrey. While many students have had concerns that anthropology is a field in decline, da Col actually wanted to do something about it, by establishing …

David Gelernter is Wrong About Ditching Darwin

I’ve never been one to judge somebody’s arguments by their scholarly credentials. After all, two major contributors to my own field of evolutionary genetics, Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, were amateur naturalists and autodidacts trained more thoroughly in theology than in biology. So when well-known Yale professor and computer scientist David Gelernter rejected Darwinian evolution in his recent essay, ‘Giving Up Darwin,’ we can’t dismiss him simply because he’s not a biologist. Nor can we ignore his arguments because the piece appeared in a conservative journal, the Claremont Review of Books. No, we must attack his arguments head on, especially because they’ve been widely parroted by the media, as well as by conservative, religious, and intelligent-design (ID) websites. Sadly, his arguments are neither new nor correct. Gelernter’s claim—that evolution as envisioned by Darwin (and expanded into “neo-Darwinism” since the 1930s) cannot explain features of organisms and of the fossil record—depends heavily on the arguments of ID creationists. And every one of those arguments has been soundly rebutted over the past few decades. While Gelernter doesn’t fully …

The Politics of Procreation

Throughout most of history, starting a family was a task that most people either aspired to or dutifully performed. Today, that is increasingly not the case—not only in Europe, Japan, Australia, or North America, but in the world’s most economically dynamic region, East Asia. The trend towards post-familialism, a society in which the family and marriage are no longer central to society, will reshape our politics, economy, and society in the decades ahead. Since 1960, the percentage of people living alone in the United States—where the percentage of Americans who are mothers is at its lowest in over three decades—has grown from 10 to 30 percent. Similar phenomena can be observed in virtually all wealthy countries; in Scandinavia 40 percent of the population lives alone. In Britain, the number of single parent households was 8 percent in 1970 but has now passed 25 per cent, while the percentage of children born outside marriage has doubled to 40 percent over the past three decades. Even East Asia is also now seeing the early signs of a …

A Letter From Hong Kong

The normal coexists with the brutal. Last Saturday, in Hong Kong, carefree expat children walk by my apartment building, holding party balloons as Puma police helicopters buzz overhead. Less than a mile away people are fired on with tear gas and water cannon spewing blue dye. I imagine that this is what it felt like in the last days of the Shah. My days are not usually surreal. I am a teacher at Lingnan University, a liberal arts college and the smallest of eight public universities in Hong Kong. I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for twenty years; my wife and I raised our two children here. We are foreigners, but with a deep attachment to this city and its people. The causes of the current turmoil will take years of research to understand properly. Historians will find these causes in the Chinese family, in the class structure, in demography, in generational change, in new forms of communication, in political society and in several other factors still opaque to us. But where are …

Free Speech Matters, Even When it’s Not Protected by the First Amendment

“The government isn’t involved, so it’s not a free speech issue.” Follow any debate over censorship these days, and one is likely to hear this misguided view stated repeatedly. It means, in effect, that free speech is a legal right against the government, but not a spirit or value that the broader society should honor. In an interview with Above the Law, First Amendment lawyer Ken White (of “Popehat” fame) colorfully articulates this perspective: Recently you see, from the Right, (and from some Libertarians), a tremendous amount of bullshit about “the spirit of free speech.” “The spirit of free speech” can be summarized as saying that not only is racist speech protected from prosecution and civil suits, it ought also be protected from other people’s response speech…. [N]ot only should they not be prosecuted (right) or sued (right), but it would be wrong to boycott them, shun them, encourage public condemnation of them that might cost them their job, and so forth, because that “chills speech.” Basically, the “spirit of free speech” people want a …

China and the Difficulties of Dissent

Over the last couple of weeks, a small but dedicated band of free speech advocates at the University of Queensland (UQ) have managed to catch the attention of the international media with their protests against the Chinese government. The struggles of the protest organisers have a significance far beyond university campuses, as the recent media attention devoted to China’s influence over our politicians, technology, infrastructure, and educational programs demonstrates. The recent campus protests provide a timely reminder of the difficulties of dissenting from the entrenched orthodoxy that China’s rise is benign or even beneficial for Australia and the wider West. The Rise of Fascist China It is important to understand that China is a fascist dictatorship. The term “fascist” is now thrown around with such carelessness that it has lost most of its meaning outside the offices of a few historians or political science professors. But fascism, in its original early twentieth century incarnation, meant a political system defined by three attributes—authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries …

Tourist Journalism Versus the Working Class

A few days before the Fourth of July, British comic John Oliver used the pulpit of his US infotainment show, Last Week Tonight, to deliver a lengthy monologue about the depredations of Amazon.com. His specific complaint was that Amazon doesn’t treat its employees very well. According to Oliver, among the indignities that the company has heaped upon its workforce are two separate instances in which a canister of bear repellant leaked in an Amazon warehouse. Oliver and his journalistic team also found former Amazon employees willing to complain on camera about working conditions in the company’s warehouses and fulfillment centers: they can get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter; getting to the bathrooms sometimes requires a long walk; pregnant women get no special bathroom accommodations. Oliver’s researchers even uncovered an incident in which a worker had died on the job and her co-workers were told to carry on working in the presence of her corpse. Amazon disputes much of this, but I have no difficulty believing that incidents like these do …

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 …