All posts filed under: Must Reads

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 …

The Attractions of the Clan—An Interview with Mark Weiner

Why are ambulances attacked by rock-throwing youths in Sweden? And how should Germany deal with a recent surge in clan-based crime?  Mark S. Weiner is a professor of legal history, a scholar of multiculturalism and the author of The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom. Quillette’s European editor Paulina Neuding spoke to him in Stockholm, Sweden. Weiner is currently on a Fulbright scholarship at Uppsala University, where he is teaching about American constitutional law, collaborating with Swedish scholars of prehospital medicine—and riding along with paramedics in immigrant and other neighborhoods. What follows is an edited reproduction of that interview.   *   *   * Paulina Neuding: Sweden has experienced a rise in violence against first responders in recent decades, including rock throwing against paramedics in the country’s “vulnerable areas.” How do you explain this phenomenon? Mark S. Weiner: The easy answer is that Sweden has a growing population of alienated young men, and ambulances are representatives of social and government authority. If I were …

The Sudden Unpopularity of Neoliberal Centrists

On Friday, Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator and 2020 presidential candidate, pledged that her administration would, “make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.” This would consist of two steps, she wrote. First, large tech platforms would be, “designated as ‘Platform Utilities’ and broken apart from any participant on that platform.” Platform Utilities, “would be required to meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users,” and, “would not be allowed to transfer or share data with third parties.” In practice, this would designate Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search as Platform Utilities, thus requiring them to be split off from the rest of Amazon’s and Google’s services, respectively. Second, her administration, “would appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers.” She specifically mentions Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods and Zappos, Facebook’s ownership of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google’s ownership of Waze, Nest, and Doubleclick. In an article in the Washington Post, tech and policy writers Tony …

The Clear Case for Capitalism

At dinner not long ago my daughter and I had a standoff. She refused to eat something—a calzone in this case—because it looked “gross.” I failed to convince her what was actually in the calzone until finally I cut it in half and into a triangle so it looked just like pizza. Once she learned what was in it she loved it. I recalled this calzone a few weeks later when I got into a heated discussion with a friend. He is convinced that capitalism is the source of all of America’s problems. As the discussion progressed, it became clear to me that the source of our disagreement was definitional: we didn’t have an agreed-upon understanding of what capitalism is—or, in other words, what’s “in it.” Perhaps this kind of disagreement isn’t surprising given that only 22 states require high school students to take a class in economics to graduate, less than 50 percent of high school students have any exposure to economics, and only three percent of colleges require an economics class (!). So …

Forget About Decolonizing the Curriculum. We Need to Restore the West’s Telos Before it’s Too Late

The campaign by left-wing student protestors and some faculty to force Western universities to “decolonize the curriculum” has been surprisingly successful. A movement that started at the University of Cape Town in 2015, with the demand that the city’s university remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes—“Rhodes Must Fall”—quickly made its way to the U.K., with student activists calling for his statue at Oriel College, Oxford to be taken down. At its heart, the movement seeks to challenge what it characterizes as the dominance of the Western canon in the humanities and social sciences, as well as the under-representation of women and minorities in academia. It also, like many movements inspired by critical theory, maintains that a person’s beliefs and worldview are largely determined by their skin color, sexual orientation and gender. In a society “still shaped by a long colonial history in which straight white upper-class men are at the top of the social order,” argues Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge University lecturer, “most disciplines give disproportionate prominence to the experiences, concerns and achievements of this …

We Must Defend Free Thought

You probably have felt afraid to speak your mind freely at some point. Whether it is in a university class, a meeting at work, or amongst friends online, it’s likely that you have remained silent when you have had ideas or opinions that haven’t conformed to received wisdom. This is not an unusual or maladaptive response. In fact, knowing when to stay quiet and knowing how to avoid conflict is a necessary and important part of being an adult. Most arguments are pointless and there is no reason to get into fights with people whom we otherwise want to cooperate with and build mutually beneficial relationships. Nevertheless, I worry that intellectual self-policing is happening more and more often, particularly for those living in tight-knit and politically homogenous communities. In such environments, challenging the prevailing ideological orthodoxy—even if it’s only to plead for more tolerance of diverse viewpoints—can lead to reputational damage, harassment, and, in some cases, career suicide. Today, these strictly enforced thought codes are pervading spaces where naturally open-minded and liberal people work, such …

What My Days as a Marxist Taught Me About Modern Political Cults

There was a time when Das Kapital was my bible. It sits on one of the bookshelves that line my living room, alongside other artifacts from my youthful foray into Marxism. The front cover is worn, the pages slightly frayed. For years, I returned to those words, chewing slow on arguments unspooled in archaic prose about labour-power and the appropriation of surplus-value. I was certain I’d found the key to understanding the modern world; a truth so pure it would end the oppression of man by man. I’ve thought often about that sense of certainty in the years since. I turn the memories over in my mind, amazed at my erstwhile fervency. The sense that I, a teenager and later a young man, had found the answer to what ails the world in a text of political economy published in 1867….That hubris, in retrospect, is shocking. Although I would have protested the idea then, it’s become clear to me that my former sense of conviction was a secularized form of faith. My pretense to holding …

Public Education’s Dirty Secret

Bad teaching is a common explanation given for the disastrously inadequate public education received by America’s most vulnerable populations. This is a myth. Aside from a few lemons who were notable for their rarity, the majority of teachers I worked with for nine years in New York City’s public school system were dedicated, talented professionals. Before joining the system I was mystified by the schools’ abysmal results. I too assumed there must be something wrong with the teaching. This could not have been farther from the truth. Teaching French and Italian in NYC high schools I finally figured out why this was, although it took some time, because the real reason was so antithetical to the prevailing mindset. I worked at three very different high schools over the years, spanning a fairly representative sample. That was a while ago now, but the system has not improved since, as the fundamental problem has not been acknowledged, let alone addressed. It would not be hard, or expensive, to fix. Washington Irving High School, 2001–2004 My NYC teaching career began …