All posts filed under: Politics

The Importance of Blasphemy

Anyone who thought the age of plague might have banished the specter of religious fanaticism was disabused last week when a middle school teacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an Islamist fanatic for displaying caricatures of the prophet Mohammad during a class discussion about free speech. The assailant, a teenager of Chechen origin, murdered and then decapitated his victim before being killed by French police. Less than a fortnight before, there was a stabbing outside the Parisian offices formerly occupied by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which France’s interior minister also described as an “act of Islamist terrorism.” The stubborn persistence of Islamist terror speaks to the durability of ferocious faith-based dogmas, one of which seeks to reintroduce secular Western democracies to the long-forgotten notion of “blasphemy.” This will only come as a surprise to those with short memories. Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa suborning the murder of Salman Rushdie for merely writing a novel reignited the old debate about the place of tolerance in an age of religious hatred. More than 30 years …

The Dead Are Rising—A Review

A review of The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Liveright Press, 640 pages (October 2020) Stylized in Spike Lee’s excellent 1992 film and canonized by the thousands of high school and college instructors who have made his autobiography required reading, Malcolm X has become a man for all seasons. As a result, activists and commentators on both the Left and Right want the once-controversial figure all to themselves. To the Left, he is an icon of resistance to white political and cultural hegemony. To some on the Right, he stands apart from the Great Society statism that became the policy prescription of choice among the Civil Rights establishment, offering an alternative of self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and voluntary communalism. Not bad for a figure deemed, at best, divisive by respectable opinion during his lifetime. The latest biography of Malcolm X will serve boosters of either narrative. In The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, the late Les Payne shows his subject to have been a complex …

The Coming Post-COVID Global Order

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated economics in the West, but the harshest impacts may yet be felt in the developing world. After decades of improvement in poorer countries, a regression threatens that could usher in, both economically and politically, a neo-feudal future, leaving billions stranded permanently in poverty. If this threat is not addressed, these conditions could threaten not just the world economy, but prospects for democracy worldwide. In its most recent analysis, the World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5.2 percent in 2020, with developing countries overall seeing their incomes fall for the first time in 60 years. The United Nations predicts that the pandemic recession could plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. The disruption will be particularly notable in the poorest countries. The UN has forecast that Africa could have 30 million more people in poverty. A study by the International Growth Centre spoke of “staggering” implications with 9.1 percent of the population descending into extreme poverty as …

My Own Private Chateau—Pauline Réage’s ‘Story of O’ Revisited

I’m sitting on a plane and I’m feeling increasingly excited. I’m flushed. My heart rate is up, and I can’t seem to find a comfortable way to sit. My agitation isn’t caused by any nervousness about flying, nor by any fears of contracting COVID-19 during the flight. My disquiet has been triggered by the book I’m reading. The sensations it arouses almost overwhelm me. I find I have to pause every few paragraphs, close the slim volume, and rest it on my lap in order to regain some sense of personal composure. Fiction usually transports my imagination away from myself, but this book is accomplishing the opposite: I feel increasingly aware of my body as I read it, as though being immersed in fiction has drawn me into a moment of privacy with myself. It feels somehow unseemly for the public world of the airplane to intrude on my private sensations. I have to put the book down frequently in order to remind myself that it is no act of indecency for the happy family …

Not All Identities Are Created Equal

In 2020, much of the public discussion of social issues revolves around notions of identity. Ideas about race, reformulations of gender, and considerations of class or religious confession. But it is not often stated that these identity categories are qualitatively different, and these differences have different implications for the real world. Some reflection on the real-world consequences of identity ought to make this apparent. Why is a party based on working-class solidarity far less sinister than a party based on a racial or ethnic group? Perhaps because being working-class is not a fixed identity, and solidarity is open to all. One’s race or ethnicity is viewed as more static. Most of us can imagine struggling to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads, but few can imagine being another race. Race-thinking is anti-empathetic by its nature. Obviously, most humans have a variety of identities that they balance, synthesize, and are enriched by. Before World War I, socialists expressed their opposition to a conflict that they believed, correctly, would only bring suffering to the …

Who Speaks for Black Lives Matter? The Answer Can Be Complicated

On October 2nd, the New York Times ran a profile of Hawk Newsome, the Bronx-based co-founder of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. “At over 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, often wearing a bulletproof vest beneath his shirt and puffing on a Padron 1964 Anniversary Series cigar, Hawk Newsome is hard to miss,” wrote reporter Derek M. Norman. “When [he] is not speaking with the news media or organizing events, Mr. Newsome, 43, can be found at marches from Charlottesville, Va., to Minneapolis to New York City. ‘The first thing I do is open up my Bible to see what the scripture of the day is,’ Newsome told the Times. ‘If there’s anything I want back more than anything from before, it’s church. Every Sunday I’d go, twice.’” Aside from wearing a bulletproof vest, Newsome also rents multiple cars, so he can “switch them up because it’s safer and nobody could keep track of what I’m driving.” He also told the Times that when he attends protest events, “Usually, I’ll have one or …

Slack Wars: Corporate America’s Woke Insurgency

Between 2008 and 2019, total newsroom employment in the United States declined by 23 percent. At newspapers, the drop has been more than 50 percent. Journalists are hardly to blame for the underlying causes of this contraction (which include the long-term shift from physical to digital media, and the growing ad-market share controlled by Google and Facebook). But they can be blamed for the gratuitous acts of self-sabotage that are exacerbating the industry’s woes. Many journalists—and even their unions—now seem more preoccupied with denouncing heresies among colleagues than with maintaining their audience and livelihoods. At the New York Times, to take one obvious case study, op-ed editor James Bennet was hounded out in June after publishing a column that reflected widespread frustration with violent social-justice protests. Bari Weiss, one of the newspaper’s brightest stars, decided to follow Bennett out after enduring an internal newsroom campaign of verbal bullying, which included bizarre claims that she was a racist and a Nazi (these slurs targeting a Jewish woman whose recent book is titled How to Fight Anti-Semitism). …

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The Moral Panic over ‘Sexualisation’

When I was running a streaming adult movie site in 2007, two business threats appeared almost simultaneously—one from the market and the other from the state. The first was the arrival on the scene of YouPorn and a plethora of similar “tube” sites, which provided free streaming content. Within a couple of years, the tubes had ravaged the global pornography industry and put most players out of business. With their retail base annihilated, many of the big production studios were snapped up by Manwin (which later became Mindgeek), the owner of the biggest tube sites, and it gained a near-monopoly over what remained of the industry. My business limped on for a few more years, but from the autumn of 2007 onward, we saw a consistent month-on-month decline in sales. The second threat came from what are euphemistically called British media regulators. Ofcom—a huge state-funded body with a wide range of responsibilities—maintained a tight grip on TV and radio, and the British Board of Film Classification or BBFC (a private business) enjoyed a government monopoly …

Revisiting the Simon-Ehrlich Wager 40 Years On

It is 1980, and you are getting married. Your parents decide to celebrate your nuptials by inviting 100 guests to a wedding reception. The reception cost them $100 per person or $10,000 in total. Fast forward to 2018. Now it is you who is throwing a wedding reception for your child. The guest list has increased by 72 percent (some of the old folk are no longer around, but the cousins have exploded in number). That means that you are now catering to 172 people. The price per guest remained the same (suspend your disbelief and ignore inflation for now), and you expect to get a bill for $17,200. Instead, the bill comes to $4,816, which is less than half of what your parents paid for you. How is that possible, you ask the caterer? The caterer responds that for every one percent increase in attendance, the bill fell by one percent. And so, while the number of guests rose by 72 percent, your bill declined by 72 percent. Surely, things like that don’t happen …

The End of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

The recent explosion in Beirut was like the most recent episode in a tragic decline. Beirut used to be known as Paris in the Levant and the bride of Middle Eastern cities. It was once beautiful, cultured, and exotic. No longer. Last year, hyperinflation, shortages of food and energy, unaccountable government, and a steady erosion of social liberties combined to ignite widespread protests. The protestors only demand: That Iran get out of their country. A New York Times investigative team found that the explosion had been the result of negligence—a rot inside the government. Those protests coincided with protests in Iraq, which also demanded an end to Iran interference, and in Iran itself, where protestors demanded that Iran stop meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. In neighboring Syria, half a million died between 2011 and 2016, and millions more were displaced. There are signs of life in Syria, but no sign of living. Everything Iran touches dies, and its regime extends its malign influence wherever it can. The civil war devastating Yemen began when the Iran-backed Houthis …