All posts filed under: Must Reads

Take It from Someone Who Has Suffered Real Physical Abuse: Words Aren’t Violence

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) For the fourth time in the space of 30 minutes, the sound of a cell-phone text alert interrupted my college class. The professor, a gifted educator with an infectious passion for his subject, had made his no-phones policy clear on many occasions. These repeated infractions were too much for him, and he lost his temper. He shouted at us about maturity, respect and the convenient proximity of our classroom’s two doors, through which anyone more interested in their phone than his lecture was welcome to depart. One of my classmates said later that the professor had activated his “angry-dad mode.” Back at home, this professor is raising a house full of boys. He’ll talk professional sports with anyone willing to listen. He regularly shows up with a splint, bandage, or brace—always some injury …

The New Evolution Deniers

Evolutionary biology has always been controversial. Not controversial among biologists, but controversial among the general public. This is largely because Darwin’s theory directly contradicted the supernatural accounts of human origins rooted in religious tradition and replaced them with fully natural ones. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has described evolution as a sort of “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.” Fearing this corrosive idea, opposition in the US to evolution mainly came from Right-wing evangelical Christians who believed God created life in its present form, as described in Genesis. In the 1990s and 2000s there were repeated attempts by evangelicals to ban evolution in public schools or teach the so-called “controversy” by including Intelligent Design—the belief that life is too complex to have evolved without the aid of some “Intelligent Designer” (i.e. God)—in the biology curriculum alongside evolution. But these attempts failed when scientists demonstrated in court that Intelligent Design was nothing …

Warning: Telling a Lame Joke in an Elevator can Endanger Your Career

I am a professor of international political theory at King’s College London and bye-fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. I am a fellow of the British Academy and a member of the International Studies Association (ISA). Several years back the ISA voted me the “distinguished scholar of the year.” This year it censured me, not once but twice. I was guilty of saying “ladies lingerie” in a lift, and more disturbingly in their eyes, of writing a conciliatory email to the woman who had overheard me in the lift and filed a complaint. I appealed against this decision, but earlier this month was told my appeal had been rejected. During the second week of April 2018, the ISA had its annual meeting in San Francisco. It attracts many thousands of members from multiple disciplines who do research on international relations. The meeting consists mostly of panels at which scholarly papers are presented and discussed. I stayed in the San Francisco Hilton, the venue of the meeting. On the third afternoon, I was going up to my …

Writing for Quillette Ended My Theater Project

It was suggested that I apologize, and that an apology might help. This wasn’t an assurance, but an idea—if I walked back what I had written, there might be a way forward. I looked around the table at these four women who knew me too well to believe that I would apologize for something I had written. Before each of us sat the full length script on which we’d spent several months collaborating. I’d formed this theater collective precisely to make a play based on a killer idea I’d had, and I’d asked each of these talented, thoughtful, intelligent, creative women to work with me. We were only in the first few months of what was meant to be a year-long residency in a theater space in downtown Manhattan. What I wanted most of all was to develop this project. By the time it was suggested that I apologize, I knew full well that I wouldn’t, and that the project, the theater company, and the residency were all dead in the water. At issue was …

Camille Paglia: It’s Time for a New Map of the Gender World

I discovered Camille Paglia’s work when I was pursuing my undergraduate arts education at The University of Adelaide, South Australia, in the early 2000s. I was deeply disillusioned with the courses in my arts degree and their monomaniacal focus on social constructionism, and was looking for criticism of Michel Foucault on the internet. I stumbled across a 1991 op-ed written by Paglia for The New York Times, in which she described the followers of Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, as “fossilized reactionaries,” and “the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality.” I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I discovered that my university’s library contained each of her books, including the essay collections Vamps and Tramps and Sex, Art and American Culture. For the final year of my arts degree, (before pursuing my studies in psychology) I spent the bulk of my time at the university reading Paglia in the library. She was like a revelation. Her work was subversive but erudite, and she synthesized insights made in the realm of the arts, ancient history and folk biology—something that no other scholar …

The Grievance Studies Scandal: Five Academics Respond

Editor’s note: For the past year scholars James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian have sent fake papers to various academic journals which they describe as specialising in activism or “grievance studies.” Their stated mission has been to expose how easy it is to get “absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research.”  To date, their project has been successful: seven papers have passed through peer review and have been published, including a 3000 word excerpt of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, rewritten in the language of Intersectionality theory and published in the Gender Studies journal Affilia. Below is a response to the scandal from five academics who are currently researching, publishing and teaching in the fields of Philosophy, English Studies, Behavioral Genetics and Economics. From Foolish Talk to Evil Madness — Nathan Cofnas (Philosophy) Nathan Cofnas is reading for a DPhil in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His work focuses on the philosophy of biology, broadly construed. He has published on such topics as innateness, the ethical implications of individual differences in intelligence, and Jewish …

Politics Are Not the Sum of a Person

In a letter to his wife Abigail during America’s War of Independence, John Adams described the necessity of politics: I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain. For a country fighting for independence and a man risking his life for the cause, there is little to life beyond politics of the moment. Every marginal decision is a matter of survival. But that momentary imperative is only in pursuit of higher humanistic goals. Politics is important, but it is only a means to an end. Human flourishing, or the good life, is the proper end of social life. Government plays but a part in laying the foundation for people to flourish in society. Like Adams, we want a relatively stable and effective regime so we can be free to pursue better, …

The Crucible of the Application Process

[Note that this was written in its entirety before hearing any admissions decision on my applications this year] Over the past two years, I’ve applied for some of the most prestigious academic positions in the world: for numerous scholarships including the Rhodes, Fulbright, and Marshall, as well as for Master’s and PhD positions at Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, and other top universities. A large part of the application process has been working with applications reviewers, primarily from the university where I studied for my undergraduate degree. In total, I’ve worked with five essay reviewers, a dozen mock interview panellists, and the university’s scholarship advisor. Even though it’s part of their job description to assist students in applying for these positions, it’s extremely clear to me that everyone I worked with went far above what was required of them, and I feel the most appropriate way to start this essay is by expressing my deep and sincere gratitude for their advice and mentorship. This essay is about my experience with the application process—specifically how I was repeatedly …

Diversity for the Sake of Democracy

“Stand up if you identify as Caucasian.” The minister’s voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn’t be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. “Look at your community,” he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you,” the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of “Caucasian”: black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University’s freshman class had been branded with a demographic. This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every …

The Josiah Effect: How Moderate Religion Fuels Fundamentalism

For years, my response to the most vocal critics of religion was to say, “By all means, rail against the extremists, but leave the moderates alone. They haven’t done any harm.” I was unconvinced that moderate religion gave shelter to fundamentalism, and I could find no justification for criticizing those familiar, comforting forms of the Abrahamic faiths that play a prominent role in the lives of even the most peaceful citizens of modern society. But then I looked in the mirror. It was after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. A pair of brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, had stormed the magazine’s offices and executed unarmed cartoonists, shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” The incident reminded me of another pair of brothers: Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing. In each case, I saw myself in the younger sibling. Cherif and Said Kouachi While the rest of the world was holding up signs saying, “I am Charlie,” I was thinking, I am Cherif. I was not, nor had I ever been, a terrorist. But I saw …