All posts filed under: Politics

The Unsafe Feminist: Rebecca West and the ‘Bitter Rapture’ of Truth

In an era when indulgent university administrators and professors treat students like spoiled children, one longs for intellectuals who address their audience as adults. The British novelist, biographer, literary critic, travel writer and political commentator Rebecca West (1892-1983) is the tonic we need. Like other great authors of the 20th century—including George Orwell and Doris Lessing—West never received a university education. That may help explain her intellectual non-conformism and free-wheeling spirit. West brushed against orthodoxy like barbed wire against chiffon. She was a suffragist who rejected pacifism in the First World War (and the Second); a leftist who fought communism; an internationalist who spoke up for small nations; an individualist who valued authority and tradition. West never crouched in one position. She was unflinchingly realistic. Human conflict, she said, is inescapable. It is as much a feature of art as it is of states. Eros, too, creates antagonism, for sex is dangerous. Yet human co-operation is ubiquitous. Women and men need each other, and can and do love each other. A feminism that treats women …

The Ideology of Corbynism

The stereotype attached to the British of prudence and sobriety has taken a beating in the struggle to hash out a Brexit deal. There is quiet talk of another general election, and the options currently on offer are a chaotic government that has lost two Brexit ministers because they couldn’t agree with the Prime Minister who appointed them, and a Labour opposition led by Jeremy Corbyn. Now is a perfect time, then, for a critical examination of Corbyn’s ideology. Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts’s Corbyn: A Critical Approach analyses Corbynism using what they term “a critical Marxist approach.” As they say in the preface, “This is the first book that sets out to take Corbynism seriously and critically as a semi-coherent set of ideas.” Their final verdict does not paint a rosy picture. Three aspects of their critique, in particular, offer an illuminating perspective on Corbynism: the notion of “two campism,” the moral mythology surrounding the person of Corbyn, and the relationship between Corbynism and conspiracy theories. Corbyn’s foreign policy views are flatly inconsistent with …

Steve Bannon Is Wrong, But Not for the Reasons You Think

If you consume prestige media, then it is likely that you believe a number of things about Steve Bannon on faith. For instance, you might believe that Steve Bannon is a white nationalist and an Islamophobe. And you may well believe that he’s a fascist—perhaps even a Nazi. Each of these propositions has been logged repeatedly in influential outlets, and each has self-replicated its way into received wisdom, greeted by little more than eager nodding if said aloud at a book launch party. Zack Beauchamp at Vox called Bannon “a leading light of America’s white nationalist movement.” Omer Aziz in the New Republic said that Bannon believes “a war between the West and the Muslims is inevitable.” Kira Lerner at ThinkProgress reported that Bannon “direct[ed] white supremacist and Nazi beliefs into the mainstream.” So naturally, when the Oxford Union announced that it would be hosting Bannon for a speaking event on November 16, they were accused of “legitimizing racism and fascism” by hosting a man who was “build[ing] an Islamophobic international” and served as “the …

What We Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

My father moved to the UK from Iran in the 1970s to study engineering when he met and married my mother, who is from a small town in the Welsh valleys. Many people from that town would not have met a non-white person before they met my father. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, my parents made the eminently sensible decision that they would build their life together in Wales and not Iran. To this day my father remains the hardest working person I know. He always worked two jobs, became a successful engineer and I recall watching him take part in publicity photos in the 1990s as the first non-white retained fireman in Wales, which he went on to do for 25 years. He is by any measure a credit to his community and can easily be held up as a model for “integration.” However, he is just one person. I sometimes wonder how different things might have been if there had been even one or two other Iranian families living on our street. …

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 …

The Institutionalization of Social Justice

Over the past few years, social justice activists have demonstrated an increased ability to suppress controversial viewpoints. To take a few examples: A few months ago, mathematician Theodore Hill described in a Quillette essay how progressive groups were able to get a research paper of his on a biological phenomenon known as the “Greater Male Variability Hypothesis” removed from two separate journals, as well as to intimidate his co-author into silence. Hill’s article was published just a week after another article by endocrinologist Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, who described how social justice activists had managed to get an academic journal to initiate a review of an already-published research paper by Brown University medical researcher Lisa Littman on gender dysphoria. Brown also deleted a reference to the paper from its website. Both Hill and Flier point out that they’ve never experienced anything like this before. Hill wrote: “In my 40 years of publishing research papers I had never heard of the rejection of an already-accepted paper.” Flier noted: “In all my years in …

A Glimpse Into the Ideological Monoculture of Literary New York

In the Spring of 2016, I fell into a conversation with my brother about how automation and artificial intelligence were making many forms of human labor obsolete. It wasn’t just an economic problem, I observed: Without meaningful work to do, a lot of us would fall victim to boredom and vice. My brother, an oncologist, countered that people would simply have to work harder to cultivate the diminishing number of jobs that machines couldn’t do. When he cited his own occupation as an example, I pointed out that in 20 years, AI-enabled computers might be able to make better medical decisions than he could. (In some areas of medicine, this is already happening.) He disagreed. But out of our discussion came my idea for a soon-to-published novel, set in 2036, about Henri, a wealthy doctor at risk of having his job taken by a robot. As Quillette writer Gabriel Scorgie noted recently, it’s become difficult for beginning writers to get book contracts. But I dove in, nonetheless. At the time, I was living in Albuquerque, …

The Free Speech Crisis on Campus Is Worse than People Think

Last month Samuel Abrams, a politics professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators.” Abrams, who describes himself as conservative leaning, pointed to the titles of some recent events put on by his campus’s Office of Student Affairs: “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Understanding White Privilege,” and “Microaggressions.” He described these events as politically lopsided and noted that this kind of highly politicized socialization of college students is occurring throughout the country. A lot of campus critics have pointed to the left-wing political skew of faculty, he said, and have worried about indoctrination in the classroom. But indoctrination is much more likely at campus events outside the classroom, and the political skew of administrators in charge of student life is even greater than that of faculty. (He surveyed a representative sample of 900 “student-facing administrators” and found a ratio of 12 liberals for every conservative, compared to 6 to 1 for academic faculty.) Remember, Abrams is a tenured professor commenting about a widely …

Blame Modern Life for Political Strife

It’s hard to argue against the comforts of modernity. Avocado toast, fiber optics, Roombas. What’s not to love? Technological innovation and trade liberalization have yielded prosperity and stability. Poverty, infant mortality, and global hunger have fallen. Human development, life expectancy, and food production have risen. Compared to our ancestors, we’re the glitterati. But there are always tradeoffs. While urbanization and personal accumulation have enriched the West, they have also produced a culture of narcissism and illusion of time scarcity. This self-preoccupation and feeling of lost leisure time has reduced our participation in civic organizations. We’re engaging less with one another. And as a consequence, societal trust has dissipated. This has inhibited the development of common interests and shared identities, prompting a return to an archaic tribalism which prioritizes salient features over ideological values. You People are All the Same Imagine you were speaking to someone you’ve never met. Both of you are separated by a dark curtain to conceal appearances and voices have been distorted to obscure genders. The first and only thing they mention …

Silencing Women in the Name of Trans Activism

It all began with a warm and friendly email from an arts producer who runs a regular London-based project called the Truth to Power Café (TTP). Founder Jeremy Goldstein had seen my writing, and figured I might be a worthy performer. “[The show] includes live and spontaneous testimony from participants rising up in the name of free speech and political activism,” he told me. “During the course of the show, I invite participants to respond to the question, ‘Who has power over you and what do you want to say to them?’ before a live audience. This year, I’ve worked with over 100 participants in four countries including U.K., Australia, Netherlands and Croatia.” I hesitated before accepting. Performance art isn’t really my thing. And I already do a number of events as part of my feminist activism, so I need to be careful about how I allocate my remaining time (especially when, as in this case, I’m not being paid). But the free speech and truth-to-power elements appealed to me, so I agreed to take …