All posts filed under: Must Reads

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 …

Cowardice at Columbia

On Thursday, April 11, shortly after 11pm, a black Columbia student named Alexander McNab walked through the gates of Barnard college—the undergraduate all-women’s school at Columbia University—after ignoring a security guard’s request to show his student ID. In search of a midnight snack, McNab got all the way to the library canteen before a public safety officer confronted him and asked for his ID a second time, a request McNab once again refused. Several more officers had arrived on the scene and were continuing to request ID when McNab began yelling. What happened next, depicted in the video below, has become the subject of a national scandal: two officers pushed McNab’s upper body onto the countertop, at which point McNab finally handed over his ID. Public safety proceeded to verify that he was indeed an active Columbia student, at which point they left him alone. Administrators reacted to the incident by placing the six public safety officers involved on paid leave until outside investigators reach a conclusion about their conduct. In the meantime, administrators have …

George Faludy: Hungarian Poet and Hero for Our Times

Had the poet George Faludy not written in his native Hungarian—arguably the most impenetrable of European languages—he would, as many have argued, be world famous. He died aged 95 in 2006, his life spanning the First and Second World Wars, the Russian revolution, and the Nazi and communist takeovers of his country. Having achieved literary fame at 20, he would be imprisoned by both regimes and spend much of his life as an exile in France, Morocco, America (where he was a tail-gunner for the U.S. Airforce), and Canada, where he fled communism, only to find his lectures picketed and disrupted by campus leftists to whom his experience was an inconvenient truth. A ladies’ man all his life, he surprised the world by suddenly entering a gay relationship with Eric, a Russian ballet dancer, who’d fallen in love with Faludy in print and then rushed across the globe to find him. In his 90s, after communism fell and Faludy, returning to Budapest, achieved living legend status, he married a poetess 70 years his junior with …

A College President Stands Up for Academic Freedom

What happens when university students call on authority figures to censor students or staff at institutions of higher education? At Yale such students have been awarded prizes, at the University of Missouri they’ve been successful in forcing administrators to resign, at Claremont they were able to force their president to implement a long list of demands, and at Evergreen State College a throng of students were allowed to take control of the campus while harassed faculty sought refuge off-campus. At other colleges around America, and even on campuses in the U.K., Canada and Australia, university administrators have met illiberal student mobs with a parade of mealy-mouthed platitudes and prostrations. This pattern of weakness has been dismaying for all people who value academic freedom and open inquiry. This week, however, a line has been drawn by David Yager, President of Philadelphia’s University of Arts (UArts). In response to students calling for the censorship of Camille Paglia—one of the most admired humanities scholars in the world—he articulated a full-throated defence of intellectual freedom, showing administrators of supposedly superior …

Respect, Rights, and Freedoms in an Era of Identity Activism

Ever since he was awarded a knighthood in the 2001 honours list, the British actor Ben Kingsley, probably most famous for his eponymous role in the film Gandhi, has apparently insisted on being referred to as “Sir Ben Kingsley.” This is his right and he is, by all accounts, quite offended if the honorific is overlooked. Not all recipients of such honours are quite as sensitive to the careful observation of such proprieties. Nevertheless, although it is his right, we are not obliged to comply with his wishes. There is no law that requires us to do so besides the conventions of a polite society, regardless of any damage inflicted on his self-esteem. I have nothing against Sir Ben. I have used him merely as an illustration of the principle that the right to receive a particular good, service, or respect does not automatically oblige other members of society to fulfil that right to the holder’s affective satisfaction. If I have bought a lottery ticket, I have a right to participate in the lottery, but …

The End of Aspiration

Since the end of the Second World War,  middle- and working-class people across the Western world have sought out—and, more often than not, achieved—their aspirations. These usually included a stable income, a home, a family, and the prospect of a comfortable retirement. However, from Sydney to San Francisco, this aspiration is rapidly fading as a result of a changing economy, soaring land costs, and a regulatory regime, all of which combine to make it increasingly difficult for the new generation to achieve a lifestyle like that enjoyed by their parents. This generational gap between aspiration and disappointment could define our demographic, political, and social future. In the United States, about 90 percent of children born in 1940 grew up to experience higher incomes than their parents, according to researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project. That figure dropped to only 50 percent of those born in the 1980s. The US Census bureau estimates that, even when working full-time, people in their late twenties and early thirties earn $2000 less in real dollars than the same age …

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 …

Denying the Neuroscience of Sex Differences

A review of The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain, by Gina Rippon. The Bodley Head Ltd (March 2019).    Imagine your response to picking up a copy of the leading scientific journal Nature and reading the headline: “The myth that evolution applies to humans.” Anyone even vaguely familiar with the advances in neuroscience over the past 15–20 years regarding sex influences on brain function might have a similar response to a recent headline in Nature: “Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains” subtitled “the hunt for male and female distinctions inside the skull is a lesson in bad research practice.”   Turns out that yet another book, this one with a fawning review in Nature, claims to “shatter” myths about sex differences in the brain while in fact perpetuating the largest one. Editors at Nature decided to give this book their imprimatur. Ironically, within a couple of days of the Nature review being published came a news alert from the American Association for the Advancement of Science titled, “Researchers discover …