All posts filed under: Politics

Polarisation and the Case for Citizens’ Juries

I It looks like liberal democracy is falling apart. But we can put it back together if we take democracy seriously enough—as seriously as the ancient Greeks. The chaos of Donald Trump was unimaginable just a decade ago. Brexit was a similar humiliation for Britain’s political class, leading to its bewildered paralysis ever since. How do such things happen? Perhaps because I admire economists’ deployment of very simple ideas to powerful effect, I’ve come to an approach to these problems that I think is simple and compelling. First, democracy is government by conversation. A political conversation should often be competitive—to sharpen ideas and measure their support. Yet, to remain a conversation rather than a parody of one, it must also be a co-operative search, if not for agreement, then at least for mutual understanding of where positions differ. However, this co-operative foundation for our politics has been largely extinguished by the weaponisation of political communication by professionals operating on the mass media, and, more recently by “trolling” on social media. Second, where elections bake competition …

Borking Neomi Rao

At the height of the #MeToo ferment over Judge Brett Kavanaugh, hundreds of Harvard and Yale law students shut down their classes to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The students demanded that Kavanaugh’s sexual assault accusers be believed unconditionally, simply on the basis of having made an uncorroborated accusation.  Many of these elite law students will end up as judges. Yet the media cheered them on, even though their rejection of the presumption of innocence, if carried to the bench, would demolish a cornerstone of Anglo-American jurisprudence.    However, if you argue that female college students have agency to prevent many cases of what feminists label as campus rape then you have unfitted yourself for a judicial career, according to a large segment of the media and the political class. Last week, Democratic Senator and presidential contender Kamala Harris contemptuously grilled a judicial nominee for having written that female students can control whether or not they get drunk, the usual prelude to the hook-up sex that the campus rape industry routinely classifies as …

The Plight of Pitch Wars

Allow me to preface this by saying I’m not a journalist, nor have I ever aspired to be one. I’ve always wanted to write fiction, which is what I currently do. I won’t get specific about genre and category or my publication status. For the purposes of this story, it doesn’t matter. I also won’t go into the difficulties an aspiring writer must face on the road to publication: there’s nothing you haven’t heard before. Yes, agents’ inboxes are flooded with manuscripts of varying levels of mediocrity, yes, getting noticed is nigh-impossible, yes, you’re competing for the attention of what used to be the reading public but is now the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube/Netflix public. Writing fiction isn’t a domain you go to for easy cash. With that in mind, you’d be crazy to even try—and yet try we do, continuously, sometimes for decades, sometimes without ever seeing results. So it’s no wonder that, in order to vent, commiserate, and share experiences, fiction writers tend to gather in online communities. Back in the LiveJournal days, I used to …

Punishing the Crime vs. Blacklisting the Soul

The assassination of Julius Caesar is known best for the fictional elements that Shakespeare and others invented. Caesar never actually said “Et tu, Brute?,” and Brutus never said “Sic semper tyrannis.” The historical record suggests the dictator remained silent and covered his head while the conspirators rained daggers upon him. The whole scene actually sounds quite grubby. No one even bothered to collect Caesar’s body until slaves got around to it on their own initiative. The truly amazing fact is that Brutus and Cassius had no real follow-up plan. They lived in a bubble of their own conspiratorial making, and imagined that the great mass of ordinary Roman citizens would laud them as heroes. When this didn’t happen, they simply fled the city as power coalesced around Mark Antony. In the civil war that followed, two sides emerged—those who cast Brutus and Cassius as noble Liberators (as the conspirators called themselves), and those who demanded they be hunted down as enemies of the state. The stabbing of Caesar was one of history’s most famous homicides—which …

Are Anti-BDS Laws an Assault on Free Speech?

Last month, Senator Marco Rubio introduced the “Combating BDS Act”—“S.1,” for short—which, if passed, would enshrine the right of state and local governments to boycott companies that boycott Israel. “The purpose of this law is to say…that we, Congress, are giving the states permission to do this,” David Bernstein told Vox, clarifying that under S.1 a state could forbid government contracting with such companies and not risk legal trouble because of it. (Since federal law supersedes state law, and Congress controls foreign policy, courts could theoretically argue local antiboycott laws violate the constitution because Congress has not officially sanctioned them. S.1 would change that.) The act came hot on the heels of a report by The Intercept that a Texas speech pathologist had lost her job after she refused to sign a pro-Israel “loyalty oath”—allegedly a condition of employment in 26 states, with similar laws pending in another 13. This, of course, was somewhat exaggerated. Though several states do restrict contractors, including sole proprietorships, from boycotting Israel, nowhere is support for BDS criminalized, much less …

The Case for a Second Brexit Referendum Revisited: A Response to Madeline Grant

In her article “The Case Against a Second Referendum,” Madeline Grant has written an extensive critique of my “The Case For a Second Referendum.” Restrictions of space preclude a detailed consideration of the numerous objections she raises. I ignore altogether the personal comments she makes in the section portentiously titled “Bias,” and elsewhere, on the basis that they are irrelevant. It is worth standing back and re-iterating the basic, and quite simple, position set out in my article—that the best argument for a second referendum is that the “Leave” proposition in the first referendum in 2016 was, necessarily, extremely general, and that the terms of Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement are, by contrast, very specific. The Withdrawal Agreement provides a glide-path to a future which many Leave voters did not and indeed could not have anticipated in 2016. The two most prominent advocates for the Leave proposition, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, have both said in terms that the Withdrawal Agreement is worse than staying in the EU. They also insist that the electorate not be …

Twelve Scholars Respond to the APA’s Guidance for Treating Men and Boys

Introduction — John P. Wright, Ph.D. John Paul Wright is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. He has published widely on the causes and correlates of human violence. His current work examines how ideology affects scholarship. Follow him on Twitter @cjprofman. Thirteen years in the making, the American Psychological Association (APA) released the newly drafted “Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Boys and Men.” Backed by 40 years of science, the APA claims, the guidelines boldly pronounce that “traditional masculinity” is the cause and consequence of men’s mental health concerns. Masculine stoicism, the APA tells us, prevents men from seeking treatment when in need, while beliefs rooted in “masculine ideology” perpetuate men’s worst behaviors—including sexual harassment and rape. Masculine ideology, itself a byproduct of the “patriarchy,” benefits men and simultaneously victimizes them, the guidelines explain. Thus, the APA committee advises therapists that men need to become allies to feminism. “Change men,” an author of the report stated, “and we can change the world.” But if the reaction to the APA’s guidelines is …

Headline Rhymes

One Halloween I wanted to be Lando Calrissian My mom said, son, it’s time for some listening She said, you are white and Calrissian’s black I said, I figured that out a while back I told her my black friend was gonna be Skywalker She said that was different and things turned awkward She explained how we all didn’t always live free I said, okay, how ’bout I dress as Apollo Creed? She said, you’re not getting it, go talk to your father I threw on a Yoda mask ’cause I couldn’t be bothered I’m much older now, and maybe a little wiser But I think I could still use a costume adviser Can we don the outfit of a black film star As long as our faces stay the colour they are? Can my son play a hero from the film Black Panther? I don’t know if anyone has a definitive answer I’ll continue to read up on the latest rules I hope that by next year Calrissian is cool Views on the news, …

Why Does Ralph Northam Deserve No Mercy?

Over the past week, Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam, has been engulfed in a firestorm. It follows the publication of a medical-school yearbook page of his that shows two individuals, one dressed in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. It is not clear from the photo whether Northam is one of these two individuals, or why he chose to include this image on his yearbook page. Upon the revelation of the photograph, the Governor issued a lengthy apology for the content of the page, which was published 35 years ago. He said he was “deeply sorry,” and called the costume “clearly racist and offensive.” He promised the people of Virginia that he would make amends: “I accept responsibility for my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.” Virginia’s state Senate Minority Leader, Richard Saslaw (a Democrat), issued a statement noting that Northam has opppsed racism as a public official, and that his behaviour from decades ago simply had no relation to who he is now: …

The Bolivarian God That Failed

The day after Venezuela’s National Assembly voted to declare its president, Juan Guaidó, interim President of the Republic, I received a text from a former friend. “If the U.S. topples Vz [Venezuela],” he wrote, “I will hold you responsible.” I would have been happy to accept this responsibility had I done anything important enough to deserve it. But the idea was absurd and he knew it. If the Venezuelan regime falls—and I hope that it does—it won’t even be possible to credit (or blame) the United States. It is the Venezuelan people who finally are taking their destiny in hand and rejecting an intolerable status quo. The message was not a serious attempt to apportion responsibility for Venezuela’s current upheaval; it was an attempt to shame me for my treacherous betrayal of the Bolivarian cause. An early supporter of the Revolution, I had traveled to Venezuela in 2013 to cover the April presidential elections. By the time I returned to the US, I was disillusioned and depressed. I decided I needed to start writing and …