All posts filed under: Politics

Does Suffering Provide Meaning and Purpose in Life?—A Reply to Freya India

A recent article in Quillette by Freya India raises the age-old problem of how to understand the connection between suffering and meaning in one’s life. India’s argument is that some suffering is unavoidable, but more suffering may be beneficial if one is able to understand its advantages. Generation Z—those born since 1997—are historically unique insofar as they arrived in the Internet and social media age. But is suffering experienced differently according to a person’s circumstances? And are today’s under-25s that much different from earlier generations in the way they respond to stressors? A key characteristic of the social climate in which today’s under-25s live is that they cannot afford to ignore the pressures of creating and maintaining an identity on social media, and of trying to avoid the many hazards presented by aggressive activism and what has become known as “cancel culture.” This environment brings its own anxieties, because what is done on the Internet is very difficult to undo. Arousing serious and/or widespread antipathy from others may ruin one’s life-chances with no means of …

Lockdown Scepticism Was Never a ‘Fringe’ Viewpoint

Whether or not lockdowns are justifiable on public-health grounds, they certainly represent the greatest infringement on civil liberties in modern history. In the UK, lockdowns have contributed to the largest economic contraction in more than 300 years, as well as countless bankruptcies, and a dramatic rise in public borrowing. This does not mean that lockdowns were the wrong policy, since they might have been necessary to prevent the National Health Service from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 critical-care patients. (And such measures are justified, proponents argue, on the grounds that they prevent infected individuals from harming others by inadvertently transmitting a deadly disease.) But as I will argue below, there’s plenty of evidence that supports those on the other side of this issue, notwithstanding the efforts of politicians, experts, and social-media companies to paint such dissent as marginal or even dangerous. * * * Throughout the pandemic, the British government has assured the public that it is being “led by the science.” However, a number of scientists and other commentators have disputed this claim. These “lockdown …

The Problem With ‘Indigenizing the University’

The idea that academics need to “Indigenize” the Canadian education system has become popular in recent years. The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), Universities Canada, and the Deans of Education all have expressed support for this idea. And the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created to address the legacy of Canada’s Residential School system, concluded that Canada’s education system “must be transformed into one that rejects the racism embedded in colonial systems of education and treats Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian knowledge systems with equal respect.” The TRC report cites the work of Indigenous academic Marie Battiste and the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ statement that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.” Specific proposals at various Canadian universities have included curriculum changes, an overhaul of academic disciplines, and the incorporation of Indigenous “ways of knowing” in tenure and promotion processes. Many …

Remembering Karl Popper

It’s the end of the wartime workday at 14a Westenra Terrace in the Port Hills of Christchurch, New Zealand, high above the southern terminus of the city’s streets. The one-bedroom apartment offers commanding views of a region shaped by the heaving of the Earth’s crust and the dry winds that blow in from the north-west and across the southern alpine range. But for the Austrian husband and wife living here, there’s not much time to contemplate these natural elements. This is the 1940s, and their focus remains instead on the heaving of their native European crust and the calamitous trends of intellectual history now bending their homeland out of shape. Inside, the youngish Karl Popper—dark-eyed and slightly stooped—glances at his handwritten notes. His wife, Hennie, waits, a sheet of fresh paper rolled into the typewriter behind which she is seated. Slowly, he begins to dictate his latest thoughts for a work that he privately fears will receive as little enthusiasm from prospective publishers as he has received from many colleagues in his adopted home. “Great …

Environmentalism, Trumpism, and the Working Class

The inauguration of President Biden as the 46th US President hasn’t produced quite the catharsis that Democrats (and others) had hoped for. After only a few months of one-party rule in Washington, DC—and the sputtering finale of impeachment—there should be fear among Democrats that attention will return to the signs of real damage done to the progressive/liberal project in the wake of its collision with the Trump train. The shifting of both American political parties into one another’s former political spaces has been head-spinning. The trend of Republicans turning into the party of labor and Democrats becoming a party of capital looks to continue in the 2020s—something few people outside of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot would have guessed 30 years ago. And it turns out that the promise of a Democrat-voting bloc made up of well-educated whites, blacks, and the growing Hispanic population delivering a decades-long progressive era in American politics is not coming to pass. For nearly 20 years, this promised “coalition of the ascendant” has coalesced but failed to ascend. In 2009, …

Towards Practical Empowerment

The following critique of anti-racism is intended to empower people of color and stave off the modes of disempowerment I see in my field of rhetorical studies. Rhetorical studies examines persuasion in all its forms, but just like everyone else, rhetoricians have a hard time communicating with one another, especially when it comes to anti-racism. I’m not suggesting that all scholars, activists, and pedagogues interested in anti-racism abide by the detrimental ideology of orthodox anti-racism, but enough do that a dissenting voice is in order. Critiques like mine are often understood as oppression or “punching down” because they threaten a narrative of anti-racism in which people of color are perpetual victims fighting the ubiquitous and systemic specter of white supremacy. Anti-racists go to great lengths to discredit such views, even—or especially—when they are espoused by people of color. Consider the newly coined term “multiracial whiteness,” which NYU professor Cristina Beltrán defines as: …an ideology invested in the unequal distribution of land, wealth, power and privilege—a form of hierarchy in which the standing of one section …

Accommodating Trans Athletes Without Rejecting the Reality of Human Biology

“As a social psychologist, I understand why using women’s sports to argue against transgender rights works,” tweeted behavioral scientist Matt Wallaert this week. “But it is tough to imagine a more morally bankrupt position: ‘I’m going to make you sit in a gender that doesn’t fit you so my daughter can win her soccer game.’” And when that tweet predictably attracted scathing criticism, he doubled down on his claim that women need to do their part in accommodating trans rights by becoming more graceful losers: “This really is it: I’d rather teach my kid how to lose well than how to win through oppression.” Walleart, best known for a Malcolm-Gladwellian 2019 business book called Start at the End: How to Build Products That Create Change, describes his approach as “a science-based process to create behavior change.” And so he offers a fitting stand-in for all the many other grandiloquent progressives who posture as rigorous scientists, even as they demand that sports leagues cast aside the plain biological reality of sexual dimorphism. The condescending, more-disappointed-than-angry tone …

The Narrative and Its Discontents

Human history in two sentences: in pre-modern times, material goods were hard to come by, but small communities offered kinship and their traditions made the world meaningful and comprehensible. Today, physical comforts are plentiful, but belonging and sense-making are scarce. Belonging and sense-making are made of the same raw material: stories. And shared stories are what bring any group larger than a family together, be it “Brazilians,” “Buddhists,” or “Beliebers.” Stories build a shared reality that in turn frames how we interpret the world in our own minds. A story that illuminates reality and unites people will create both belonging and meaning. And thus, all humans converged collectively on the truest possible story of the world and themselves, and lived happily ever after. Wait, that’s not what happened. So what happened? One of the things that happened to stories was memetics. Stories proliferate or decline based on their own Darwinian logic. They may reproduce if they are funny, or if they flatter the listener, or if they are set to a catchy tune. Consider my …

Do Lockdowns Work? Only If You Lock the Borders Down, Too

For almost a year, the central policy debate in most Western countries has been whether—and for how long—to impose lockdowns. Advocates of stringent lockdowns argue that measures such as stay-at-home orders and forced closures of businesses are necessary to save lives and prevent health-care systems from being overwhelmed. So-called “lockdown sceptics,” on the other hand, argue either that such measures are ineffective, or that their benefits are outweighed by the associated social and economic costs; and that a focussed protection strategy is preferable. (The term “lockdown,” as I am using it, does not encompass all non-pharmaceutical interventions. In particular, I am excluding non-onerous, common-sense measures like asking symptomatic individuals to self-isolate, encouraging vulnerable people to work from home, and restricting large indoor gatherings.) The evidence suggests that lockdowns have been effective, but only when they were combined with strict border controls. Looking across the Western world—Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—just five countries have kept the rate of confirmed COVID-19 deaths below 300 per million. Those five are: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Australia, …

COVID-19 and the Ongoing Global Workplace Revolution

For most of the recent past, economic geography has shifted to ever-larger cities across the globe. By the end of the last decade, many were convinced that we were entering a supreme era of the glittering, high-rise “superstar” city that would inevitably swallow all the best bits of the economy, and serve as unparalleled centers of tech, culture, political activism, and global trade. Globally, the ranks of city-dwellers more than doubled over the last 40 years, from 1.5 billion in 1975 to 3.5 billion according to data from the OECD. Yet now this urban-centric pattern may be slowing, and even reversing. Three critical factors are at play here. First, of course, the pandemic has weakened the appeal of urban life by the very logic of social distancing and higher levels of infections and fatalities. The second factor has been an alarming uptick in urban crime and disorder, particularly in the United States but elsewhere as well. Finally, there has been a move to dispersed and online work, which enables people and companies to shift their …